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If your association uses the service of a for-profit association management company (AMC), then the AMC will have assigned a staff person as a primary point of contact to act as the association’s manager. That places the manager in the difficult position of serving two masters: the client association and the company that signs the paychecks. 

Don’t underestimate the pressure that kind of stress places on a person. Beyond malfeasance and other obvious clues of impropriety, consider how AMC leadership manages the people who manage your association’s business. When evaluating your AMC, look for these indicators that your association should give its AMC the boot.

Understaffed events. Your AMC’s failure to supply sufficient staff to plan and manage events leads to hasty decisions, harried employees and frayed tempers. When I worked for an AMC, I was expected to have all breakout rooms set up with equipment functioning and presentations loaded by 6 a.m. during conferences. I staffed the registration desk, served as the primary contact point with the conference property, attended board and special committee sessions (where I also served as secretary), served as secretary for the annual membership meeting, managed group meals, and attended after-hours social events to ensure nothing went wrong and to take care of anything that did go awry — all while trying to manage the other client associations assigned to me. My days often did not end until 11 p.m., and I worked without breaks. After a couple of such days, my mind turned to applesauce. Any AMC requiring staff to put in such hours is cruel and inhumane. Don’t condone unreasonable expectations: get rid of your AMC.

Restricted access to information. Little was more exasperating and embarrassing than having to inform board members on a teleconference that I could not look something up at a moment’s request because the AMC restricted internet access to only “white-listed” URLs. Accessing any other sites required either advance permission or trekking across the building to the “internet station,” the only computer in the office with unrestricted internet access. But that computer was not tied into the AMC’s private network, so information had to be jotted down on paper or downloaded to a USB drive and then uploaded to the employee’s workstation. If your AMC fails to provide the resources staff needs to do their jobs for your association, then fire that company.

Over-promised and under-delivered services. Associations and AMCs negotiate contracts with certain expectations for both parties. A colleague was assigned to an association that had three special committees, which he was expected to manage. The number of committees expanded to nine in less than a year, taking considerable additional time he was then unable to devote to his other clients. Squeezed by scope creep, he could not fulfill the duties promised by the AMC, yet the AMC failed to provide him with assistance to ease the burden and demanded he simply work more efficiently and put in longer hours. Review your contract with the AMC to see if the services required are the same services under contract. If there’s a mismatch, then renegotiate the contract to fit the reality of the services needed. If not, then your AMC is understaffed and should be fired.

In an era of corporate responsibility, organizations are expected to pay attention to the welfare of the employees of the companies they hire. Visit your AMC’s office. Do the employees look engaged or disgruntled? Does the AMC’s executive leadership speak well or ill of employees? Ask about employee churn. An AMC that treats employees well can hire and retain enough staff to fulfill the duties it’s contracted to provide.

After leaving association management in 2015, Karen M. Smith embarked upon a new career as a freelance writer and editor. Working in southwest Ohio, she has produced and edited fiction and nonfiction content spanning diverse topics and genres for clients around the world, including newsletters for the SAVE International, Wallcovering Installers Association, North American Power Sweeping Association, and World Library Foundation. Karen has published over 20 books under the pseudonym Holly Bargo. Review her services and portfolio and contact her via her website at www.henhousepublishing.com.

After leaving association management in 2015, Karen M. Smith embarked upon a new career as a freelance writer and editor. Working in southwest Ohio, she has produced and edited fiction and nonfiction content spanning diverse topics and genres for clients around the world, including newsletters for the SAVE International, Wallcovering Installers Association, North American Power Sweeping Association, and World Library Foundation. Karen has published over 20 books under the pseudonym Holly Bargo. Review her services and portfolio and contact her via her website at www.henhousepublishing.com.

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