Strategy Session: In-House, Outsource, or AMC?
Tips on choosing the right management option.
Jan Reisinger, CAE, has a unique vantage point on a perennial association management question: Is it better to have full staff management, outsource to contractors, or hire an association management company (AMC)?
Reisinger is executive director of the Pennsylvania College of Emergency Physicians, recently installed as its first full-time employee after 40 years of AMC management. Before joining PACEP, she worked for an AMC that managed 37 different client organizations. She had a staff of 23 and served as the executive director for several clients.
In her current position, Reisinger manages a part-time administrative employee and contracts out PACEP’s accounting, IT, graphic design, and social media services. PACEP has been able to save a significant amount of money with this arrangement, she says, and tackle projects the organization has not been able to do in the past.
With that resume, Reisinger has some experience with the “staff versus AMC” question.
“Make sure you have your objectives and what’s important to you as an association outlined first,” she says. “Once you figure that out, then you’re probably ready to begin your conversation.”
Questions to consider are: Do you want someone to handle administrative, membership, accounting, communications, and day-to-day operations, or do you need an executive director to strategically run the organization with a lot of board interaction? The decision comes down to your association’s specific experience and whether the model you’re currently using meets your needs.
AMCs provide associations with a large staff pool and professional turnkey services that handle daily organizational operations. They provide economy of scale with shared systems that are utilized across multiple platforms. On the other hand, AMCs juggle multiple clients at the same time, and clients may sometimes feel like they are not at the top of the list, Reisinger says.
For her own part, what Reisinger realizes from her firsthand experience in both positions is that “there is something unique and special about working with one association.”
She acknowledges that it takes time on the front end to launch an office—no matter how small—and get it up and running. But keeping PACEP’s staff small and working with contractors means she enjoys flexibility and the ability to customize her options for getting work done.
Ultimately, the best management option is the one that meets the organization’s needs. Do you need a strategic leader to oversee all of the organization’s operations? Or do you have a strategic board that just needs a good administrator who can get the work done? The former generally calls for a full in-house staff or a hybrid situation like Reisinger’s—with one full-time employee and several contractors. If it’s the latter, she says, then perhaps an AMC is the way to go.