One way to get the professional support you need can be to look to a professional massage association. As you are probably aware, the two largest associations for massage therapists in the U.S. are The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) and Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP).
While both organizations have a lot to offer and have a significant membership base, there are some differences that make each organization unique. We often hear about massage therapists who are trying to decide which one to join or whether they might be suited better by making a change.
To help address these questions, we spoke with the leadership from both organizations to ask some questions and gather as much information as possible on a personal level.
We spoke with Les Sweeney, President of ABMP and David French, Director of Marketing at AMTA. Both leaders were extremely helpful and approachable and here is what we took away from these conversations.
We first spoke with Les Sweeney, President of ABMP and started the conversation off with what motivates ABMP and where its focus is. The message was loud and clear: helping members was job one. While ABMP focuses on other important issues like state regulation, credibility in the professional, and legislation, the number one priority for ABMP is to provide assistance and resources for massage therapists.
Les was quick to point out that both organization have a lot to offer and mentioned that he has even recommended AMTA to prospective members in the past because he felt the fit might be better (very classy). Just like AMTA, ABMP offers liability insurance and a great trade publication but we also wanted to dig deeper into what makes ABMP unique.
While it seems that the two organizations have more in common than they have differences, one key point of differentiation is that ABMP (with over 80,000 members) is a for-profit company while AMTA is a non-profit. ABMP has 53 employees and is an employee-owned company. While some might see this as disadvantage when compared to a non-profit organization, Les owned it as point of pride and explained that ABMP has a talent for finding the very best people, empowering them to nurture their passion for serving members, and building a family-oriented culture while taking advantage of the efficiencies and enviroment of innovation that is often more common in for-profit companies.
What also impressed me about ABMP its extreme focus on the member experience. Les even pointed out that he sometimes answers the phone when call volume is high. When members express surprise that the company president was answering the phone, Les would jokingly reply: “Well, it was ringing!” With 98% of calls at ABMP being answered in less than 60 seconds (according to Les), it’s easy to see how seriously the team takes customer service.
When it comes to member benefits, ABMP has a lot to offer. One area in which ABMP is a clear leader is online education and communication. The organization offers numerous webinars for members and is highly accessible online. Additionally, members enjoy numerous ABMP discounts on things like software, accessories, and even legal services.
ABMP also offers a free website service (that gets great reviews from ABMP members) and email address for members. As the largest organization serving professionals, students and schools, ABMP has been able to serve as catalyst for many initiatives that have benefitted the profession (such as the FSMTB and MBLEx). ABMP also pioneered resource development in the field for students, schools, and instructors.
Overall, the message that we got from Les was that ABMP wants to demonstrate clear ROI for members. Everything the organization does is meant to add value and reduce costs for members so that a membership pays for itself many times over.
We wrapped up by asking Les what he loved most about being President of ABMP and his answer was: “The view of the Rocky Mountains, working with the people that ABMP serves and the people I work with”.
Next we talked with David French, Director of Marketing at AMTA. Dave was very accessible and when we contacted him via LinkedIn, he was happy to talk to us.
As in our talk with Les, we began our conversation around organizational priorities. Dave explained that AMTA’s primary concern was supporting its 50,000+ members, with a secondary (but extremely important) focus on supporting the profession.
While this priority was very clear as we talked with Dave, it also became more clear that the secondary priority of supporting the profession as a whole was not so secondary. AMTA does a lot to provide PR and support for the massage therapy professional as whole. For example, AMTA is the largest supporter of the Massage Therapy Foundation, which exists to advance the knowledge and practice of massage therapy by supporting scientific research, education, and community service (ABMP is also a supporter of the Massage Therapy Foundation).
Additionally, AMTA often launches nationwide PR campaigns designed to raise public awareness and perception of massage therapy. Examples include print media, videos and commercials, and even a nationwide Massage Therapy Tour. Dave explained that the purpose of these activities is to increase consumer demand for massage therapy and for AMTA members.
AMTA is a non-profit organization and was founded in 1943. This means that AMTA operates with a national board of directors who oversee a staff of approximately 60 employees located in the organization’s national headquarters in Evanston, IL (just North of Chicago). Some massage therapists are drawn to the fact that AMTA is a non-profit, while others don’t find it to be an important differentiating factor.
Tied to this, one of the differentiating factors is that AMTA is owned and governed by the members. AMTA members make up the national Board of Directors, and every chapter is run by elected volunteers. AMTA National elections give members a chance to choose the next leaders of the organization.
Perhaps one of the most important distinctions that makes AMTA unique is its structure of state chapters and local events. While ABMP’s education offerings are a mix of online and live events, AMTA is a network of state chapters and units that focus strongly on live face-to-face interactions between members. It also allows local AMTA chapters and units to often bring in very popular and experienced (i.e. expensive) CE-approved educators at a lower cost. Dave explained that many members (especially those in more remote areas) enjoy this inexpensive access to high-quality education.
AMTA is also not short on member resources. In addition to liability insurance and The Massage Therapy Journal, the organization offers a free member website, newsletter, webinars, and a successful mentoring program for massage therapists.
I was also impressed with AMTA’s resources for students. Dave mentioned that a student-specific newsletter is available which includes test-taking tips and a study skills section. Also, AMTA includes a free anatomy coloring book with student memberships – how cool is that!
When we inquired about how AMTA finds great employees for the national office, Dave told us that they have a very low turnover rate but that when they do hire people they are lucky to have access to a lot of experienced association professionals from the Chicago area. Outside of Washington D.C., Chicago has one of the highest concentrations of association headquarters in the country.
