Running an association is not always a day at Disney World. In addition to trying to achieve the main goals and objectives of your organization, there are all the day-to-day details like bookkeeping, answering the phones, finding and training staff, publishing your newsletter, and all the other time-consuming essentials. They have to be done, but they seem to absorb large chunks of time and resources. Is there an easier way? Could an association management company be the answer? It may well be. Before you make that decision, there are some things you should know.

       If you hire a management company, who will be accountable? If you hired staff, the chief of that staff would report to your board of directors and be responsible for the people who reported to him or her. That won't change if you hire a management company. You will have a contract or letter of agreement with the company that will spell out, to everyone's satisfaction, such issues as accountability, responsibilities, relationships, etc., so that there will be no disappointments or surprises.

How does the management company stay focused on the interests of my association when they have several to keep track of? Do their loyalties get divided? Doctors and lawyers have many clients, yet this does not compromise either the quality of service or the assurance of confidentiality. An association management company works in the same way. The clients' files and projects are kept separate and confidential. Some management companies even have one or more staff members assigned exclusively to each client, but even if they aren't structured that way, you can be assured that your association will receive their full attention. A solid, professionally run management company will be fully capable of handling even competing clients without "choosing sides" or any variation in the level of service provided.

    Doesn't the association lose its identity as an individual entity when it hires an association management company? Not at all. Your phones will be answered with either your association's name or a neutral greeting, such as "Association headquarters," whichever you prefer. All documents and correspondence will go out with your logo, not the management company's. Unless you choose to reveal the arrangement, your members and the general public will believe they are dealing with your own, in-house staff.

       Does the almighty dollar, the profit motive, interfere with the service? Is the management company more worried about money than with the nonprofit values of the community my association serves?  On the contrary, that profit motive virtually guarantees the management company will focus on your needs. Management companies don't make money by concentrating on money; they make it by concentrating on serving their clients better than anyone else could. If your organization doesn't think it is getting good value for its fees, it will find a new management company. A management company that concentrates on the almighty dollar rather than the needs of the client soon has no clients to manage.

  Is a management company a good choice for a small or new association, or one with limited resources? An excellent choice! A management company can make your limited resources go much further than before. You can negotiate a flexible pricing arrangement in your contract. Shared resources reduce costs and smooth out staffing needs. There is a substantial savings in operating, equipment, space rental and insurance costs, as you are using the management company's space, equipment and staff. Association management companies function as independent contractors, not hired staff, so your organization doesn't have to worry about taxes or providing benefits.

        Are there other advantages to hiring a management company? Many of them. Management companies provide a consistent level of quality, accountability and dependability, which can be hard to find in all-volunteer staffs. There is the convenience of having the management company deal with research, lobbying, staff hiring and training, planning, bookkeeping, public relations and publications. This leaves more time for your association to devote to the organization's policies, membership and goals.

        Another advantage is that, for a fraction of the cost, your association has at its disposal a variety of specialists on call, without having had to deal with the time and expense of finding, hiring, training and paying them day-to-day. In addition, you may be able to take advantage of the association management's buying power for better discounts on supplies and services.
        Even with all these facts in hand, you may still have questions. Just pick up the phone, call a high quality, dependable association management company and ask. You will find a courteous, competent professional ready and willing to help you make the best decision possible for your association.
        By Sammi Soutar, founder of Able Management Solutions; first published in the 2000 AMC Directory by ASAE