Sunday, January 27, 2008

Small Associations Can Perform "Big"

Small associations often lament the fact that they do not have the resources to perform as well as their larger brethren. While it is indeed true that larger associations with big budgets and large numbers of dedicated staff members may have an easier time of "performing" than smaller, leaner organizations, small associations can behave like the big guys. It's a matter of how they use their resources. Let's consider some areas in which effective resource allocation can pay huge dividends for associations:

  • Create and use free blogs (examples:;
  • Use cheap web hosting companies with templates (examples:;;
  • Use inexpensive online membership services instead of expensive ones like iMIS, (example:
  • Create and use free wikis (example:
  • Get staff/volunteers excited about learning new skills so they can do things to make the association "look big" (e.g., do an online "webinar" by simply creating a PowerPoint, saving it as a web page, then uploading to your website...and give "trainees" the URL so you can walk through it with them, while chatting with them on a pay-it-yourself conference call [for example,])
  • Invest in inexpensive resources (or pursue free resources) to enable you to create audio and video podcasts (e.g.,
  • Invest in inexpensive resources to enable you to have CAN-SPAM compliant opt-in blast email capabilities and avoid overloading Outlook (e.g.,

It's important to understand that each of these (and hundreds of other) prospective solutions to "looking small" require regular investments of time, whether volunteer or staff or both. Before jumping too deep into looking like a "big association," you must look at what, realistically, you can expect your volunteers or staff to do. Even something that only takes 30 minutes a week is going to start wearing thin on volunteers who work 10-12 hour days, six days a week! Spread the load, and be careful to ensure that you document the processes as you go, in case you need to quickly shift to another volunteer.

Similarly, be careful about what you ask your staff to do, whether a full-time staff dedicated to your association (a "captive" staff) or an Association Management Company (AMC). A captive staff for a small association wears many, many, many hats and one more new project from the Board may send them over the edge! Ask for their input before launching on a new set of initiatives.

AMCs typically have several clients and must, for the sake of efficiency and good resource management, limit the number of solutions used for any given challenge. So, it may not be reasonable to expect your AMC to learn yet another software product that does the same thing as another one they're need to let your AMC give you some guidance on how it can address your needs. By all means, though, insist that it addresses them, one way or another, and with a sharp eye on your budget!

Whether you use only volunteers, your own staff, an AMC, or a combination thereof, think of and explore ways to deliver real value to your members without draining your resources. Your association can look big, no matter its size!

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