Gail Connelly, the executive director of NAESP, also sits on the ERS board. About a year and a half ago, when the reality of what was happening to ERS began to dawn on us, the concept of functional consolidation began to take shape. I had taken over the reins at AASA in July 2008 with grand ideas about how I would grow the organization. Those plans came to a screeching halt in November 2008 when the bottom fell out of the economy. The first notable change for us was the immediate reduction in the numbers of people registering for our annual conference, followed by an increase in the numbers asking to cancel the registrations they’d already submitted. Over the course of the following year, we also began to see a gradual drop in membership. By January 2009, it was clear that we would be ending the fiscal year with a deficit and action would have to be taken to reduce our operating costs. With the largest area of expenditure being personnel costs, we had no choice but to make a 30-percent reduction in staff.

With the steady deterioration of the economy, it became apparent that the traditional sources of revenue (conferences, membership dues, and sponsorships) would continue to dip. To maintain a balanced budget, the options were to continue to cut staff or look to grow other sources of revenue. A membership organization like AASA must continue to provide its members with the services they expect. Additional staff reductions were not conceivable. Growing additional sources of revenue is doable, but it takes time.

We began to engage in discussions with other organizations to explore areas of collaboration that would yield additional revenue, reductions in operating expenses, or—preferably—both. Gail had space in her building that NAESP was looking to sell. With our recent staff reductions, we were leasing more space than we required. The conversations began in earnest, and the functional consolidation concept began to emerge. What if we moved in with NAESP and shared space and possibly staff? We are both member-driven organizations engaged in providing similar services to our members. We are also engaged in similar advocacy roles with regard to public education.

There was never any thought given to a merger. Both Gail and I felt strongly that the governance structure of our organizations had to be maintained, as well as the identity of both groups. However, consolidation of space and staff, where appropriate, would bring about significant savings and greater efficiency. We also began to realize that our advocacy roles, and possibly other areas, would be strengthened by our union as well. The first such venture took place this summer when we combined to hold our legislative advocacy conferences in D.C. During a joint breakfast meeting where we had several members of Congress addressing the audience, the representatives were impressed by the number of administrators filling the room. The increased number of administrators visiting their representatives on Capitol Hill also made an impression.

There are many other potential areas of cooperation that Gail and I are exploring. Both associations are now stronger, financially and functionally. Collaboration is the key, and it’s a lesson that school districts and other education groups can learn from. Both governing bodies readily approved the sale and purchase of the facility and endorsed the functional consolidation concept. We have moved forward in an atmosphere of trust and cooperation. The country’s economic recovery might still be several years away, but AASA and NAESP have weathered the storm and are stronger for it.

Daniel A. Domenech is executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.