The Servant-Leader Blog
by Kurt Riesenberg, Executive Vice President & Co-Founder
This post starts a 10-part series of great content and ideas for your nonprofit when considering working with an AMC. Each of the examples listed will get their own separate post. If you find this helpful, give us a shout to talk more about how we can put together creative solutions for your organization!
Host More+Better Meetings
Develop and Deliver a Digital or IRL Event
Provide a Part-Time or Interim Executive Director
Create or Expand Your Digital Education Programs
Produce and Manage a New Content Marketing Campaign
Improve Your Fundraising or Membership Development
Fill General Staffing or Administrative Shortages
Design and Implement Effective “Going-Digital” Strategies
Create a New .Org, or Caretake a Struggling One
Update or Construct Your Strategic Plan
In the context of this article, just so it doesn’t have to be stated repeatedly, “nonprofit” is often used synonymously with “association,” “charity,” “foundation,” etc. We recognize there are differences between their missions and constituency, compliance rules, “members” and “donors,” etc. But for the sake of avoiding repetitiveness, the observations and suggestions in this post assume you the reader to be adept at taking broadly referenced topics and putting them in the proper context of your organization or role. All charities and associations are nonprofits, but not all nonprofits are the same.
Let’s answer the first question – what’s a “force multiplier”?
It’s something that functions as an extension of your current resources to produce a bigger impact than you could manage on your own. Often a military term, it could be night vision goggles so a soldier can now function in the dark. It can be an aircraft carrier projecting power into an area that needs all of the planes and personnel onboard backing up a mission. But a force multiplier can also be a crowbar, shovel, megaphone, advanced degree or certifications, vast experience or any number of everyday things.
These things increase the output of an effort to accomplish greater feats than could have been done without it. The right Association Management Company (AMC) can do precisely that for nonprofit clients as a flexible marketer, organizer, strategist or administrator. Help in these areas can result in more consistency, growth, loyalty and impact of the organization.
What’s an AMC?
An AMC is a consulting firm (typically for-profit company) that can do all or one of the jobs commonly found inside nonprofit organizations, to either supplement existing staff or be the staff. If a company needs help with a public relations issue, they go to a PR firm and hire people to produce an outcome. Similarly, nonprofit organizations often need help on a variety of things, from marketing (yes including public relations), to managing their events and developing membership or fundraising campaigns. Focused attention and consistency delivered by an AMC can also be very beneficial when rolling out education programs, or performing bookkeeping and administrative duties.
It could be that your nonprofit finds itself needing to increase committee engagement or develop a new content marketing plan to emerge from COVID with some momentum. Your nonprofit knows where the pain point is, or at least you know you have a pain point that needs help to be identified. That’s where we as an AMC want to focus.
This can be a short, limited engagement on a project (a la carte basis), or longer-term (full-service) to provide the wide-ranging staff management needed by an organization monthly or annually. Bottom line, an AMC is your immediate and flexible access to some of the skills and productivity that might be missing from your operation.
Typically an AMC consists of professionals versed in many aspects of nonprofit management, having held or successfully worked in positions that pulled resources of an organization together to create a value. That’s a skill that takes years to develop. Clients of the AMC benefit from its broad nonprofit experience, short onboarding times, quick productivity, and a network of trusted vendors. An AMC can be effective and focused on an objective like a special forces team while the rest of your organization gets focused back on the bigger mission.
It could also handle the day-to-day operational efforts supporting volunteer leadership, hosting monthly recurring meetings, answering the phones and email, producing financial reports and consistent content marketing. Outwardly an AMC can help with member and donor recruitment, cultivating important partnerships or helping to deliver virtual and in-person event growth management. All for a manageable and predictable cost less than having specialized employees working in each department.
If you only have volunteer leadership or a small staff, think of everything more you could get done with this type of support! Instead of a struggle, the organization can become a well-oiled machine, making demonstrable progress, increasing its relevance and credibility among its community. You could even experiment with exciting new initiatives that could turn into new revenue streams!
Confidence builds and spreads when you have a bigger team behind you and a list of growing accomplishments. You should expect that team to be open, friendly and patient because they understand your motivations and challenges.
Familiarity & Security
It's also important to clarify that an AMC takes no ownership of any organizational intellectual property, issues, events or accounts. An AMC is still an external entity and appreciates the hard-earned value and property of your organization. It also understands the importance of security in communications and document or data handling, the sensitivities needed to properly respect and accommodate members of the organization to keep them involved, and the big picture of how relationships and reputation intertwine with progress and the mission.
Nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements are common between organizations and AMCs to ensure these issues are clear. If your organization does not have these documents, the AMC can provide counsel-constructed agreements.
"That’s one big reason we started Force Multiplier Management: to find purpose and satisfaction using the experience and abilities we’ve developed to provide that same relief to hardworking nonprofits, giving them the breathing room to take on bigger issues and be more effective."
