IABC Transition to SmithBucklin: Leader Information and Messaging

This is a living document for your information and messaging as we go through this transition. As questions and updates on the transition come up we will update this document. This document is not for distribution but for your reference as an IABC Leader.

An FAQ for members will be available on the IABC website.

What is an association management model?

Association management companies, often referred to as AMCs, provide professional staff (up to and including executive management) to manage all aspects of an association’s operations. These services include but are not limited to, membership recruitment and engagement, marketing and communications, conference and tradeshow management, technology, financial management, education and certification, and government relations.

Who is SmithBucklin?

SmithBucklin is a leading association management firm headquartered in Chicago. They provide tailored association management and consulting services to more than 300 professional societies, trade associations, charitable organizations, corporations and government institutes serving their client organizations’ members globally.

Why is IABC transitioning from its current management model?

IABC’s business model reflects our core purpose to advance the profession, create connections, and develop strategic communication professionals. The world is constantly changing and so must IABC. Many of IABC’s products and services continue to differentiate our brand and deliver profitable growth, however, the member experience we offer falls well short of the member-centric experience to which we aspire.

How did the need for this change come about?

For a number of years, IABC’s membership has been in decline, which means our operating budget declined as well. This has limited our staff size and our access to the depth and breadth of resources required to deliver the level of experience we envisioned. It has also impacted our agility and ability to get new programs to market in a timely fashion.

Based on market trends, the IEB expected continued downward pressure on membership and financial health unless IABC found a way to stay relevant and sustainable in today’s market.

The appointment of a second Interim Executive Director in November delivered much needed organizational stability since the departure of the IABC’s Executive Director in September. However, the root cause of declining membership and associated risks required a long-term outlook and adaption to an operating model that allows us to reduce our overall cost of doing business and leverage external resources that we simply can’t afford to have in our current model.

Why did IEB recommend selecting an AMC rather than continuing with our own staff?

After a thorough risk and financial assessment, the IEB concluded that an AMC was the best option for providing the necessary strength of execution, fiduciary safety, and staffing flexibility. Furthermore, outsourcing would provide cost savings in operating expenses, while enhancing customer centricity and access to resources and a diverse talent pool. This would allow IABC to effectively compete for relevance at an international level and deliver much-needed administrative support to our regions and chapters who own the member experience at the grassroots level.

Another consideration in whether to move to an outsourced model was whether IABC needed the ability to scale up or down depending on service needs. Permanent staff reduces an organization’s ability to be agile in its response to changing needs unless there are significant investments made in talent acquisition and retention, as well as ensuring strong leadership from the Executive Director.

On the other hand, AMCs bring expertise from managing many organizations and have transferrable knowledge from those challenges. They also have a robust administrative infrastructure with established financial and accounting procedures and can provide economies of scale through existing vendor relationships.

When did the IEB decide to make a change?

The IEB voted in January, 2020 to transition to SmithBucklin after reviewing a number of options over the past few months.

How was this new management model selected?

The IEB decided to critically evaluate our current management model against the future needs of members and the Association as a whole. An IEB Task Force, led by Past Chair Ginger Homan ABC, SCMP, was created to evaluate two options:

  • hiring a permanent Executive Director and maintaining current staffing model, or
  • moving all administrative services to an Association Management Company (AMC).

The Task Force, in consultation with the full board, determined that our existing management model significantly impacted business continuity.

The board explored a number of options in search of an association management firm that would be a fit for our size, scope and global membership. Ultimately two association management firms were invited to submit proposals to take on management of IABC.

The entire Board interviewed representatives of the two firms and evaluated them for cultural fit, and to ensure they had the financial models and technical competencies to support an international association.

After checking references, IEB decided to enter into exploratory discussions with SmithBucklin, who agreed to provide services of an Interim Executive Director for a 90-day period with no obligation for a longer-term commitment if the Board decided SmithBucklin was not the right fit.

On behalf of IEB, the Vice Chair Bonnie Caver collected more detailed data about SmithBucklin and performed a site visit. During this visit, the IEB Vice Chair met their staff, saw their facilities, and discussed their fit with and plans for working with IABC. SmithBucklin also provided a detailed proposal with financial modeling so that the IEB could evaluate financial feasibility of outsourcing vs current state.

