Looking for Love? Finding Love In Membership Systems

Membership Management Systems love

It’s easy to get swept away by the metaphorical currents of promise in software. In order to know the merits of your existing software or the hopes of improved benefits, an organization has to take the time to determine what can be achieved. In this article, I explore questions to contemplate and ideas to help measure the metrics before you go through the Big D (I don’t mean Dallas) and seek a ticket on board the “Love Boat”.

Finding Love in Membership Systems 

Who would have thought 20 years ago that we would frequently use a tiny little hand-held device to communicate via texting? Over the course of the last decade, there has been incredible advancements in technology, both for general business and nonprofits alike.

The Internet has changed the world and has impacted how we interact with our friends, how we educate ourselves, and how we buy things. I believe there is little doubt that technology has made businesses more streamlined, with many processes that used to take days, now taking a matter of seconds.

Today, your constituents can update their names/addresses online, pay their dues, make donations, buy a book from you, and communicate with everyone on the board privately in one internet session. Further, the developments in cloud based software have improved how businesses manage their donor data, processes and customer interactions. Further, the subscription based cloud offerings have made a membership management system affordable for all sizes of nonprofits.

Each association is unique. Therefore, it’s important to contemplate:

  • What do I want out of the software?
  • Are features important to you?
  • How do you know it even matters? Opportunity Costs?
  • Can you measure the impact?
  • Is there truly a better way?
  • What else could we do? What could we do with the same time and money?
  • What are the best options to get me there?

Why is it so hard for all of us to see the bigger picture before jumping into demos?

One, we want to go after that “shiny new object” before answering some of the fundamental questions which will often determine success or the perception of success or failure.

Second, we get swept away from pressure to “do something”. We jump on board the latest wave sometimes to quickly. It can be far too easy to get caught up in the storm surge, wanting to address the issues with something new.

Here is your prescription from the ships doctor, “Doc”; Widen your options! If there is a better way to your current situation, you must consider your specific business problems prior to taking a narrow lens to the problem.

In other words, you must consider the features you need to obtain those metrics. Equally important is to document those metrics for future reference when you need a little assurance during the project too. Make no mistake, adopting any software without careful planning can lead to dire mistakes.

What are some goals and metrics to help you find love? I am glad you asked. Below you will find some examples of membership goals and possible membership system features which may tied back to a specific area of operations:

Membership Renewals

A key metric for success of many membership systems is improving membership renewals. The competition is thick and growing more and more each day. A membership system should be able to improve the communication flow regarding renewals (automatic dues statements), ensure members feel and understand the value of their membership (updated insights online), ensure renewal process is easy and efficient (easier shopping cart experience).

Global Visibility of Membership Metrics 

Many executives today are struggling to get their hands on the data they need to succeed in making decisions at their nonprofit. A dashboard feature found in a membership system, may be used by staff, members, and the board to understand how many members you have, what their history has been with your organization is, how engaged they are with your organization, how satisfied are they with their membership subscription. With a dashboard, your executives and board can make smarter business decisions. Again, a metric tied right back to a must have feature.

Reducing Onboarding Costs 

A strategic goal may be to help onboarding costs. A feature which supports this initiative may be something like providing a membership system which handles your “approval” process better. You need to take a hard look at how the system can increase efficiency and reduce waste in the management of all the paper, delays, and communications to have a member sign up. If your membership system is impeding your progress here, you may be able to improve member satisfaction and staff satisfaction too. Disparate systems are a killer! 

Improving Membership Communications

Communicating with your members is paramount. Today, many associations use a third party email marketing system to handle their bulk email efforts. For those that have those email marketing system, a key metric may be integrating the membership system with that email marketing system. Further, the brand is suffering because the email designs are outdated. A goal may be to improve standardization across all departments. Your membership system is unable to provide this and you need to obtain a solution to help in this area.

Attracting New Members

A huge metric for most membership organizations today is attracting new members. That noted, the need to market the organization better, communicate the benefits of membership, increase awareness of the organisation, and improve the number of member-to-member referrals are often expressed as business metrics during a search.

How would this be tied back to a feature? Well, most associations use their websites as a tool to reach out and share information with their members and their community. But as technology evolves, is simply having a website enough? Not anymore.

Today, many see having a mobile strategy as key to their ongoing success. Mobile technology is changing how consumers research options and make buying decisions. Whether they’re at home on a laptop or in a store on their smartphone, when people have questions or need information, they want answers immediately. And, regardless of the types of questions, most people use the internet to find answers.

At a bare minimum, a membership system should be able to help you be the source for those answers, but… Search engine algorithms are programmed to reward frequently updated websites with higher rankings in search results. It’s important to be able to manage your website too? Websites that consistently provide fresh and compelling content benefit from those algorithms. So, periodic updates add value to your organization’s website by allowing new visitors to find you (and your members) online.

A metric may be the ease of maintaining the website internally rather than paying a third party consultant to do it for your organization. The cost is easily tracked back to a specific feature.

Events Management 

I read the other day that an organizations perception changes after events, with 74% of attendees having a more positive perception of an organization (from EventTrack, Event Marketing Institute). And events allow you to generate leads, engage customers and prospects, and build your brand (from BtoB Magazine: State of Event Marketing, Figure 1). A key strategy may be to improve your events management process due to similar findings in your organization. Find features and tie them back to the goal.

