I encounter people (often executive staff!) who perceive association management software (AMS) to be similar to other software products like MS Word. That is, they think of AMS software as the kind of software you buy, install, and use as you need it. Let’s face it, once you learn the key things you need to learn about Word (e.g., how to change fonts, how to set margins, and so on), you can use the product effectively forever.
But there’s a significant difference between database software and other types of software; in order to get the most value from your AMS, you have to actively manage the database.
Active management means you know the system’s functionality, you know your data, and you know your business rules for managing your data.
- Know the functionality available to you and use the functionality that will make you more effective – Most off-the-shelf AMS software comes with a range of functional areas. Common functionality includes managing membership, committees, events, product sales, and donations. You may also have functionality that covers exhibit management, awards, sponsorships, grants, and more. To actively manage your AMS, you need to know what functionality you require to manage your data, and what functionality your AMS actually offers.And related to that, if you have an off-the-shelf AMS, you need to stay on top of the improvements that are being offered with updates and upgrades. Every vendor provides periodic updates and upgrades to their products which typically include new functionality. Knowing this new functionality may give your organization an opportunity to change how you do things and become more effective.
- Know your data and keep it clean – The true value of your AMS lies in your data. Active data management requires that you know where/how data enters your organization, who is responsible for it, and how it is managed within the AMS. Beyond that, once you have that data in your system, you have to work to keep that data clean. Here are a couple of suggestions for doing that:
- Develop a schedule for cleaning data – Too often associations clean up their data on an ad hoc basis; that is, they clean data “when they can get to it.” It’s better to set a schedule on the calendar that clearly states when data will be cleaned, which data will be cleaned, and who will be responsible for doing the cleaning.As part of that process, be sure to include proactive emails to members and customers to update their contact information online.
- Know your business rules and document them – As part of your active management process, document what your business rules are as they pertain to data management. Business rules should cover all aspects of the data being managed (e.g., who is eligible for membership, what membership dues are, event pricing, eligibility for committee service, and so on). And the documentation should cover how that data is entered into the AMS. Documenting your business rules and processes has two significant side benefits: It gives you documentation that you can use for training, and it provides an implicit opportunity for reviewing business process.
Unlike most office or personal productivity software, AMS software requires active management if you hope to get the greatest benefit from the software. Know what it can do, systematically clean the data, and document, document, document.
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