Inside Track: Metsker works behind the scenes
Founder and president of PAR provides strategy, support to associations that serve thousands of people.
Julie Metsker brings creativity and strategic thinking to her role as a helper, guide and leader for industry associations.
Metsker, a native of Harvey, Illinois, who moved to Michigan in her youth, is founder and president of Professional Association Resources.
PAR is an association management company that provides management and specialized support services to about seven different local, regional and national nonprofit trade organizations and professional societies.
Run by Metsker and her husband and business partner Peter Metsker, who is vice president and CFO, the firm has four part-time employees and provides various services depending on clients’ needs: bookkeeping and finance; technology systems and support; staffing; marketing and communications; member management; committee and board engagement; advising; and more.
Rather than being “just a vendor,” Metsker said PAR aims to be a strategic partner for its clients, providing continuity as boards of directors turn over every year, and offering three-plus decades of expertise running nonprofit associations.
“Each organization (we serve), they are experts in their industries. So ACG, they’re experts in mergers and acquisitions. They’re not experts in how to run an association,” Metsker said. “What we do is bring that expertise of ‘This is the business of an association.’ These are all the things that you need to know about running this organization.”
Through PAR, sometimes Metsker takes on the role of executive director for associations. She currently is executive director of the Association for Corporate Growth Western Michigan (ACG Western Michigan) and Grand Rapids-based Central Fabricators Association (CFA), a not-for-profit trade association serving structural steel fabricators in the Midwest.
PAR’s goal is to make its services blend seamlessly within the organization, Metsker said, which can often mean people aren’t aware of the firm’s existence behind the scenes.
“For members, I think it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “For PAR, it’s sometimes a hard thing to get people to understand what the connection is.”
Metsker’s path to business ownership started in her childhood.
“I am the middle of five kids,” she said. “Being the middle child means I’m the youngest of the oldest and the oldest of the youngest, putting me in a unique position to feel comfortable everywhere.”
Her father, the late Glenn Walters, worked for Herman Miller for 26 years, retiring as president and COO in 2010. Her mother, the late Virginia Walters, was a model and master gardener.
From them, she developed the twin strengths of business acumen and creativity, which she said give her a unique way of looking at the world.
Her father always told her and her three sisters they could do anything a man could do, which she said made her into an ardent feminist and supporter of women’s rights.
“I was raised in an environment of ‘You can be anything you want to be,’ and that really shaped me. Also … the family motto was ‘A Walters never falters,’ so we were expected to be high achieving and to really push ahead and be leaders. So, that shaped me a lot, and it was good, and there were tough sides of that, too.”
After marrying young, Metsker got a full-time job at a store in Breton Village, rising to the role of manager and buyer, where she said she exercised her love of fashion and good business sense.
Later, she heard the Ad Club of Grand Rapids — now AAF West Michigan — was looking for someone to manage its association as executive director. She landed the job.
Looking back, Metsker said she believes she was unconsciously seeking to meld her two core strengths together into a career.
“It really came together with Ad Club because it was so fun to be around advertising people and see and be part of their creativity and to experience that whole side of the business world, then to bring my business acumen to that,” she said.
“A lot of people are either really either left- or right-brained. But I always feel like there are two sides to me, that I can kind of navigate things differently because I see both sides. I can see the world very big picture but also really dig down into the details. It helps the business that I am in because I can help boards move forward with visionary, creative and innovative ideas, but also do the day-to-day detail work.”
While working for Ad Club, she began getting requests for help from local chapters of other associations, such as the Public Relations Society of America and the American Marketing Association, and she formed PAR to be able to help more than one organization at a time.
PAR holds long-term partnerships with each of the organizations it serves, which now includes ACG Western Michigan, CFA, West Michigan World Trade Association, Building Owners and Managers Association of West Michigan, the Great Lakes Chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives, International Association for Human Caring and Turnaround Management.
Formerly, Metsker also held advising, administration and/or leadership roles with Wondergem Consulting, West Michigan Strategic Alliance, the Manufacturers Council of The Right Place and Leadership West Michigan.
Metsker said there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way that PAR works with clients.
“Each of our clients is different. It just varies on what each client needs, what they can afford to pay and where they need the most help,” she said. “Sometimes, that even changes from year to year.”
While working as executive director of Leadership West Michigan, a now-defunct program of four area chambers of commerce, Metsker said she kept hearing from alumni of the program that they had learned a lot about the region but didn’t know what to do next and how to get plugged into service roles.
As executive director for ACG, that theme reappeared. Members of Young ACG, the chapter’s young professionals committee, told her they’d been approached by nonprofits about serving on boards, but they didn’t know how to evaluate the offers.
Metsker and her team then developed a three-course nonprofit board training series that gives members and nonmembers an overview of nonprofits, board duties and responsibilities, and how to get connected. The fifth year of the series just wrapped up in May.
The final session each year provides an informal “speed dating” opportunity where ACG throws a reception for about 20 nonprofits to pitch their organizations to the participants of the series, who will, in turn, be able to screen the nonprofits to find the one they want to serve.
Metsker said she is proud of the training series because she believes it is creating more engaged and effective boards in West Michigan.
“I’m super passionate about it,” she said. “(It also helps with) how to get women involved and how to have women … use what they learn in a safe environment of a nonprofit and leverage that into their professional life.”
In addition to West Michigan being a place where “most people want to give back” and make the community a better place to live, work and play, Metsker said West Michigan also can be insular. She believes the ACG nonprofit board training can create more inclusion and also help the other associations she leads.
“To help break down those barriers is really important to me,” she said.