Pt. 1/2 What options do you have to manage your organization?


When associations start, they quite often don’t need staff; all the work is done by volunteers. However, as an association grows, they realize they need help. There are three main options for these groups. First would be an independent contractor. This is a person who will do what you want, get paid a flat rate or an hourly rate, pay their own taxes, pay their own office expenses. Nice and easy. The next option is an employee or employees, requiring you to provide infrastructure and the associated financial and legal responsibilities around retirement, vacations, et cetera. The third is to hire an association management company, which is also an independent contractor but offers numerous people with numerous specialties to ensure that work is done at the highest quality level.

What options do you have to manage your organization?

  • Volunteer-run

Many not-for-profit membership organizations are trade organizations, which means that the personalities and the skill levels and specific knowledge that each member and each leader have are virtually the same. If you have an association of technological members, that will be the focus and the sweet spot for the members offering their volunteer services. They may not have the knowledge around financial management, people management, contracting with facilities, et cetera.

Some very successful not-for-profit organizations now have begun assigning competencies to every board position. For example, the treasurer is required to be a CPA. The secretary is required to be a lawyer, Membership committee chair must be a salesperson et cetera.

The reality is that most organizations simply don’t have the bandwidth or the interest in requiring their board members to have these kinds of competencies. So, it’s essential that each board looks at the reality of how likely it is that they will have these competencies, and simply be able to say, “We will never be able, from the membership, to have someone who’s very knowledgeable about new tax laws, or very knowledgeable about new website designs, or very knowledgeable about what’s new in holding events and event attendance and activity to draw attendees to the events”

  • Independent contractor (person)

If you’re very small, you don’t need anything more than an independent contractor who will do a few assorted tasks for you every week. Probably less than ten hours a week, not very technical, and can be accomplished by that independent contractor individual quite easily.

  • Association management company

An association management company is a perfect alternative for mid-sized associations that don’t have the need for dedicated space, want to save money, and still have control over the product that they offer their members. Contracts with association management companies ensure that the work you need to have done is clearly spelled out, unlike employee arrangements often are.

  • Employee

If you have a lot of specific oversight needs, you might want to choose the employee model. In my opinion, if you choose the employee model you ought to need and hire several employees. This requires an association with a larger workload (not necessarily membership size) because having one employee and all the associated risks and costs doesn’t make financial sense for an organization that’s small.

When it comes to having access to specific skill sets, unless you have numerous employees, you will find that the employee model might struggle to produce quality products and events. An association management company specifically hires those sorts of specialists, because we know that those are the needs that every organization has.