History of Chicago Associations

Association Forum was founded Sept. 26, 1916. At the dawn of the 20th century, as America was changing from an agrarian economy to an industrial one, Chicago association executives banded together in order to create an "association for associations". When they did, they also formally established association management as a profession. Today, at the dawn of the 21st century as the world changes from an industrial economy to an information one. Association Forum Chicago continues to advance the association management profession by connecting the community, creating and sharing resources, and serving as a "learning lab" for the industry.

Association Forum has a rich and storied history. Read the story here

Check out these milestones:

  • 1916: On May 26, W.H. Boyd, field secretary of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, invites 18 "association professionals" — known then as corporations’ “secretaries” — to a luncheon at the Grand Pacific Hotel. He proposes organizing a "secretarial association for the promotion of secretarial efficiency." On Sept. 28, the world's first professional society of association professionals is born when 16 charter members formally organize the "Chicago Business Secretaries Forum." Their slogan: "Better secretaries!"

  • 1919: Chicago Business Secretaries Forum produces the first salary survey for association personnel. Average CEO salary: $8,000.

  • 1920: Chicago Business Secretaries Forum leaders are instrumental in the creation of the American Trade Executives Association, which later becomes the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE).

  • 1921: Chicago Business Secretaries Forum leaders are instrumental in creating the National School for Business Secretaries, now known as the Institute for Organization Management, conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Institute" is conducted at Northwestern University until the 1950s and remains the nation's oldest adult continuing education program.

  • 1930s: The title of association secretary declines in popularity. Chicago Business Secretaries Forum's name is therefore changed to the "Trade Association Executives Forum of Chicago." Membership is limited to trade association CEOs.

  • 1940s: Emerging from the Great Depression and World War II, American business is unshackled from wartime price controls and government regulation. The economy booms and the number of associations in Chicago and across the nation grows — especially individual membership societies.

  • 1950s: Trade Association Executives Forum of Chicago's name is changed to the "Association Executives Forum of Chicago" and CEOs of the growing professional society movement are invited to join.

  • 1960s: ASAE starts the Chartered Association Executive (CAE) program. Association Executives Forum of Chicago changes its name to the Chicago Society of Association Executives (CSAE) and hires its first full-time CEO.

  • 1970s: Chicago Society of Association Executives opens its membership to management professionals and supplier partners for the first time and then forms the nation's first CAE study group and job/resume service.

  • 1980s: Chicago Society of Association Executives' focus shifts from social events to education programming for all levels of job titles and expertise in association management. Programs and resources such as "Ask the Experts," awards, bookstore, foundation, Holiday Showcase — Chicago’s leading association trade show — and library programs are created. CSAE retains a lobbyist in Springfield and FORUM magazine is transformed into a four-color tabloid.

  • 1990s: Association 101, career counseling, Information Resource Center, Professional Practice Statements, Shared Interest Groups, Technology Solutions Day and websites are created. Also, Chicago Society of Association Executives’ first diversity policy is adopted. CSAE changes its name to the Association Forum.

  • 2000s: The Forum Promise was created which focused on "Essential Learning, Compelling Experiences and Powerful Resources" in support of three major goals: Improve the Quality of Practice, Enhance the Place of Practice, Ensure the Freedom of Practice. Association Week debuts as an annual celebration of associations in Chicago. New educational initiatives, online resources, association networking opportunities, expanded advocacy efforts and other entrepreneurial activities contribute to a growth in membership. Association Forum establishes its Workforce Diversity Partnership, a commitment to increase the number of diverse management personnel employed by Chicago associations.

  • 2010s: Revisions to the Illinois Not-for-Profit Corporation Act Senate Bill 1390 were made into Public Act 96-0649. The association held the first Association Leadership Summit, CEO retreat and Women’s Executive Forum. Launched a new benchmarking tool that contains real-time data provided by association peers. A redesigned website and event marketing initiatives earned major industry awards. Worked with allies to rewrite burdensome state lobbyist regulations and restore an appropriate fee for registering lobbyists.

  • 2015: Association Forum reveals new logo at Holiday Showcase 2015

Association Forum 100 Years