C-Says / D-Says – April 10, 2018

Dealing with a rogue one

In our last edition of C-says, D-says, I made brief mention of a few of the challenges that can often be faced by boards of directors and, more specifically, association executives. One of these was the dreaded ‘rogue volunteer’.

A rogue volunteer or (shudder) rogue committee is a person or people who act outside the parameters of an organization’s policies and procedures, often making unilateral decisions that have the potential to cause a tremendous amount of damage.

How? Well, in a lot of ways actually.

Rogue volunteers can be a resource drain, wasting an association’s valuable staff time or financial resources. They can also diminish the enthusiasm of good volunteers if they are perceived to be overstepping the decisions made by the wider group. And perhaps most damaging, a rogue volunteer can seriously impact the credibility of an organization, especially if they’re speaking in a negative way about the activities or stated missions of the association in question.

Sometimes, these volunteers are well-intentioned and truly believe themselves to be working in the best interest of the organization. But more often (and more dangerously) rogue volunteers are working for their own personal agenda, usually related to building themselves higher profile within their industry or perhaps in an effort to drive business their way. In either case, the situation has to be identified and diffused as soon as it’s discovered. Ignoring the effects of a rogue volunteer is often as egregious a crime as the rogue volunteerism itself.

To that end, volunteers gone rogue are situations requiring strong and experienced leadership, from both an executive and a staff perspective. This is one area in which AMCs excel.


Great timing on this topic. Did you know April 15 – 21 is National Volunteer Week? I know you will join me in celebrating volunteers of all stripes, especially the ones that make the world (and associations) a better place.

Unfortunately, rogue volunteers can give all volunteers a bad name, or worse, drive good volunteers out the door. But hallelujah, rogue volunteers are few and far between as I have only spotted 5 or 6 in their natural habitat over 28 years.

The key to managing volunteers is recognizing their strengths early on, as well as their weaknesses.  We have sharp insights to both spot talent and identify problem behaviour that could be disruptive later on.  Allowing a volunteer to go “rogue” never, ever goes well. All the more reason to nip rogue behaviour in the bud.

So, when my intuition tells me that we have a rogue volunteer in the house my first step is to try and work with them to try and channel their “enthusiastic” behaviour into more acceptable and productive actions. Failing that, it is up to the association leadership (President, committee chair or someone else with authority/profile) to connect with the rogue volunteer; peer to peer, to let them know that their behaviour is not aligned with the association’s mandate and that it is not okay. This is when our best practices, collected, cultivated and refined over the years, come into play.

Often times we discover that the rogue volunteer may not be involved in the organization for the right reasons – i.e. they only joined a committee to get their name on the website or to gain access to potential customers.

And I think you will agree that It is incumbent upon the association’s leadership to focus their energies on what is in the best interest of the organization; not what is best for the volunteer.



C-Says/D-Says is a regular blog column created and written by Constance Wrigley-Thomas and Doug Duke of Essentient Association Management, Burlington, ON.

Selecting an Association Management Company

The article below was prepared by the Canadian Society of Association Executives.

It provides a step by step narrative on what to look for when sourcing and selecting an association management company.

Selecting an Association Management Company
By Bob Hamp

While most associations hire their own staff and manage their own assets, many smaller associations and chapter affiliates retain an association management company (AMC) to reduce costs, promote efficiencies, share resources, access expertise and reduce volunteer commitments to administrative matters.

Prepare the Request For Proposal (RFP)

A selection committee that develops the RFP, evaluates proposals, conducts interviews and recommends candidates to the Board normally manages this first step. The committee typically includes both members who understand the organization’s history and past needs, and newer members who have a longer-term investment in its future.

Where do you begin to develop your RFP? What do you want to know about the companies you are evaluating? What will the companies want to know about your association and the services they will be asked to provide? You’ll find help with these and other questions in CSAE’s “Resources Library.”

Generally speaking, prospective AMCs will be better positioned to develop a meaningful proposal if the following information is made available to them:

Board and committee personnel
Previous meetings’ minutes and resolutions
Policy manuals
Number and location of Board and Committee meetings
Audited financial statements
Current budget, policies and procedures
Cash assets
Membership growth and retention trends
Dues structure
Marketing programs
Affinity programs (if any)
Meetings and conventions (number, location, number of exhibitors, booths, revenue and expense profiles, contracts with hotels and other entities, etc.)
Educational needs
Expense reimbursement policy
Newsletters published each year, including their circulation and any advertising that may be associated with them
After supplying this information, what do association representatives need to know about the AMC? Here are some suggestions to look for in a prospective AMC’s capability résumé:

Philosophy or mission of the AMC
Résumés for the principal(s) and summaries for support staff
Services provided
History of business and main area(s) of focus
Geographic range of operations (international, national, provincial, regional, local)
Typical client list
Areas of expertise (full-service, meeting and events planning, publications, research, marketing, affinity programs, data management, financial management, etc.)
Computer systems and software
Data membership management programs
Finance and accounting software
E-mail domain and ability to administer websites
Location of organization
Commitment to continuing education (membership and participation in CSAE).

