The Road to Revenue Growth with Membership Management Software

Membership Database Software & Revenue Growth

How solid is your association’s dues revenue? What if there were a way to strengthen your revenue stream and boost members’ engagement simultaneously? Better yet, what if that could be accomplished without hiring more staff? If you said yes, in this article, I discuss how I see membership management software playing a part in achieving these things. Or, at least aspire to make it so.

Revenue Growth & Membership Management Software

Perhaps, I am an optimist. But, I truly believe in technology’s ability to achieve great things. And, with so many new technologies being developed, I believe it is exciting news the mere choice of switching to the right membership management software can possibly deliver an ROI in revenue, membership, and sustainability well worth the investment. Here’s how.

New technologies = New Opportunities

Before I get into the membership software side of things. Let me digress a bit to discuss, a website that tracks emerging payment options. They make not that “software developers are using new technologies to create innovative business opportunities and enable merchants to optimize the ways in which they engage with shoppers today.” That’s great news for Association CEOs who get that pivoting to take advantage of the best business practices should be their prime strategy.

So what’s involved in these new technologies and how do they optimize engagement and revenue?

Engagement and Revenue Generation interviewed membership software developer Abila’s Director of Product Management, Darryl Hopkins, who discusses a revolutionary concept in Association member management: “revenue-generating payments.”

Essentially, Hopkins covers a couple of key areas in which Association member management benefit from the new opportunities:

  • Automating membership renewals which, unsurprisingly, nets a better rate of renewal and increased funds

Membership databases are set up so that you may be able to remove the barriers to paying for membership dues. And, these systems are set up to help with the ability to automate a membership fee paid by an organization or group of individuals—a situation that Associations will find themselves facing more and more over time.

The Challenge of Competition

Future trends and patterns are emerging rapidly as new tools and platforms are developed each day. It’s pretty exciting. Even though we keep track of so many membership systems in the market today (over 100), there are many that are being released every year. And, more rapidly than ever before.

Why? Well, I could go into many reasons, but suffice it to say, associations and NFPs are faced with the challenge of keeping up to date and roll forward with the many shifts that emerge. I believe that competition is a big impetus for the desire for CRM features in many membership management systems of today.

No longer are the days when Associations can take a passive approach to recruitment of new members. There is no more “Build it and they will come mentality”. CRM features are either becoming more common place in the membership systems today or Associations are gravitating towards those systems which are natively built on CRM platforms.

Having worked with Association Executives for over a decade, I see nonprofit executives who need to do more to be competitive. And, be competitive with spending as little money as possible. And, ultimately doing more with less. The CRM features being built into membership software are imperative to drive revenue today.

No Substitute for Demonstrating You Care 

In these days, Associations can’t just take money for their various services. And, I believe that many know this. They can’t just take a payment from a member. You must be able to link it back to that particular member’s account so you can keep a rich history of who this actual member is. You need to know the what, why, where, and how of that payment. This is exactly what was uncovered too according to Hopkins research previously mentioned.

Why? Which would you prefer?

  1. A thank-you acknowledgement that says, Dear Jane, “Your membership renewal fee has been received. Enjoy your coming year with us.”
  2. Or, Dear Jane, “We are excited that you will be joining us for the third year in a row. We think you will particularly enjoy our new educational offerings this year—they are just the ticket for your new position. And please let us know what we can add to make your membership even more valuable for you.”

Obviously, you would like something like #2. The membership software is able to alert Jane to the fact that new educational offerings in her wheelhouse are coming. There are so many examples. Suffice it to say, it is these types of segmented calls to increased engagement activity that carry the opportunity for revenue enhancement.

Workflow automation and building processes that are mundane and impactful can be done via membership software today. Nonprofits should take advantage of them.

By the way, you can access the article on the Hopkins interview here.

The Role of Segmentation

My blog on how segmentation boosts engagement talks about the need to segment by age and career stage—which also matters when it comes to payment options for membership renewals and Association activities. Research has shown that while Matures and Boomers may still prefer to mail in a check, younger members expect automated payment options—and for the youngest cohort, the more up-dated your payment options, the better return your on renewals.

Also, for more information on the perspective of the young career professional when it comes to payment options, download the Smart Payment Association’s white paper on the swipe-to-tap revolution here.

