5 Questions for Jackie Williams, CPA

RGI has talented, knowledgeable and professional executive directors guiding strategy and direction for all client associations. This month, we recognize these leaders with a new blog series. We asked each of RGI’s executive directors five questions about what they’ve learned and where they see the future of association management.

We kick off the series with 5 Questions with Jackie Williams, CPA. Jackie serves as the Senior Director of Finance & Administration for RGI, and also currently serves as the executive director for three groups: the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB)the National Council of Acoustical Consultants (NCAC), and the Indiana Commercial Board of Realtors (ICBR).

Jackie began working with RGI in November 2000 as the Director of Operations, working closely with the owners to manage the day-to-day operations of RGI and oversee the accounting functions. In 2002, after some restructuring within RGI, Jackie began working with one of RGI’s association clients while still assisting with the operational aspects of RGI. By 2006, Jackie was working full time on the association management side of the business.

Question 1: What about association management do you enjoy most?

JW: I enjoy working directly with the Boards of Directors. Each person brings a unique perspective and style to the table. It is both fun and interesting to observe these differences and the impact on interactions of the group. I frequently find myself learning something new!

Question 2: What about association management keeps you up at night?

JW: A significant downturn in the financial outlook of an organization keeps me awake. Being a CPA, I always keep a close eye on the financial activity and try to make adjustments as quickly as possible to avoid or mitigate negative impacts to the association. But some things are unavoidable. Developing a path of recovery keeps my mind working overtime!

Question 3: What is the greatest challenge you face in your role as an exec?

JW: At the very core of association management is volunteer management. At the executive director level, that primarily means the Board of Directors. Most Boards of Directors experience at least some turn-over each year due to terms in office, with a new president being inducted every year. Ensuring the overall mission, vision and objectives of the organization are being followed and met, despite these changes in leadership, is a continuous challenge.

Question 4: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started in association management?

JW: The volunteers serving as leaders within our associations bring a high level of passion and enthusiasm for their cause. This differs from my earlier work experiences where it was more about the bottom line. During my early years in association management, I still focused heavily on the financial aspects of a program, while my Boards of Directors were more likely to focus on the intangibles. Looking back, there are number of times that decisions may have been made more quickly had I taken the intangibles into account and included that perspective in my reporting.

Question 5: Where do you see associations in 10 years? 20 years?

JW: The future is impossible to predict. If you had asked me 25 years ago what I would be doing now, it would have been a partner in a CPA firm. But less than 5 years into the profession, it was clear that wasn’t for me! I definitely think associations will still be around and be relevant in 10-20 years, but the challenge will be maintaining relevance.

As more and more information is available through multiple online sources, the individual can pick and choose what they want and need. An association that is generalized may find itself obsolete, while those that can tailor benefits and opportunities to specific niches will likely prove more successful. Technological advances in meeting tools will lead to significant changes in the way people connect. Even today, more people are using live streaming and Webinar technologies, so it seems inevitable that meeting formats will be impacted. But I was once told that people join associations to be with other people, and I don’t see that changing.

I read an interesting article that looks to past human behavior to predict the future of associations. Futurist Dr. Michio Kaku says, “Think of 100,000 years ago when we were hunter-gatherers. After the hunt we would joke around, dance, play, flirt at the campfire. That’s the basic model of who we are….That means associations have to have great social parties at night, because that’s what we did at the campfire. We have to have lots of gossip. We have to have all the latest [information]. We have to have the leaders of the industry come…. So that’s the basic model.”

For some additional thoughts and ideas about the future of associations, read Visions for the Future of Associations.