Participation and Retention! 2 Reasons For Membership Management Software

Database Membership Management Software for Membership Sites

Is Access or Excel used as your database? If so, here is a little tidbit of insight derived after exploring many solutions. Regardless of Tier level membership database solution you may review, the majority of associations will benefit from using Membership Management Software. In this day and age, a vanilla database just doesn’t cut it if you truly desire help in reaching your mission. In this article, I discuss just two key strategic goals of using a commercial off the shelf membership management software database today, participation and retention.

Participation and Retention Via 

Membership Management Software 

In the last year, two of the key strategic goals expressed by Executive Directors exploring membership management software was to be able to retain their members and then continually delight their members so that they participate more with them. Sure, they strive to make the job of their staff to provide member services easier but at the core a membership system needs to help provide the services you offer better, keep them engaged so that stick, and find value in participating with your organization.

Access and Excel Suck as a Member Database 

On the surface, Excel appears for most to be a logical choice to manage your constituent data. I understand. I must admit like most that the easiest and cheapest is usually my first thought. But, the easiest choice and most inexpensive (at least from a hard price) isn’t always the best course of action when you have strategic goals on your mind such as retention and participation improvement.

It’s obvious every organization has to manage data. And, most small associations I talk to use Microsoft office. So, it’s logical for one to use Microsoft Excel to begin with but over the course of time it’s important to graduate to a more structured database and one designed just for your specific needs.

Besides being cheap, I admit that Microsoft Excel is great with calculating and dealing with numbers. And, in a very rudimentary manner it can track your contacts, categorize them for you in rows and columns. Heck, you can even make a note or record an activity too. However, that’s where it ends.

There are some fundamental flaws to consider. Likely the main challenge, Microsoft Excel and Access both stores information in what’s called a “flat file” database. Translated into down home Texas Talk, this means it’s not designed to handle relationships between data, such as when one record (such as a member, donor, customer) needs to link to several other records (like a dues payment or gifts). Further, Microsoft Excel lacks the basic tenants of a relational database management system which can can track multiple data points which are truly needed to correlate, record, and report participation and retention data.

Retention Of Existing Members via Membership Management Software 

A jingle writer once wrote: “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” That writer was pretty insightful. It takes a lot of time and money to acquire new members, doesn’t it? While most associations need new members to grow, there is a point where goals of membership increases get exponentially harder to achieve. The expectation is that members come in and stay, this is true until they leave because you have no data to understand trends or feedback on why members value your organization.

The theory is that member acquisition cost is less than the member’s lifetime revenue, and the break-even point happens in a year or two. I suppose that this sounds good. However, it is not that easy. The reality is it cost less time and money to retain current members. Retaining members is so critical to the life line of an association today. Using a database alone will not help here. You need the basic tenants of relationship management, communication management, and activity management at a bare minimum in a software tool used by a staff today. With membership management software, I believe that you have a better chance to treat your existing members like gold while you mine for the silver members.

Increasing Participation with Membership Management Software

Your members are there for a reason. Members want to participate for the greater good of their industry or profession, network, get training, advocacy, & access information. The key word here is that they need to participate in pertinent and individual manners.

The right membership management software program can provide your member with the ability to know in real-time about upcoming events, be able to buy early bird tickets, read your blog, and communicate in a member forum.

Participation can be tracked in so many more ways than a tool a database such as Access or Excel could ever be able to do. Today, you members interact, stay informed, and get involved in group activities. Additionally, members can enjoy educational video links, email updates, newsletters, and automatic billing. A relational database is needed to adequately keep track of all these items and be used in a meaningful way by your staff.

From a nonprofit executives point of view, understanding a member’s unique needs and interests is directly tied to tracking their participation level more so than just a title or function which is the only granularity you can obtain in using a flat file database tool. It’s important to go beyond title or function alone to understand the data in a way that is meaningful.

Per a recent article written by Greg Wilson, from CalSAE magazine, The Executive:

The California District Attorneys Association recognized this more than 2 years ago when we embarked on a search for an AMS (Membership Database) that would allow for highly granular individual participation experiences. Our ultimate goal is that each member will experience the association based on an aggregation of their interactions-from classes attended, to contributions made as well as outside information such as what part of the state they live in. The AMS is helping us get there.

