When the Going Gets Disruptive, AMCs Get Innovative
By Constance Wrigley-Thomas, CAE – Owner/CEO, Essentient Association Management

You've probably heard the expression "innovate or die" somewhere along the way. Maybe it was in the trenches working 12-hour days or possibly out on the streets trying to drum up some clients for your newly launched association management company. Often attributed to Peter Drucker, it makes me think of a caveman and the invention of fire, or the wheel. There is something primal, yet exciting about that phrase.

I recently participated in a panel discussion at AMCs Engaged in Columbus, Ohio. The topic was about how and why AMCs have to be innovators in order to up their game, keep their clients and maintain a sustainable business. Being an innovator is often the difference between a best in class enterprise or, just a commodity. And seriously, who wants to be viewed as a run of the mill commodity? Not this AMC.

About ten years ago our largest client approached us with a challenge. A commercial real estate association, they were the 8th largest of 54 North American chapters and wanted to grow their young professionals' program.

Enter the disruption: About a year earlier the association had launched at 35 years of age and under program to help grow the membership and address the cycling out of older members. They wanted to know from us if we could help them develop a mentorship program that would attract and retain the association's Developing Leaders while engaging senior members and enabling them to give back.

The problem was, the mentors were very busy C-suite executives and could not commit to a lot of time.

Our client suggested a dating site-like platform that would match mentors and mentees and facilitate meetings over a 6-month period of time. In other words, this was not going to be your grandmother's mentorship program featuring lengthy application forms, hour and hours of volunteers poring over spreadsheets to search data sets, and staff attempting to manually match column A to column B.

Enter the innovation: Working with our vision and get it done mindset, our web developer built an in-the-cloud solution with a mentee-facing front end and a mentor portal back end. Sandwiched in between was a beautiful interface that showcased our mentors and invited our pre-approved mentees to take part. Our pilot was launched in February of 2010.

20 random mentees were drawn from a large pool of Developing Leaders who expressed interest in being a part of the pilot. On an assigned day and time, they were invited to select up to two of the 20 mentors for meet ups. Like the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, mentees worked quickly to book appointments with their preferred mentors and all available timeslots were gone in less than an hour.

Applying the principles of flash mentoring (or micro mentoring as it is otherwise known), mentorship matches involved meeting up over coffee, over lunch or in a boardroom. These weren't job interviews or sales pitches but an opportunity to connect and network with some of the biggest names in the sector. In some cases, these meet ups evolved into longer term business relationships.

Following a successful run of the pilot, the program grew and we invited our users (mentors and mentees) to provide their feedback so that the platform could be continuously improved, made even more robust and easy to use.

Enhancements were constantly being implemented and mentor / mentee resources added. And the Developing Leader membership expanded exponentially taking this cohort from 160 to over 600, and the association went from being 8th largest chapter in North America to 2nd largest.

It was around the 7-year mark that other associations started to take notice including the U.S.-based association of whom our client was a chapter. Because of our client’s success, they wanted to make the platform available to all of their chapters. The problem was, it wasn't packaged that way.

Enter the partnership: Working with our web developers (they were also some pretty awesome code writers) we formed a partnership so that we could develop a stand-alone product that all associations and AMCs could access. Of course, there was the market research, focus groups and pricing strategies that had to be completed but in fall 2017 we launched Mentorship Rocket, a cloud-based solution that associations have been waiting for. Since then we have signed up several Mentorship Rocket clients in Canada and the U.S. plus, as a bonus, our association clients get access to our platform for free. This helps them to build value for their members just as we have built value for our associations.

As an AMC we continue to seek innovations and develop solutions for our client associations. These may not be as big and bold as Mentorship Rocket but they can be just as impactful if we can help them to overcome challenges, turn a corner or embrace disruption.

We are still an AMC first, but it makes us feel good to know that, because of our innovation, we have been able to develop a product that benefits the sector in a really special way.

Constance Wrigley-Thomas, CAE is the founder and owner of Essentient Association Management, a Burlington, Ontario, Canada-based AMC. Constance is the co-founder and current President of the Canadian Chapter of the AMC Institute and sits on the Board of the AMC Institute. She is also a founder and partner of Mentorship Rocket (www.mentorshiprocket.com), a cloud-based mentorship platform designed for associations. Constance can be reached at constance@essentient.ca