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Is Your Chapter Ready to Hire an Association Management Firm?

Karen Verrico, CAE Pacific West Field Services Director   11/29/2012
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Your passion to give back and support your HR profession is a key part of who you are. But each year there seems to be less and less time to devote to volunteer activities. If your chapter finds that your annual goals are not getting met because of time-consuming administrative tasks executing key initiatives, then it may be time to consider looking at the various staffing options that are available to the chapter.

What are the Key Benefits for Volunteer Leaders?

The role of the Chapter Board and its volunteer leaders is to provide counsel and direction to ensure the success of your SHRM Chapter. As HR professionals, you are in the best position to identify the local needs of your members and to lead professional activities to advance the HR profession. Among these would be program development, teaching, representing the chapter on legislative issues, development of HR tools for practitioners, conducting networking events or job search programs and certainly to be active in local certification study groups.

But these profession-related activities can suffer when volunteers need to focus their time on administrative tasks. Today, many volunteer boards look to association management companies (AMC) to offer administrative or specialized services. Four top reasons for hiring an AMC include:

-          Allows volunteer leaders to concentrate on advancing the organization's mission, strategic planning and a longer-term vision — rather than administrative tasks

-          Provides an affordable, high degree of professionalism and technology through shared resources

-          Maintains continuity of business operations during changes in leadership

-          Provides cost-effective alternatives to association personnel, equipment, facilities, and other resource considerations

-          Attracts more senior level members who want to contribute at a non-administrative level

At the end of the day, nonprofits can take saved money to the bank, reallocating dollars to fulfill strategic initiatives and further advance the association's missionWhat Types of Services can an AMC Provide?

The Chapter can work with an AMC to determine what services are needed at different stages of the chapter’s growth. There is not one solution that is right for all chapters. You contract with the AMC for only those services that will enhance the professional programs in your chapter. These services could include:

·         Membership Administration

·         Membership Development

·         Membership Inquiries

·         Meeting and Conference Planning

·         Exhibit Sales and Management

·         Communications, Marketing and Public Relations support

·         Board Meeting Assistance

·         Certification Study Group Implementation

·         Special Interest Group administration

·         Committee and Task Forces administration

·         Web and Interactive Services

·         Financial and Accounting Services

·         Fundraising and Sponsorship Programs

·         Headquarters and Infrastructure

What are the Advantages of an AMC instead of other staffing alternatives?

A few SHRM Chapters have direct staff - that is the staff member is a direct employee of the chapter. Serving as an ‘employer’ is a complicated level of responsibility for most chapter boards and is a responsibility and liability that individual volunteers do not wish to undertake.

Often a volunteer member will offer to act in the staff role and for some chapters this is a tempting option.

But chapters should realize that association management is a recognized profession. Just like the HR field, there is a distinct body of knowledge that is necessary to be effective in the staff role. Association management professionals have a solid understanding of nonprofit law, membership recruitment and retention, volunteer management and the latest trends in the association industry.

An AMC usually manages more than one association and employs a variety of staff with specialized skills. So contracting with an AMC gives you access to marketing, technology, financial and organizational skills that rarely can be found in one individual.

In addition, the AMC offices may become your chapter’s office— staff, files and history all live in one place. The AMC may provide a professional receptionist, receive shipments; maintain calendar of events, central member files, supplies; serve as registered agent; supply meeting space; service email inquiries, provide meeting space etc.

SHRM chapters find that they can have these services in a very cost-effective way when they share services with other associations in the AMC structure. A chapter can also enjoy enhanced leverage with outside vendors through increased buying power.

Next Steps?

If you are ready to free your Board so they can focus on strategic direction, rather than tactical activities there are two organizations that are ready to help you.

The great resource is the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). ASAE is the professional association for Association Management Professionals. On their website , look on the bottom right of the homepage under ‘Quick Links’. There you will find “Staffing Your Association”. Here you will find articles on the value and benefits of having professional staff to help you reach your goals. An individual membership association, ASAE provides the opportunity for its members to become a Certified Association Executive (CAE). This is a designation you may want to look for when considering staff support.

Another resource is the AMC Institute (AMCI). AMCI is the professional association for companies who specialize in managing nonprofit associations. On their site, you can find detailed help in preparing an RFP and how to conduct a search for an AMC that fits well with your chapter.  You will also find a list of the AMCs that have demonstrated the commitment and ability to consistently deliver the highest level of services based on association management best practices have achieved AMC Institute Accreditation.

Choosing the right staffing option is one of the most important responsibilities of the Board and can lead to expanded association services, increased member satisfaction and growth. As you consider various options and how they can help your chapter, feel free to call on your Field Services Directors for examples of chapters that have chapter management professionals. Also be sure to use your ‘Chapter by Size’ SHRM Connect group to reach out to other chapters with staff for recommendations that may also work for you. The decision process may take some time but thorough research will help you find the best solution for your chapter.

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