When Michael Hanrahan began his one-year term as president of the American Institute of Architects' New Jersey chapter, he and other board members soon received help from Joseph A. Simonetta, the organization's executive director.
Simonetta "helped us navigate our way through lobbying efforts," said Hanrahan, an associate partner at Clarke, Caton, Hintz, in Trenton. "He counseled us on what were potential pitfalls along the way."
While it may not be unusual for in-house business association staff members to aid their board members, AIA New Jersey has a unique relationship with Simonetta. He is a partner with the lobbying firm Public Strategies Impact, and manages associations on a contract basis.
Some associations have found lobbying firms can meet their staffing needs, while the lobbying firms have found association management to be a business that complements their other services.
Simonetta, who has worked in association management since 1978, said some associations find they struggle to meet their staffing needs. These can be met by a business like PSI, which has staff members who specialize in association event planning, membership services and finance.
"The cost savings are substantial," Simonetta said. He noted that for an all-volunteer association, just planning the annual meeting can take six to eight months.
"The association board has to concentrate on the real needs of their members" through policy discussions and strategic planning, rather than focusing on minutia, Simonetta said.
PSI senior partner Roger A. Bodman said Simonetta made a strong contribution to PSI when he helped the firm begin association management when he joined in 1991.
"It's akin to an anchor tenant, and from that, we built the business," Bodman said of Simonetta's work. Bodman's wife, Laura Slomka, is PSI's event manager, overseeing the nonlobbying side of the organization's association management.
Simonetta said the strongest way to grow association membership is to provide valuable services. He cited a recent example, when his firm lobbied on behalf of the New Jersey Travel Industry Association for a bill exempting out-of-state bus operators from paying a tax targeting tour buses.
Another example was cited by Hanrahan, now the immediate past president of AIA New Jersey. When rumors were spreading among architects that the state Schools Development Authority would not be hiring architects for future school projects, Simonetta helped set up a meeting between AIA New Jersey officials and Marc Larkins, director of the SDA.
"Everyone reacts to rumors and hearsay," Hanrahan said. In the meeting, Larkins made clear that the state officials "were going to include architects, and they weren't going to keep us out of the equation. That was tremendous."
Hanrahan described the relationship between his association and PSI as "fantastic."
"As an organization, we would be relying on volunteers, and it would be a herculean effort to do all of the work for events" and other administrative tasks, Hanrahan said.
Having specialists in each area of association management normally wouldn't be affordable to an association the size of AIA New Jersey.
"Having them on board meant some of our volunteers were free to work on other projects," Hanrahan said. "There's a tremendous benefit to having all of those resources under one roof. I'm an architect, I don't know how to put on trade shows — that's what they do. I don't know how to lobby. They helped us every step of the way."
Another veteran association manager who combines that work with lobbying is Beverly Lynch, a principal of Advocacy & Management Group, of Trenton.
Lynch manages a range of associations, specializing in doctors' groups. While her business provides updates to members through e-mail and organizes events, the core of the work for associations is lobbying.
"The number-one reason for even being a state association in today's world is to be an advocacy organization," Lynch said, noting the natural fit between lobbying and association management.
Lynch launched her own firm, B. Lynch Associates, in 2002, after serving in positions with the New Jersey Food Council, the state Department of Commerce and Economic Development, and Martin Bontempo Inc. (now MBI-GluckShaw). She joined forces with state government veteran A.J. Sabath in 2011 to launch AMG.
Association members "do need full-time management so they can continue with their own daily work — these guys are full-time physicians," Lynch said. "They get all of that, but on a shared-resource basis."
The need to link association management and lobbying is particularly acute in New Jersey, Lynch said.
"New Jersey is full time, nonstop, with thousands of thousands of bills that affect our practice," she said.
Lynch said association management is constantly evolving. She noted that an increasingly important part of the job is engaging in social media, including updating associations' Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Lobbyists effectively can become the public face of associations — while association boards may change annually, lobbyists build up decades of knowledge in working with the group.
"I'm the constant for them for legislators and decision makers," Lynch said. "From my point of view, it's critical that the executive director be immersed in the lobbying."
Building a knowledge base for different associations allows her to see a bill from several perspectives, she said.
For instance, if she is at a committee meeting on behalf of the New Jersey State Society of Anesthesiologists Political Action Committee, and officials start talking about emergency medicine, "I can go back to the emergency physicians and say they're talking about your issues — you need to be at the table."
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