Using the association’s Web site to do routine membership processes is something that is only recently becoming more commonplace for associations. How can the Internet help associations? By dynamically linking the association’s database to its Web site, the association allows its members to manage their experience, from joining, to renewing, to education, and beyond. Here are just a few examples:
Joining and Renewing Membership Online
The heart and soul of most associations is their membership. By linking the association’s database with the association’s Web site, members can now join and renew their memberships online, virtually removing the need for staff intervention. According to Annette Hinkle, director of membership and Administration, HI-USA, Silver Spring, Maryland, “Until last year, Hostelling International-USA, with more than 70,000 members, was processing all new membership joins by hand, typically 56,000 new members per year. HIUSA moved to a new web-based AMS that allows our new members to join online and pay with a credit card, rather than sending payment that was then processed by HIUSA staff. The result is that we now gets more than 50 percent of our new member joins via our Web site, requiring almost no staff intervention.”
And whether the membership renewal date is once per year or on an anniversary basis, membership dues renewals need to be sent out in a timely manner. Combining email notifications with online renewal ability allows associations to drastically reduce the costs of renewal mailings as well as the costs of processing renewals (since they’re paid online with a credit card and are entered into the database automatically).
Surveying Your Membership
Associations are also using their Web sites to allow members to provide more information about them, which in turn allows the association to better serve the member. For example, at the National Association of College and University Business Officers, Washington, D.C., members can log in to their records on the NACUBO Web site and update their job responsibilities (data used by NACUBO for targeted marketing). This has saved NACUBO countless hours of data updating for NACUBO staff. Explains Michael Connor, formerly Senior Manager of Member Services, “We used to mail out a paper survey once per year to all of our members, scan the responses, and upload that into our database. By putting our responsibilities survey online, we not only saved over $9000 on postage alone, but we are now able to ask our members to update these responsibilities year-round, rather than just once per year. And the members appreciate being able to update their records on their timetable.”
Likewise, the New Jersey School Boards Association, Trenton, will soon be placing their annual “census” online for their school boards to complete. In years past, this census would require faxing four to six sheets of information to the business administrator (BA) at each of NJSBA’s 601 school boards. The BAs would then update these forms by hand and refax to NJSBA. The result is that not only would staff have to key in the changes and additions made to these forms, but they would often have to call the BAs for clarification on certain records, due to difficulty reading hand-written forms that had been faxed and re-faxed.
With the new online census, BAs will receive an email with a link to a secure form for them to complete. All changes and additions will be typed in and submitted via the NJSBA Web site. This information will then be entered automatically into NJSBA’s database, once staff has reviewed it for accuracy. What was a three- to four-month process requiring countless hours of staff time will now be reduced dramatically.
Fundraising, Selling, and Educating
There are a variety of other processes and services that associations can provide to their members simply by linking their database to their Web site. For example, donations to an association’s foundation or fundraising program can be managed online. Solicitations can be sent by email, and donations can be taken by credit card via the Web site.
Of course, the Web site can be used to sell products, reducing the cost for processing orders. It can also be used for distance education, reducing the cost of presenting the information as well as reducing the cost for members to attend. Some AMS packages even allow users to login and submit a comment, complaint, or concern that is recorded directly against their database record.
New Ways to do Old Things, Using Technology
The reality is that most consumers now expect to be able to manage their experience with a given organization via that organization’s Web site. Consumers have become accustomed to the Amazon way, which allows me to go online and do whatever I need to do; order a product, track its shipping, review past purchases, submit a question or complaint, or just see what’s new.
Your association’s members are consumers. Their expectation is that they can manage their experience with your association via your Web site. Can they?
This article originally appeared in the March 2005 issue of Membership Developments, a newsletter of ASAE.
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