What’s Plaguing Associations Now? (part 2 of 2)

Part two of two.

I recently conducted an unscientific poll of clients and contacts, asking them one simple question: What database issue are you being challenged with right now?

More than 120 responded. Interestingly, the answers fell almost evenly into five broad categories:

  • Reporting/querying 26%
  • Data integrity 20%
  • Web Integration 20%
  • Integration of multiple data sources 17%
  • Training/documentation 16%.

In Part 1, we discussed reporting, querying and data integrity. In this installment we’ll look at web integration, integrating multiple data sources, and training/documentation.

Web integration

One of the highest priorities of assns that are searching for a new database invariably is integrating their database to their web site. By integration, they typically mean allowing members and customers to come to the assn web site to join or renew membership, register for events and purchase assn products. Respondents to the survey agreed, saying that their biggest challenges included “web-backend integration” and “web site/database integration issues.”

There is no question that integration of your database to the web site is a critical issue. Allowing your members and customers to go online and manage their records, purchase products and services, and communicate with the assn and with other members can provide an incredible productivity boost. For example, with good web integration, an assn was able to improve its membership fulfillment process turnaround time from six weeks to two days!

In addition to productivity increase, today’s members and customers expect to be able to do business with your organization via your web site. Assns that have not integrated are already behind the curve.

Most of the AMS products available today take into account web integration. But some do it better than others. When working with existing vendors or new vendors, assns need to communicate clearly to their vendors what they expect web integration to look like. That starts with understanding what you want your web site to do (web strategy) for your organization.

Integration of multiple data sources

“Lack of integration between multiple databases and the ensuing problems” is how one respondent characterized her issues with her assn’s database. I suspect this problem is actually more prominent than it appears in this survey, but many assns might not be aware of it.

For a variety of reasons, many assns use third-party products (such as online tools for event registration or grass-roots advocacy) that are separate from their primary membership database. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with this practice. Unfortunately, too often assns introduce these third-party products without giving consideration to how, or in what ways, the data from the third-party system should interact with the primary database.

When implementing a third-party data management system, assns need to ask the following questions:

  • What data will the third-party system manage that I want to have back in my primary database?
  • How will I get that data back into the primary database?
  • Is there data from my primary database that needs to feed into the third-party system? If so, what data is it, and how will that data get from the primary database to the third party system?
  • When data changes occur in either system, how will they be communicated to the other system?

Too often assns either don’t consider these questions, or assume that they will work themselves out after the systems are live. In my experience, if these questions aren’t answered before the systems are implemented, they’ll never be addressed, and the assn will always struggle with reconciling multiple systems.


Issues of training and documentation were last on the list. But as noted in Part 1, training has an impact on querying and reporting as well as on data integrity.

The reality is that training is given plenty of lip service by assns, but is always the first to be cut when budgets get tight. The irony is that assns could actually lower their long-term data management costs by investing in regular training and spending some resources on documenting their procedures.

For example, one respondent wrote, “One person was allowed to have extensive training on the database and now they’ve left the organization. And we’re scrambling.” How much do you suppose the assn saved when they decided to only train one person? And now, how much is the assn spending (wasting) trying to figure out how to use the system, making errors, annoying customers, and possibly negatively impacting sales?

Assns continue to struggle with their data management systems. Those that are most successful are addressing these five issues regularly and consistently.

This article originally appeared in the August 8, 2007 issue of Association Trends. Reprinted with permission.


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