The Right Software, The Right Time, The Right Revenue Increase

Is there a good time buy new software? Well, the answer to that question is unique for everyone. But, in general, why would you want to wait if you are losing opportunities to increase your services and ability to serve your members better?

You should certainly plan the timing of your purchase. But, most of the time, it truly does not matter. And, quite frankly no time is better than the present if you’re not able to increase revenue.

So, now may be the best time to review whether your current software can handle the member management functions that your Association needs to increase members’ engagement and expand your revenue.

New technologies are emerging, CRM features are baked into membership software now, financial and accounting processes are being automated, personalization of communication is becoming a reality, and many associations are doing more with less. This is a direct result of those Association Executives who have invested in their staff and provided them with the software tools that they need to succeed.

If you find your software isn’t up to those tasks, take comfort in knowing that regardless of the size of and/or budget, I believe that we can help you find the best fit software to support your goals.

Contact us to help assess your database needs and offer our advice on which database solution may be the best fit. We’d be happy to put our expertise to work to help you meet your goals.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Free Database Software Reviews for Associations

Top 10 Questions You Should Ask On A Software Reference Call

Top 10 Super Smart Questions to ask of a software reference

Ok, Nonprofit Association Executives. It’s down to the wire in your search for the best damn Nonprofit Donor Database Software system in the land. You have dotted your “I’s” and crossed your “T’s”. It’s for certain  you have done your due diligence and finally your nonprofit is down to the last choice. In this article, we tackle the purpose of a software reference call, who you should talk too, and the top questions to ask too.

Purpose of the Software Reference Check 

I believe that it’s important to note that the reference check is one of the last steps before negotiating the purchase. The purpose of the reference check is to provide an audit of sorts on what the vendor has stated that they “can” do. In other words, the reference check is to find out if things are not what they seem such as was the purchase in line with expectations, any unexpected surprises, warnings to know about before implementing, or perhaps recurring issues that may be stated.

Who Should You Talk Too In A Software Reference Call 

It’s important to visit with relevant references. Here is what I suggest on who you should visit with on a reference call:

  • If possible, with context that is similiar to your situation. In other words, if you are a museum, talk to museums using the software too. You also should desire to have a conversation with somone who has the software at least 6 months and not more than three years too.
  • While not always feasbile within the nonprofit software sale situation, if you have a choice you want to talk with several different titles on reference calls. You may want to ask for the Executive Sponsor, the development officer who was in charge of the implementation, and perhaps someone who has specific experience in a high priority area for the software you desire such as Grants Management.
  • As a nonprofit you don’t have an unlimted budget for IT, do you? Of course not. So, references should have a similiar level of IT support that your organization has in place too.

Super Smart Questions to Ask on a Software Reference Call

So, what do you ask a reference to be sure that what you need mirrors your goals and requirements which are important?

To that question, we have come up with some questions to aide in the process for your nonprofit in this situation. Below is a list of valuable questions you should always ask during a reference call.

what to ask on a reference call

  1. What is your role in using the Nonprofit software database system? Ex. Primary User, Project manager, Support person.
  2. Were you the decision maker responsible for purchasing the last Nonprofit CRM?
  3. If you were involved, what made you choose the solution you selected?
  4. How long did it take you to do high priority functions? Ex. Sending an email to your donors or setting up events for the conference? Ask what is most important to your nonprofit.
  5. How long did it take to get your data migrated?
  6. How complete is the integration with Accounting? How hard was it to set up and maintain? Dues Billing?
  7. Have you seen an increase in efficiency since you implemented the nonprofit association management solution?
  8. How long did it take before you began to see a return on your investment?
  9. What’s the single best thing about the system? What is the worst thing?
  10. When implementing, did you incur any costs in addition to the price of the solution?

Ok, we couldn’t get it down to 10, sorry! So, here are several bonus questions for ya’ll:

  1. Did the vendor offer to give you anything in return for being a reference? How often are you used as a reference?
  2. Can you tell me about your experience with implementation and support? What went well? What would you do differently?
  3. If you went to another company, would you absolutely buy the same system again or would you look to see what else is available?

Closing Thoughts on Software Reference Checks 

References should be respected. They are taking time out to help you. So, I believe it should go without saying but it’s important to be respectful. Here are some ideas to do that:

  • Be sure you are talking to the right person
  • Schedule your call via email.
  • Send out questions before the call to minimize the time on your call.
  • Stay on track with the time that they provide to you.

