New to Association HR?
HR in associations is in many ways no different from HR in a similarly-sized for-profit organization—personnel management and benefits offer similar challenges no matter where you are. However, there are a few elements of human resources in associations that may be new to you even if you have extensive HR experience in the for-profit world.
1. Not every association hires staff directly. Instead of maintaining a headquarters office and staff, association boards can work with association management companies (AMCs), which are for-profit organizations that manage multiple associations. The board hires the AMC, which then provides staffing based on the contractual agreement between the association in question and the AMC. The amount of staff support provided by the AMC may increase at busier times of the year, such as the months leading up to an association’s annual conference.
Other associations work with professional employment organizations (PEOs), for-profit organizations that hire staff and offer benefits for multiple organizations. A PEO provides human resources services through a coemployment relationship with the staff of an association or other small business. The PEO contractually assumes most of the employer’s administrative and compliance responsibilities and risks, while also pooling the association's employees with other businesses for benefit-purchasing purposes.
For more information on AMCs, visit the Associations Now Guide to Association Management Companies (PDF document). For more on PEOs, read “PEOs Focus on Employees So You Can Focus on Members.”
2. An association’s chief staff officer hires staff, but the board hires the chief staff officer. Associations have a divided chain of command, unlike privately-held for-profit businesses: The volunteer board hires the chief staff officer (whose title may be president, CEO, executive director, executive vice president, or something else, depending on the organization). The chief staff officer is then directly responsible for the hiring and firing of staff.
For more information on the relationships between boards, chief staff officers, and association staff, read “The Board and CEO Relationship,” the Association for Play Therapy’s Board and CEO Roles Policy (PDF, available to ASAE members only), or “Keep Your Power, Absolutely,” a sidebar to the article “Pink Slips With Less Pain.”
3. Volunteers may sometimes be involved in personnel reviews. Associations that use 360-degree personnel reviews or other forms of peer review as part of their performance-review process may involve volunteers or members in that process. For small-staff associations, where the number of additional staff to request peer reviews from is limited, or for roles where a staff person is extensively involved with volunteers or members, member/volunteer peer reviews can provide information and a perspective on staff performance that otherwise would be missing.
4. Volunteer roles may have job descriptions, too. To clarify volunteer roles and responsibilities, many associations develop job descriptions for volunteer roles much like the descriptions that would be created for a staff position. Such job descriptions provide information on the volunteer position’s duties, the association’s expectations for volunteers in that position, and anything else that the volunteer and association need to agree upon. For more information, read “Volunteer Management: Improving the Volunteer Experience and Reducing Risk.”
5. Chief staff officer contracts and reviews are complex. Chief staff officers in associations are hired by the board and report to the board (although a subcommittee of the board or the executive committee may take direct responsibility for the CEO’s compensation and performance review). Associations’ agreements with their CEOs, as well as pay and benefits offered to CEOs, vary widely. For more information, read “What to Watch for With CEO Contracts,” “[CEO] Performance Review Without Pain,” or “Inside the CEO Job Hunt,” and visit ASAE’s collection of sample CEO contracts (available to ASAE members only).