TIME FOR GROWTH – By Karla Taylor
Three FAQs About How an Association Management Company Can Help an Association Experiencing The Excitement and Challenges That Come with Growth
1. Why Consider an AMC When Your Association Needs to Grow
Because they work with a range of clients, AMCs have staff specialists who have probably already done what you to do. Maybe you need to lay the groundwork for change by educating you board or upgrading your database. Or maybe you need to take professional development global by offering meeting in China. “Chances are someone at an AMC has done that and can tell you what to prepare for,” says Kay Whalen, CAE, president of Executive Director, Inc.
Perspective on Best Practices
“We know what works and what doesn’t based on our knowledge and network,” says Leslie Murphy, FASAE, CAE, president of Raybourn Group International. “And if we don’t have direct experience with a new program, service or association, we have a variety of tools to research and implement successful initiatives.”
Growth puts major strains on everything from accounting to IT to communications. You don’t want your website to crash during a major volunteer signup drive. AMCs have experts to ramp up your capabilities or to put resources in place if you don’t have them already.
2. AMCs Talk About Scalability – What Does It Mean?
It means you can add what you need when you need it, and pay for only as much as you use.
Scalability applies to expertise as well as staff time. Launching a project requires high-level capability to design new systems, for example, or develop a financial plan. This naturally costs more. Once a project is running, maintenance mode requires less work and skill so you pay less. An AMC can evaluate your short – and long-term needs so you can increase or decrease in ways associations with dedicated staffing, benefits, and office space cannot easily do.
Faced with industry disruptors from the sharing economy and rent-by-owner housing sources, the Corporate Housing Providers Association wanted to both grow and differentiate its members by showcasing their professionalism via training programs. A full-service client of Raybourn Group, CHPA quickly assembled an expert team to pilot new regional conferences. AMC staffers set to work on budgeting, forecasting, logistics and marketing. The popular conferences have attracted new members and engaged ones who never participated in events before.
Now that the labor-intensive growth process has ended, the conferences are coordinated by a meeting planner who shares her duties with several other clients. “This reduces the cost for CHPA as it maximizes return on investment,” Murphy says. The association has been using a similarly flexible staffing plan to start and sustain accrediting and quality assessment programs.
The American Academy of Emergency Medicine has worked with an AMC to grow its membership from 130 to more than 8,000. Scalability helps it run high-profile European meeting that takes place only every other year. “They can staff up and then staff down, and their AMC fees change accordingly,” says Whalen.
You can even have a scalable CEO by getting an executive whose time is allocated for half-time service to your association. “It’s the kind of executive flexibility that’s much harder to do without an AMC’s backing,” says Murphy.
3. How Can an AMC Help When Growth Brings Problems?
Provide Professional Expertise
When the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society signed on with Executive Director, Inc., it sought help improving its customer service an international presence. EDI saw that neither of those would spur growth unless the society grappled with a bigger problem: It lacked accounting procedures and a robust database.
Over the years, the society has built a firm operational foundation, learned from what EDI taught about similar associations’ successes and failures, and adjusted its staffing as needed. The society has grown from fewer than 1,000 members in 1999 to 6,000 today.
Offer Staffing Flexibility
The Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer needed help both shrinking and expanding. After years in which the society grew at a healthy rate, industry-wide problems with a once-promising therapy caused sponsorship dollars to drop. To help the society stay afloat, EDI helped make strategic cuts that reduced staffing costs by half. Sponsorship funding has since increased, and EDI has helped the society more than quadruple previous levels of both member services and staffing.
Provide Blessed Relief
Most volunteer leaders are grateful when they’re freed to focus on high-level work – such as setting a new direction for the expanded membership instead of planning the banquet menu.
Handle other byproducts of sudden growth
For example, when changes in your field create strong demand for training, you may not have enough volunteers and subject matter experts to handle it. An AMC can help you anticipate that problem, launch a leadership development program to grow your volunteer ranks and advise you on how to get the necessary resources to make your new programs a success with members right out of the gate.
An influx of members or money doesn’t mean your problems are solved. You have to know how to use windfalls strategically. It can be tempting to invest in new staff or office space without realizing how they can pull your focus away from your mission and toward costly overhead. Better to work with experts who help you plan wisely – including creating contingency plans.
“Most people in associations don’t go through growth spurts every day,” says Rudick. “It’s good to be with someone experienced.”
“Reprinted with permission. Copyright, ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership (July 2016), Washington, DC.”