If you have any insights into other questions which may help the community. Please share below.

Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind!

We provide a free document outlining the key questions to ask of a software reference

Software ease of use like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder

We make it easy to find software for your Nonprofit. Need help?

The Art of Rating Ease of Use of Nonprofit Association Management Software

The notion of “Software ease of use” is straight forward. It’s a no brainer to discern, right? If it meets “X” criteria, then it’s easy to use. Well, not so fast my friends. To further complicate the matter, what if you just read the following testimonials below on (an awesome site for associations) or heard them from a peer during your software evaluation process? 
“I have used and researched other association software products and none are as easy-to-use or intuitive as “XYZSOFTWARE,” said Richard Gere, Executive Director, The American Gigolo Association of America. “I am a very satisfied customer. With XYZSoftware,  I can find what I need and move about the software with no problem”.
“What’s best about XYZSoftware is the ease of use,” said Brad Pitt, President, I AM The Man Association. “We can easily handle donations and pledges without any problems”.

While we have obviously made up the names here, the quotes are almost verbatim to the same ones heard all too often by Nonprofit Association Executives when the software is working for them. So, why would it be that the same software wouldn’t work for you? Or, viewed differently by another association. Before, we answer that question, let’s define “Ease of Use”. While it’s difficult to define , here are somethings to consider (a working definition) which we like to use to address the common feature request of “Ease of Use” when exploring new software options:

An easy-to-use Nonprofit Association Management software system is present when:ease of use in software for

  • Similar: The Nonprofit Association Management software system is familiar because it works as expected and similar to another tool which a user has experience. Ex. Like Word, Excel, Google Apps etc.
  • Clicks: The Nonprofit Association Management software system takes less time and fewer clicks to accomplish the goal at hand.
  • Automation: The Nonprofit Association Management software will take routine tasks and automate them for us.
  • Efficient: The Nonprofit Association Management software will allow the end-user (staff, donor, or member) to efficiently enter all of the vital information required with oversight.
  • Intuitive: The Nonprofit Association Management software system is intuitive and obvious in how a task can be performed.
  • Flexible: The Nonprofit Association Management software system easily maintains that data as your business changes. It’s flexible.
  • Extraction: The Nonprofit Association Management software system can quickly extract the vital information needed for reporting in a usable format.
  • Maintain: The Nonprofit Association Management software system is easy to deploy, enhance, update, integrate and maintain long term.

Of course, every good software sales vendor will tell you that his or her software is the easiest to use ever. Further, it’s very likely that they may be able to provide many testimonials from happy clients to that effect. So, back to the question at hand, “Why wouldn’t it appear easy for you, if someone else found it easy?” 

The point is this. “Ease of Use” is in the “Eyes of the Beholder”. In some cases, only a mother could love some of the crap found in the 1990 GUI of some outdated systems in the market today. To be sure, it’s not necessarily that the vendors are intentionally trying to trick or deceive nonprofits, but everyone has different levels of technical skill, knowledge, and prior experience that will impact how easy it is for them to use a piece of software. In other words, “Ease of Use” is subjective and influenced by a user’s prior experiences and expectations. 

Therefore, in order to determine if a particular software will be easy to use for your organization, we suggest taking some objective steps prior to the selection to do the following:

  • Trial: Select several typical tasks you want to do in the software and put it to the test. For Example, have a volunteer and staff person enter a member application online, finding and updating member profile information, go online and register for a self-service feature like registering for an event, paying dues, or buying something)
  • Documentation and Support: Provide your staff with whatever documentation is available – and let them contact the vendor’s technical support, just as they would in a real-life situation if they need too.
  • Ratings: Ask your staff to rate the ease of use of the system for each task on a scale of 1-10 based on the working definition found above.

Finally, we encourage our clients to document the software selection process. It’s one thing to remember why you selected one system over the other now, but it’s going to be even more important to remember why you selected the system even a year later when there is staff turnover, a new version has been updated, & a new board has been put in place. There version of the truth (Ease of Use) may be different than yours.

If and when you are embarking on your software selection journey to find “Easy to Use Software”, please give us a call. Remember, it’s free to make the call and visit with us, but costs a lot if you make a mistake.Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.