Feature Article

Getting Involved in APA Governance: A Beginner's Guide

The author shares helpful tips for beginning new service within APA.

By Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD

Your involvement in APA can be one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of your professional life. APA offers many levels of participation, some requiring substantial time investment, particularly if you are involved with a major board or committee. However, many other APA positions require relatively little time yet still offer great benefits to you, both personally and professionally. APA governance forms the volunteer backbone of this large and complex organization, and by learning about it from the ground up, you'll be amazed at how much you learn about the profession and about yourself.

This document is intended to serve as a brief introduction to the process of getting involved in governance. If you're interested in getting further information, APA has several resources on its website that you can review.

We are assuming that you are a member of an APA division or a society or a state, provincial, or territorial association (SPTA). If you are not, you might wish to consider joining one, as it will give you access to a greater variety of APA resources than being an association-wide member alone.

  • Get to know your division(s) and/or SPTA(s)
    Your closest professional and/or geographical colleagues are the ones in the divisions or SPTAs of which you are a member. If you're not already on a listserv, consider joining one to keep informed about your organization's activities, interests, and concerns. After following the listserv discussions, you may be able to identify a topic of particular relevance to you and your work, and that can be the basis for your entry into a committee or task force.
  • Volunteer for a project that fits your expertise and interests
    Division governance leaders are always looking out for new and interested members to help them with their work. Contact the person whose area seems closest to your own to volunteer to work on an upcoming project, or to join an ongoing committee. Once you do so, you'll see if this seems like a good fit, and whether it's something you can reasonably manage with the rest of your schedule.
  • Attend open meetings at a local, state, regional, or national association convention
    It's one thing to read the emails and publications of a group and quite another to attend one of their meetings. As long as newcomers are invited (and this will be posted along with the meeting announcement), you will be welcomed and perhaps introduced to the key figures in the group. This can have the additional benefit of helping you network in your area of interest and expertise.
  • Find out how elections and appointments take place in your division and/or SPTA
    Each organization has its own bylaws and procedures. If you'd like to join a committee or task force, you can begin by talking to the current task force chair, the division or SPTA president, or colleagues you've met online or at face-to-face meetings. This will also give you an idea of how much work this would involve and whether you can reasonably take it on now. If not, file the information away for a later time when it will be possible for you to devote the expected time to the position.
  • Learn about the voting procedures
    Assuming that you've liked what you've seen so far in the year (or longer) of your previous involvement, your next step is to consider running for office. APA itself, and the divisions and SPTAs as well, have very well-defined formal elections procedures to ensure that all voting is done fairly and according to the bylaws. If online material is available, afford yourself of the opportunity to study it, and then ask a friend or colleague with more experience in the organization to let you know about whatever informal guidelines or procedures may also be in place.
  • If you decide to run, seek support
    In some divisions and SPTAs, there is healthy competition for each elected position. However, some positions are more popular than others. You may be surprised to learn that the area in which you are most interested typically has very few candidates, and your chances of winning are high. In any case, don't hide your light under a bushel. Let your friends know that you're running, and ask them to solicit support from their friends and associates. It may not actually take that many votes for you to accrue enough to win that position you desire.
  • Get ready to take the next step
    Once you get a taste of APA governance at your local or divisional level, you may feel ready to take the plunge into APA central governance. Boards and committees are constantly seeking new members, and many are required by new APA policies to include people who are new to APA governance at this level. You begin by letting your divisional or SPTA executive committee know that you'd like to be considered for one of these elected (or in some cases appointed) positions. Each year, there's a call for names for slates. Get a copy of this document and see which positions fit you the best. Then let your divisional or SPTA president know that you'd like to be considered for nomination. The slates are formed in the late spring, with each board and committee sending forward a list of possible nominees to the APA Board of Directors. If you're selected for one of these slates, you will be asked to provide a biographical statement. Seek someone's advice on what to say about yourself, because this statement will be circulated with the ballot. Currently, the Council of Representatives from the previous year vote for all board and committee members. In early September, you'll be asked to complete “Caucus Endorsements.” These refer to the Council caucuses that, as in the U.S. Congress, represent interest groups. Make sure you fill out each of these, particularly ones for which you think you're most competitive. Follow the instructions the caucus elections chair gives you when you fill these out. Most importantly, seek the advice of your colleagues, particularly your Council representatives, to make sure that you're going about this the right way.

You may win your election on your first try, but if you don't, please don't get discouraged. Sometimes it takes two or three tries to get elected depending on whom else is running. What's an impossible slate one year may be an easy win the next.

In summary, it's rewarding and valuable to serve your profession in this way. From your divisional or SPTA involvement to your potential role as a member of a board or committee, you'll find that APA governance allows for many ways to express and fulfill your personal and professional interests.

Next steps

If you find that governance is indeed rewarding and beneficial, it may be time to move into a position within an APA board or committee, or perhaps the APA Council of Representatives. At that point, your divisional and SPTA colleagues will be your strongest allies and sources of support. A successful term in one of these smaller associations will give you the credibility and experience you need to move on to the next higher level. At that point, there are a number of mentoring organizations within APA that can help you. The Women's Caucus is always glad to support you in your efforts to move on within APA, so feel free to contact its current chair.