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How many balls can you juggle at once? That’s a question many association leaders ask themselves at one time or another. But for those that have a staff of one, two, or three, it’s a constant reality. Read on for 5 tips on getting the most bang for your buck from a small staff.

With only one and one-half positions on staff at the Indiana Music Education Association, executive director Lane Velayo says he and his other employee must be “jacks of all trades” to the 1,000-member statewide organization. “The association is expected to provide the same program support, marketing, advocacy and membership recruitment services a large-staff association provides, so we have to be creative and make good use of our member volunteers’ skills,” he adds.

In contrast, the Globalization and Localization Association, which has four full-time staff positions, relies on volunteers for more strategic direction and oversight, versus hands-on services. Laura Brandon is the executive director of the international trade association for translation service companies that represents 400 companies in 55 countries. “In order to take the association to the next step, we need our board member volunteers to move away from direct involvement and into more strategic planning and advisement roles, and let staff handle the day-to-day activities,” she says.


Outsource activities that require expertise

Both Velayo and Brandon outsource projects or responsibilities that require skills not available in-house with their small staff. “Graphic design, grant writing and accounting are all outsourced, so we can work with our volunteers to focus on programming,” says Velayo.

“We outsource website design and event coordination in addition to bookkeeping,” says Brandon. “Site selection and hotel lease negotiations requires experience and skills that are hard to maintain with a small staff, so it makes sense to outsource this role.”

Work with partner or national organizations for advocacy efforts

“I can’t focus on advocacy every day, so I rely on the national association to identify issues throughout the country,” says Velayo. “By staying up-to-date on communications from them, and seeing what is happening in other states, I can keep my members informed.”

Strategies to encourage members to keep their students’ parents as well as school leaders informed of the value of music education are in place for year-round communication as well as “emergency” communication.

Although Brandon also relies on a larger, partner organization to take the lead in monitoring and communicating potential issues and advocacy needs, she maintains control of communication with her members. “We don’t turn over our membership contact information, instead we handle the communications to keep members updated on what is happening in different areas, how it might affect them, and what they can do to advocate for their industry.”

Focus on accurate data and lists

“Clean data wins the day,” says Velayo, who prioritized updating and verifying member information when he was first hired. “If your contact list has incorrect names, email and mailing addresses, or telephone numbers, you waste time and money in your communications efforts.” Because his national association shares its database with state organizations, Velayo can compare his list to the national database for accuracy. “An accurate member list is important, especially to grassroots advocacy,” he adds.

Use technology to enhance your staff capabilities

Although Brandon has four full-time positions on her staff, she chose not to immediately fill one position when it opened up, so she could cover the cost of a website redesign. The old site, which was not user-friendly, was replaced by a website that now offers a unified member experience, she says. “Because we are an international association, our website acts as our office for many members.” The move from a website cobbled together with different services, to one that now offers a single touch point, leads to more engaged members, she says.

Establish Factory Days to get things done

No matter how enthusiastic and energetic an association staff may be, it is important to establish an environment in which they can be productive, recommends Velayo. “When we have a big project, such as annual budget development, or even two or three smaller projects that require time to focus, we set that time aside and don’t allow interruptions.”

The “factory days” include Velayo, his other staff member, and appropriate volunteers. For a full day or two, whichever is needed to complete the task, everyone focuses on the project. “It’s good to bring everyone together, because we remove the silos of different committees or different roles. The collaboration enables us to discuss projects, identify problems, develop solutions and move forward.”