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FAQ: AEA’s Management Transition

What was AEA’s previous management arrangement, and why is AEA transitioning from that?

For the past sixteen years, AEA has contracted with Kistler Consulting to manage AEA. During this period, Susan Kistler and her team of paid staff and volunteers have provided outstanding management services to AEA through an unprecedented time of growth. Her efforts have been instrumental in successfully building AEA into the strong and respected organization it is today. In July of 2012, Susan indicated to the Board of Directors that she was ready to take on new challenges in her career and pursue interests other than management services for AEA. As a result, Susan asked that the AEA be prepared to transition to new management. Since that time, AEA has engaged in a systematic transition planning process and national search to determine the best new management structure for the organization. The great news is that we have been able to find a new, outstanding organization to manage AEA and Susan is working tirelessly to help achieve a smooth transition to new management.

What was the general process for selecting new management?

The Board of Directors engaged in a thoughtful and thorough search for new management, with a process that spanned nearly a full year. With support from the Board of Directors, AEA’s then-President, Rodney Hopson, convened a Task Force of AEA leaders who worked with the Board to determine the best options for the Association.

The Task Force included members with experience in many of the key areas of AEA’s activities, including the conference, journals, professional development sessions, diversity initiatives, TIGs, local affiliates, budget, and the Board. The Task Force determined that, while its members had a range of expertise, including a great deal of business and evaluation experience, they did not have expertise in the field of association management. The Task Force, with Board approval, engaged Bill Pawlucy, a consultant who has extensive experience in the association management field, to provide guidance.

With Bill’s input, as well as information gleaned from interviews with leaders of other organizations, the Task Force determined that at this stage of AEA’s history it would be best to work with an established Association Management Company (AMC). The Task Force felt that working with an organization with experience managing many different professional associations would benefit AEA. To that end, the Task Force commenced a thorough national search to find the best AMC for AEA. The Task Force, together with Bill, wrote and broadly distributed a Request for Proposals. From many proposals, the Task Force created, and then further vetted, a list of potential partners.

After checking references and investigating these organizations, the Task Force narrowed the list to four potential AMCs for more serious consideration. Members of the Task Force then collected more detailed data about the four candidates and performed site visits. During these visits, the Task Force co-chairs met their staff, saw their facilities, and discussed their fit with and plans for working with AEA. After the site visits, and with input from the AEA Board, the task force narrowed the choices to two finalists. The entire Board interviewed representatives of the two final candidates by phone to ask clarifying questions and gain additional insights. After these calls, the Board determined that SmithBucklin, with offices in Chicago and Washington, DC, was the best choice for AEA.

Who was on the Task Force for selection of the AMC?

The Task Force, appointed by 2012 President Rodney Hopson, was made up of AEA leaders with varied expertise and rich networks that represented the diversity of our membership. Stewart Donaldson and Mel Mark co-chaired the seven-member task force composed of: Stewart and Mel as co-chairs; Jody Fitzpatrick, AEA President-Elect; John Gargani, Board member; Robin Miller, former editor of American Journal of Evaluation; Ricardo Millett, former Evaluation Director of Kellogg Foundation; and, Brian Yates, AEA Treasurer. In addition, Rodney Hopson participated, especially in the early phases. The Task Force included members of the AEA Board (Fitzpatrick, Gargani, and Yates), as well as a majority of individuals not currently on the Board.

Why did the Task Force recommend selecting an AMC rather than establishing our own headquarters?

The Task Force, with input from multiple sources including consultant Bill Pawlucy, looked carefully at the pros and cons of different association management models. (The primary alternative to hiring an AMC would have involved continuing with the model of an Executive Director and staff who managed only AEA. If this model were selected, we would, of course, have to search and hire a new Executive Director and, in all likelihood, finance a physical location.) After a thorough review, the Task Force concluded that an AMC was the best option for providing the necessary strength of execution, fiduciary safety, and staffing flexibility. AMCs bring expertise from managing many organizations and transferring learning from those challenges. Most associations of our size either already contract with an AMC or are moving toward that model. Associations that use Executive Directors tend to be either quite small, as AEA was when we began, or much larger than we are currently with the financial resources to finance a location and a sufficient number and diversity of staff to manage the many needs of one organization. A professional AMC also has a proven track record, established financial and accounting procedures that meet established standards, and has access to additional, experienced personnel to provide backup when AEA’s support needs are high, or if a staff member unexpectedly needs to take leave at a critical time.

Why did the Board choose SmithBucklin over the other AMCs that responded to our RFP?

The Task Force and the Board considered a variety of criteria when evaluating the AMC candidates including experience with:

  • other organizations similar to AEA;
  • policy-based governance;
  • organizations with international membership; and,
  • organizations seeking to engage with policy makers.

Other key considerations included:

  • A focus on, and valuing of, diversity;
  • Excellent customer service;
  • Sound financial practices;
  • The capability to assist AEA in reaching its strategic goals and improving as an association; and,
  • A history of operational and staff stability.

Ultimately, the Board concluded that SmithBucklin was the strongest option when considering the entire set of criteria. In particular, it had the most capability to assist AEA in reaching its strategic goals and moving to the next steps as an association. SmithBucklin has 65 years of experience serving a wide variety of client organizations, helping those organizations to define their goals and achieve them through focused, effective management and volunteer engagement. The Board was impressed with SmithBucklins’ answers and ideas in our site visit and telephone interviews. They have managed organizations like ours and larger ones. We would learn from their experience in managing these associations. With experts in many different areas, from technology to management to education, SmithBucklin could provide the depth needed in managing AEA and serving its members. With SmithBucklin’s support ,AEA Board and members can work to achieve our policy goals; foster an inclusive, diverse, and international community of evaluators; and, serve as a respected source of information for and about the field of evaluation.

