When looking to entrust your association’s management to a management company, one of the biggest decisions you have to make is a matter of size. Do you want to work with a large management firm or a boutique agency? Both types handle membership, marketing, and other day to day needs, but in very different ways. How do you decide which type of agency is best for you? To follow my favorite maxim: it depends. As we review the benefits each type of agency offers, think about your organization’s needs and how they can be best met.


The size of the company you work with will impact every facet of your relationship from how you communicate to how projects are managed. A large agency will have set pipelines for starting new projects and managing accounts. This gives you solid consistency and allows you to anticipate turnover, but requires enough lead time that pop-up projects can be costly to complete. Alternatively, boutique agencies tend to be more flexible in their approaches and able to juggle deadlines. How would this play out in a real life scenario? 

Say your association is invited to take part in a last-minute pop-up event. You reach out to your management team to help you plan and execute the event. If you’re working with a large agency, you will contact your account manager who will in turn pass along the event details to their operational and creative teams. While your account manager handles your association exclusively, the work for your event will be effectively “internally outsourced” within their company. The event department will plan the logistics of the event while the creative department will work on promotional material separately before having the project as a whole approved.

Once reviewed internally, the event plan and necessary materials will be sent to your account manager who will then send it to you. You’ll then receive the plan for your review. If you need any changes made, it will once again have to go through your account manager, back to each respective team, then back to the account manager, and finally back to you. If you have little lead time to create this pop-up event, getting around a large agency’s work pipeline can become costly as it’ll be considered a rush job. Now how would this play out at a boutique agency?

With a boutique agency, you reach out to your main point of contact who is either a manager or director who will be directly involved with the planning and execution of your event. They will loop in their relevant team members as needed and begin working on creating promotional materials. A small team means that everyone involved is more aware of the progress of each aspect of the event, often working in tandem with each other and completing the project as a whole.

After reviewing the work with the executive director, the project manager will send it to you directly. If you need any changes made, you can reply to the project manager and they will be able to make any edits needed. Because the boutique firm has a smaller team, long lead times become less of an issue, the pop up needs to be more manageable and it will likely only be considered a rush job if the deadline is truly under the wire (think only a few days notice).


The world of nonprofit and professional organization management might seem like a niche market, but each firm has its own way of handling their work. As mentioned above, larger agencies will break down each client project into its respective parts and send them to each subdivision for completion. While these teams are highly specialized in their specific function, be that event planning, marketing, or membership, they don’t have the big picture in mind.

In contrast, a boutique management agency may have a single team with each member specialized in a certain field, they have a more holistic understanding of their clients’ needs and desired outcomes. The end-result from larger agencies is refined, but the individuals working on your account are not necessarily aware of how their piece fits into the whole. A small boutique team may not have access to the same resources as their larger counterparts, but everyone on the team knows not just what they need to accomplish but also why. These differences in scope do not necessarily affect the quality of an agency’s output, but it does influence their relationship with your organization.


Although it may seem incongruous, the size and scope of the agency you work with can determine the type of relationship you have with them. And while you can find high quality work from both small and large agencies alike, it is the success of your association’s relationship with the agency that will determine your ability to work together in the long run. If your board’s culture is structured around firm structure and a more corporate atmosphere, then you might prefer a larger company that has such systems in place.

If your board is more interested in a hands-on collaborative effort, then you might prefer the more intimate relationship a boutique agency can offer. One is not better than the other, they’re just two very different ways of working. Looking objectively at how your organization operates and comparing that to the personalities of potential agencies will help you pick the one that will stick around for the long haul.

Making Your Decision

When deciding what type of agency would best fit your nonprofit’s needs, both large and boutique agencies have pros and cons. A large agency will have larger teams that can specialize in very specific things, but this means that it’s a lot harder to make changes once the process is underway. In the case of a boutique agency, a smaller team can be more agile and make changes on the fly, but may not have access to the same level of resources a larger agency has.

Both types of agencies, regardless of size, are made up of people who are very skilled at what they do. So when making your decision, think about what kind of personalities you wish to work with. A good business relationship is a longstanding one – find people you’re happy to work and grow with over time, and you will be able to carry out every project beautifully.


“Boutique Agency vs. Large Digital Agency: A Side by Side Comparison.” Conscious Commerce Corporation, 4 Sept. 2020, www.cc94.com/boutique-agency-vs-large-digital-agency.

Hayes, Kevin. “Choosing An Agency: Big Or Boutique?” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 Apr. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2018/04/09/choosing-an-agency-big-or-boutique/?sh=62b99fae273c.

Sullivan, Mike. “Small vs. Large Digital Marketing Agencies.” AdEdge Online Marketing, 13 Nov. 2018, www.adedgemarketing.com/4-pros-cons-small-vs-large-marketing-agencies/