Weighing the AMC Proposals

AMCs have differing management styles and price points, often making it difficult to compare proposals from several companies. The most important step in analyzing management company proposals is to look at your organization. Are you large or small? Growing or in need of a turnaround? What are the priorities in terms of programs—education; trade shows, publications, membership development or financial services, or some combination? While everything may seem equally important, the purpose of this analysis is to clearly define the most pressing current and future needs to make the best choice among good proposals.

Once you’ve taken a critical look at your organization, it’s time to turn the same critical eye to the AMCs’ proposals. There is no right or wrong answer, but there may be a best answer for your organization. One company is unlikely to be strong in all categories; look for the one that best matches your overall needs.

Creating a rating form can help you focus and clarify the analysis. Here are some general qualities your selection committee should look for when evaluating proposals and interviews with AMCs.

A contract between an association and its AMC represents an investment of time and money on both sides. Does the AMC appear stable and able to meet its commitments? Does it have the human and financial resources to take on another client (that is, you)? 

Can the AMC serve your current and future needs? Selecting an AMC is a long-term commitment and transitions are costly. So the AMC you select should be able to grow with your organization and assume additional responsibilities. Although some turnover is inevitable, it involves direct costs and indirect costs, such as those resulting from loss of institutional continuity, memory, and identity. 

Is the company’s location accessible to your organization? 

Other Clients.
Do any of the AMC’s current clients present a potential for conflict of interest with your organization? Is the number of other clients suitable to the size and resources of the company? Can it continue to handle its other clients’ needs and those of your organization, or does it plan on adding staff and resources? If so, how will new staff be allocated among current clients and your organization? How will your organization compare in size, in fee, and in needs to the other clients? Will your organization be important to the management company or will it be a minor client among much larger organizations? 

Look for a Good Fit.
While larger AMCs may have more resources than smaller ones, how will they allocate those resources to a smaller client? On the other hand, while a large association will be very important to a small management company, how will the company be able to accommodate the needs of a large client? 

Office Facilities.
If your organization will meet at the AMC’s office, does it have adequate meeting facilities? There are many home-based AMCs: this may help save you money on overhead fees. The question is whether such an arrangement will work for you. 

Does the AMC have adequate equipment and will it stay current with changing technology? How will the AMC’s technology help you achieve your objectives? 

What is the experience of the individuals assigned to you? Is their experience well matched to your needs? How will the AMC assign staff to your organization and how much internal turnover can be expected? 

AMC service fees range from full-service, which includes all aspects of overhead, salaries, benefits, equipment, and supplies, to a retainer-plus arrangement, where the client pays for all services, use of facilities and equipment, and supplies as required. To some degree, all pricing plans must include an overhead component (occupancy, equipment, and supplies), a staffing component (salaries, benefits, recruiting, and training), and a reasonable profit. 

Like all service businesses, AMCs sell time. Individual worker fees may be separated or packaged in an hourly rate or flat fee. The cost of time may or may not be clear. One thing is certain—it will be difficult to compare fee proposals. Make sure you understand the proposal and know what is included and what is not.

Remember also, that the better the AMC performs the more likely it is your organization will ask it to do more. You need to budget for all the costs, and these may not be included in the proposed fee. Ask what is and is not included. Determine what procedures, controls, and/or limitations exist to help you and the AMC plan for the cost of services.

The proposal may or may not include all the terms of a possible contract. Will the contract be for a single year or for multiple years? If multiple, are there provisions for increased fees and services after the first year? What protections exist in the contract for each side? What provisions are made for termination? 


Look carefully at the description of individual services. If you asked the AMC to administer meetings, what exactly does that include and at what cost? Will the AMC take the minutes and circulate them? The exact description of the services to be provided can vary and affect cost significantly. As you consider the services to be provided, ask to see examples of the AMC’s work. What level of service is the AMC proposing and what has it done before? What is the quality of its work? 

Quality of Presentation.
Is it well written and error-free? Is it glossy boilerplate or customized? Is it a combination of the two? 

Always difficult. It stands to reason that prospective AMCs will provide the names of individuals they expect will give them the best possible references. Current clients may provide valuable information provided you have some open-ended questions. What is XYZ’s greatest contribution to your organization? Can you describe a time when you were disappointed in their performance? What did they do to fix the problem? Do you feel you get good value for your dollars? Why? 


