In the past 14 years, I’ve held a variety of positions in association management: senior staff in a mid-sized professional academic society, senior staff/acting CEO for a small ed-tech association, consulting, and now mid-level management at a large medical trade association.
Each place has had upsides and downsides. The academic society was in my “official” field (from undergrad and grad school), so I was really engaged in the meat of what we did and felt a deep personal connection with my members. I had the opportunity to manage a fantastic team, most of whom I’m still in touch with 14 years later. But tradition weighs particularly heavy on an august association of PhDs. Even though I had good internal support to try new things, there was only so far we could go. And the annual meetings were murder!
The small association was nimble and innovative, and I had pretty much totally free reign to try anything I wanted. We turned on a dime and had an AMAZING mission and community. Unfortunately, resources – staff, time, money, capacity, space – were a constant problem. Comes with the territory, but we constantly struggled to figure out ways to push all our great ideas forward on the cheap (or preferably, the free).
Consulting brought lots of fun, exciting variety, and I got to meet and work with terrific people from all sorts of associations, finding out about worlds I never would have encountered otherwise (and I got to work with a metallurgy organization staffed and led by a bunch of guys who reminded me a lot of my dad, which rocked – I love engineers!). But I was often in the position of turning over a bunch of (hopefully) useful recommendations that would have an immediate positive impact, with an “OK! Let me know how it goes!” It killed me to mostly not be able to help make change happen.
Large organizations allow you to be more specialized, so you develop deeper expertise in your areas of responsibility. Resources are rarely a serious impediment. And once again, great mission (there may be a theme here). But decision making can be glacial, and it’s often not entirely clear who needs to be involved in a given decision until you’re down the path and someone’s upset they’ve been left out.
So here’s my question for you, association peeps: how does one bring some of the good things small staff organizations enjoy with regards to new ideas and nimbleness to a large organization?
That’s not rhetorical – I’d really like your thoughts.