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Hiring an association management company (AMC) is like conducting a job interview—with a lot more at stake.

If the association’s board of directors makes the wrong decision, correcting the mistake can be far more expensive and harmful to the organization than simply terminating an employee. The same is true for AMCs who choose to work with a client association that turns out to be a poor fit.

The challenges of correcting a poor association/AMC fit means that asking the right questions prior to selecting an AMC is extremely important.

Here are five questions you should ask your AMC before entering into a formal partnership:

  1. Can you provide us an example of the strategies or tactics your AMC has used that have helped your client associations grow?

 Associations that aren’t actively trying to grow their membership will eventually die. Boards of directors often end up focusing on programs and benefits that, while nice, aren’t nearly as important as ensuring a constant influx of new members and new revenue.

Without a doubt, associations are mission-oriented organizations. But they are also businesses—even if they are legally 501c(6) nonprofits.

All of those extra benefits and programs boards like to focus on are only possible with a healthy bottom-line. Ask potential AMCs to give you examples of the strategies and tactics they’ve used to help associations like yours grow.

The right answer will mean your association will have the resources it needs to grow, thrive, and be relevant to its members and profession.

  1.  Tell us about an association facing similar challenges to the ones we face. How did you help them get beyond those challenges?

 This is similar to the first question, but associations face more challenges than just their bottom-line.

Does your association struggle with relevance in its profession? Does your association struggle to identify and develop talented new board members? Is your association struggling to connect with Millennial and Gen Z members?

Associations are unique organizations that face a variety of challenges. Of course, that is one reason why selecting an association management company has so many advantages. Your association may not have faced its current challenge before—but there is a good chance your AMC (or the AMC that is the right fit) has helped a client face and overcome similar obstacles to success.

  1.  What happens when the board of directors and your AMC disagree on strategy?

 If you’re looking for an AMC that will answer this question with something to the effect of, “The customer is always right,” then you are looking for an administrator—not a strategic partner.

While the association’s board of directors ultimately has the final say, the whole point of selecting an AMC is to find a partner who knows how associations succeed. The combination of industry knowledge and relationships held by the board of directors and the operational knowledge of the AMC both play a significant role in the association’s success.

That is a complicated way of saying that your board of directors should partner with an AMC willing to tell you what you need to hear—rather than just what you want to hear.

  1.  Can you describe your AMC’s culture?

 The culture of an AMC is important to an association’s success.

How long has the AMC’s leadership team worked together? How often do account executives/chief staff executives turn over? What process is in place to replace a key staff member if they choose to pursue another opportunity? How much does the AMC invest in the professional development of their staff?

Answers to these questions will help your association understand how the AMC selects, retains, and rewards the staff that will help your association thrive.

  1.  Based on what you already know about our organization, where do you see our association in three years?

 This is similar to the question every interviewee hates—and for a good reason.

However, a personal five-year plan and a three-year plan for your association’s growth and success are entirely different. The AMC should at least have a sense of how its capabilities, strategies, and experiences can create long-term success for your association.

Like the question about disagreements, when hearing the answer to this question your board should value honesty and transparency rather than unrealistic, overly optimistic projections. Even if the AMC can’t accurately project three years into the future—the impact of COVID-19 on associations is a generational example of how unpredictable life can be—they should still have some idea of how their management capacity can strengthen your association over the next few years.

Whatever questions you ask, make sure you know your AMC’s capacity, culture, values, and strengths.

The AMC that answers your questions with honesty, transparency, and a willingness to tell you what you need to hear is the management partner your association needs.

Are you considering hiring an AMC for the first time, or looking to make a change with your existing AMC? We would love to hear from you.

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