New Association Start-Up: When “Do-It-Yourself” May Not Be the Best Option

Starting an Association : Article

When organizations see a need or opportunity for a new industry group or consortium, they sometimes wrestle with the conundrum of how to resource the formation and launch of the organization. For some, the prospect of taking this work on themselves is attractive for several reasons, including the perceived ability to tightly control decisions, realize potential cost savings, and accelerate execution. Given the complexity of getting a new association off the ground, however, the “do-it-yourself” approach can be fraught with hazards. Before taking the plunge, below are some aspects to consider at this most critical stage moving a new initiative from concept to reality:

  • Resource the Initiative – and Gracefully: Forming a new consortium typically requires contributions and resourcing from across a number of business functions including accounting, marketing, IT, web services, and events management. While these cross-functional departments might collaborate well in support of an organization’s core business activities, will they still be able to do so in tackling the very different challenges of getting a start-up association off the ground? There’s also the very real issue of whether the departments in your organization are equipped to take on a burst of new activity that very likely was not planned for in the annual budgeting process.  By contrast, a full-service association management company such as Virtual is built for scale. By deploying a fractional resource model across our client base, we always have available capacity. Equally important, we always make sure those folks on our teams who are most experienced and best equipped to drive the launch and formation of a new group are available to do so.
  • Be Smart on Cost: More than just having the resources available to drive and support a new industry initiative, it’s also imperative to ensure the right resources are applied to the right tasks. This is especially crucial during the formative stage, when the amount of operating capital tends to be limited. In many company-driven start-up scenarios, the one person who happens to have some time available tends to absorb all the tasks needed to get done. We’ve seen first-hand less-than-ideal scenarios where principal engineers have ended up processing membership agreements and marketing managers have been on the front lines of adding users into collaborative work spaces. The built-in depth of a well-qualified association management firm can prevent such task-level inefficiencies. What’s more, at Virtual, we view the start-up of a new initiative as the best time to invest in our partnership with our client organization to ensure it gets off the ground efficiently and with the most optimal organizational and operating structure. As our goal is to help our client organizations succeed, we realize that having them saddled with insurmountable start-up debt doesn’t support those aims.
  • Build the Right Foundation: Getting a new organization off the ground is critical. Ensuring that it is well equipped for the long flight ahead is equally important. That said, the formative stage of a new consortium is where many decisions are made that have sizable impact on the organization’s future success. For instance, is the governance model right-sized for the composition of the group and the industry it serves? Are member dues set at the proper level to both adequately fund the organization’s goals and also deliver strong value to participants? Has your new initiative put into place the right set of tools to not only support your launch, but to drive ongoing operations with many more participants involved? In other words, starting a new initiative is a costly and resource-intensive undertaking. Having to revisit many of the same decision points just months after launch because some of the initial approaches were not designed for scale can slow progress and sap morale from participants. The benefits of a deeply experienced partner such as Virtual can make a big difference here. Having formed and launched dozens of associations over the years, we inherently know what it takes to not only build a new organization efficiently, but also bolstered by an organizational and operational structure that’s well-suited to support the organization’s long-term goals.
  • Anticipate Unplanned Scale and Volume: A funny thing can happen with new industry groups – sometimes they achieve success well beyond original expectations. While you might have an administrator ready and waiting to process inquiries from prospective new members or completed membership applications, are they equipped to handle hundreds of inquiries per day during the first few weeks after launch? Has your internal team prepared for the scenario of adding dozens of eager new participants into the selected collaboration tools? Is your new organization equipped to provide immediate participation opportunities and value to those members that joined immediately after launch? At Virtual, when we engage with new initiatives, we don’t just focus on the launch, but in parallel we plan the complex set of activities needed to support ongoing operations. Equally important, we have the depth of resources and capacity to support those operations – no matter how fast they scale.
  • Avoid the Unexpected Trip Wires: Even if an organization has the resources and wherewithal to drive the formation and launch of a new initiative, almost all groups that take the do-it-yourself path stumble into some operational aspect that their company is ill-equipped to handle. Some realize they can’t invoice anyone except company customers, and thus cannot invoice organizational members. Sometimes it’s against company policy to register domains and host websites for outside organizations. Other organizations find out the hard way that they have to work through a cumbersome bidding process in order to get vendors involved – even if it’s for work related to the new association. On their own, none of these types of issues may seem like a big deal. However, in the pressure of building toward a mission-critical launch, they can be painful showstoppers. At Virtual, our operations and service model is designed for one thing: the smooth formation and operation of industry associations.
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