Most associations start as volunteer-driven. In many ways this is good, as it gets all members heavily involved and familiar with policies and procedures as they are formed. The board does everything – paying bills, responding to information requests, publishing a newsletter. Eventually, though, if all goes well and the association grows, critical mass is reached. The board simply cannot continue to do it all as effectively as it has in the past. This is a very critical phase for the association; if a once enthusiastic and energetic board becomes overextended or exhausted before taking the next step and acquire staff, the group could hit a brick wall. To prevent this crash, the association should anticipate the need for additional staffing and create hiring plans, including room in the budget. The board is the most valuable asset any association has. A high-powered board means a thriving association. Even the most winning team, however, can only keep so many balls in the air at once. Once burn out sets in, the combination of frustration and exhaustion leads to attrition of both the board and the membership. Growth slows as great ideas get set aside, because the human and financial resources just are not there. The key to avoiding this downward spiral is to start looking for solutions before your association begins to lose both momentum and people. Be warned: Finding a staff executive is the most pressing responsibility of the board at this juncture and can be one of the most challenging tasks the board will ever undertake. It’s time consuming, stressful and very revealing. The process may uncover the weaknesses of the association – a process both painful and eye-opening, but very necessary for the continued growth of the association. Starting with a healthy perspective and a team commtment to avoid the impulse to choose hastily rather than wisely will help the board stay the course during this crucial phase. There are a couple of essential questions the board needs to ask itself. Surprisingly, "Can we afford it," is not the most important question! The process pays for itself over time. Think of staff, whether they are employees or are provided by an association management company, as a resource capable of making money rather than costing money. The first question to ask is whether the association would be better served by hiring a staff of its own or by engaging an association management company to handle its business. In many cases, the association management company is the best solution, providing a greater degree of flexibility and specialization, while minimizing maintenance, liability and other factors associated with having employees or, as they are sometimes called, “captive” staff. The selection process can be faster, as the association need only select which company to hire, versus interviewing and hiring individual staff members one at a time. Also, if more staffing is needed in the future, the AMC will be responsible for hiring, training and payroll. The only truly important question, when it comes right down to it, is: "What is the best thing for the growth and health of the association?" Evaluate the goals of the association, review the resources – present and potential, and then review all possible staffing options to find the one that will advance the goals and use most effectively and enhance the resources. Key considerations to determine if you are ready for staff Ask yourself these questions: 1. Is it getting harder and harder to meet deadlines and due dates for newsletters, bills and other basic operations? 2. Are you finding it more difficult to recruit volunteers for projects and programs from the board and the membership? 3. Does enthusiasm seem to be wearing thin among the board and the membership in general? 4. Does the association’s income seem frozen, because you just don’t have time for any kind of money making project? 5. Has the organization lost members because of a lack of services or delays in response time? 6. Is the board so busy "putting out fires" that no new programs or services are being explored or begun? 7. Has the membership list stopped growing because no one on the board has time for active recruiting of new members? If you answer "yes" to two or more of these questions, it’s definitely time to think about moving the association away from being completely volunteer driven and toward a staffed operation. (Back to Resource Library)