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.


Do You Wish You Had Jessie’s Membership Software?

Membership Management Software like any software isn't perfect. Finding a new tool isn't like getting a new girlfriend.

Come on! If you were around in the 80’s, you know you sang along to Rick Springfield’s “Jessie Girl”, right? Heck, you may even have watched old Rick on General Hospital.

No, this article is not about Rick Springfield, rather a quick look at some stats and key findings about Association Management Software which I found interesting and wanted to share with you. The findings made me think about the problem with expectations and comparison.

Further, it made me ultimately think about the problem with wanting something perceived to be better before you truly know it is or not. For those who weren’t around (or would rather forget they were involved in the “80’s”), I have provided a “refresher” at the end just for you, enjoy!

Listen to Rick With Your Membership Software?

Much unhappiness is caused by comparison

Well, now that we have digressed a bit down memory lane and/or sparked a resurgence in “Who the heck is Rick Springfield?” the hunk of this article rests in the idea that a tremendous amount of unhappiness may be caused by comparison.

So why do we compare? In many cases, comparison or the desire to have something else is often linked to some form of insecurity or fear. It’s the idea that someone or something is better than what you have. After all, the only way to compare is to lift something up and diminish something else. If something is better than what you have, then there is certainly something that’s worse .

In the case of software, does that mean that all are equal? No. So, how do we avoid comparison in software?

First, we need to realize that it’s just code written by people. And, the truth is every software program has a unique value proposition, strengths, cons, looks different, and have different people supporting it. Fundamentally, they were written from a unique foundation and sought to provide a new way to solve a problem better than the alternative.

Before you covet, let’s look at the facts folks

Guess what? 60% of associations do recommend their current Membership Management software. Surprising? Yes, despite the recent articles, the majority of Association Executives from this survey would recommend their current Association Management Software. If you haven’t seen this graphic before, below you will find a recent study for by Bear Analytics which may help you picture the numbers. has provided data on Membership Database Software in your search for AMS Software.

Is CRM Satisfaction better or worse than AMS satisfaction? 

Quite frankly, the 60% number was more than I would ever have expected. In fact, the numbers were so high that I took some time to look at some other research data provided on CRM, Customer Relationship Management Software.  I have a lot of roots in CRM software and felt like this may provide some good insights here. And, according to a Software Advice survey done on a comparable size group (about 300), only 39% of CRM users stated they were happy with their existing CRM tool. Wow! Association Executives like their software 21% better than CRM users like their software.

In a recent survey performed, CRM Satisfaction is less than Association Management Software by 20%

The Solution May be What You Have

In light of the good report, Association Executives should take some comfort in these numbers. In that spirit, I encourage the 60% of respondents who would recommend their solution to take a few moments to enjoy it! Send an email into your vendors customer support just to say “Thanks” rather than “Calling” just when things go wrong.  For the 40% who don’t, there are options out there which may be better suited for you as well. And, know that we just need to help you find the right “Fit”. There are good options to be explored!

People, Processes, and Technology 

However, we must realize that there is no technology out there which can overcome bad training, bad processes, or bad data. As stated before, often times when systems suck, it’s not about the database software in place. Rather, failure stems from the impact of poor processes and poorly trained resources. Success may simply be achieved by training your team to know how to use what they have better.

Listen to Rick!

Don’t wish you had “Jessie’s AMS”. Let’s switch the radio frequency in our minds. In fact, I suggest a new song from the classic Mr. Stephen Stills called “Love the One your With“.

Do you Love the Membership software you are with!

Go ahead! Take a moment and relive those 80’s glory days! 

Top 10 Reasons Your Database Software May Suck?


Database Software for Nonprofits

According to our records, there are well over 150 commercially developed database software vendors who purport to offer a system for member and donor based organizations today. Whether you call it Donor Management Software, Association Membership Software, Software for Nonprofits, Membership Management Software, Fundraising Software, Philanthropic Software, Software for Member Management, or even Engagement Management Software etc. the options are plentiful. In this article, we wanted to explore some reasons why nonprofit association management software may fall short of meeting expectations.

When Database Software May Suck!

