Reap the Benefits of Identity-Based Member Communities

February 22, 2021 By: Emily Muse, CAE

When you nurture communities based on characteristics like race, gender, and sexual orientation, you bring diversity, equity, and inclusion to life in your organization. You also reap significant benefits from their engagement in achieving your mission.

Successful associations work hard at creating a sense of belonging for members. They often do this by organizing and fostering member-interest communities. These may focus on an area of professional practice, career stage, or other interests that groups of members share in common. New communication platforms are removing barriers and allowing associations to offer new ways to network and build community.

Identity-based communities arranged around race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, ability, ethnicity, and other demographic characteristics often create even more meaningful engagement opportunities that benefit both the group and the organization. These peer collaboration and support systems are an expression of an association’s mission statements and elevate the impact of its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals.

The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine first saw powerful identity-community engagement emerge in 2012 when the LGBTQ Special Interest Group (SIG) was founded. A group of members approached AAHPM leadership and asked to form a supportive infrastructure for LGBTQ-identified palliative care providers. The LGBTQ SIG constituents demonstrated how a strong sense of self-knowledge and a collective community voice could influence the organization’s priorities. 

The result was a community that assisted AAPHM in developing culturally competent practices. LGBTQ SIG members created education, curated resources, and informed advocacy efforts. Any AAHPM member was welcome to join. Activities focused on providing exceptional care for LGBTQ patients and caregivers. The community arranged for a transgender hospice and palliative care practitioner to speak about the challenges both of providing and receiving palliative care as a transgender person—care of transgender patients is often negatively affected by bias and misunderstanding. The SIG also took notice of a newly published textbook on LGBTQ end-of-life care. Contributors, many of whom were SIG members, used common patient-care scenarios to teach better approaches.   

Building on Success

The AAHPM diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plan makes a commitment to building community and space for all voices. AAHPM saw an opportunity to leverage our engaged LGBTQ SIG leaders to invite colleagues to consider forming additional DEI identity communities.

Enthusiastic volunteers became inaugural leadership teams and used AAHPM's community networking platform to solicit members. Formation charters quickly established the Black Professionals, Patients, and Families Forum; Latinx Professionals, Patients, and Families Forum; and South and East Asian Professionals, Patients, and Families Forum.

AAHPM encourages collective self-determination in these communities. Their members take the lead in drafting their charters. The process includes identifying leaders, writing a purpose statement, and creating goals that align to the AAHPM strategic plan. Three key success strategies have emerged for identity communities:
  • They exist as safe spaces for support, connection, and networking. 
  • They welcome any member. The community name indicates that the group is a resource to any practitioner who wishes to grow in their culturally competent care of a specific population.
  • They assemble subject-matter experts. This reinforces that the communities are not expected to train the hospice and palliative care workforce in DEI. Instead, these communities are nurtured to develop and implement their own unique goals and initiatives.

All AAHPM communities receive support from leadership and staff. They each have unique community platform pages, in-person meetings at the annual conference, and invitations to serve as faculty at educational events. Community leaders are often invited to participate in committee or task force work. Currently, the elected chair of each identity community holds a seat on the AAHPM DEI Committee.

Contributing Value

The benefits of AAHPM’s identity-based communities run both ways: to their members and to the organization as a whole. Here are some ways that these communities have contributed significant value to the association:

  • The identity communities’ strategic oversight has informed our mentoring opportunities to be more equitable.
  • Community members have assisted with identifying and engaging diverse early-career practitioners.
  • Community leaders recognize research initiatives relevant to reducing disparities and barriers that impact end-of-life care. They also encourage constituents to expand these efforts.
  • AAHPM’s scientific journal has section editors for DEI and utilizes these communities’ communication platforms to solicit DEI-relevant research and teaching strategies.
  • Nominations of diverse practitioners to AAHPM awards programs, as well as award winners, have increased.
  • These communities continue to identify areas for improvement, inclusion, and increased member value.
  • Ultimately, the activities of these identity communities improve the care of patients, families, and caregivers and help AAHPM achieve its mission.

Identity-based communities bring a DEI plan to life. In the short term, these communities guarantee that every member voice is respected. Over time, they help associations create culturally appropriate benefits and services that more closely meet the needs of their diverse membership. AAHPM’s identity-based communities enhance the work of the association, develop future leaders, and contribute to innovations in the field.

Emily Muse, CAE

Emily Muse, CAE, is senior director of marketing and membership at the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.