- Force Multiplier Management Founders
Bigger Team, Same Mission
COVID has impacted all aspects of business, society and everyday life. But if you’re in the nonprofit sector you’ve watched up to 1.6 million jobs vanish around you with a fraction returning. If you’re like most nonprofits you started pre-pandemic 2020 already struggling for funding, engagement, resources and support. The road ahead, while brightening, is still filled with uncertainties.
In this new world you have more challenges and less resources than ever, with an added sense of urgency. You’ve survived COVID for the most part but things are starting to move in real recovery directions. Do you have a vision of what that looks like for you? Have you been doing the things you need to be prepared for recovery, to position your organization where it needs to be for success? Do you have the staffing, tech and resources needed to get it all done and keep the mission going?
Most nonprofits find themselves faced with greater challenges that can quickly result in existing staff being more overloaded. This, with the continuing disruptions of COVID, can all add up to the mission suffering, and even the organization being threatened. There’s few more-frustrating things facing nonprofit management than knowing what needs to be done but rarely having the resources or expertise accessible to turn those challenges into opportunities.
Nonprofits are key to everything from a region developing and rolling out technological innovations that will define their future place in the digital economy, to steering global industries in the direction of sustainable development. They can direct the life-changing services needed by a vision-impaired beneficiary in a local city or help veterans transitioning to civilian life looking for work. If you can imagine it, there’s probably a nonprofit for it.
The nonprofit can also be a great source of influence and identity for a member or donor! It helps them strengthen their own reputation and brands by showing they actually walk the talk by engaging in a joint mission with the nonprofit and other like-minded colleagues. It can communicate their desires and a world that they envision. This is why you’ll often find your nonprofit’s logo on their business card, website or marketing material (p.s. make sure you make a good logo available to your supporters)!
Nonprofits have important rules that need to be followed. They understand the impact that respect and dignity can have on a person or an issue, and on the cooperative culture that leads to results. They’re well-versed at bringing these interests together and making use of momentum developed through their efforts. They frankly are going to be a very large part of our entire economic, social and business recovery post-pandemic.
An AMC can spend time on the things you know are important to your community or operations that you haven't had the right resources to tackle. This can increase your organization's standing, responsiveness, reputation and impact.
Instead of figuring out how to survive, you could get the help you need and be figuring out how to take things to the next level of greatness.
The Deloitte Monitor Institute’s report An Event or an era - Resources for social sector decision making in the context of COVID-19 (addendum here) - acknowledged this has been a crisis unlike any we have faced before, requiring new ways of thinking about the restoration of our work and social fabric. It framed the crisis insightfully as at one time the main act dominating news and our consciousness, to becoming the stage itself upon which all future things will be contextualized.
They were right (Delloitte usually is) – think of everything you and society have faced over the past year and the transition from all-COVID-all-the-time – unknown health risks, origin, research, policies, lockdowns and the like. All of that main-act shifted to become the stage upon which we witnessed economic struggle and recovery, social upheaval and renaissance. Everyone experienced rapid shifting work patterns, contentious elections with divided politics fueled by aspects of the crisis. A captivated audience realized an important and increasing focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in our culture.
Most of those things have existed for a long time, but now they are intrinsically linked together like never before in the context of this transformational time of COVID. They are all part of the tree-ring we'll see when we look back on this period. And likely most, or all of them touched you and your community in some way that you could still be trying to figure out.
The report produced several scenarios considering high and low impacts of the crisis, and high and low degrees of social cooperation, with resulting in outcomes ranging from “a nation on the brink” to us “rising from the ashes.”
It’s takeaways for the social sector and the roles of philanthropy, nonprofits and equity found:
Multiple, compounding crises are resulting in devastating blows to American communities (especially communities of color) - but also a potential opening to drive forward fundamental change
Nonprofits and funders will live in the same context, but experience it in different ways
The role of the social sector will be significantly determined by how federal, state and local governments are able to respond to the crisis
How funders respond to a potentially significant nonprofit contraction will matter
Many organizations will be torn between investing in high-risk, high-reward opportunities for systems change and a desire for return to normalcy
Each of these areas have an abundance of additional content in the report, you are encouraged to read it. They finish by stating that the scenarios should be taken at micro and macro-level perspectives and to insert your own experiences into them, nudging the future your way. Even though we are further into our pandemic recovery, the tenets in this study are possibly more relevant as nonprofits actively construct their post-COVID plans.
Complicated times these are for sure! More than ever the effects of your actions or inactions can ripple outward over substantial periods of time, and that foresight today can mean an entirely different world for you and your stakeholders tomorrow, or a decade down the road.
Often a nonprofit struggles with overwhelmed and under-resourced staff. Although the staff is committed to the mission, they face compounding challenges of too many demands that impair their good function, their job satisfaction and sense of accomplishment!
