How To Approach Project Management for Trade Associations and Professional Societies

By |Published On: February 28, 2024|
A group of men and women gather around a table and laptop to illustrate project management for associations.

Your association has to carry out hefty projects to fulfill its mission, from large events to detailed internal processes. The waters can get murky with roles, deliverables, budgets, methods and more. Hurdles always arise.

Enter project management for associations, which saves you significant time, money and frustration. Your events are much more likely to succeed with project management knowledge and practices.

Still, managers, stakeholders and boards may be unfamiliar with association project management and all it entails. Let’s fix that.

Here, we’ll examine project management for associations, including trade associations and professional societies. We’ll also cover project management tools that streamline the process. With the aid of a qualified and professional association management company (AMC), your projects flow without a hitch.

[Related: Strategic Planning for Associations: If You Don’t Plan, You Will Fail]

What Is Project Management for Associations?

“Project management” seems rather self-explanatory, but it demands many skills. It means pinpointing exact factors:

  • What goals you want to achieve
  • What resources you have
  • When you need to reach goals
  • Who works on the project
  • How you carry out the project 
  • Where each step occurs, in person and virtually

In other words, project management is about specifics. And project management for associations is essentially the same concept. 

About Project Managers, Project Management Tools and AMCs

Your association or society may not have project management software or a dedicated project manager, or PM. Project managers specialize in bringing complex projects to fruition:

  • Knowing exactly what steps to take 
  • Finding what tools to use 
  • Tackling challenges smartly
  • Taking informed, calculated risks
  • Holding parties accountable
  • Building project teams

Furthermore, any organization can try its hand at project management. However, an association has a mission to carry out. That means your project must keep that mission in mind at all times. 

This is where your association can use a PM and/or software to manage a project from start to finish — all while remembering your mission, goals and resources.

It’s a weighty role, but a PM is integral to association project management. To make matters easier, an AMC can take over project management in associations, complete with a skilled PM.

[Related: Membership Retention Basics: What Your Association Needs To Know

Why Is Strategic Project Management for Associations Important?

First, associations differ from for-profit organizations because you rely on your members, your board and volunteers. These parties provide strategic direction, offer guidance and sometimes actually conduct the work. 

Your PM and/or AMC swoops in with real know-how and takes the helm during a project. They also strive to maintain collaboration, communication and cooperation among parties. 

Second, your team may be unsure where to begin. Project management, with its innate structure, offers tangible milestones. And even when you take association project management step by step, each step has guides and frameworks that detail those milestones.

Finally, for your project to succeed, it has to meet goals clearly and measurably. If you don’t, the project crashes or underperforms, and your members are less likely to stick around. 

The Bottom Line

Consider Project Management Institute reports, alongside these sobering stats:

  • 70% of all association projects don’t reach completion
  • 42% of associations don’t understand the importance of project management
  • 2.5x more projects and programs succeed with project management
  • 73% of associations that use proper project management practices meet their objectives

That’s why smart tools, a sharp PM/AMC and a well-defined strategy are crucial to project management for associations. Your association must have a plan, a way to carry it out and members willing to diligently work on it. If you don’t, your project is bound to fail. 

We’ll return to those smart project management tools for associations in a moment. For now, let’s look at the project management life cycle. 

[Related: Big Data – Its Importance for Association Decision-Making]

Project Management for Associations: Five Main Steps

These project management fundamentals move your event from beginning to end with defined goals and roles. A PM and AMC know what charts and documents to use along the way.

1. Initiate the Project

First, gather the members who will ideate the project — your initial team. Then, discuss the project’s core elements while keeping SMART goals in mind:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant 
  • Timely 

This is a good time to name a PM, but you may need to wait until you’ve fully delved into the project’s details. You can use a project initiation document and/or run a feasibility study, but neither is mandatory. Regardless, you and your team should outline this information:

  • End goal and objectives
  • Scope
  • Budget
  • Roles
  • Timeline
  • Organizational structure

When you partner with an AMC, its team walks you through these details and offers invaluable expertise. Association project management is frequently an AMC’s specialty.

[Related: The Membership Recruitment Plan Every Association Should Implement]

2. Plan the Project

Next, return to those SMART goals. Per goal, outline what your resources, stakeholders, revenue and costs are. Create to-do lists as needed. 

This is when you assign roles, including the PM (if you haven’t done so), and plan your timeline with set dates. It’s also best to list key performance indicators (KPIs) with your PM/AMC. Later, you return to those KPIs and check how well the project meets them.

