Ask any association Board member about their association’s mission, and you’ll inevitably hear things like:
- “to provide high quality education and training to members”;
- “to provide networking opportunities to members”;
- “to advocate for our members and their profession”.
In the end, it’s all about members, many of whom are long-time and passionate volunteers, and of course, a primary supporting goal is to grow that membership and harness that passion. So when an association experiences extraordinary growth, and is run solely by volunteers with other jobs, how does leadership stay ahead of the game and ensure it is meeting member needs and advancing its mission?
In the case of the Association of Donor Relations Professionals (ADRP), it was by hiring an association management company (AMC). ADRP is the preeminent organization providing members with the resources they need to advance and set the standard for donor relations and stewardship in the U.S. and Canada. Founded in 2004 by a grassroots group of donor relations professionals in New England who had the foresight to understand the need for education and training in this emerging field, ADRP is now an international organization that is considered the major player in this area of philanthropy.
Nancy Lubich McKinney, Executive Director of Donor & Gift Services at UC Berkeley, was recruited to the ADRP Board in 2006 and served as Board president from 2009 through 2014. “I knew this organization did important work that was of immense value to me and my colleagues in the field, but although passionate and knowledgeable about the industry, volunteers in most cases did not have the business experience or bandwidth to run an organization that was taking off in a big way,” she said. At the time, there were many volunteers handling an array of needed services.
“We were growing fast, and it become a huge challenge to manage member needs,” said Julie Bostian, Director of Stewardship and Donor Engagement at Boston College, and ADRP’s president-elect.
Leadership was also being stretched. ADRP’s original governance structure included a multitude of committees that made decisions on everything from event menus to photo selections in brochures.
To find a solution, ADRP’s Board researched the industry and discovered that there were actually association management companies that effectively took on the operational aspects and handled the day-to-day activities for associations. That’s where SBI came in.
In addition to handling the association’s operations, marketing, financial services, and member services and events, SBI provides ADRP with leadership support, placing SBI’s Louise S. Miller, MA, CAE, as the association’s Executive Director. “With 25 years of experience as a national association ED, Louise brought association management expertise to ADRP, and greatly enhanced our capacity,” said Julie. “Rather than taking a cookie-cutter approach, she jumped in with both feet and ensures we stay member-centric and strategic.”
Added Nancy, “Louise understood the nuances and sensitivities of transitioning from volunteers to an AMC. We wanted to be sure not to send our hard-working volunteers the message that they weren’t appreciated, and Louise got this. It became about educating them about needing them in a more important role. Louise also brings added value to the role of ED by providing proactive advice and counsel on our finances, and she has enhanced our revenue diversification.”
Today, with the support of an AMC, ADRP has:
- an international conference that has grown from 325 attendees to 550
- a membership base that has grown from 900 to 1,600
- a healthy revenue stream that has increased by 82% in three years
- increased the annual number of regional events in the U.S. and now Canada
After partnering with SBI for several years, the Board took one more giant step: it hired an outside consultant to lead the Board and staff through a governance restructuring so that leadership could step back from operational tasks and focus in on how it could truly best serve its members in a changing profession, and allow volunteers to focus on event programming instead of the event itself.
Said Erin L. Moyer, Associate Vice President of Advancement and Chief of Staff, at the University of Rochester and ADRP’s current president, “Moving to an organization with an Executive Director and a strategic governance model has made a huge difference in what the ADRP board has been able to accomplish– it has allowed us to become a full service association.”
ADRP’s Board meeting agendas are now focused on key strategic questions, and not on worry about day to day operations. “We are finally able to move forward on ways to provide important information on industry data and trends to enhance the work of all in the profession,” said Nancy. “This provides support not only to members, but our member organizations’ donors, and ensures they are engaged and aware of the impact their gifts have. It also allows us to focus on making sure the educational needs of our more senior members are met.”
“Working with SBI has provided increased capacity for the Board to focus on setting direction because now our leadership has the time to strategize on the future of a fast-changing profession,” added Julie. “We are now fully focused on being a key resource in the field of philanthropy, and this could not have occurred without SBI’s work to facilitate the day-to-day operation of the association.”
ADRP also has higher than normal expectations for customer service, indicated Erin. “As an organization we have always been highly focused on being responsive to member needs,” she said. “SBI has embraced this as a company, and staff have worked with us to provide a service model that fits ADRP.”
In the end, Nancy points to the fact that as she ends her Board term this year she is confident that she leaves ADRP with a sustainable business model in place. “Being involved for so long in this association, and with its members and volunteers, ADRP is very close to my heart,” she said. “I know I can walk away from a leadership role and all will be fine.”