New to association management? So was I as of seven months ago. Stepping into my new role, I found it fascinating to learn how my personal life and related work experiences transferred into the association world. Yet, there was still a period of transition. Even though I felt supported by an amazing team, I sometimes did not know what questions to ask or how to help myself as I was new in my role. In this article, I will share with you some of the questions and strategies I have asked and used along the way to hopefully help fast-track you on your way to success!

According to Oxford Dictionary, an association is “an official group of people who have joined together for a particular purpose.” Interestingly, in Canada, the first associations date back to 1604, when Samuel de Champlain founded the Ordre de Bon Temps, an association for the promotion of recreation and relaxation at  Port Royal[1].

Associations are non-profit membership-focused organizations. Staff sizes tend to be small, while the membership can range in size. Each association has a board of member-elected officials that help carry a shared vision forward. Examples of different associations include chambers of commerce, labour organizations, unions, athletic associations, charities and cultural groups. You are now part of a team that offers the expertise, staffing and resources that allow associations to effectively manage day-to-day operations while advancing their short- and long-term strategic goals. For more on AMC, click here.

How to get newly acquainted with your association

As you may already know or have experienced, the association management world can be fast-paced and all-consuming. When assigned to an association, it is important to develop a method to understand its “essence,” if you will. There are many small picture details you are required to learn to make the big picture come to life. Below is a summary of items I find essential to know at the beginning of every new association relationship:

  • Association mission statement
  • Bylaws
  • Board Member list and contact info (email AND phone number)
  • Membership size and target audience
  • List of upcoming events
  • What programs and software do they use? (Is there a website and/or member portal?)
  • Who to contact regarding their finances and accounting affairs

These are only some key elements you will need, but knowing this information as soon as possible paints a solid picture of the association. Start with their website and/or profile intake form (if they have one), as these resources should provide the breadth of the above information.

Strategies when faced with challenges.

Hindsight is a wonderful tool. On reflecting on when I started working in association management, I want to share with you some strategies that have worked well when faced with challenges or more difficult tasks:

  1. Letting go: No matter the effort needed and/or significance of an event or meeting you will plan, there will always be another mountain waiting for you to climb. Put your all into your work. However, be ready to let go and move on after. This flexibility allows you to pivot between tasks and keep on top of your deadlines.
  2. Password document: You will need a secure password document/system to record all your association program and software login details. Check with others on your team and/or your IT department for best practices regarding keeping passwords secure, making this a good log of the programs and software an association uses. If you ever leave your association, your successor will thank you!
  3. Patience: In working with associations, you may note that members and board directors may not be as invested as you are. It is important to understand that members and board directors are volunteers. Their work with the association may not share the same priority in their life as it may for you. Remember to treat them with respect and understanding; there is a human on the other line, not a numerical value.
  4. Pick up the phone: You will encounter trouble connecting with people. A supervisor of mine recently reminded me, “If you need to get an answer from someone, pick up the phone and call them.”

Even in today’s texting and social media culture, this timeless tip still rings true (pun intended)!

I hope you found this article useful to you. Look at the big picture and then work your way inwards, peeling back layer by layer. You know yourself best. Create a system that works for you. Good luck!

Read more about Association management in my colleague’s article