A few years ago, staff at nonprofit organizations might have asked, “What's an AMC?” Today, in the age of outsourcing, the question is, “What isn't an AMC?”

BY SAMMI SOUTAR, CAE

AMCs — short for association management companies — have been around for more than 100 years and have been steadily gaining prominence within the nonprofit community as a viable resource. Recent economic and technological pressures have accelerated the rising awareness of this once invisible association partner. Meeting planners and executive directors, for instance, are turning to AMCs for myriad services. This outsourcing trend is bound to continue as staff struggle to meet the demands of their associations in the midst of budget cuts and downsizing.

AMCs represent the industrial-strength version of outsourcing, now a $400 billion business. Why? AMCs are designed to provide anything and everything an association needs to operate, from customized support to finish a project within a set timeframe to ongoing and full-blown services that include fully equipped headquarters, staffing and executive-level leadership.

Selecting an AMC with the right fit for your organization from a field of companies as diverse as the services and specialties they represent is crucial but not complicated. Just remember your ABCs:

“A” stands for accountability

Has the AMC in your scope of services clearly spelled out the details of the work that will be addressed, including areas of responsibility and anticipated, measurable outcomes in the proposal and service agreement? Does the service agreement address matters of client rights and AMC responsibilities concerning matters of confidentiality, transition, client indemnification and other essential contractual provisions? For a comprehensive checklist and sample contracts, contact the International Association of Association Management Companies (IAAMC), (630) 655-1669, or visit its Web site, www.iaamc.org.

“B” stands for best practices

As the market has grown, the AMC industry has developed standards and self-monitoring systems to ensure performance quality and good customer relations. IAAMC developed a Standard of Good Practices several years ago. In addition, IAAMC offers an accreditation program. You will find a copy of the AMC Standard on the IAAMC Web site, including a directory indicating which AMCs have been accredited.

“C” stands for customer service

Ultimately, satisfactory customer service hinges on excellent communication in any service business, and AMCs are no exception. Contact the AMCs on your short list to inquire about their service philosophy, approach to the work, and how lines of communication will be maintained. Do they have procedures that invite customer evaluation and feedback to benchmark and improve service? How will they adapt their internal procedures to satisfy your association's particular reporting needs? Answers to these questions will reveal the level of accessibility and customization you can expect from the AMC management team.

Within the offices of a typical AMC, you'll find a comprehensive blending of expertise, service and experience, which is why staff and volunteer leaders are turning more and more to AMCs, whether they need a quick fix, short-term solution, or long-term support.

And, within the alphabet soup of association resources, you should have no trouble finding the AMC that suits your needs by paying attention to their Ps and Qs — professionalism and quality.

By Sammi Soutar, CAE, is the president of Able Management Solutions, Inc.