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.
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.