Top 10 Basics In Finding Your Best Database Fit

Database Software Fit for Membership Associations

Imagine if your staff, members, and volunteers actually used their CRM system, found it of value, and were able to trust it and embrace it! The staff’s day would be smoother, reports would be more accurate, and members would be happier and more successful. What if you could prove the value of such a database? In this article, I outline the basic needs to look for in a database to realize the hope of the outcome above.

10 Basics Needs In Database Fit

Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

You may recall that Maslow wanted to understand what motivates people. He believed that people possess a set of motivation systems unrelated to rewards or unconscious desires. Maslow postulated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs. When one need is fulfilled a person seeks to fulfill the next one, and so on.

Well, I believe that there are some parallels in this principle as it relates to the pursuit of finding the best fitted software too. I believe that a good membership management solution needs to be able to satisfy a set of basic functional requirements in order to become a true solution.

Certainly, you must be able to exceed “business as usual” (BAU) status. However, if your nonprofit is going to pay a significant amount of money on a new software solution, it better be able to do more than just BAU, right?

What are the basic needs? In my opinion, these are 10 basic needs in considering your next CRM database.

Database Features

When considering software for your nonprofit the features play a significant role, right?

But, for many, software feature lists are confusing to discern from one software vendor to the next during a demonstration.

Therefore, before going through demo after demo with various software vendors to determine basic database features, take some time to review, discuss, and formalize the standard features needed and wanted by your nonprofit.

Document each vendors features, descriptions, & depth. Then, store a cumulative tally of various aspects of each software. Finally, prioritize them.

This exercise will get your team up to speed on what to expect. And, save valuable time in the process.

Intuitive and Simple By Design

Don’t undervalue the importance of a tool that others find easy to use. A tool’s true power isn’t in flashy bells and whistles.

It is in empowering the people using the tool to do the best job they can do. The best tools institutionalize efficiency, and become part of the daily workflow of your team.

The best tools make it easier to do take actions that pay off!

Data Management: Easy In and Easy Out 

Some CRMs make it hard to get started and hard to get out. Look for a vendor focused on ease of importing data into the system initially. An open system is critical for many organizations today.

It’s important to test the validity of a systems openness. Therefore, check out their documentation and their list of software technology partners they work with to see credible examples of working well with others.

Finally, be sure that a vendor will help you migrate all your data without hassle if you decide to move to another system down the road.

Social Intelligence: Insightful Information 

A lot of customer relationship management software systems put a tremendous focus on structured data such as numbers and profile information. This is crucial, of course, but it’s not enough.

Unstructured data found in social media is also important too. Look for a solution that provides not just structured data, but insights that will help your staff understand their constituents behaviors, interests, and connections.

Let me elaborate.

Today, we all have a digital footprint. I believe that a system today should be able to provide social tracking features and allow you to view activity which your members are talking about in various public social communities like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Development officers and members directors alike understand that there are tremendous benefits from monitoring and interacting on social streams. In doing so, your organization can develop relevant, genuine relationships with new and existing constituents. But, also obtain verifiable data which can be used in many ways by marketing and communications.

Social channels provide points of commonality between members, answer questions, track behaviors and define interest levels. If your CRM doesn’t provide this, seek out a “point solution” to capture this ability.

Dashboards: Visual Representation of Data

Today’s tools should be suited to the needs of many stakeholders. Each user has different uses for data, different skill levels, and different ways of absorbing information.

Visualization is increasingly understood as crucial to adoption and efficiency. The brain perceives information visually much more easily than in plain data.

In short, a picture is worth a thousand spreadsheets!

Database Road Map: Designed to Grow with the Times

I believe that you need to understand both the maturation process of a software vendor. And, more importantly where they are headed too.

You’re placing your trust in a software vendor’s management to deliver not only today but long term too.  Their vision, execution, and engineering expertise is critical.

Examine where they’ve been, and how they articulate the way they’ll go forward.

Database: Safe & Secure 

Look for vendors that take the safety and security of your data seriously and have posted policies about technology issues.

A common concern of clients is whether their information is fully protected. Determining how data gets protected is of the utmost importance to providers as well.

There are many ways of securing data effectively: using a hierarchy system where top levels of security can access levels below them is one example. Isolating levels is also an option, only allowing access from particular users.

