Which management option is best for you?

You are the president of the board of trustees. The Association you have worked so hard to build and nurture is at a crossroads. It’s time to hire your first staff person, or you are replacing the executive director who had been with you for years. An association management company saw your ad and is requesting more information.

An association management company? What is that?? Why should you consider hiring a company to do the work of your beloved association? Isn’t it better to find someone from the ‘rank and file’ to do the work---after all, they know what it’s like to be one of us!?

How you proceed really depends upon the answer to the following: What is in the best interest of your association?

Before embarking upon an expensive search process, do your homework. The board of trustees, and other stakeholders in the association, should come to an understanding of what goals and objectives they wish to accomplish through the work of the association. When those goals and objectives are established, the skill set needed to accomplish them should be determined.

Does someone from your trade/profession have the capability to move your association to the next level of achievement? Does the board of directors have the time to function as a human resources department? If so, then it may be the best choice to hire someone, even if on a less-than-full-time basis, from the rank and file.

You determine that hiring from within would present more challenges than advantages. You do, however, have a budget of over $5 million, so keeping up with payroll isn’t an issue. Your goals and objectives require a large staff to do a multitude of programs and services. If this is your scenario, hiring a full-time association management professional to oversee your association’s operations is probably your best choice.

When you find that your association is somewhere in the middle---a smaller budget, a board of directors who has no desire to take on human resources, and the association’s goals and objectives require the talents of an individual—or team of individuals—that represent a broad base of administrative skills---that’s when an association management company becomes your association’s best choice.

Association management companies bring to the table experience with all of those things necessary to run a nonprofit organization successfully. Whether this experience is resident in the talent of one person or a team, the management company uses ideas and best practices from several associations to create successful scenarios to accomplish your goals and objectives.

AMC owners often require their staff to spend time in volunteer work for other nonprofit organizations so that they gain perspective from the board of trustees point of view.

Because associations deal with people, and people, even the most professional, have emotions that affect their work, you cannot ignore emotions when making your decision. A direct employee of the association has an emotional investment in the organization. This is rewarding, to a point, enhancing loyalty and dedication. At the same time, however, it can leave the employee open to loss of perspective, "nit-picking" small problems, and becoming upset about things an outside executive would not. An association manager on the other hand, has enormous objectivity, enabling her or him to keep distance and perspective and deal with issues, not pick at problems. He or she has no personal axe to grind and is concerned only with providing guidance and direction to keep the association moving toward it’s own stated goals.

A final point to consider is that, with an in-house staff, you may run the risk of having experience a "mile wide and an inch deep." Regardless of what industry, profession or segment of society your association represents, it’s good to have a few people on hand with experience outside that particular box. It is possible to recruit employees with this in mind, or you can find an association management company that manages smart, and doesn’t let their staff get spread too thin either in experience or responsibilities.

The association has the final decision on what will work best; if you are the one charged by your association to make that decision, consider all your options, do your research and don’t be pressured by either side of the discussion.