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Helping hand for Mississippi’s trade groups




Trade associations are dedicated to helping its members grow and thrive in an ever shifting environment. But what happens when those same trade associations are searching for help? Businesses like Horizon Professional Services and JM Hughes Group are ready to step in and lighten the load.

“We provide holistic executive management,” said Ryan Kelly, CEO of Horizon Professional Services in Hattiesburg. “Even if an association can afford an executive director, we’re still able to provide more robust services.”

Associations often need a wide range of needs that one or two employees just can’t handle. These businesses are able to run these associations much more efficiently, often at 30 to 40 cents on the dollar of traditional small to midsize associations..

“The value of having an association management firm that possesses institutional knowledge of industry best practices cannot be understated,” John Morgan Hughes of JM Hughes Group said. “Having a dedicated team of specialized professionals that keep the trains leaving the station everyday is a huge benefit.”

John Morgan Hughes said they are able to offer everything from meeting planning and execution to board training and governance meetings.

“Every association is different, but being a technology driven high output organization, we are able to custom tailor our services to meet the growth and organizational goals of our clients,” he said.

Most associations rely on income from membership or conference fees, which makes their budget vulnerable each year. Most of the associations Kelly works with have a budget ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.

“If we see the opportunity there, and we know there’s a need,” he said. “We just find a way to make it work.”

One association has seen exponential growth in the three short years they’ve worked with Kelly. Before contracting with Horizon, the Mississippi Rural Health Association  had less 100 members, and today it has have more than 1,200.

“Ryan puts his heart into everything he does,” said Susan Campbell, past president of MRHA.  “He sees needs and fixes them.”

One such example is the rule that a nurse practitioner and a doctor must be within 15 miles of each other. Well, that because an issue if the doctor goes on vacation, and the whole clinic shuts down. Kelly saw this problem and began meeting with people and getting his message out there. Within six months, the rule was changed to 35 miles, which Campbell said works much better for their clinics.

Another obstacle these associations typically face is a higher rate of turnover.

“I’ve found that many time, people get into these positions because they lost their job or retire,” he said. “We provide an institutional consistency.”

On the other hand, Hughes said having a fresh set of eyes can shake things up in a productive way.

“Organizational complacency, doing the same thing because that is how it has always been done, can stifle membership enthusiasm and possibly hamper growth,” he said.

One of the associations, Kelly has greatly impacted has been Mississippi Health Information Management Association. Lorie Mills, who is currently president-elect and is also a past president, said contracting with Kelly has helped relieve pressure on the board members.

“We’re not always available,” she said. “They (Kelly and his team) can give a quicker response.”

Mills said they first met Kelly when he spoke at their convention.

“We were growing, and we needed to change,” she said. “He always goes above and beyond.”

Mills said he works to keep them on track and making sure they meet the national associations deadlines. One of the greatest aspects of Kelly’s work is the stability it offers.

“We’re not looking to be in transition,” she said. “He has helped us grow and move ahead. We haven’t had that in the past.”

A lot of times the needs that are not met by association’s employees then fall to the volunteer-based membership and board. This can cause burn out and cause the organization to lose steam. Kelly and Hughes are working to make sure these day-to-day burdens are handled reliably on a long-term basis.

Working with volunteer-based organizations, means you have all levels of commitment from the leadership.

“With volunteer leaders, you have some quasi-full-time employees,” he said. “When you have someone with that capacity, it’s great, but it’s hard to find someone with that knowledge, skill set and the time to do all that work.”

Many of their clients were formerly volunteer driven associations and utilized an antiquated model.

“We’re really able to do a lot of exciting things for them,” Hughes said. “One of our first meetings is always determining where an organization presently is and where they want to go.”

Kelly and his team also have a system in place to make sure they can quickly identify what’s missing and how to meet them.

“We go to every leader,” he said. “We really become industry experts. We’re trying to understand everything in a short amount of time.”

They compile all this information along with a running file, so that when Kelly’s firm has turnover, or when the association outgrows the firm’s ability, the information can be seamlessly passed along.

Kelly is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to make an association succeed.

“I’ve yet to find anything we don’t do,” he said. “For a homeowner’s association, we’ve even cleaned toilets.”

Kelly said one of the most exciting things about what they do is that although their company is for profit, they are running non-profit organizations.

“We’re, what I like to call, social entrepreneurs,” he said. “We can donate then that money back to our clients.”


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