State Policy Network
The power of affiliation: Why participation in professional groups is vital during and after a crisis

By Meredith Turney, Senior Director of Leadership Development & Strategic Communications at State Policy Network

The term “unprecedented” doesn’t seem to quite describe what our world is experiencing right now due to the coronavirus pandemic. Over the past 30 years, we have experienced economic downturns, wars, recessions, terrorist attacks, and other events that directly impact our ability to lead nonprofit organizations, but this current series of events truly is remarkable for its effect. There is one significant lesson we can draw from past experience that we know will help us survive and thrive through this current crisis: The power of affiliation.

The New York Times recently published an article about a New York City art community group that hastily came together during the pandemic to provide support for each other. Like many nonprofits right now, they are contemplating their futures given the economic impact of the pandemic. While they don’t yet have answers about what will happen to their nonprofits, “the psychological boost from meeting as a group is empowering, as is the advice being shared on best practices.”

One participant noted that before she joined the calls, she felt disconnected and isolated. She described relief to hear her peers grappling with the same questions and crises. The community has now formed working committees and coalitions to share resources.

Sound familiar? This ad hoc art community association describes what our Network has been doing for almost three decades.

SPN’s founders understood the force multiplier of think tank affiliation 27 years ago, and it’s one of the reasons SPN was founded: To connect and protect our affiliates and rapidly share best practices—leading to an accelerated learning cycle necessary for swift growth.

The power of personal and organizational affiliation was also researched by Nonprofit Quarterly after the devastating impact of September 11 on New York City nonprofits. They found that “inter-organizational ties prove important” for organizations to survive an unexpected crisis. Organizations that didn’t take part in professional affiliation experienced “delayed or no access to recovery resources.”

Nonprofit Quarterly’s conclusion: “A major implication of these observations is that nonprofit organizations need to consider the benefits of affiliation, federation, networking, and knowledge sharing so they do not have to face crises alone.”

Affiliation is also found in small groups of professionals, sometimes called Mastermind groups. SPN began building these powerful peer groups many years ago. We can attribute much policy, fundraising, and professional success directly to these dynamic groups. This Forbes article describes the history of such professional affiliations and how they can accelerate personal and professional growth. SPN continues to build out these peer groups to further support and accelerate the professional growth and flourishing of state think tank staff.

Our Network truly was built for such a time as this, when we would have to pivot resources quickly to meet the needs around us. We’ve been practicing, learning, iterating, and adapting so think tanks across the Network will benefit from their affiliation during prosperous and challenging times.

Since the coronavirus outbreak hit the United States, our Network has leveraged the affiliations we built over three decades to help us get through this time and better serve the people of our states. We’ve hosted dozens of Zoom peer group calls, webinars, peer Network masterminds, and personal coaching calls. And we will continue to do so for each organization in our Network to capitalize on the power of affiliation and press on to greater achievements. 

Organization: State Policy Network