Interviewing a Prospective AMC

Choosing an AMC to manage all or part of your affairs demands that both partners get to know each other in an atmosphere of candour, respect, and comfort that will set the tone for a dignified, “No thank you, I don’t think this is the right fit,” or “Let’s go forward.”

Prepare questions to ask each AMC presenting. Assign each member of the selection committee a particular area of the proposal to address. Assess the different responses that each company gives to the same question. Explain your decision process to each presenting AMC and advise them of the final determination date. If you expect to conduct further negotiations, state when you expect those negotiations to take place.


Sample Questions to Ask an AMC

How does your philosophy compare with our association’s?
What are the geographic scope, budget size, and membership traits of current clients?
Are any of your existing clients potential competitors of our association?
What is the range of services and capabilities provided by your employees? Do you outsource any management functions, such as data management, meeting planning, financial record keeping, publishing, or mailing services? If so, how are the agreements with vendors handled?
What resources and equipment do you have to support client needs? Do you have the capacity to serve our organization?
What software programs (such as accounting and membership database) do you use?
Do you have system back-up and how will we access our data? Do you have a disaster plan prepared?
What reports can we expect? In what format will they be presented? How frequently?
Do you provide full-service management, stand-alone functions, or both?
May our volunteers provide some services, and contract with you for others? If so, would you prefer these come through a single, pre-authorized volunteer?
Who would be assigned to our account? What is their background and experience? Who do they report to?
Would we have our own dedicated consultant or be assigned a team that performs a range of functions?
Will we have access to the owner or principal, and if so, on what basis?
What are the strengths of your AMC, and what kinds of clients do you serve most successfully?
Have there been any recent changes in ownership or leadership? Are there any plans for merger, consolidation, or buyout, and if so, what succession plan is in place for a smooth transition?
Is there a conference room or other meeting space at your office? Where do your clients typically meet?
Do you have storage capacity? How will our documents be archived?
What measures do you take to train your employees? What does staff do to keep current professionally? What professional organizations do they belong to?
Do you have the ability to design and maintain a website?
How do you set your fees? Retainer? Time/hourly based? By project?
What about contract terms, evaluation, renewal, and cancellation?
Following the interview process, the committee usually recommends a firm for Board approval.


AMC Contracts

A written contract defines mutual obligations and expectations and provides a structure for the relationship. A standard contract or a drawn contract may suit differing needs. A standard client service agreement might include the service relationship, compensation, and termination. Contract documents may range from simple letters of agreement to those describing every detail of the relationship between the organizations. Letters of agreement, which generally contain the standard elements—offer, acceptance, and consideration—have the legal force of a contract and normally cover broad areas of agreement in general terms. A detailed contract may cover such specifics as number of meetings, number of newsletters published, etc. Most contracts between AMCs and association clients cover these basic issues:

Preserving the client’s rights
Determining the management fee or method of compensation
Listing services to be provided
Defining the duration of the agreement
Setting out the method for terminating the agreement
Stating the client’s obligations to the management firm
Bank accounts shall be solely in the name of the client, not joint with the AMC.
The client is responsible for expenses incurred by the AMC on the client’s behalf.
Annual audit (or review) will be conducted at the association’s expense.
The AMC has authority (or not) to negotiate and enter into agreements on behalf of the client (such as hotel agreements).
The AMC will receive fees or compensation for its services. Specify how the fees will be paid by the client (e.g., direct transfer of funds), when this will happen (e.g., first of each month), and what the fees cover and do not cover (e.g., a simple statement that telephone expense is not a fee and is a reimbursable expense).
When the contract is terminated, all materials should be returned to the association client in usable form.

Most AMC contracts define the management fee, retainer fee, or other fees. They may wish to charge a management fee covering certain basic services and bill other services as used. The management fee covers staff time, rent, office use, and equipment. All other charges are on an as-used basis. Arrangements for special services may be addressed through separate letters of agreement independent of the management contract. The contract may specify the number of hours or percentage of time to be devoted to the client by key staff members.

Most contracts attempt to define the services the AMC will provide. While some contracts go into great detail on this subject, some firms prefer to keep the contract language loose. That way, both the AMC and the client depend on the mutual agreement they have reached. Defining services too narrowly may inadvertently lead to an adversarial relationship between the two parties.

Contracts are often drawn up for one year, either with automatic renewal, or with intent to renew. Short-term contracts require both parties to review the contract to ensure it continues to reflect current needs and expectations. Doing this annually tends to focus both sets of needs more effectively. In other cases, an association and its AMC may have a long-term contract. A long-term contract helps ensure the AMC will invest its time and energy for the long haul.

