Many associations struggle with their management information systems and their membership databases. One of their primary struggles is the lack of centralized information. Too often, assns and non-profits keep separate databases for membership, events, sales, and other processes. When at all feasible, these databases should be combined into a single, centralized database. A centralized system means that for member Joe Smith, there is only one place a user has to go to find his name, primary address, and activities within the association. There are several benefits to moving your data to a centralized system.
One of the cardinal rules of database design is that no redundancy is allowed. That is, no piece of data should ever be repeated within the database. When an organization is operating multiple databases for the same group of people (for example, a membership database with a separate meeting registration database), they are by definition breaking this rule.And this leads to major data integrity issues. A centralized database means that each member has one primary record, with primary contact information. Thus when there is a change required (like a new phone number or email address), there is only one place to look to make these changes.
With all the information centralized, it is much easier to develop reports that show the broad range of activities that your members are engaged in. With multiple databases, records need to be matched, de-duping needs to occur, and the opportunity for duplicate records is greatly increased.
Another benefit of a centralized system is that the learning curve for users is greatly reduced. If all processes (membership, meetings, products, etc.) are in the same database, then users need only learn one system, not multiple systems.
With a centralized system, support is focused on one product. With many databases, even if they are built on the same platform, separate support is required for each.
What should you do? If you’ve got multiple databases operating in your assn, do whatever is possible to integrate the multiple databases into a single system. There are a wide variety of association management software (AMS) systems available that will manage membership, events, product sales, and much more, all in the same database.
If you already have a centralized system in place, be vigilant about not allowing other “shadow” databases to be created by users. These “shadow” databases could be kept in a spreadsheet, an email system, or another database program. Insist to all of users that they use only the centralized system, so that key data is not missed or lost.
This article originally appeared in Association Trends. Reprinted with permission.