For most Associations, Membership Software is a vital part of your existence. And, the primary goals of a membership program are storing data, communication, building relationships through focused collaboration, and building value for your members. In order to achieve your mission, nonprofits must have the right membership management software to deliver value and remain a valuable resource. In this article, I dig into some of the key requirements I hear when helping associations select software today along with key questions to ask before embarking on the search.
Key Requirements of Membership Software
The Need for Automation
During almost all of our projects, association executives express that they want to do better at maximizing staff time and productivity. As a result, time involvement and automation play a big role in deciding on online database software. In order to be efficient, software needs to be as automated as possible. Setting up routine email campaigns is often one of the most common form of automation desires. But, having the system be able to handle the dues remittance process and recurring payments are also expressed as crucial in keeping funds flowing into an organization. Without question, nonprofit software executives, are looking for higher levels of automation in their membership software.
The Necessity For Ease of Use
Over and over again, I hear during a software selection engagement is that the database software needs to be easy to set up and use. Again, this is a matter of time and efficiency. Many member focused organizations do not have the time or the staffing to deal with complicated software set up. Nor, do they want to have their members calling up if they can’t log into the system or register for an event either. Mobility of the solution is also a huge factor in the belief that a tool is easy to use or not. Everyone needs to be able to get on and do their business wherever that may be.
While not directly related to the actual database system, the software companies need to provide great customer service and tutorials to get the attention of association’s executives too. While nonprofit organizations want software that everyone within the organization can use and understand, they also want it to be less complicated. The days of having only one or two people which are able to use it are over. This means the software should be easy enough for the least tech-savvy person within the organization to grasp.
The Basic Right of Database Management
It is important for organizations to be capable of managing their membership database. You must be able to access member information easily. Organizations want the ability to pull statistics and crucial reports from their member database without having to call the software vendor. From my findings with nonprofit executives who are seeking a new management software, executives and board members alike want to know things like when their membership numbers are declining, increasing and why.
It's all about your members right? They give life to your organization. And, therefore, members too want to get data out of your system too. The ability to manage membership data allows organizations to determine this important information. This is key for most executives today.
5 Key Questions to Consider
Ask any nonprofit executive who has tried to do it recently, and I believe they will all agree that trying to find the right membership management software for their nonprofit association is a "mind-googling" experience to say the least. While you may have an idea of what you want or share some of the key requirements above, there are a multitude of membership management software options. They range from nearly free to way beyond the budget of any sane executive.
We keep track of nearly 100 membership software programs. And, the list is growing each and every month it seems with new offerings hitting the market. While I enjoy doing so, most sane people don't!
Today, even the simple database software platforms offer solutions for dues billing, accounting, and event registration. And, as the systems grow in size, some of them have bells and whistles for marketing automation, education management, social media collaboration communities, & government relations .
As one of my recent clients expressed to me, “Isn't there one membership management software out there that can fit all the needs of the association?”
With the insights into what most associations are seeking today, here are 5 thought-provoking questions to consider before you call that vendor or venture off to the Google God to begin your search for a membership management software for your association:
1. Does the staff, members, & the board agree on the goals?
In The End of Membership as We Know It, author Sarah Sladek emphasizes that the "era when associations could count on members joining and renewing" has passed. One of the top priorities in any association should be "technology-eased access to content and community". Your metrics for success will help you make a decision on the right software program. But, unless everyone is on the same page, a decision will be harder to make and likely will produce a poor result. Like your organization, each software vendor is unique too. Matching the harmony between the two's (nonprofit and vendor) uniqueness will provide the best fit.
2. What is the difference between CRM, Membership Management Software and Association Management Software (AMS)?
Though used interchangeably by vendors, there is a difference in all of the above. What is right for you? CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software alone is different than Membership Software. Membership Software can be used by for profit organizations too sound that actually adds to some confusion who embark on the "Google" route. As for Membership Software vs. AMS Software, both track and store member contact data, dues and interactions; yet AMS's typically offer a bundled suite that integrates accounting, education, events, committees, benefits, and renewals etc. You can easily get side tracked in your "Google" search if you don’t know what you need. And, searching for membership software alone in various search engines may likely lead you into a rabbit hole to hell if you are not keen on the differences. And to put more salt on the psyche, even if you get the nomenclature right, figuring out which one "fits" your size , budget, etc. can exhaust tons of time and effort by staff.
3. Will our needs change in the next 3 years?
It is the unfortunate truth that many smaller associations are having trouble staying relevant and being able to offer what their members want. Be sure to look for a software that is able to grow and adapt with your association, just in case there is a merger or new objective which the board pushes your way in your future. I can't stress this enough, just because you can afford it, doesn't make it the right fit.
4. What if you do nothing?
I don't care what anyone tells you, a software technology change of any kind is a drain before the glory of rewards. Therefore, you need to be prepared to know why you are doing this and what you anticipate to gain from the headache of doing the search and ultimately the implementation. Doing nothing is usually not an option but digging into that question can help define the key metrics by which you will gauge success in your project.
5. Do you need a software advisement firm to assist you in finding the right membership software?
The marketing noise pushed out today about the “Best Software” is plentiful. Suffice it to say, there are a number of posts online that talk about their software prowess; but what works for one nonprofit association, may not work for another. Like Thanksgiving, everyone’s plate is unique! With a software adviser, you may be able to more efficiently manage the software selection process and make a smarter decision in the end much faster with greater chance of success. But, like software, it's not the right choice for everyone.
Having thoughtfully answered strategic questions before the search, can help streamline your project and assist you in making the best choice for your needs today and long term. After doing this for years, it's interesting to me that many organizations usually have a tough time with the reality of what can be accomplished with technology. Further, they tend to avoid asking the hard questions before trying to find the magic pill to fix everything. Googling your way to finding a solution is a bad idea.
It’s critical to take the necessary time to delve into "The Man in the Mirror" so to speak. Certainly, knowing what to expect and what can be accomplished with membership programs before moving forward in a software selection search is paramount.
For a more in-depth assessment on your current technology and future software fit, contact us today to learn more about how we can assist with developing a strategy that is line with your budget and goals to help reach a return on your mission.
Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.