By Linda Owens, CAE, owner and president
In the 31 years since IMI Association Executives began (learn about our beginnings here), we have been asked many times by prospective clients about the benefits of paid staff versus the benefits of remaining strictly volunteer run organizations.
While any non-profit is fortunate to have good, strong, passionate volunteers they are oftentimes better served by paid staff rather than volunteers for a number of reasons.
Below are just a few of the ways that we have personally seen from experience that non-profits benefit from being managed by paid staff, specifically when staffing from an association management company (AMC).
- Paid staff has experience managing non-profits specifically. They are trained in association management and stay on top of best practices for the industry versus volunteers who are just interested in helping out.
- Although volunteers are experts on their specific non-profit’s focus, they may not be experts on managing a non-profit’s finance, board election procedures, etc. An association management company allows the volunteers to focus on their expertise and passion, while we manage and grow the business.
- Staff understands how to negotiate hotel contracts to avoid attrition penalties and how to negotiate for extra concessions including hotel commission or rebates. Plus, with an AMC we can negotiate volume discounts.
- AMC staff can pull from experiences working with their other non-profit clients.
- Paid staff can commit the time and effort needed to produce the best results – it is their job to run the non-profit. Volunteers have other full time jobs, so they must use their spare time to work on non-profit tasks.
- Paid staff is available and working during normal business hours, which is when the members will be most likely calling in for help.
- The volunteer working on any particular project tends to change from year to year, so with the turnover, things can fall through the cracks. Paid staff can keep track of progress and all project details to ensure that it keeps moving forward.
- Paid staff serves as a central repository for all of the non-profit’s activities so members don’t have to worry about which volunteer to call for what need.
- Paid staff understands governance and antitrust issues to protect the leadership.
- Professional staff reflects a more professional organization.
- It’s hard to “fire” volunteers. With volunteers come feelings. Someone who was once a vibrant, effective volunteer could have entered a new season in their life where they are unable to perform duties as before with the same accuracy or enthusiasm. Yet, because of their past, it’s almost impossible to remove them. With staff, it’s a clear-cut decision based on performance. The non-profit does not have to struggle because of someone in the wrong seat on a team.
It is our privilege to assist organizations in their growth. As we manage the business side of the organization, taking on the important day-to-day tasks, we find that the volunteers are free to focus on what only they can do within the organization.