For small- and medium-sized associations, taking on new projects or initiatives often means taking on more work than your staff can reasonably handle. When that happens, a few options quickly come to mind:
- Ask your staff to put in more hours.
- Ask your volunteers for help.
- Hire another full-time staff member.
With the first two options, your association saves money, but your staff and/or volunteers run the risk of burnout.
Association members who step up to lend their expertise or skill sets to a special project are often an economical source of extra help, but their availability can be limited since their day job remains their first priority.
The third option eases everyone’s burden, but costs money that your association may or may not have in the budget.
With the services of an association management company (AMC), organizations have a fourth option–hiring part-time, temporary (or permanent) help. This can be a cost-effective option for associations that need an extra pair of qualified hands.
An association management company is a professional service company that provides management and administrative services to associations on a fee-for-service basis. AMCs provide staff, office support, office space, tech support and equipment, typically for multiple associations at one time. An AMC can benefit its association clients by streamlining office tasks and tech systems, and exercising bulk purchasing power on behalf of its clients.
Seven questions to ask when hiring an association management company:
- What are your capabilities?
While all AMCs can provide quality service suited to a professional environment, some AMCs employ staff that specializes in certain areas, such as strategic planning, non-dues revenue generation or technology assistance. Convey your goals and an AMC will let you know how capable it is at helping your association achieve them.
- What are your certifications?
Ask about any certifications or accreditations AMC staff members might hold. The AMC Institute has developed a Standard of Good Practices for the association management industry. AMC Institute Accreditation is conferred upon AMCs that can demonstrate high-level customer service in 10 distinct areas of association administration. Accredited AMCs are recognized as those that deliver consistent, responsible services.
The Community Associations Institute (CAI) also offers the designation of Accredited Association Management Company to AMCs that demonstrate a company’s commitment to cultivating and maintaining the skills, experience and integrity to serve community associations reliably. Accredited AMCs must employ a staff of which at least half hold a professional manager credential, comply with CAI’s Professional Manager Code of Ethics, maintain adequate insurance and have at least three years’ experience providing community association management services.
- What is your management style?
Your staff will work closely with someone from an AMC. Your AMC will also represent your association to the degree that unless someone asks, they won’t know an AMC employee is not a native member of your association’s staff. Make sure your organization’s working style aligns with the AMCs so that together, everyone can accomplish what needs to be done and your members’ interactions with everyone in the office are seamless.
Similar to management style, how does the AMC’s staff typically communicate? Can they adapt to your staff’s preferences? What is their standard turnaround time for calls, emails or work delivered? The beginning of your working relationship is the time to make expectations known.
- What are your fees?
This is self-explanatory. Find out the fee structure so there are no surprises a few months from now or halfway through your initiative.
- Is there a separate charge for any overhead expenses?
One important benefit of working with an AMC is not having to provide office space for its people working for you; they maintain their own, separate offices. But some AMCs may need to charge for meeting space, gas, and other supplies as needed for your project.
- Can we add or contract staff as needed, and if so, what kind of notice is needed?
As your project’s size increases or winds down, you may need additional help, or you may need to taper off the help needed. Ask your AMC if they can accommodate these changes and if so, how much notice is required.
- Can the AMC offer your association any bulk discounts?
Because they work with multiple associations, AMCs often have the power to negotiate discounts for hotels, print shops, meeting spaces, mailing services and more. Ask what kind of discount your association could have access to when working with your AMC.
The next time your association is facing a large project or initiative and needs extra help, consider hiring an AMC. AMCs are staffed by professionals who know the needs and goals of the association community. Whether temporary or long-term, hiring an association management company can be a wise investment.
Wendy J. Weiser is the president of WJ Weiser & Associates, Inc., a company she founded in 1988. Weiser is now part of Naylor Association Solutions.