The period of notice required to terminate a contract may run from 30 days to 90 or 120 days. The termination clause for a large association may specify a period of six months or more. Longer notice offers protection for both the association and the AMC to provide both organizations with the necessary time to transition.

An annual review is essential and failure to provide some form of review can lead to misunderstanding. Even if the contract has remained unchanged and unchallenged for some time, it is wise to recognize that associations change.

Each new slate of elected leaders needs to clearly understand the relationship between the AMC and the association.

Developed with files from CSAE, ASAE and other sources.

AMC Managed Associations – What you should know

According to the AMC Institute, there are four basic options available for the management of non-profit organizations. They include:

  1. Member Volunteers
  2. Employed Staff
  3. AMC-Supported
  4. AMC-Managed

Essentient Association Management, a full service AMC would be classified as providing the services noted in Option #4.

Essentient Association Management has provided full service operational and governance support to multiple associations for nearly eleven years and has helped a number of organizations reach their potential through the implementation of finely honed systems, well-regarded governance tools, strategies and tactics, superior event management and marketing & communications strategy.

Our capabilities include:

  • Policies and procedures
  • Board orientation/training
  • Board roles and responsibilities
  • Organizational review
  • Strategic planning
  • Business planning
  • Creative and design
  • Financial management
  • Member data management
  • Event management

While Essentient staff have a youthful outlook and believe in innovation and continuous improvement, they are seasoned professionals who invest daily in helping their clients exceed their potential.

Discover how an AMC Managed association is your best option for success.

AMC versus AAC – Not created equal

When seeking an Association Management Company (AMC) volunteer-run organizations need to be able to distinguish between an association management company and an association administration company. There is a big difference.

According to the American Society of Association Management (ASAE), an association management company is a for-profit company that offers a wide array of services in support of nonprofit organizations. These customized services span all domains of association management, from executive management, membership support,and accounting to meetings management, lobbying, and technology services—and much more.
As a full-service AMC, Essentient Association Management fits this description.
AMCs should not be confused with Association Administration Companies (AAC) which may only provide secretariat services, event and back office support but don’t have the capacity or depth of  expertise to provide membership development, marketing & communications delivery and executive/strategic management.
Full-service association management companies are a better investment in the long run than association administration companies.

AMC Institute Launches New Brand

AMC Logo

August 8, 2015 – Essentient Assocation Management was in Detroit for AMCs Engaged, a mini-conference hosted by the AMC Institute in conjunction with the American Society of Association Executives’ (ASAE) annual meeting. Essentient is a proud and active member of both AMCI and ASAE.

During the meeting AMCI announced that it has developed a bold new brand that embodies the energy, focus, and spirit of collaboration which defines our members and the AMC model. The vibrant look can be seen throughout their new website and upgraded social media channels. Underpinning the rebranding process is AMCI’s strategic focus on thought leadership, industry growth, and best practices through accreditation.

Charles Hall, AMCI’s Board Chair stated “While I am sure there will be some tweaks to be made, the rebrand was undertaken to ensure that AMCI’s identity is as strong, visionary, and modern as our strategy. It will serve as a reminder that at our core we represent top professionals who work in partnership to ensure the success and advancement of associations and not-for-profits.”

In re-imagining the brand, the Institute’s key decision-makers emphasized that AMCI’s core commitments to innovation, flexibility, ideation, and creating opportunities to connect AMC’s with association decision-makers.

For more information about AMCI and the AMC model, visit www.amcinstitute.org.

Why Use an AMC?

• Allows association leaders to concentrate on policy issues instead of administrative tasks
• Provides an affordable, high degree of professionalism, management expertise and technology through the concept of shared resources
• Customizes staff activity to meet association needs
• Maintains continuity of business operation during changes in leadership and staff
• Provides cost-effective solutions to personnel, equipment, facilities, and budget considerations

Source: AMC Institute

Benefits of an AMC

AMCs offer a wide array of benefits and advantages, including:

Operational and Staffing Benefits:

  • Customized staff and services
  • Broad spectrum of expertise
  • Day-to-day and ongoing staff management
  • Improved staffing and resource allocation
  • Proven best management practices and best-of-class resources and technologies

Financial/Business Benefits:

  • Efficiencies derived from leveraging shared resources
  • Improved buying power
  • Reduced business risks

Long-Term Benefits:

  • Greater member satisfaction resulting from the professionalism and responsiveness of staff
  • Freedom from daily operations that allows Boards to maintain their focus on mission and strategy
  • Integration of innovative strategies and ideas
  • Scalability to accommodate organization growth or contraction over time

Source: AMC Institute