Your registration process may be poorly handled by your current events management system. As a result, you realize that you are losing opportunities to convert participants into members. A feature tied back to this fact would be to find a system which helps automate key event processes, improve efficiency of manual processes, and market the events more effectively.

Selection of an online membership system is a critical decision with major strategic and financial implications. As associations move toward using technology to interact with members at a deeper level, the membership database plays a critical role.

I believe that membership software systems can and do solve problems. However, the biggest cost of technology is not the amount you pay the software vendor each month to use it. No, it’s when the technology doesn’t work according to your desired goals.

Once you have successfully identified your business problems and outlined the goals for software, love may be found! And, you too can set sail into a long loving relationship with your membership system.

We would love to help place you successfully on your next cruise. And, maybe even find love! Give us a call to discuss your situation.

Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.



Is your Nonprofit Software helping you score enough to win your game?

Finding the Right Software is a Game. Play it Well!I love this time of the year! We have school starting, Family events like Halloween & Thanksgiving, cooler weather, and my favorite event, College and Professional Football are all on the horizon. In this article, we will review the art of keeping score while using nonprofit software. Or, more succinctly put, keeping score and measuring what is important in order to quantify the benefits of using nonprofit software today.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a big score board which recorded the success of our software programs?

Well, I suppose it would be if we all were playing by the same game rules and actually knew what constituted a touch down, field goal, and a first yard. Unfortunately, we don’t. Each and every Association and Nonprofit is uniquely different and comes to the proverbial table with different goals, missions, and strategy. Suffice it to say, even though you may be involved like many others in managing your nonprofits business, every one is “unique”. The good news for forward thinking organizations is that there are many ways to “score” and keep “track” of your progress with the use of  software. However, you have to be committed to outlining what those key performance metrics are very early on in your project. And, you have to be diligent in keeping track of those same goals through out the life of your software in order to truly know what’s working and what is not working. In light of this fact, I am going to outline a few of the top “Points” you may find useful in order to keep score in your software game below:

Maximize Staff Productivity

Constituent Management systems are designed to help improve efficiency and effectiveness. As you move into a project to buy new software, we suggest you analyze all the time consuming processes your staff is performing today. For example, new membership applications, dues payments, address changes, & event registrations can drain your staff from doing more meaningful work in your organization. With the right technology, you could focus on pursuing more donors, members, or spending more time involved in missionary work.

Reduce Staff Costs 

Disparate systems suck the life out of any well intentioned employee. With eliminating disparate or outdated systems, membership organizations can save money by managing tasks in one automated system. Take the time do perform this one task. Find out how much time you and your staff are spending managing data, and calculate that time in terms of salary and overhead to translate the cost into real dollars. For example, 5 hours a week managing manual data entry in disparate systems to process payments & donor renewals at a very conservative $ 25 dollars an hour (remember salary plus benefits) would cost $ 6,000 a year in time/labor. Further, contemplate the “opportunity costs” as well. This cost could escalate dramatically over the course of time.

Maximize Revenue Opportunities

Amazon like functionality is now a reality for many eCommerce web sites today. With orders online and the ability to pay for multiple types of purchases (orders, events, billing, donations) via one credit card transaction, technology can simplify the purchasing process for both members and staff alike, translating into greater efficiency and possibly higher non dues and donor revenue! If you have no way or manner to handle online eCommerce transactions, this one area could be a way for your organization to score big with 24/7/365 day transactions coming through the cloud!

Improve the Member and Donor Experience

Perhaps you have an initiative in place to improve the donor and member experience at your nonprofit. If it is not, this is certainly a big motivator for many executive directors which we visit with now. By empowering member and donor self service (online transactions), you are equipping your staff to better address your customer satisfaction needs and providing greater efficient service. This will in turn improve new member recruitment and retention rates.

Marketing Improvements

If you have  disparate systems (or outdated systems which can’t talk to other systems), your departments aren’t talking. Even in the smallest organizations it’s not hard to find accounting using one system, membership using another, and development using something else. There is no way to get “one version of the truth” when this situation is present. For example, instead of sending 1000 emails to a member who has never purchased anything, you send 100 emails a month to those that are most likely to buy. By connecting the web/constituent database/accounting/marketing together, it may allow your organization to keep the “ball” longer and improve your chances of targeting the right player to throw the ball to!  

Make Smarter Business Decisions with Integrated Data 

Another way to “crush it” is by using the curated data you have in order to plan better. By having data in multiple places or data which isn’t being used due to an outdated system, you miss out on opportunities. I read the other day that the average middle manager spends about 2 hours a day looking for data. Further, they can’t figure out if the data was duplicated or accurate. Your boards need good data. If it means getting a new system in order to do it, DO IT!

Technology can help foster a holistic view of your member and donors. You should be able to come up big with the right software here! As mentioned, each organization is different. Everyone has their own “game plan”, “best plays”, and “star players” which may help them drive to victory. It’s imperative before you search, you need to define what you want out of your nonprofit software. The key is determining your own specific goals and key metrics which you can decide are critical to your victory.

Enjoy this wonderful time of the year, I will. And, go Gorillas, go Frogs, and go Cowboys!


We do not sell software, we listen, and solve problems!