My Theory on Why Associations Won't Invest in Technology

In a blog post last week I discussed a handful of AMS packages available at very low cost to associations. In the post I stated the following:

But I would strongly argue that if your organization cannot afford several hundred dollars per month (for SaaS fees) for access to a database specifically designed to manage membership and related processes, then you have bigger issues than database management.

What I meant is that if your association isn’t willing to invest  money in technology that will clearly help you better serve your constituents (not to mention your staff) then your association has a very short-term outlook. And that’s a problem for the long-term health of your organization.

So why do so many associations have such a short-term view? WARNING: Generalization alert! Associations tend to think short-term (especially as compared to their for-profit brethren) because most executive directors are working on a three-year contract. As a result, many EDs think about the next three years (or less), not the next ten years. Thus, when the issue is spending “large” sums of money over multiple years (as compared to a large sum of money on a discrete item like an annual meeting), the ED is thinking (maybe even subconsciously) “Well, surely we can push through the next couple of years with what we have now.”

Now consider an equivalent for-profit organization (i.e., a small, privately held businesses). The CEO is likely a major stockholder if not the sole owner. Her view is “How can I make this company more profitable?” And when presented with a technology decision that has high short-term costs but potentially high long-term benefits, she’ll likely say “Hmmm, this is a lot of money, but in five years, imagine where the company will be. Let’s do it!”

Back at the association, the “wise ED” knows she needs to look beyond the expiration of her contract and consider what kind of impact a new database can have on her current and future membership, as well as the impact that better managed data can have on meeting her organization’s mission.

For too many associations, investing in technology becomes a “kick the can down the road” strategy. You see it all the time with our government agencies. And I think it occurs very often (more often than we’re willing to admit?) within associations.

So what do you think? Is this a factor in association decision-making? Is it the primary factor?

About Wes Trochlil

For over 30 years, Wes has worked in and with dozens of associations and membership organizations throughout the US, ranging in size from zero staff (all-volunteer) to over 700. In that time Wes has provided a range of consulting services, from general consulting on data management issues to full-scale, association-wide selection and implementation of association management systems.

Scroll to Top