Reliability of the Software 

Service interruptions are expensive, inconvenient, and disruptive.

Any vendor should be able to tell you how much service interruption has occurred due to system outages, what the root causes were, and show how they were corrected.

In order to ensure this basic need, check the fine print on the hosting agreement.

Capacity of the Database 

In many instances, establishing the size of your constituent base influences the software price. And, that is fair.

Nonprofits tend to have large quantities of members and donors which are not active or prospects. So, be sure that when you do select software that you understand the cost considerations and storage thresholds of a vendor.

This basic need may be validated on either the license, hosting, or proposal from the vendor.

Affordable Database For Nonprofits 

I know what you are thinking. The budget is not a software feature.

But, let’s face it. Budget is always important to consider. And, there are plenty of choices to meet frugal budgets.

Not every company needs a $200,000 system with a 6-month implementation plan and long training ramps. There are solutions that provide speedy Return on Investment, and which can prove low Total Cost of Ownership even after a few weeks.

A palatable budget is a basic necessity which any software for you will need to provide.

Bonus: Customer Service, Support, Culture 

According to Maslow, we all have Love and belonging needs – friendship, intimacy, affection and love, – from work groups, family, friends, romantic relationships.

I believe that clients need to be loved by their membership software providers, again. Well, perhaps “like” would be the basic need. And, love would be the want.

Regardless, it doesn’t matter if you have the best software in the world. If you can’t find help when you need it, it’s not worth the investment. I have reviewed countless solutions over the years. And, the one overriding concern which I have with each new system that I review or software option used by my clients is “Support”.

A perfectly fit membership database solution will allow you to do more than the basics. It should offer the ability to open up the organization to your members online and open up alternative engagement channels such as social media.

The best fitted membership solution will be highly intuitive and easily adapted to handle the ever changing demands of your organization, your membership and the technology landscape within which it sits. The best fitted membership solution will be as relevant and powerful in five or ten years’ time as it is today.

So, there you have it. These are some of the most basic concerns when choosing membership management software.

As I wrote this, I remembered a saying which is so true from Bob Sullivan a long time proponent of CRM, who made a comment which has stuck with me. Here it is:

Companies are most successful when they recognize that CRM is not so much a destination as a journey.

It is so true. And, undertaking the trek alone to find the right fit is daunting to say the least.

Contact us to achieve the ideal solution for you and your members.


Don’t Buy Software Like Goldilocks

Software Buying is not a fairy tale

Business decisions are always a balancing act between urgency and thoroughness.  By the time it becomes clear that a need exists, it needs to be solved as soon as possible.  It’s hard to avoid the temptation to leap into a fix–any fix–that will help address the problem, even though this approach usually prolongs the time it takes to find a viable solution. In this article, I discuss my thoughts on how to avoid a Goldilocks software selection approach in your next search.

The Goldilocks Approach to Software Selection

We have all heard the fairy tale about Goldilocks.

You know. A little girl named Goldilocks, goes for a walk in the forest. She comes upon a house where she enters and finds to her delight three bowls of porridge. The first one she tastes is too hot, the next too cold but the third one just right so she eats it all up.

After eating, Goldilocks finds the three different size chairs where she tries them out and finds the first one too hard, the next too soft, and then the little one just right but it breaks when she sits in it.

Goldilocks’ actions foster her perfectionism. After all, you would think Goldilocks would be satisfied with the first sample, it is not even her belongings, right?

As a software adviser, it’s a regular occurrence to see many organizations seeking a solution go through a similar process of looking at 3 options before settling on a system. Further, I have even seen some organizations use three solutions before settling down on one choice. Suffice it to say, this approach is quite common in software searches.

For this, I have termed it the “Goldilocks Approach”. While the approach isn’t necessarily a bad thing all the time, it’s certainly something that can be avoided. And, perfection is an elusive pursuit at best.

Let’s discuss.

Identify the Problem Holistically  

Recently, I had a client who was solely focused on finding a membership software program which integrated with Word Press, a content management software. After reviewing the various software options, she selected a solution which could do just that. After two months, she called to tell that me that she learned how important other features were when they weren’t there. Sadly, three software options later, she still hasn’t found what she is looking for.

