It’s a fact. The world is a much different place than it was even two short years ago. The global pandemic necessitated a sudden and dramatic shift in association operations. This included adapting to a work-from-home scenario that no one could have anticipated. And yet, we made it work; we had to.
What the Pandemic Changed
Fast forward several months and Boards are now considering what that new normal will look like in terms of association operations and staffing. Associations by their very nature rely heavily on membership and event revenues. Many, if not most, associations suffered significant financial loss through cancelled events and unrenewed memberships during the pandemic. For some, this resulted in staff being furloughed or laid off while remaining staff and/or volunteers worked to keep their association functioning. Others kept operations the same knowing it wouldn’t be a sustainable option. Reserves dwindled and leased office space sat virtually empty, as staff worked from home.
Considerations for Future Change
It is logical then, that many not-for-profit Boards are now strategizing to determine how to best move forward in the new normal. I think that a few critical considerations will likely include the following:
- Can the association afford to bring back staff?
- If so, will staff want to return to an ‘in person’ working environment?
- Can the association thrive in the long term within a virtual working environment?
- Does the association have leased office space and overhead that is no longer needed, or could be scaled back?
- What is the plan to gain back members, bring back events (whether virtual, hybrid or in person) and generally to recoup lost revenue?
The answers to these questions will vary from association to association depending on their size, existing structure and even on the industries they represent. Some may opt to try to gradually bring operations back to the way they used to be. Others may opt to make this a time of great change as they lead their organizations in new directions.
The Association Management Company (AMC) Solution
Underlying any decisions will be cost and operations considerations. I have already heard that many associations are starting to look more closely at the Association Management Company model of operating. And with good reason – this model offers efficiencies, economies of scale, flexibility, experience and cost savings.
When moving to a full-service AMC model, office space is no longer needed as the AMC offers a central headquarters and mailing address. Other related overhead costs are also greatly reduced through shared services and resources. Frankly, these savings are not insignificant.
AMCs offer full-service options which include experienced and knowledgeable staffing at all levels from Executive to Administrative. AMC staff become the face of your organization. This removes the burden of hiring, training, providing benefits and vacation coverage from the shoulders of the association. The expertise, guidance and skills that association professionals bring to the table cannot be underestimated, especially during times of transition. AMCs also offer flexibility for those associations that don’t need or want full service. Within an outsourced AMC model, associations have flexibility in retaining key staff such as an Executive Director, while AMC staff fill operations and administrative functions. AMCs can also be contracted for only specific duties such as event planning and execution. The AMC you select can be ‘parachuted’ in, so to speak, because the core skills are already present.
The road to recovery may be long and difficult. I encourage Boards to really dig deep to consider which road is best for their association. Diligent Boards who are willing to consider new options and bring forth new perspectives will be best poised to set their organizations up for future long term success.