What made SmithBucklin the right choice for IABC?    

The Task Force and the Board considered a variety of criteria when evaluating the AMC candidates, the most important being the capability to assist IABC in reaching its strategic goals and improving its relevance as an association. The criteria included experience with:

  • Other organizations similar to IABC
  • Approach to membership management and revenue planning
  • Working with a governance Board
  • Organizations with international membership
  • Volunteer-driven associations

Other key considerations included alignment with our brand values and:

  • A focus on, and valuing of, diversity
  • Excellent customer service
  • Sound financial practices
  • A history of operational and staff stability

Following evaluation against the criteria and determining culture fit, the Board concluded that SmithBucklin was the strongest option. SmithBucklin has over 70 years of experience serving a wide variety of client organizations and could bring those learnings to transform IABC’s business model and value proposition to effectively compete in a changing world. With experts in many different areas, from technology to membership to certification, SmithBucklin could provide the depth needed in managing IABC, serving its members and the broader communication community. In addition, SmithBucklin’s shared services model could help IABC elevate its content, communication and digital capabilities to better address our members’ needs.

Does SmithBucklin have experience in these types of transitions?

A final deciding factor in our decision was SmithBucklin’s extensive experience transitioning organizations like IABC from their existing management model. They have a systematic, documented process for successfully transitioning new clients. A dedicated transition management team and an interim Executive Director from the SmithBucklin staff, Janet Rapp, are working closely with existing staff and IEB to lead IABC’s transition to new management.

Will this change in management model affect membership dues?

There are no plans to increase membership dues because of this management transition. Per our policy, the Finance Committee and IEB, working with HQ Staff, reviews the dues structure periodically and the pricing parity guidelines every two years.* The latter was scheduled for 2019 but was delayed given the technology challenges of transitioning our membership management platform and the departures of the Executive Director and Membership Director in September.

*For clarity, IABC uses a tiered system to determine international dues. Chapter and Region dues are determined by those groups. A price parity review does not address rate changes to the dues in each tier, but determines if they are in the right tier.

What changes can we expect during the transition period?

The focus of the transition is knowledge transfer and business continuity. SmithBucklin team members will review and become familiar with the current processes and operations in place to support IABC’s mission going forward. During this period we’ll also be working to determine how current staff members might continue to serve IABC in the future as part of the SmithBucklin team.

Janet Rapp will continue to serve as IABC’s Interim Executive Director and lead the transition, a role she has extensive experience in. Janet will lead a team of SmithBucklin staff comprised of subject matter experts who will bring their knowledge and experience in communications, technology, membership operations, event planning, and education delivery to be ready to assume operations on July 1, 2020. We will also be working closely with our human resources team to ensure a positive and seamless transition. Attendees at Leadership Institute (LI) will have a chance to meet members of the SmithBucklin team who will attend to learn and meet chapter leaders.

Will I see any changes in IABC’s operations?

Some internal operational changes may begin to take place during the transition as we look for efficiencies. IABC retains its current form of governance; any programmatic changes continue to be at the direction of the IEB. A team of technology professionals from SmithBucklin will begin to partner with Fonteva to ensure continuity of operations and to implement the full array of services. Committee staff liaisons may change during the transition, to serve as both a logistical and a strategic resource. All efforts to produce a successful World Conference will continue, along with plans to celebrate the association’s 50th Anniversary.

What will happen with the current IABC staff?

Communication is underway with the IABC staff team to understand their interest in potentially continuing to serve IABC after July 1. The goal is to retain a number of staff based on their roles to ensure continuity of IABC operations and culture. The IABC team in the new model will be comprised of SmithBucklin professionals and current IABC staff contributing from their remote locations.

The goal is open and transparent communication with staff at this time of change. There is not information to share publicly at this time, as options are explored and decisions made in the coming months.

Where will IABC be headquartered after this transition?

About 3 years ago IABC transitioned from its San Francisco-based headquarters office to a fully remote team, with staff contributing from all across the country.

With the SmithBucklin partnership IABC will have a headquarters office in downtown Chicago. We anticipate that a number of the current team members will continue to support IABC from their remote location, to contribute their expertise and industry knowledge.