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Attracting New Members to ATA

At last year’s ATA Conference in Miami, the recurring topic that was brought up was that of membership. How do we increase our numbers, how do we maintain the numbers we have, and how do we increase the number of active (voting) members? Clearly this is a subject of discussion for any organization, and crucial for any organization’s continued success, but I wonder if this is something the national association should be tasking itself with at all.

In my honest opinion, I believe membership in the national association should be less of an issue, but in order to do that, we need to re-envision the role of ATA’s Chapters or Affiliates from a local organization of translators advancing professional development to ATA’s street team or ground crew. I would argue, therefore, that the role of the regional chapters should be to be the manifestation and voice of the national association in their areas in addition to recruiting new members into their own organizations and then funneling those new members up to the American Translators Association.

As an executive board member of my own regional chapter of ATA, I care deeply for the Association and its chapters, divisions, and affiliates. I was heartbroken when, in Miami, I discussed the state of our Association with my roommate, Jeff. He told me that his local chapter was not very active and every time he tried to initiate action for attending the conferences as a group, or anything, he was always met with indifference or, “I’ll have to get back to you” from the board members. My heart went out to him, I felt his frustration. I believe that in any volunteer organization, if there is someone who is willing to take initiative and organize, that person should be welcomed with open arms and nurtured. Talking with others, I would ask questions like, what activities does your chapter provide in regards to opportunities for furthering professional development throughout the year? Many responded that they did not know. It seems to me that the chapters have started off on the right foot in establishing a network of T&I professionals, but they have not taken that a step further in offering their membership the best possible opportunities to further professional development; especially in regards to exploiting available technology that does not require a person to be physically present to attend a learning opportunity.

So this is a topic I would like to submit to my fellow colleagues and this post will be the first in a series of blog posts aimed toward helping chapter leaders gain a fresh, renewed approach to being an ATA Chapter. In this nine-part blog series, I’ll break down the approach my own chapter (MATI) takes in executing regular chapter functions throughout the year. These are both functions that are dictated by being a chapter of ATA as well as ones that we’ve come up with on our own to engage our members and add value to membership.


Part 1: All Hands on Deck!

What happens when you talk to other translators about ATA? There are generally three types of responses: the first type of response is positive and the types of people who have this experience in ATA are those who are actively involved with it. These people are active in their chapters, sometimes also on the board of directors, they are division moderators, and they are National Association Board members. The second type are those whose response is negative and these people generally either have misplaced anger or take no part in the association, chapter, or division activities (their loss). The third and last type of response is the fringe response filled with craziness and conspiracy theories, these responses often come from people who had to put their foil hats on before responding to your question. It can be understood; therefore, that when it comes to lackluster organization activity, fault is grounded in a systemic problem that starts with apathy from the membership. The value of membership in chapters and the national association as a whole is only seen when you take an active role in the organization’s activities, you take away from your experience that which you put in.

I submit for your consideration some responses to this poll on proz.com that asks the question, “Have you ever left a professional association?” The first comment I’d like to point out strikes hard,

I joined the ATA “to see” two or three years ago. I didn’t invest anything except the fee for one year, and I didn’t get anything apart from a few scammers and their magazines which I never managed to read, so I didn’t renew the experience the year after. It was basically money down the drain, but as business expenses, so at least it wasn’t taxed. -Philippe

This is a “case in point” scenario. This person, while he may not live in the US, did not bother to get involved, attend conferences or contribute to the community and therefore left after one year. At least he was responsible enough to acknowledge that he didn’t invest any more than the one year membership, but that was why his experience was so lacking.

Let’s look at another comment,

I let my membership in the ATA lapse and don’t envision going back. The trade magazine for the most part is, well, rather 20th century, and their certification program is ridiculous, usually involving travel to another city, hard copy dictionaries that you must bring yourself, pen and paper, (although some keyboarded exams are now possible as I understand it.) Furthermore, my clients don’t know or care if I am certified by the ATA. They care only about the quality of my work and my ability to meet deadlines. -J.E.

“J.E.” hits a point that I take seriously and personally. As you will see in future posts, my main focus when approaching my MATI Board position is to continue modernizing the way it operates. Luckily, it was already pretty far along by the time I took up my post, but there are things that I’ve created or are currently in the works that will continue to bring the organization into the second (and subsequently, third) decade of this century. Modernization and up-to-date-ness of the appearance (branding) of the organization is key. Now, this issue is mainly the fault of the board. Decisions need to be made at the managing body level to make sure the organization portrays a modern brand and not something that has an outdated feel (ex. While it was modern at the time, no website should look like this one in 2016).


These chapters of ATA are worth developing. The more time and effort we put into the organizations, the more valuable membership becomes. I often find myself taking a step back to put myself in the shoes of a non-member and thinking of things that would attract me to or turn me off from an organization. If you preach to the choir, you will only ever save the choir. In 2016, we find ourselves at veritable crossroads in the future of our association and we can either do what we’ve always done and perpetuate the same issues we have always had, or think about other colleagues and newer colleagues and what would draw them to our group.

So let me leave you for the week with one last comment on that poll to consider along with the question, “Is this the lasting impact we want to leave with our members?

“It seems a lot of professional associations entail a lot of money for very little benefit in return, except for the name-dropping.” -Natalie

Header image: Joanna Kosinska
Thanks to Alaina for editing and comments.

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5 comments on “Attracting New Members to ATA

  1. The way I see it, what ATA lacks is somewhat two-fold – 1) technology training much like Proz.com offers (because in reality nowadays without technical skills, your linguistic skills can’t be put to much use); and 2) a platform or virtual community through which translators can communicate and interact with each other or leave feedback regarding their clients (LSPs). Again, Proz.com already offers some of these services, so perhaps ATA wants to avoid putting time and money into reinventing the wheel. In the end, however, I think that sitting back and not progressing will eventually lead to their irrelevancy as relayed in the above comments. An annual conference is great, but in my opinion freelance translators need to feel connected to a larger community on a more regular basis.

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    • It’s clear that technology overall is a deficient area not only for the ATA, but for translators in general. Translators as a whole have been quicker to adopt than adapt. That’s the main reason why I started this blog in the first place. In regards to a virtual community, there are outlets for translators and interpreters to gain that sense of community within the ATA, that’s what the listservs and linkedin groups are for. The main focus of my argument, however, is that we (the ATA Chapters) need to continually update our image and provide opportunities above the bare minimum for a chapter in order to add value to membership. A top-down approach isn’t what is going to attract people, it’s a bottom-up approach that is centered around member engagement that will attract and maintain members.

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  2. […] specifically designed to manage the affairs of an organization with members. Need I reiterate from the post setting up this series that no website in 2016 should look like this? The good news is that you don’t need to know html […]

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  3. […] you’ve resolved to revamp your brand in order to attract new members, you’ve started planning new events in order to fabricate more opportunities for getting those […]

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  4. […] I believe membership in the national association should be less of an issue, but in order to do that, we need to re-envision the role of ATA’s Chapters or Affiliates from a local organization of translators advancing professional development to ATA’s street team or ground crew. Read more. […]

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