Takeaway: If your current membership management software isn’t cutting it, don’t just rush out to buy a new one.  Think about what your current system does well, and where it disappoints.  Use this comparison to make a list of what you actually need your system to do, and use this list when you research your replacement options.  This ensures that you won’t just be switching one set of dysfunctions for another.

Focus on Software Value  

Of course we all want the least expensive IT solutions that will meet our needs, especially in the service-conscious nonprofit sector.  When it comes to buying software, though, it’s important to focus more on value than on price.  Using the list of requirements you developed in the previous exercise, make sure that any software package you consider will be able to do the job that your current software is not doing.  If you settle for a replacement system that is equally inefficient, you will end up having to replace it too this is likely to cost far more than simply investing in a functionally suitable system up front.

Research Options Carefully  

Don’t just read the manufacturers’ descriptions of what their systems can do.  That’s like buying a car after talking to the salesman over the phone.  Treat software selection as a serious commitment to your mission; read magazine and user reviews, check out online tutorials and see if your vendor can put you in touch with satisfied customers. If your needs are more complex than your expertise (or you just want to take your expertise to the next level), contact us and let us do some of that research for you.

Commit to Training

No software package will meet your requirements unless you teach your staff how to use it well.  Taking the time to train and support your staff as they become fluent with their new tools will pay off many times over.  On-site, hands-on training combined with robust manuals and support materials will give your staff the confidence to set your new solution in motion.  If you skip this step, it will be impossible to tell which of your problems are the result of weaknesses in the software and which are the result of user error and lack of confidence.

Goldilocks eventually found what was “just right” for her.  But she was lucky.  In the business world it’s important to be wise and proactive in selecting the tools we use, and to figure out precisely what we need before we buy.  If we do this, then our resources, time and dedication can be spent pursuing our mission, not shopping for software.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Software Failure can be avoided in your 501c3 or 501c6

Are You Getting the Insights Needed About Your Engagement?

Social Data and CRM Data Combined for Engagement Insights

Storing data in your CRM about your members and donors is not enough. Today, having a system filled with social intelligence alongside your CRM is a must have in order to connect your members & provide your team the full view of data needed to effectively run the organization. In this article, I offer 7 valuable benefits Social CRM data can provide to help boost engagement inside your association community.

Boosting Engagement Insights 

“You are the salt of the earth. But remember that salt is useful when in association, but useless in isolation.” ― Israelmore Ayivor

“Successful people carefully manage their energy and associations; they are gatekeepers.” ― Bryant McGill

These two quotes offer Association executives vastly different, but related, messages about the overarching value of CRM.

  • The first quote essentially makes the case to members that there is more power in participating in an Association than functioning in isolation.
  • The second quote sends executives a warning: neglect member engagement at the peril of running smack into a gate that locks out your Association.

The other way to view these two quotes is this: while it may be axiomatic that people join your Association perhaps because their work or hobby aligns with its mission, they also are apt to jump ship in order to join an Association whose membership engagement they value more.

The bottom line? You need to know about your member (CRM profile), what your member does (transactional data), & what they care about too (social data).

Basic CRM data is important. But, yet it’s only one piece of the pie. Further, most don’t realize the treasure trove of data CRM provides nor how to realize the benefits of pulling the data all together to obtain a complete picture of the engagement activity of their members.

As CRM Trends notes, “it is amazing what can happen when institutions go from treating CRM as an ad hoc ‘skunkwork’ operation to treating it as a formally constructed corporate initiative.”

The Return on Engagement Possibilities 

I believe that every organization should become a “Learning Organization”. What is a “Learning Organization”? A “Learning Organization” takes signals from it’s members, donors, & customers and doubles down/up on what’s working and fixes what is not.

For many nonprofits it is time to learn that perception of return for a member is reality. In other words, the need to know, “What is in it for them?” Members want engagement, but their has to be a return for them on it.

Understanding engagement metrics alongside financial or participation data (ex. paid dues or registered for an event) provides you with a full cycle approach to business analytics which can be used for marketing, membership, training programs, etc.  Complete data will allow you to make better business decisions on where to put your resources.

What are some of the returns in combining business data and the right tools? Here are some of the potential opportunities to consider.

  1. Retain Members at Your Association

Most executives agree that you should make it your business to bring members together to interact, share resources, and engage on a deeper level with each other and with your Association.