Retention and participation are two strategic goals expressed to me when seeking a new membership management software. Excel and Access can’t help here. A happy member will remain with your organization. A happy member is a contributing member. All nonprofits need happy members. In my biased opinion, I believe that membership management software can help you treat your members like gold so that they will become platinum participants.

For more information on how membership management software can help your nonprofit association, please contact us. Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

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Listen Up! Developing A “Voice of the Constituents” Culture

Constituents in brand advocacy

We all have experienced it: eating at a favorite restaurant—perhaps even a restaurant we’ve patronized for years—and having a less than stellar experience. We may contact the manager to complain. And here’s the crucial point: if we felt listened to, it is likely we will come back to restaurant again. In this article, I wanted to discuss recent findings from a report prepared by Higher Logic along with other findings on constituent relationships which framed the importance of listening in order to improve customer (constituents) relations in nonprofits.

The Voice Of Your Constituents (VoC)

Keeping your members and donors (customers/constituents) is such a hot topic today. Retention, Retention, & more Retention!

As a result, I am always intrigued to learn what strong for profit and nonprofit leaders use in terms of technology to keep their constituents engaged and participating. As a result of some research for a client, I came across a recent handbook provided by Higher Logic, a leading private online community software provider, which sparked my thoughts about fostering the value of “the customer” today in the nonprofit community. Before I get to far, for the sake of this article I am going to be using the term, customer and constituent interchangeably.

According to Higher Logic, what is a Voice of the Customer (VoC) culture? To paraphrase, it is an organization culture in which routinely seeking feedback from members and/or donors and listening to the feedback is more than just a value statement—it’s the expected norm.

Higher Logic’s Voice of the Customer Handbook lays out the concept and value of VoC programs. One of the most insightful ideas in the Handbook is the Pareto Principle’s 80-20 notion that your current member/donor base is the source of the largest share of your organization’s future revenue stream. Once that notion sinks in, hanging on to every member or donor will become your secondary mission.

A VoC culture is the sound way to ensure that your members and donors make the shift, as High Logic puts it, “from basic consumer to brand advocate.”

Here’s the difference in a nutshell:

  • A basic consumer feels no loyalty. A consumer may or may not continue on as a member or donor. He or she may bring a friend or colleague along once in a while. If you close shop, the consumer simply goes elsewhere.
  • A brand advocate exhibits loyalty. A brand advocate will continue on for years as a member or donor. He or she consistently will introduce friends and colleagues to your organization, and promote your organization and its mission on social media—extending the reach of your marketing team. If your organization should be struggling to survive, a brand advocate will shift into overdrive to work with you on saving it. (Note: it’s much less likely that your organization will struggle to survive with enough brand advocates on board.)

Building that level of loyal enthusiasm which erupts into brand advocacy is all about engaging customers emotionally, according to High Logic. And listening is Ground Zero.

Benefits of The Voice of the Constituent Culture

Creating a posse of enthusiastic brand advocates is the highpoint of a VoC culture, but there’s more. When members and donors exchange feedback and ideas with organization staff and each other, magic happens that may stretch beyond marginal enhancements to produce innovative programming and marketing ideas.

Per Forester, online adults are five times more likely to trust a brand or product recommendation from friends or family than from an online ad, and they are twice as likely to trust them over information found on a firm’s website.

Why is developing a customer advocate so important today, here are few examples from a Forrester qualitative research conducted in July/August 2015:

  • More credible first hand experiences are shared socially than ever before
  • Online social media makes it easier to mobile around a cause or initiative
  • More digital ways to harness word of mouth
  • Prospects trust less and want authentic information from those who have experienced it
  • The subscription economy makes customer retention vital
  • Advocates enjoy more value than referencing/referring alone

The Digital Age and Constituents Goodwill 

If you are looking for an example in the for profit sector, you don’t have to go to far to find evidence in the value of listening to the voice and peer influence to have folks buy today. Customer stories and testimony are among the most powerful tools which you find on the websites of many database software marketers today. Why? It works!

In my opinion, what is interesting to note too is the parallels between dues and donation revenue (subscriptions or voluntary contributions) to that of subscription based software licensing today. It has made a huge impact in how database software vendors are taking to heart this VoC culture and the importance of listening to their customers feedback. Many of the leading database software vendors today are providing private social media platforms to allow for collaboration and forming software user groups (conferences) to strengthen the relationships they have with their customers. If you are an association, does this sound familiar?

