Four Years Of Institute…How Quickly It Passes!

New IOM graduates, pictured left to right: Larkin Simpson, IOM, Chamber Director & Project Manager, Jones County Chamber of Commerce (MS); April Bragg, IOM, President & CEO, Milledgeville­Baldwin County Chamber (GA); Brian Tucker, IOM, Director of Economic Development, Georgetown County Economic Development (SC); Lindsay Frilling, IOM, Economic Development Director, Obion County Joint Economic Development Council (TN); Emily Atkinson, IOM, Vice President of Government Affairs, Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce (NC); Rick Kiernan, IOM, Principal, Convergent Nonprofit Solutions; Henry Florsheim, IOM, President & CEO, Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce (TX).

By Rick Kiernan

I recently had the pleasure and satisfaction of earning my IOM designation. According to its website, “Institute for Organization Management (IOM) is the professional development program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Institute was designed to enhance individual performance, elevate professional standards, and recognize association, chamber of commerce, and other nonprofit professionals who demonstrate the knowledge essential to the practice of nonprofit management.”

Institute lasts four years and includes 96 hours of classroom instruction, but how quickly the time flew. It seems like only yesterday that my chamber clients and friends were recommending I enroll. At that time, I had worked with chambers for a dozen or so years. And while I understood them well, those clients and friends reasoned, I would gain significantly more knowledge of the challenges facing them by working my way thru Institute. And so I applied.

Little did I know what awaited me. Going thru Institute was similar to my experience earning my Executive MBA. Not only did I gain a tremendous amount of knowledge from Institute’s university professors, industry experts, and leading practitioners in the chamber and association industries, but I also learned from the “real life” experience of my progressional colleagues sitting around me. It’s not just theory; it’s real world application. We covered topics such as advocacy, media training, membership, finance, legal issues, and human resources, and I thank our instructors and classmates for sharing their wealth of insight and experience with me.

Further, and just as importantly, I built relationships that I fully believe will last a lifetime. These chamber and association professionals live across the country, yet each June as we descended upon the UGA Conference Center in Athens, GA for our next week of classwork, it felt like time had stood still thanks to spending the other 51 weeks a year keeping up with everyone’s professional and personal lives via Facebook, Linked-In, email, and texts. I don’t think it’s exaggerative to say we feel like family.

And so while I’m excited to earn my IOM designation and put my newfound knowledge to work for our clients across the country, there’s a part of me that wishes Institute was still the six-year program it used to be. The emails, texts, and Facebook posts would increase every spring as June approached, and I know that won’t be the case next year as we continue climbing our corporate ladders across the country. But maybe (and hopefully) I’m wrong. Institute offers many opportunities to stay involved, from volunteering as class advisors to serving on the board of regents to joining the faculty. And I, for one, will explore any and all opportunities to give back to this great profession.