With the steady growth of social media, members are your most successful recruiters. They know people with aligned interests and typically engage, almost daily, in exchanging relevant news—positive or negative.

The AMS (CRM database) has the core data. But, in order to retain members long term it’s important to be able to know what they care about. Social intelligence provides that to you.

Are you giving your members continuing reasons to send out positive communiques about your Association? Do you have control over the communication in your community?

  2. Recruit New Members at Your Association 

If you’ve done the hard work to engage members on a deep level, it’s likely that they will spread the word and create a buzz.

What does a buzz accomplish? A feeling that your Association is the “in” place to join for those whose interests align with your mission. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

Everyone knows that content is google’s favorite friend. And, you should befriend it too in your community. Privately managed “Open forums” can help solidify the content that you create based on the interactions of your members and non-members with each other. This can lead those non-members to join and participate in an exclusive community to obtain even greater insights.

But CRM Trends cautions that offering any old content won’t cut it:

“Consumers … are much more sophisticated today which means that companies need content that is interesting and relevant on all platforms, in order to make that emotional and rational connection that is necessary for engagement.”

Open Forum discussions can lead more nonmembers to your organization because the discussions and dialogue are relevant and even searchable. This is the key benefit in terms of “google juice” in attracting nonmembers.

  3. Give Members a Voice

In order to boost engagement, you must stay focused on providing tools which provide your members a voice. Think about the following questions:

  • Can your members communicate with other colleagues easily from any computer, tablet, or mobile device?
  • Is your members voice relegated to an one and done conference held a few times a year?
  • Can you capture what your members are talking about, downloading digitally, or sharing?

The chatter and discussions obtained during your offline events are valuable. The voice of your member produced during these exchanges are often lost after the conversations have stopped.

Empirical social data is helpful but quantitative social data is more useful when making mission based decisions.

  4. Build an Industry Knowledge Base—and Your Reputation

Who knows more about your industry than your members? When the tribal elders of your membership share with the rest of your community everyone wins.

Encourage your members to share, among other members, knowledge that’s searchable, easily discovered, and a benefit to the entire membership base. The intellectual knowledge that is captured is valuable for the member but also the organization once it’s in your domain.

  5. Enable Stronger Interactions at Your Association 

Public forums often start out as vehicles for exchanging knowledge, but without security and the sensitivity of participants to share certain things they can only go so far without trepidation creeping in. In order to enable stronger interactions, it’s important to provide a place for secure and beneficial sharing of ideas.

With this objection overcome, you may be able to obtain even more valuable insights from your community to utilize in deeper more beneficial ways.

  6. Generate Non-Dues Revenue at Your Association 

Best practices segmentation, supported by effective online community software may open the door to more non-dues revenue opportunities. While nurturing stronger interactions in your community, take advantage of the audience’s mind share and participation on your site.

For example, offer targeted advertising opportunities for new and existing sponsors, thereby connecting members with relevant messages and increasing your Association’s revenue.

This is two fold engagement opportunity. Your sponsors obtain a vehicle to engage, but your members do too. This approach is not as effective if you don’t have the insights (data) into what is top of mind with your members so that you can provide to your sponsors.

  7. Mine and Analyze Smarter Data at Your Association

I read the other day that the middle manager spends about 2 hours a day looking for data and figuring out how to pull it all together. Further, they can’t figure it out since the data is usually incomplete or missing.

Your association likely gathers and reports on financial and participation activities. In other words, the staff can analyze data reflecting member behavior from one and done transactions. Engagement insights are more about relationships and personalization than transactions. Social data is intellectual knowledge of the community.

Turning once again to CRM Trends article, we find that:

“With the support of technology, the goal of CRM is to have a 360-degree view of the customer which will enable you to improve the quality and satisfaction of each customer interaction and maximize the profitability of your customer relationships… a win/win for both you and your customers.”

Is Your AMS or CRM Enough? 

Certainly, many of you have an AMS or CRM. But, again it is likely only capturing financial transactions such as paying dues.

Without the social intelligence data you may be missing half of the data. With this social data captured, it could become your associations strongest route to attract members and go deep to foster loyalty and engagement when you quantitatively  what your members care about.

Is your CRM software all you need to provide you with a complete picture of  your engagement? Is there a best of “need” program which may work better, within your budget, to help you reach your membership goals.

Please contact us to find out and learn more. Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

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