Survey: Size Matters When Running An Association Today

A new survey of nonprofits and associations found that an organization’s size affected not only its outlook but also the quality of its operational practices.

The larger your operating budget, the more confident you probably are in this market. At least if you are an association, according to association management company Virutal, Inc.

Based on the results of its “2013 Association Operations Survey,” Virtual found that 70 percent of mid-size associations (those with annual revenue between $500,000 and $3 million) and large associations (annual revenue of $3 million or more) reported now is a good time to be running a membership organization.

Meanwhile, only 52 percent of small associations, those with annual revenue of less than $500,000, reported it’s a good time to being running such an organization.

Organizational size was also the biggest predictor of solid operating practices, according to the survey. Mid-size and large associations were more likely than small associations to have adequate cash reserves, for example. The survey also found that few small associations offer benefits such as health insurance or 401K programs, but most mid-size and large associations offer these benefits.

More findings from the survey:


  • When it comes to cash reserves, most respondents had anywhere from zero to 25 percent of their annual operating budget in reserve.
  • Slightly more than half reported using QuickBooks as the financial software they use.
  • Sixty-one percent use a mix of paper-based and electronic authorization and payment methods.

Human Resources

  • Eighty-three percent of respondents reported having no human resource professionals on staff, while 7 percent reported having one full-time staff member in this role.
  • In relation to employee retention and satisfaction, a majority of respondents do not offer work performance management programs, mentoring, or online training. Most do not obtain national wage and salary benchmark data. But about 50 percent offer internal rewards and recognition to staff.

Social Media and Communications

  • Facebook dominates in the social media arena. Eighty-two percent of respondents reported using Facebook, with the next most popular sites being Twitter (54 percent), LinkedIn (49 percent), and YouTube (42 percent).
  • Email is still a reigning communication vehicle. Ninety-five percent of respondents reported using email to communicate with members, followed by email newsletters (86 percent), online discussion forums (48 percent), printed newsletters (41 percent), and webinars or webcasts (38 percent).

Technology Management

  • Overall, the survey found respondents are not making the most of their association management systems. For more on the technology-related findings, check out Ernie Smith’s blog post from this week.

On the surface, many of the survey findings are unsurprising. The more money you have, the more risk you can and probably will take. But beware the idea that bigger is better, especially if it comes at the expense of your mission.

Laura Otten, director of The Nonprofit Center in Philadelphia, made a similar point in Associations Now several years ago.

Nonprofit organizations that are growing just for the sake of growing are not necessarily becoming better, Otten wrote. Bigger may be better in the corporate world, but for organizations serving members, the focus should be on the value of services being offered.

“In the nonprofit sector, let’s understand that size is not the measure of the organization; how well an organization serves its true mission is,” she wrote.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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