Per a the study cited by Forrester, a subscription-centered economy makes retention essential. Today, for profits and Nonprofits alike must continue to demonstrate value to their customers to retain their business. They must keep the relationship with their constituents fresh and top of mind in order to do that. The fundamental changes in the nature of business buying (participating with your organization) makes advocate marketing not simply a way to develop participant goodwill, but also a fundamental ingredient to creating lasting relationships.

To underscore the point, a Forrester report cited a legacy donor software vendor executive in the following excerpt:

“We have been a provider of nonprofit fundraising solutions for 30 years. as we move some of our solutions to the cloud and the new subscription model links our success even more closely with our customers, it’s even more important to keep customers engaged in the long run. advocate marketing, along with stronger customer success programs, ensures we can do that.” (Amy Bills, Customer Marketing for general markets, Blackbaud).

Your members and donors who have a personal story or expert perspective to share about your agency is huge. In my mind, listening to what your members find valuable and then helping them spread the word about you is a valuable “advocate marketing” technique which should be leveraged to increase retention and also grow more brand advocates. Finding software and technology to help you execute a strategy in an authentic way may help your nonprofit lead and do more than just survive in the years to come.

Getting Started on a Voice of the Constituent Culture

So you now are a believer—or perhaps you always were—in the value of listening to your members or donors. You just aren’t certain of where to start.

Here, courtesy of Higher Logic, is how HubSpot , a marketing automation software provider, makes VoC its norm:

“HubSpot … is able to gain insights on what customers need by putting an ear to the ground and listening to what customers have to say … through its online community, online and offline engagement channels, effective customer feedback initiatives and vast library of resources created for the most important person in the company’s ecosystem—the customer.”

Higher Logic suggests in the handbook that you “Allow customers to exchange ideas and best practices constantly, not just when it’s convenient for the organization.” Social media platforms facilitate this outreach for you if you create the outlets.

But whether you turn to routine surveys, focus groups, group coffee sessions, or private social media platforms, finding ways to listen to your members or donors will reap significant rewards for your organization.

The one question that remains is this: is your member and donor software up to the challenge? If not, the right software already is out there.

Matching the right software to your organization’s requirements to ensure your long-term sustainability is our mission. Contact us for more information on management software which can help you harvest your brand advocates today. Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Resource Note: To get your hands on the Higher Logic’s, Voice of the Customer, handbook cited in this article, you may download it here.

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Social CRM: Are You Listening to Your Constituents?

CRM Software For Nonprofits should have social listening tools

Social CRM is often used by “for profit” organizations to improve business relationships, increase customer retention, and today help employees actively listen via the various social media channels found on the internet; Facebook, LinkedIn, & Twitter etc. In this article, I outline a relatively new “must have” feature of CRM software which could prove to be very valuable to your nonprofit organization; Social Listening.

Social Listening In CRM Software For Nonprofits

Any successful organization must spend time developing relationships with their constituents. They listen and respond to what their customers are saying and they often use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool (Membership Software, Donor Database Software) to manage these relationships.

From my work with nonprofits, I see that many successful non profits are gathering information from online conversations (Social Listening) and sharing this information internally, and in turn they are converting these online prospects into members and donors.

According to analyst firm Gartner, by 2018, one and a half billion people will use social media networks.

This means more customers of successful companies are gathering and conversing on social media about what is important to them, who they want to collaborate with, and where they want to place their hard earned dollar and time. Social media is an important communications outlet for everyone today. However, I see that less than five per cent of the associations and nonprofits I visit with today, use social media effectively as a tool for identifying new members and donors today. Your staff must be able to benefit from these facts and find donor database tools and membership systems which have these social features (or integrate with a best of need solution).

While many nonprofit executives have not embraced the need, many marketing and communication experts at non profits have recognized a need to get closer to relevant online conversations. However, they have yet to figure out a way of combining their CRM tool (Membership Software/Fundraising Database) with social media intelligence tools like HootSuite, Buffer, Awareness Hub or SproutSocial. This is due in large part to the fact that many legacy member or donor systems simply do not have a solution.

What is Social CRM? 

First, let me define the term Social CRM. In my mind, Social CRM is a business strategy that enables the forging of richer, deeper and more intimate relationships with constituents and prospects. It takes the valuable customer insight and conversations you may be gathering on social media and member communities, and it layers them on top of emails, sales calls and customer service interactions, which you have stored centrally in your CRM solution.