Instead of figuring out how to survive, you could get the help you need and be figuring out how to take things to the next level of greatness. You might need an AMC in your life right now, just like I did at my pinch-point…
Perspective & Experience
Stress became especially plentiful for me every spring when so many work things were converging - membership renewals, article deadlines, contracts, compliance deadlines and a substantial (that’s a relative term - 1500 people) convention to put on in a new city, at a new venue, with a thousand moving parts. Sponsors needed to be secured and deliverables were coming due for the ones that were onboard. Exhibit sales and assignments needed attention, member issues cropped up, regulatory challenges demanded response and more. All in addition to the day to day, internal and external work of a nonprofit trade association executive director in a growing and complex industry.
One year I faced unexpected loss of convention staff during a critical time. I wasn’t prepared to make a rushed full-time decision but needed help getting the work done, so I turned to a relatively new association management company.
They brought fresh eyes and energy to the table. I was able to talk about new ideas and changes I’d been wanting to make to the event. They were able to help me vet and implement the good ones. In a way the transition represented a fresh start and presented license to experiment with new things. They had no “baggage,” and brought a diversity of experience and resources scalable to us. We made a bunch of improvements that paid long term dividends to the show.
They served us well for a number of years, for a predictable fee that worked with the budget. The AMC we never knew we needed unexpectedly helped to springboard the organization into new directions that future event growth came from.
Maybe you're in the position of looking for that boost now?
There’s a great responsibility that comes with serving nonprofits. The reputation and impact of an organization can be directly affected by an AMC. In many cases they can serve as the front-line face of the organization. Other times they can help in the background. Every nonprofit organization is different, but there are familiar core challenges that an AMC can bring solutions to.
Finding those effective solutions within substantial budget constraints is the life of a nonprofit professional. It's also the responsibility of the people in a position to be directing use of organizational funding. With a myriad platforms, solutions and service providers out there, fiduciary responsibilities also warrant consideration of the best solutions for the best cost.
Most nonprofits find themselves faced with greater challenges that can quickly result in existing staff being more overloaded.
Scalable, Affordable & Practical Solutions
The value of an AMC is in its ability to offer ready and experienced solutions without the client organization having to immediately add overhead expenses (insurance, equipment, retirement matching, salary, etc) and onboarding of full-time staff. If you’re in a position to do that then great, do it and get that staffer you’ve been wanting!
But in the case of pandemic recovery, the organization’s mission is being challenged like never before with tight staffing and budget resources, increasing expectations for engagement, along with an unpredictable future business landscape. An AMC offers flexible and affordable ways for your organization to maintain and grow.
That’s one of the reasons we work hard to stay on top of nonprofit trends and best practices. An AMC should be expected to be able to take lessons learned from other organizations and experiences, best-practices from industry thought-leaders, effectively employ digital solutions, and develop a familiar-level understanding of your nonprofit’s resources and challenges. This leads to the scaling up or down of practical solutions that make sense and can be afforded.
Knowing that there was a workforce of professionals that understood the weird business of nonprofits I could call in a pinch, to privately discuss a problem and find a solution when our own budgets were tight, gave me the extra confidence I needed to do my job as an Executive Director. It wasn’t even the services we received that stuck with me, it was the awareness and understanding of AMCs and the feeling of access to additional targeted support or relief they can provide. The breathing room when the job rarely allows for breathing room.
That’s one big reason we started Force Multiplier Management: to find purpose and satisfaction using the experience and abilities we’ve developed to provide that same relief to hardworking nonprofits, giving them the breathing room to take on bigger issues and be more effective.
If you’re interested in a specific project or service, or just want to learn more about how an AMC could springboard your efforts to the next level, contact Force Multiplier Management today for a free no-commitment consultation. We want to solve problems and make greater feats possible for you and the people that depend on your organization.
If you are thinking you might need more comprehensive or ongoing management services, download and complete this model Request for Proposal (RFP) – links to American Society of Association Executive (ASAE) download – and send it in to us. It’ll help us understand your key performance metrics, focus and level of activity so we can better define solutions.
Here are 10 examples of where an AMC might deliver fast and effective answers for your organization.
You Need to Host More+Better Meetings
You’re on the fence about a digital or IRL event
You need a part-time or interim Executive Director
You want an education program or already have one and want to turn it digital
You have a lot of content but don’t know what to do with it
You need more engaged fundraising or membership development
You’re facing general staffing or administrative shortages
You struggle with going-digital strategies
You want to create a new nonprofit, or need to park a struggling one with a caretaker
You need to readdress your strategic directions and want to update or create a plan
Each of these examples will get their own sequential post in this series - 10 Ways an AMC Can Be Your Force Multiplier. I wanted to pile them all into this post but it blew past any reasonable word count even for long-form blogs. So, I’m going to practice what I preach and follow best practices for content marketing and our own SEO.
I hope one or more of them generate ideas for new ways that an AMC can serve you and your organization! If you send us feedback on these posts we’d love to dig in deeper on any of them, answer questions, and produce more helpful content.
EVP & Co-Founder
Force Multiplier Management
Force Multiplier Management LLC editorial content is offered as insight and general guidance only, and is not intended as legal advice.
© Force Multiplier Management 2021