A final factor was SmithBucklin’s extensive experience transitioning organizations like AEA from their existing management company. They have a systematic, documented process for successfully transitioning new clients. A dedicated transition management team and an interim Executive Director from the SmithBucklin staff, Denise Roosendaal, are working closely with Susan Kistler and the Board to lead AEA’s transition to new management.

What changes are associated with the transition?

The most obvious change for members will be a new phone number, fax and land mail address:

American Evaluation Association
2025 M Street, NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-367-1166
Fax: 202-367-2166

There will be no change to our email domain, and you will continue to use the info@eval.org email for any general questions. On the other hand, there will be different people who will answer your questions, and who will serve you at the annual conference. The full AEA team is still being formed, but you can click here for a link to see the names of the individuals who will be helping through the transition, and for permanent staff members as they are added to the team.

Some changes will take place that will not be evident to most members. For example, in the past the Treasurer has been directly involved in many expenditures. With SmithBucklin’s financial management expertise and internal controls, the Treasurer will engage in oversight and planning consistent with policy-based governance. Just as the Board has oversight on AEA operations, the Treasurer will oversee financial actions. SmithBucklin is bonded, insured, and well trained for financial management.

How is the transition being handled? What is involved in the transition?

AEA’s operations are currently being transitioned to the SmithBucklin team. Our headquarters will move to SmithBucklin’s offices in Washington, DC effective May 20, 2013. AEA is in a good position for this transition, largely because of Susan Kistler's availability and willingness to participate. The new team has the advantage of learning about the culture of the organization including its historic as well as current activities.

SmithBucklin has assembled a senior team of specialists to ensure a successful transition. This team includes people with expertise in association administration, finances, information technology, education, events, communications, and management transitions. In order to ensure a smooth transfer of knowledge, the AEA Board and senior SmithBucklin staff have identified Denise Roosendaal as an interim Executive Director while we search for a permanent Executive Director. The team is working closely with Susan, her staff and the AEA Board to ensure that all current and ongoing activities are documented and move systematically from the old team to the new one. There will be a learning curve for the new team, but we are confident that the close collaboration during the transition will make it as smooth as possible and that there will be little disruption to AEA’s ongoing operations.

How is the Executive Director being selected?

The AEA Board of Directors and SmithBucklin are collaborating to identify the personal qualities, expertise and experience needed for a successful AEA Executive Director. Working together, AEA and SmithBucklin have created a job description and posted the position through relevant job boards, websites, etc. The initial screening and interviews are being conducted by SmithBucklin (who will be the Executive Director’s employer) to identify a select group of finalists using the agreed-upon criteria. Members of the AEA Board of Directors will interview the finalists and recommend a final candidate. We anticipate that the selection process will take a few months to complete and hope to have a permanent Executive Director in place by early summer.

Will I see any changes in AEA’s operations?

During the transition period, SmithBucklin’s objective is to maintain our current operations as is, keeping as many things as possible the same for continuity sake.

That said, there are certain changes that are necessary to move systems and processes to SmithBucklin. One such area involves the AEA family of websites. While there will be no change to the URLs associated with the AEA online sites, you will see changes in the layout of pages on these sites.

Taking a longer perspective, over time AEA may choose to take advantage of SmithBucklin’s long and broad experience in association management. SmithBucklin brings many best practices to the table, and we look forward to benefiting from their expertise in the form of process improvements in other areas as they arise. Where these process improvements directly impact our members, both the Board of Directors and the new management team are committed to being transparent, communicating those changes as far in advance as practical.

Will dues increase?

There is no need to increase dues because of this management transition. As with any vibrant and growing association, AEA’s Board will review its dues structure periodically, which we would do regardless of the AMC transition. (Note: A small dues increase of $5.00 had already been approved before we knew a management transition would be taking place.)

Will services change or decrease?

No- AEA will continue to offer the full range of member services that it currently does. These include:

  • Annual Conference
  • Summer Evaluation Training Institute
  • Journals
  • AEA365, Coffee Break Webinars, and e-Study courses
  • Newsletters
  • On-line Career Center and Evaluator Listings
  • On-line Library
  • Discussion Groups, Forums

Further, the depth of capacity and experience that SmithBucklin brings as an Association Management Company will allow AEA to explore improvement of our on-line presence; expand our connections with other associations both nationally and internationally; and, create a plan for deepening our engagement in the policy arena.

Does this mean any changes in AEA’s long range plans?

We believe that one of the advantages of having an AMC with such a depth of talent in association management is that it should allow us to be more effective and efficient in moving toward our long-range goals concerning the field of evaluation.

If I have questions, how can I get them answered?

Throughout the transition and into the foreseeable future, our info@eval.org address will be available for all members to ask questions or gain assistance related to their membership, Association programming, or any other related topic. If you have questions about AEA operations during the transition, or about the transition process itself, please e-mail AEA Interim Executive Director Denise Roosendaal (DRoosendaal@smithbucklin.com). We commit to you to provide quick, open and honest responses to your inquiries. Additionally, please feel free to reach out to any member of the Board of Directors if you have concerns that you do not feel are being adequately addressed by the staff team. Collectively, we are all here to serve you, AEA’s valued members.