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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The Impact of Communication Features in Membership Databases

Membership Database Software: Communication Features

Having the ability to communicate effectively with members is an important characteristic of high-quality membership management software. This need is especially true for nonprofit associations which communicate in many ways to solicit for Events, Fundraising, Dues, and Selling Products etc. In this article, I cover the impact areas of communication features in membership management software for nonprofits.

Communication Features in Member Management Software 

In order to retain members, you must keep them informed and engaged. The top nonprofit membership management software provides user-friendly methods for you to communicate with members via email marketing and standard snail mail. Certainly, it is paramount today to have simple ways to capture (online forms), store (in member’s profile record), and send emails & mail to your entire membership community for a variety of use cases.

Within the communication features of Membership Database you should be able to segment your members into various levels of granularity. For Example, you can divide members into tier-based categories and send different information to those groups. This allows you to send specific messaging to targeted groups. If you can’t, then you may want to investigate a third-party email marketing service provider (a topic for another day).

How does the features of Membership Database Software impact your organization’s ability to communicate with members in various way? Here are several areas that the communication features become so essential in your search for a solid Membership Management software solution.

Association Updates

Members want to be updated on the activities of organizations they support. In order to keep members and donors informed, you need to consistently update them about the accomplishments and goals of your organization. This increases members’ confidence and trust. Further, it allows for  your members to remain engaged and perhaps want to participate with your organization more frequently.

Fundraising Campaigns

Fundraising requires proper communication. As stated above, having the ability to separate members into specific categories gives you the advantage of targeting specific groups. For example, your high-level donors may receive more frequent fundraising communications or they may receive special offers, etc.. Your low-tiered donors may have things to offer other than financial support. Perhaps you want to ask these individuals to volunteer their time rather than money. Whatever the case, targeted communication is a key factor in successful fundraising.

Event Promotions

Events are an essential function of almost all membership based organizations. In most associations, events revenue represents more than half of the revenue for the year. When considering a proper membership database, it’s important to consider the impact on staff time in sending out all your communications for events.

The email communication feature can be used to prospect and educate attendees on the value of the events and training classes being held by your organization. While I realize that most associations may be using a third-party email provider like Constant Contact or MailChimp, having your communication capabilities integrated to the membership software database is absolutely necessary. Uploading lists, Downloading lists, & losing key reporting aspects found in delivery of the email is leaving money on the table. If the membership software does this well, it will save your association time, money, heartache.

The Persona of Your Nonprofit

Your organization’s personality is expressed through communication of all types. This allows members to experience the human side of your Nonprofit. Quality membership management software should assist you in creating and distributing information that portrays your organization’s personal qualities. It provides a platform to connect with members on a human level via your website, email receipts, and even down to membership renewals.

Without standardization of email communication methods with the use of templates or word merge functions found in your membership management solution, it can hurt your brand. And, not knowing what your membership prefer to have sent to them, can impact your persona too. A membership database can and should be able to help you and your staff do a better job with your website, email, and regular mail activities. All communication vehicles which may impact your persona.

Understanding the significance of communication features in your software selection priority list should not be understated. The right membership software for your nonprofit will be found in matching your priorities with the software vendors strengths. And, communication features of the platform could be a factor in defining  success in your membership database. Take time to evaluate your communication needs and ensure the software you choose provides adequate features which helps all facets of your membership organization ability to communicate well.

If you need a little help in getting started in your search or finishing it up, Contact us for more information and assistance. Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

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Getting Costs down with Association Management Software

Association Membership Software l

Having the ability to communicate with members is an important characteristic of high-quality association management software. This is especially true for nonprofit organizations. In this article, I discuss some value associated with many Association Management Software today.

Association Management Software Value: Communications

Do you know the term “Exigent Increase”?  Per USPS, an “exigent increase” is an increase based on “exceptional circumstances.” The last time an “exigent increase” occurred was in 2014. And, according to The NonProfit Times,

“The exigent rate increase proposal filed with the USPS … blamed sluggish mail and plummeting revenue on the recession.”

This rate increase was subsequently approved and the new rates took effect on January 26, 2014. This example underscores that at any time your nonprofit association could have as little as a couple of months to scramble to find the funds to pay for the increases—or to consider some new ways of doing business more effectively. If you still handle most of your association’s communications via direct mail , it’s time to consider going digital with your association management software.

Association Management Software Benefits Mailings 

Many powerful association management software system can enhance most of your direct mail needs, and go a long way in improving your snail mail communication processes. For example, the CRM component found in online membership software can specialize your marketing programs, targeting specific groups of constituents, such as those who attended your recent continuing education conference. With an AMS, you can fundraise with ease, sending tailored messages to individuals, and even send a series of messages that will arrive when you need them to, rather than having Letter #3 arrive before Letter #2 because the postal service lost Letter #2 on the sorting floor somewhere in Texas.

Association Management Software and Government Relations 

In addition,  many AMS ships with Postal Verification Software which allows your organization to easily match addresses within your member database against the National Database of Addresses from Group 1. If matched, the postal verification capabilities will update your donor and member records, with Zip + 4, carrier route, delivery point, and optional county name with Congressional District. You may verify all addresses in your database or verify data as it’s being entered. With this capability, your database would qualify to receive the maximum allowable discounts from the U. S. Postal Service. And, depending on the amount of mailings you perform, this could prove to be a substantial savings.

Association Management Software Helps with Personality Branding

Along with the saving capabilities of Association Management Software, your organization’s personality is expressed through communication too. This allows members to experience the human side of your NPO. Quality software assists you in creating and distributing information that portrays your organization’s personal qualities. It provides a platform to connect with members on a human level.

Understanding the significance of communication features helps you choose the right membership software for your NPO. The best nonprofit membership management software provides user-friendly methods for you to communicate with members. It is helpful to have simple ways to capture, store, and send communications to your entire membership community. These features could determine the success of your membership program. Take time to evaluate your communication needs and ensure the software you choose provides adequate solutions

Many Association Management software programs are so powerful that you will be able to see many cost savings in your communication outreach programs.

To learn more about how the right AMS software can revolutionize your nonprofit, contact us today.

Free CRM Membership Database Software Guide