We asked Dave if there were any misconceptions about AMTA that he would like to clear up and he answered: “We’d like to do a better job of helping our members understand that we’re more than just their insurance company. We have a lot more than that to offer and we love it when our members take advantage of all our resources.”
When asked what he loved most about working at AMTA, his answer was not very different from Les’: “I love working with our members. I get energized by seeing their passion and commitment to massage therapy and it makes me want to work hard for them.”
What Members Say
In addition to talking with Les and Dave, we also polled some massage therapists in our networks to find out what members love about each organization. Here is some of the feedback we got:
- “I love that they provide their magazine, Massage & Bodywork, in a text-only format on the website for people like me who are visually impaired.”
- “I really like ABMP because they offer me a free class every year for educators – it is 6 credits and they feed me breakfast and lunch.”
- “Continuing education is done online, 2 credits at a time and I can do that in 2 hours in an evening and it’s about $13.00.”
- “They are very personable and progressive.”
- “The web creation engine they have is my favorite of the two and I get free pages, I don’t have to pay extra for more pages.”
- “AMTA excels at hands-on in-person continuing education.”
- “AMTA has been directly instrumental in every advance in massage therapy for over 50 years.”
- “The management, finances and political workings of the AMTA are transparent and available to any member.”
- “I love the fact that AMTA is not-for-profit.”
- “I love that there are state chapters, so that makes it more local and gives opportunities for networking.”
Conclusions & Observations
We really enjoyed speaking with both Les and Dave and it’s clear that you can’t go wrong with either association. However, since our goal is to help our readers make an informed decision, we also have some observations of our own to share.
From a communications standpoint, we noticed some differences between the two organization. While AMTA has a slightly larger staff and is more active in the media and in its PR efforts, it seems like this association puts less emphasis on making staff members accessible. In looking through the AMTA website, we found that the list of AMTA staff members was well-hidden and only contained names and titles. There was no email address or social media profile to be found. Additionally, we could not find any evidence of AMTA staff members engaging in social media communications with members (with Dave French being an exception).
By contrast, ABMP seems more than happy to make their staff members accessible. Les Sweeney, the President himself, is featured on the home page with a link to his blog (more on that later). He’s also on Twitter. We’ve also had conversations with Abram Herman, who manages social media for ABMP and is very active on Facebook. ABMP seems to have a more “small and personal” feel online despite having a larger membership base.
When it comes to general online presence, AMTA seems to be the leader here. The AMTA website is well-designed, aesthetically-pleasing, and is a wealth of useful information. ABMP’s website also has a lot going for it but is a bit “scrappier” and less user-friendly.
The exception to this distinction is in the blogging strategies of both organizations. The ABMP blog is consistently-updated, linked right from the home page, and authored by Les Sweeney himself. Talk about great content right from the top! AMTA, however, seems to be really confused about blogging. There is no blog link from the AMTA home page, and when we searched the site we found a few references to a student blog but the link was broken. We had to adjust the URL to find it at amtastudentblog.com but it has not been updated in months and it doesn’t appear to have had much design love. [Ed: April-2019: The site has long since disappeared.] Then, after searching Google we found the AMTA Your Voice blog which was even lonelier – the last post was in 2011. It seems that AMTA has not really figured out blogging.
Bottom line? We found a lot of great things about both associations and we truly feel that you can’t go wrong with either. Both organizations offer liability insurance, great publications, and lots of resources for member support.
We would venture to say that if you like a lot of in-person networking, excellent hands-on education, or travel opportunities, AMTA is going to be a better fit. If you’re looking for more online options, a more tech-savvy association, or more personal service, ABMP might be your cup of tea. Or you could do what a lot of other massage therapists do and just join both!
Either way, be sure to post your feedback and experiences below in the comments to add to our findings. We would love to hear from you.
Comments from original Massamio post:
Thank you very much for this compare and contrast article for the two associations. I am currently a massage therapy student and have been trying to decide which would be a better fit. I found this to be informative and very useful. — Posted @ Wednesday, January 16, 2013 10:01 AM by Sandra
Glad to hear, Sandra. Let us know what you choose and why when you decide. — Posted @ Wednesday, January 16, 2013 10:50 AM by Benjamin McDonald
Both of them are great organizations–and that’s the reason I belong to both of them. — Posted @ Wednesday, January 23, 2013 5:50 AM by Laura Allen
I really enjoy the many different benefits both organizations offer that is why I belong to both and will continue as long as they keep getting better and better and offering more benefits to their members. — Posted @ Wednesday, January 23, 2013 6:38 PM by Elisa Tobin
I didn’t ever think to compare the two like this~ certainly helpful! Thank you for taking the time to research and pass the information on! — Posted @ Wednesday, January 23, 2013 11:17 PM by Kim T
I’ve been debating and researching which organization to join, I’ve first considered joining both. After reading this I definitely will join both. Benjamin, are the man. I really appreciate your insight and research!!! Thank you! — Posted @ Thursday, February 14, 2013 2:46 PM by Marcus Brewer
Thanks, Marcus! Glad the post was helpful. I’m sure you’ll be very happy with both. Come back and share your insights after you’ve had awhile with them. — Posted @ Thursday, February 14, 2013 3:19 PM by Benjamin McDonald
Thank you for the well-written, informative and super relevant information. Much appreciated! — Posted @ Wednesday, June 11, 2014 9:15 AM by Maggie