For those starting a nonprofit, the good thing  is there are many database options. The bad thing for those who have been searching is that there are many options too! As one Nonprofit Executive recently told with disbelief and a sense of bewilderment:

” Why are there so many systems, does all the software designed for nonprofits suck? Or, are they all just terrible?”

My answer was an emphatic “No!”. There are actually a considerable amount of good commercially off the shelf software options for all sizes of nonprofits today. The challenge is that unless the people, processes, and technology are fit right even the best database can stink. And, a lot of success is dependent on the people, processes, experience involved in determining satisfaction with a particular solution.  So, we agree that there are a lot of options designed for different nonprofit sectors, right?


No doubt, as a Nonprofit Executive today, you and your staff have many nonprofit software options. I know all too well. I have spent a large part of my software career personally reviewing hundreds of these systems and know their solution and teams members well. Suffice it to say, each and every one of these applications above come to the proverbial table with their own unique way of providing an online database which was designed to solve the needs of nonprofit organizations. It simply takes some time to figure out your “unique” needs and then determine which is best suited.

When May a Database Suck….The Top 10 List  

If you get focused on searching for the best software today, you will certainly “google” your way to a perpetual beating. Or, you may have found a plethora of feedback (good and bad) on various software review sites which has you either shaking your head to agree or disagree with the submitters. The reality is that anyone of these membership database software or donor software programs can potentially be perceived as sucking, stinking, and being terrible by users:

  1. Poor Fit: When they are not properly fitted to your specific requirements, staff, and resources.
  2. Improper Goals: When the expectations are out of line with what the program was designed to solve.
  3. Bad Implementation: When they are not implemented the right way.
  4. Expectations: When the companies have unrealistic expectations & forget they are nothing but databases.
  5. Awful Processes: When Nonprofit Executives, staff, and service consultants don’t reinforce the right processes.
  6. Project Management: When companies don’t assign strong administrators or project management.
  7. Out of Date: When Nonprofit Executives do not pay to stay up to date on the software (in the case of on premise options).
  8. Staff Turnover: When there is staff turnover and there is no commitment to training of new hires.
  9. No Standardization: When Nonprofit Executives don’t enforce rules for standardizing data input ongoing into the system.
  10. No Integration: When the system isn’t used by everyone due to lack of integration, you will have shadow IT solutions and poor results.

The Complex Psychology of a Software Review 

According to one report from Lehman Reports on membership software, clients remain only moderately satisfied with their current membership database software. This would support the perception felt by some that all nonprofit sucks. Right? But, I believe it’s important to take reviews and studies with a grain of salt. Word of mouth is subjective and sometimes knowing the context of a review (attitudes, experience, expectations, what was sold etc.) tends to make every opinion a little clearer. And, that’s challenging to do in any survey, review site, or conversation with a peer. So next time you are on getting a software recommendation from a friend, remember that too!

Most Membership Software, Donor Databases, & CRM Software Are Good

In the last 20 years in the software business, I have reviewed & interviewed many types of databases. As a result of my time in the software industry and nonprofit world, I am certainly more forgiving of bad perceptions and hearing of various software failures than many others. And, despite hearing many bad things over the years, I am still a firm believer in the value of databases (CRM, Donor, Membership etc.) which can and do help improve the lives of so many types of businesses.

As a result of this time in the market, I am more convinced that software success is usually found when paired with the best service and support from a reputable software vendor who is committed to the success of the client, focused on the industry, communicate effectively with their clients & consistently delivers results.

The secret sauce of software success is that Support Matters!

Folks, I am certainly not wearing rose colored glasses. Yes, any database or online membership website can be (become) terrible (even suck) if neglected or run in an ill-advised manner. Like any instrument used in the wrong way (knife, gun, or golf club) or provided to the wrong audience (child or responsible adult) they can and do go wrong.

If done well, software projects usually do not fail based on selection. If the database is fitted appropriately and placed in capable hands from a trusted vendor, database software can be a powerful tool for executing your mission and increasing your value to your donors and members.

Do you believe that your software sucks? Let’s talk, OK?

We can help determine if you may have some “fixable” problems or may need to sort through the options and be your guide in the selection process. Schedule your free consultation today.

Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind!


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