From Popcorn To Purpose: Talking Association Management With SmithBucklin

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At a recent SHARE conference of mainframe technology users, attendees get an up-close look at their industry’s technology as part of an exhibit on the show floor. Image courtesy SmithBucklin

In the late 1940s, movie theaters began their war with what was then just a new trend: home entertainment. As household television sets became more common, there was concern about the impact on ticket sales. And in turn, how that could hurt popcorn sales.

“A group of popcorn processors led by Orville Redenbacher hired our founder William E. Smith to bring the processors together to promote the snack,” said Matt Sanderson, the president and CEO of SmithBucklin, an association management company. The company was founded in 1949 and is still involved in this sector, providing management services to the Popcorn Institute.

Most businesses, non-profit organizations and professional groups belong to some sort of association. The purpose of these alliances is not only to encourage networking, but to share what the group members do to the public. According to the American Society of Association Executives, there are over 60,000 trade and professional associations based in the United States.

“Associations are uniquely important to our economy because they are able to create value from the collective good and because they provide opportunities for passionate, driven volunteer leaders to move industries and professions forward,” said Sanderson.

Association management committees provide services to associations groups, handling operations like membership recruitment, conference and trade show planning, and financial management.

“By relying on an association management company, board members have the time and energy to focus what’s important to them; furthering the goals of their association and having a real impact on their industry or profession,” added Sanderson.

The role of association management has changed immensely. As business travel has become more affordable, more people are able to attend trade shows and conferences. Technology has made sharing information easier, and associations are offering more professional development and training programs to their member.

This demand for development is a rising trend. According to a Society for Human Resource Management study, 86% of employees surveyed seek development opportunities from their employer.

Associations help fill this void. Sanderson notes that they’ve seen this shift with their client SHARE Inc., a technology user group that provides education for mainframe computer specialists.

“Mainframe computer technology – the backbone of the airline, insurance and banking industries, among others around the world – is facing a job vacancy crisis,” he said. Their work with SHARE Inc. aims to provide education and mentoring with the next generation of mainframe specialists.

“It is clear to each of our colleagues that our work matters,” he said. “This has contributed to our ability to attract and retain talent, achieve results as a company, and deliver exceptional outcomes to the client organizations we serve.”

Taking influence from the Harvard Business Review’s “The Business Case for Purpose,” Sanderson considers it to be a purpose-led company that focuses on the impact of the work they do.

“It’s not surprising at all that our dedication to giving back extends beyond our walls, as they continue to help the communities in which they live,” said Sanderson. “What makes our company so unique is that our people are driven by the desire to serve others.”

This sense of purpose is important to the company. Their Facebook page is less about sharing corporate news. Instead, it shows the staff involved in some sort of volunteer activity ranging from an animal shelter to a community theater group for hospitalized children. The company regularly promotes volunteering, fundraising and sustainability programs.

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