Starting a New Association

By: Bryan Ochalla

Advice from the founders of a brand-new association.

Given the current economic environment, starting an association now or in the near future may sound like a fool's errand. Although it's not easy, it's far from impossible, according to Mark Hilldrup and Stephen Wehrenberg, Ph.D., who helped launch the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) earlier this year. Where there's a will—and more important, a need—there's a way.

Hilldrup, Wehrenberg, and their six colleagues on the ACMP interim board of directors were brought together during a conference two years ago by Jeff Hiatt, who serves as the association's interim treasurer when he isn't running ProSci, a research firm that focuses on change management and related disciplines.

The founding board members began by identifying a need. Before ACMP opened its doors, change management practitioners, who work with organizations to help employees accept and embrace changes in their business environment, lacked an organized professional community and tended to join associations and attend conferences that didnt focus on their field. Wehrenberg, the fledgling association's president, says he and his colleagues aimed to change that with ACMP.

"We saw change management as a profession and wanted to be sure that the profession had standards of behavior and performance, that organizations who hired change management professionals had some idea what competencies they were buying," says Wehrenberg, who is chief of human resource strategy and capability development for the U.S. Coast Guard.

For others who might be inclined to follow in the ACMP founders footsteps, they offer this advice:

Embrace the fact that everything is likely to take longer than you think it will. Hilldrup, a senior manager at CapTech Consulting and secretary of the ACMP board, says it took almost two years for the board members to move from idea to implementation. Says Wehrenberg: "Legal, tax, trademark, financial, employee, membership, conference planning, and a host of other issues must be resolved" before you can set out the welcome mat, and all of them are likely to "divert you from the content of the discipline."

Leverage your members skills as quickly as possible. "We believe that ACMP offers only three things of value to our members: advocacy, goods and services, and opportunities to contribute to the development of the profession," says Wehrenberg. He advises tapping new members contributions as early as possible. In particular, he recommends creating volunteer teams to work on the "hard organizational and structural challenges."

Recognize the advantages of being a new association. Wehrenberg shares the story of a well-established organization that is struggling to move its printed materials—especially its magazine and newsletter—online. "Every time they bring it up, the members howl," he says. But ACMP "can move right into electronic publishing and skip the paper stuff right away. Extrapolate that to other areas, and our newness creates definite advantages."

Bryan Ochalla is a freelance writer based in Seattle. Email: [email protected]

Bryan Ochalla

Bryan Ochalla is a freelance writer and editor based in Seattle.