Word that the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives had hired association management firm Smith, Bucklin & Associates to run its day-to-day operations caused concern among some industry members. But according to SITE's leadership, the move will only improve the association's management and help it to grow.

Members asked what SITE stood to lose, if anything, by the move, balanced against what it may gain. Will the organization lose its identity? Who will focus on growing membership — isn't that best done in-house? Finally, how would tying in with Smith, Bucklin & Associates help to achieve the goals of SITE's new president, Peggy Whitman: to grow membership and improve education?

“The move surprised me, and I'm a little concerned,” says Steve LaManna, manager of sales support for Strong Communications, an event staging and production firm based in Orlando, Fla. “None of the large meeting-industry associations are managed by an outside firm. I'm curious as to why this is being done. I can't see MPI or ASAE ever turning over their management to an independent contractor.”

LaManna says he's most concerned about Smith, Bucklin's role in increasing SITE membership. Will there be as much membership development on SITE's part?

The answer, according to Whitman, is yes.

“The board controls SITE, not Smith, Bucklin,” Whitman says. “As for membership recruitment, they will be working in partnership with our membership committee, but it's the committee that guides them — not the other way around.

“The heart and soul of SITE is not going away,” she adds. “Skeptics think that we'll lose our identity by going into the fold of a huge association management firm, but that won't be the case. For all intents and purposes, Smith, Bucklin will be invisible.”

In what Whitman calls a cost-saving measure, SITE is moving its offices to Chicago, where Smith, Bucklin is based.

Smith, Bucklin's Brenda Anderson, who recently took the executive director reins from Jill Harrington, will be SITE's full-time executive but, says Whitman, “she will answer to our board.”