No doubt it is important for nonprofits to take advantage of social media and use it as a channel for extracting donor insight. By understanding donors’ digital footprints, a nonprofit is able to figure out when and how is the best way to communicate. For example, young donors want to give money, but they want the process to be convenient. Social CRM software consolidates data from the four main categories so both “for profit” and nonprofit organizations can continue to grow their reach and engage their audience effectively and efficiently.

How is Social CRM Different Than Traditional CRM? 

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) has been around for a long time now. In short, CRM is a method for managing your constituents, marketing and constituent service interactions with current and future constituents. Typically, this method involves using a technology tool like Salesforce or Microsoft CRM to store information about your constituents in one place.

Social CRM (sometimes features in CRM) is more than simply monitoring what people are saying on social media, and it’s not just about storing social intelligence but other pertinent information too (profile, activity, history). Social CRM is a strategy that combines CRM tools and social media technologies with the workflows and processes of a business. It makes constituent conversations and interactions on social media as much a part of a non profit as more traditional business activities.

The Magnitude of Using Social Intelligence in Nonprofits Today

Monitoring what your contacts are doing on social channels is every bit as important as reading their emails in Selling 2.0. In my opinion, if you are not using Social Intelligence to grow your association, you are not playing on a level field with your counterparts. Social Intelligence, if used appropriately, will enable users to see events in people’s lives and to use that data to make stronger and faster connections.

Last year, I read recently a great book called Pick up the Damn Phone by Joanne Black . In it, Mrs. Black cites a staggering Aberdeen study which shows that those who leverage social intelligence get some pretty impressive results, including:

  • Dramatically greater improvement (21.4 percent) in top line revenue each year, compared to 16.4 percent for all other business
  • A 9.5 percent annual increase in the number of salespeople who make quota, vs. 3.4 percent increase for other companies
  • A customer satisfaction rating that improves at nearly twice the rate (5.8 vs. 2.1 percent) of other organizations

While this is underscoring data found in the for profit world, I believe that the data is significant in the nonprofit world too.

Social Intelligence Use Cases for Non Profit Organizations 

In my opinion, most organizations need an intelligent relationship platform (ideally integrated) that will look at the digital foot print of a person, be able to read their social signals, identify ones that matter, pull them into complete records and relevantly use the information. Then, as Mrs. Black proclaims, “Pick up the Damn Phone to call them” to ask for the donation or engage your members with the knowledge about what interests them. With Social Intelligence in use, the staff is able to unlock relationship insight which may help you get a good a read on what your members care about that day, what they want you to provide them, send them, and personalize content based on predictive analysis.

Social Intelligence Features in the New Age of Non Profit Engagement

Recently, I have spent a great deal of time reviewing many leading advocacy and social intelligence software tools. And, is consistent with software, there are diverse capabilities in the market today. However, in most use cases, you should look for the ability to easily personalize messages, asks, and ads based on what your members are doing and saying across the social web.

You should look for specific features which allow you to build rich social profiles across social media channels. layer social data over list segments, identify “influencers”, re-engage contacts, find out which networks are most popular among your audience. create and manage keyword monitors that listen for conversations, automatically capture conversations & certainly listen for any conversations over a specified period of time. In addition, you need to have either plug and play CRM integration or innate features.

With Social Intelligence features in CRM, you gain insights about the people in your network—to drive deeper social media relationships and more profitable campaigns.

Moving from Like to Have to Must Have? 

I believe that Social Intelligence features found in CRM tools will become more and more of  a “must have” in the list of features in the modern rules of engagement today. There are only a handful of donor and membership software vendors on the market who can proclaim with integrity that they can do this today. And, quite frankly, the built on top software vendors have an advantage here due to their ecosystem of third party options and open API’s.

I know. Social media is a comparatively new channel for organizations, and new networks may yet emerge while others could fade away. In other words, there is no gold standard for social media. There will always be a place for traditional public relations and marketing activity within a business, but social media cannot be ignored. The sooner you integrate it into your wider strategy, the more successful your business will become.

Whatever you believe about the importance of social media, the new “socially intelligent” development officer must be armed with the latest tools to be successful. The old school legacy systems of yesteryear must adopt these social intelligence features or fall behind the leading CRM options on the market today.

Want to know how CRM software can specifically benefit your nonprofit organization? Contact us today!

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