A Gantt chart is fantastic for keeping track of all these details. Project management software for associations usually offers easy-to-navigate Gantt charts, as do AMCs.

[Related: 7 Keys to Running a Successful Meeting]

3. Execute the Project

This is the moment: Launch the project. Along the way, communicate regularly with your PM and/or AMC. They track KPIs, how SMART goals deliver and much more

In essence, they don’t just oversee the project. They study and orchestrate tasks, roles and events throughout it. All those metrics and goals fall into place when a PM/AMC executes project management for associations

And of course, your entire team must place your mission at the center during the project. If you don’t, you lose the heart of the matter.

[Related: The Importance of a Member Survey for Associations]

4. Monitor and Control the Project

Here, those KPIs you outlined take precedence. Watch how far you are from reaching your goals and objectives. Take notes, and track what aspects do and don’t work. 

Still, it’s important to remain flexible, regardless of the roles and tasks you assign. Changes inevitably happen. 

At this step, attention to detail is a must. Your PM and/or AMC knows how to pivot to ensure the project follows the path you laid out. In the end, strategic project management for associations shows you where different approaches may have delivered better results.

[Related: 8 Tips for Writing a Great Association Newsletter]

5. Close the Project

Acknowledge the project’s completion. If you haven’t measured final KPIs and determined whether the project met your goals, now’s the time! Your PM and/or AMC reviews all detailed documents and metrics.

Then, you can plan the next project with a much better idea of what works for your association. Your team, members and stakeholders also understand more clearly what is and simply isn’t doable (and what needs improvement).

Plus, project finalization is a great time to celebrate the members who participated. It’s a wise way to boost morale, retain members and get them excited for the next project.

[Related: How To Find the Right Association Management Company]

Helpful Project Management Software for Associations

Your association’s project can be complicated, even when you’ve planned in depth. Minor details that slip through the cracks may turn into major issues. 

Fortunately, project management tools for associations make carrying out a project far smarter. These tools let you schedule, collaborate, document and evaluate a project throughout its life cycle. Ultimately, everyone involved stays aligned.

Note: Most project management software for associations offers free trials and enterprise-level discounts. An AMC is well versed in using a project management tool, so training may be unnecessary — unless you want training as part of your partnership.

[Related: Smart Financial Management for Nonprofit Organizations]

1. Google Workspace 

Google Workspace (formerly G-Suite) is broad, with often-free, easy-to-learn platforms and apps that integrate. Pricing is flexible for associations. Training isn’t difficult, but you and your members should definitely practice to manage multiple projects well with Google Workspace.

Learn more about using Google Workspace for project management.

2. Asana

From task assignments to discussion boards to time trackers, Asana hits nearly every angle for association project management. It’s comprehensive and intuitive, with custom pricing options. However, your members likely need training courses and resources so they can use it to the fullest.

Learn more about Asana’s project management features.

3. Trello

An Atlassian product, Trello has many of the same benefits as Asana. It’s incredibly useful for collaboration, productivity and project scheduling, and it provides pricing plans for associations. Also like Asana, training your members on Trello helps them better use all its functions.

Learn more about Trello for project management.

4. Wrike

Wrike is straightforward, and communication is its centerpiece. Little training is necessary — if your members aren’t particularly tech-savvy, it may be your best project management software option. It also offers flexible pricing plans

Learn more about Wrike’s project management features.


Overall, is a sweeping, end-to-end project management program. It provides custom pricing plans, like the other tools we’ve listed. Although training isn’t overly intensive, as always, practice and resources make using it much more productive.

Learn more about for association project management.


You have many more project management software options, like Airtable, Jira and ClickUp. 

Plus, you may choose a program according to how your association operates (e.g., a trade association) and what type of projects you hold most. Your association might explore free project management software, but generally, its features aren’t robust.

Whatever project management tools for associations you consider, remember that your AMC should be proficient in at least one. They also know which functions and features best fit your association, members and budget.

[Related: Measuring the Effectiveness of Your Association Management Company]

Contact CM Services for Expert Project Management

Projects have practically countless moving parts, even with tools that put them in order. An experienced AMC like CM Services both provides leadership and spearheads project management in associations, professional societies and more.

Our suite of executive services includes association project management, as well as other key services:

  • Board and committee management
  • Strategic and operational planning
  • Accounting, including protecting association resources

We take project management off your hands so you can focus on your members and mission. Holding efficient, effective events has never been simpler. Please see our full list of services, our work and the clients we’re proud to partner with.

Contact CM Services to speak with a project management professional. We’re happy to discuss what we can do to organize and support your association’s projects — and help you succeed!

Featured image via Pexels

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