From members of nonprofit organizations to executives serving on boards and committees, we certainly work with a lot of different types of people in our line of work — each exhibiting unique characteristics and attributes but often with similar goals. The primary thing these groups have in common is us: their association management company.
But what exactly do association management companies like SBI accomplish for associations? And how do association management companies operate?
What is an AMC?
An association management company (AMC) is an independent service provider offering services and solutions for associations. This often includes customer service, administrative assistance, management solutions, and strategic guidance to organizations on a fee-for-service basis. In its essence, an AMC acts as the home office, managing the everyday tasks of nonprofits, societies, boards, and other associations.
Associations by Definition
Let’s take a step back. Association is a pretty broad word; by definition, an association is a group of people who share a common purpose or goal. Thus, an association could be anything from a trade association to a non-governmental organization (NGO). Even within those categories, there is significant diversity in missions, goals, and operations.
With so broad a definition, you can imagine the sheer size of the association industry. The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), which is the association for the association industry, has more than 44,000 members, representing more than 7,400 associations nationwide. These ASAE members are all association professionals and industry partners. That is just a fraction of the industry: in 2013, the IRS Data Book reported 66,985 trade and professional associations and 1,052,495 charitable and philanthropic organizations. And as societal interests and concerns evolve, the number of associations only continues to increase.
AMCs in Detail
If the point of an association is to bring people together to achieve a specific goal, then it’s important that association members be allowed to focus on said goal. Because everyday operations can be time-consuming for members, AMCs grant associations the opportunity to focus on their mission.
We touched on it before, but to clarify, there are two primary models for working with an AMC:
- Full Service means the AMC has their hand in pretty much every aspect of operations. From membership to marketing to risk management, to event planning and finances and strategic planning. In this model, the AMC is a strategic partner that supports the association so they can be more impactful in the work they do.
- Outsourced Service means the AMC undertakes a single task or project for the association. As an example, the association may only need help organizing an event, or maybe it’s managing the association’s website or finances. Regardless, the AMC can help.
Benefits of an AMC
As you can see, working with an AMC allows for a lot of flexibility — matching most needs and budgets. In addition to providing access to the best practices in industry and association expertise, AMCs can offer associations these benefits:
- Access to the best technologies and business practices, updated frequently by dedicated industry professionals
- Tailored solutions, optimized specifically for nonprofit performance and led by adaptable and passionate team members
- Completely customizable short-term or long-term staff, focused on day-to-day operations, administrative upkeep, and member support
- Optimal resource allocation, given specific industry know-how
- Financial benefits, including shared resources within the accredited AMC network, increased buying power, and an extra buffer against industry risk
It is easy to demonstrate the benefits and value of partnering with an AMC when we compare it to the alternatives: either being solely volunteer-run, or run by a paid staff. Associations that are volunteer managed often face several challenges. Commonly, this includes limited time and resources, lack of a central office, and lack of knowledge in association management best practices, to name a few. While hired staff may be able to provide a central office, they may struggle to be “all things” to their association, outsourcing many specialized services and not well equipped to keep up a high level of responsiveness to members with competing priorities and a high volume of work on their plate.
Take into consideration the many diverse segments of work that must go into supporting the effective management and ongoing operations of an association. Associations must maintain a database of their members, keep their website up to date with current information, provide value to members through access to educational activities and events, collect dues and manage finances, and the list goes on. While volunteer-run associations can (and do) run their association without an AMC, it often means slower progress, disjointed communication among leaders and volunteers, and lack of streamlined processes and centralized information.
That’s where an AMC comes in, hired to consolidate all association duties under a single roof and reducing the amount of work expected of members and volunteers. Additionally, the AMC would step in to offer industry expertise.
How Does an AMC Operate?
Like lawyers or accountants, AMCs usually work with a number of clients and are typically on a monthly retainer, based on the scope of services. Whenever an association has a project or initiative they need some extra help on (or even a simple question they need answered), their hired AMC can step in with industry connections, expertise, and/or staffing. In certain cases, an AMC staff member may even serve as Executive Director for their client association, truly embedding them as part of the association.
AMC team members work in tandem with association volunteers, acting with an understanding and careful consideration of the specific association’s values and culture. This partnership benefits both and makes sense in theory and practice; when the association succeeds and is better able to fulfill its mission, so does the association management company. The AMC and the association are cheering on the same team!
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, an AMC is there to streamline the management capabilities of an association so the association can focus on mission, growth, and support of priorities. From administrative tasks to strategy implementation, the AMC offers industry expertise and assistance in all its forms — so the association leaders, members, and volunteers can devote their time to the larger picture.