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  • Sarah Gazi, CAE

AMCs: From Threat to Opportunity - A Love Story


Right after college, in 2001, I began working for a small standalone association as an Administrative Assistant. Over the years, this association had explored moving to the association management company (AMC) model. All I knew at the time was that if the association moved to AMC management my job would be taken away by some big bad company. Due to various circumstances, hard work, and passion, by 2004 I was the chief staff executive. But due to a lot of previous staff turnover, in 2005 the association once again was looking to send out an RFP to AMCs. I was heart-broken but was reassured that this search had nothing to do with my performance and was more about ensuring continuity and stability.


Out of sheer determination and passion for my association and job, I decided I would confront the enemy and approach an AMC myself. Keep in mind that at this point I still didn’t know much about AMCs but I was hell bent on doing everything I could to keep my job with this association any way I could. I called an AMC in my state and explained my situation. After meeting with them in person, we decided that this AMC and I would submit a proposal together. I would become a member of the AMC staff and I would serve as this association’s Executive Director. It would be a win-win-win! At least I had hoped.


A few months later, this AMC and I presented the proposal to the Board. The Board kicked the AMC reps out of the Board room following the presentation. My heart stopped as my entire future all came down to this one moment. I was asked one single question by the Board: “Is this what you want?” I stated it was and that was that. The proposal was approved.

Now, here I was having to transition the association, move the 70+ years of stuff, buy a new house several hours away, and start a new job. I still didn’t know what this new chapter would mean for me. I didn’t know if an AMC would do right by me and the association that I so dearly loved.


The first year was hard. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. In the scheme of things, it turned out that I didn’t know much. There was this whole world of association management out here and others just like me doing what I did. It was eye-opening and terrifying, but I was determined to learn as much as I possibly could, and the AMC was more than happy to teach me everything I needed to know to be the best association executive that I could.


The association that I was managing was already seeing the benefits. New ideas, better processes, great support staff, and an overall better managed organization were the results.

In 2009 I got my Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation. On the day I read the letter telling me I passed the exam, I had to close the door to my office and cry. I was so proud of all that I had learned and accomplished in those few years. None of it would have been possible if I had stayed in my small standalone bubble.

Over the years I took on additional clients, adding to my experience and education. I became a better manager, a better speaker, communicator, and reader of different personalities and organizational cultures.


After nine years with that AMC, I did leave for other growth opportunities, but I will be forever grateful to them for helping me reach my potential with confidence.


Fast forward a few more years and I was hired by a consulting firm to launch a new association management division. Me. The anti-AMC lady was now its biggest advocate and launching my own AMC baby to nurture and grow.


Sometimes facing the unknown and our biggest fears turns out to be life changing. In my case, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been but I never forget how I got here--and it all started with one phone call to “the enemy”.

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