When I meet with association management software (AMS) vendors to discuss their products and companies, I’ll typically ask them “What advice would you give your current customers in order to get more value from your product?” Invariably, the response is “Our customers don’t know what they don’t know. They’re not using nearly as much of the software as they could.”
Over the past 13 years working with more than a hundred clients, here are the areas I find associations are least likely to be using their membership management software effectively:
- Volunteer management, especially committee management–Every off-the-shelf AMS product has some form of committee management functionality. This functionality lets you track committee terms, positions, and most importantly, service history. Every association should be doing this. But beyond committee service, most associations are not effectively tracking other volunteer activities, such as speaking, writing, focus group participation, and so on. Sure, you know who these individuals are at the departmental level (e.g., your events department knows who the speakers are for an upcoming meeting), but at an organizational level, can you easily identify all of your volunteers, regardless of the type of volunteer work they are doing? A great example of doing this right is at the New Jersey Society of CPAs. NJSCPA has developed within their database an entire module dedicated to tracking volunteer management, from individuals interested in volunteering, to their actual assignments, to their history of volunteer engagement over time.
- Tracking non-transactional interactions–Most AMS products are primarily designed for tracking financial transactions (e.g., membership dues payments, event registrations, product sales, etc.). Obviously that’s important, but most AMS products are also able to track non-financial interactions that occur between members/customers and staff. I’m referring here to any substantive conversations that may occur face-to-face, on the phone, or by email. For example, when a member calls to make a suggestion about a future product, service, or speaker topic, do you have a process (and a place in your database) to capture that interaction, so that you can refer back to it weeks or months later? Tracking these kinds of interactions can provide you with empirical evidence of trends within the membership, and give you insight into the development of new products and services. BoardSource is one organization that does this extremely well. BoardSource has developed an internal process for tracking queries from members about a list of issues (e.g., fundraising, ethics). Over time, tracking these inquiries provides BoardSource with empirical evidence about the needs of their membership.
- Tracking non-fee event/meeting attendance–All associations do a fine job of tracking meeting registration when a fee is involved, and typically use the AMS for these events. But very often I see my clients tracking non-fee events on spreadsheets, Word documents, or other databases outside the primary AMS. What this means, then, is the history of these meetings is not kept along with all of the paid events. As a result, a significant portion of engagement by members and customers is lost. Most off-the-shelf AMS products now provide “no fee” event registration within the database, to make this process relatively easy.
- Tracking award winners–Almost every one of my clients has an awards program. Most of my clients have multiple awards programs. And far too many of them track award nominees and winners outside of their primary AMS. Individuals and organizations that have been nominated and/or received an award from your organization are obviously highly engaged. That information should be tracked in your primary AMS.
What do all four of these points have in common? They are all indications of engagement by your members and customers, but these are interactions without a financial aspect. In order to get the most holistic view of your members’ and customers’ engagement, you need to know how they’re engaging in both a financial and non-financial activities. This type of engagement (especially volunteerism) is the one thing that distinguishes your organization from all of your for-profit competitors. Understanding it is possible, and tracking it when done well, will provide dramatic advances in your organization’s mission.
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