This is a fairly straightforward decision for most people. It depends on a very few things. Mostly the degree of involvement you want.
If there is a good organization nearby, and your field is not represented, join. This gives you a faster start, and allows you to benefit from the experience of the existing members.
If there is no organization in your area, or you don't like the one that exists there already, you have some things to consider. The first is your own personal style.
If you are a hard worker, well organized, and like to be in the leadership positions, you should consider starting a chapter on your own. This involves some research into the organization you choose, to make sure that their principles and your own are in close agreement. It also involves a commitment of time and energy both to get started, and to keep things running smoothly. The rewards are well worth the effort.
If you don't feel you can make the commitment of time, or you just prefer to work more in the background, you might want to consider finding someone else to help you get started and who might be interested in the more visible position. This way you can get things going with less time from each of you, and you can maintain the role in which you work best. Once the chapter is solidly established, you can enjoy the quieter benefits of membership, and let your friend or acquaintance enjoy the role of leader and spokesperson.
Here's a list of questions that relate to the qualities that bear on which role you would be most successful in. Answer each with the first response that comes to mind. If neither is completely accurate, which will happen with at least one question, choose the one closest to your feelings. Write down the letter A or B each time you answer a question. Many of these are not mutually exclusive, but are intended to see how you would best fare in the specific context of this specific type of group.
Note : There are no wrong answers in this one.
1. Are you more comfortable :
A. Leading a group ?
2. Do you prefer :
A. Having a lot of visibility to be able to rally the team ?
3. Assuming the time was equally compensated, which amount
would you be able to invest ?
A. 8-15 hours a week.
4. Do you tend to pursue :
A. New ideas ?
5. Would you say you more enjoy :
A. Marketing ?
6. Do you generally prefer an approach that is :
A. Down to business ?
7. Do you find it more normal to enforce rules on a :
A. Previously agreed upon standard ?
8. When given a choice ahead of time, do you prefer to :
A. Work from a defined plan ?
9. When operating in a new organization, do you prefer to :
A. Work within an established chain of responsibility ?
10. If given three alternatives, all nearly equal in merit,
how easily would you say you can make the decision on
just one ?
A. Not easily, but quickly.
As you probably noticed, there are some fine lines there. This is not a quiz, and it really isn't a decision making test. It is intended to give you a perspective on the types of things you will be involved in. Each "A" answer should be counted as a point, and each "B" answer as none.
If you are in doubt about which way you would like to proceed, consider that those who tallied more than 7 points will probably do well as chapter founders. Those with 3 or fewer points will probably be most comfortable as members.
Anyone could fit anywhere on this scale and do well at either role. This is more to make you aware of the qualities in yourself than in the positions. It is important that you feel comfortable with your involvement with this type of organization in order for you to get the most from and contribute the most to the overall success of the group.
Every person is different, and that is one of the things that makes a group strong. Whether you decide to start a chapter, or to find help from someone whose interests are better suited to the task, it is important only that you do what is best for you. You can always find others whose own interests and needs complement yours.
That is, after all, what networking is all about. All you need to do is make the decision which way you want to go, and then act.
The next step in getting started is knowing the responsibilities, whether as a member or starting a chapter on your own.
ProfNet is a professional networking group with over 30 chapters throughout the US and expanding to international markets.