Having the right technology in place can be a critical factor in managing and growing your membership base. But how do you make sure your choice of IT systems is a good fit for your association and will have the longevity that you need?
The selection of IT can be a significant investment and needs careful consideration. However, trying to evaluate systems yourself, by say looking at technology reviews, or relying on peer recommendations, may not be the best course of action because every association needs slightly different things. What are some of the main points to consider?
At the heart of any well-functioning association is a good CRM and central database. Typically, around this system are capabilities to manage finance, events, and the running of courses or training. A contemporary and attractive website is also a must, one that provides for member self-service and is set up for marketing automation.
Marketing automation is a huge topic, but essentially, for your association, it’s about knowing your members well enough that you can send them personalised, targeted information to encourage them to engage with you on an ongoing basis. This could mean keeping their membership current, attending events or training sessions, downloading resources or participating in any number of types of association activities.
Dion Pretorius, Communications and Engagement Manager at Science & Technology Australia, a peak body representing more than 50 member organisations, says having a proper database is vital:
“There’s a large degree of variability between our members in terms of their use of technology, but we’ve found those who embrace relevant technology and engage in regular assessments tend to thrive. It’s difficult to maintain a meaningful connection with your members without some form of database software, which is why our own team is currently going through a modernisation process. We’ve moved from Excel spreadsheets to having a proper CRM member management system, and we’ve redeveloped our website, renewed our email newsletter, and reinvigorated our social media accounts to better engage our members.”
A word on customisation and integration
The technology you choose needs to be flexible enough to fit the particular needs of your association. However customising some CRM platforms, for instance, can make them difficult to upgrade and expensive to maintain. Fortunately there are customisable CRM solutions available that will allow you to update to a newer version as your organisation grows. This also means you can implement more functionality at a later stage rather than trying to do everything at once in the initial project.
Another common pitfall that we’ve seen with associations is where they have many niche solutions cobbled together. This can result in an integration nightmare.
Lee Tonitto, CEO of the Australian Marketing Institute, says that having integrated technology that maps with their processes for engaging members is paramount:
“We’re always striving to improve our members’ experience so we need to have efficient processes in place. This means our CRM, marketing automation, accounts ledger etc all must work together. The more integrated and streamlined they are the better for costs, and also for the customer experience, which ultimately leads to better membership acquisition and retention.”
Choosing the right system and vendor
Knowing which is the best IT system for your needs, now and for the future, is a challenge for all associations. Here’s a quick checklist to help:
- Identify your association needs: take an honest look at what’s currently working in your membership management systems as well as your pain points. For example, is it mainly time-saving that you are looking to achieve or is it more about communicating better with your members?
- Enlist your team and your members for input: it’s worthwhile consulting with your staff and volunteers to find out what would make their jobs easier and streamline processes. You could also ask your members, either in an online survey or anecdotally for their ideas on how your association could serve their needs better.
- Evaluate IT platforms on functionality and usability: the right technology should cover all your requirements, i.e. be able to perform the functions that you require. Ease of use can also be critical because this will affect the adoption rate, e.g. different people on your team probably have varying levels of skills around technology.
- Support and scalability: you need a vendor who will be able to provide local support and who also has a strong technology partner network. This is vital in ensuring that your membership management system can grow with you and adapt to your changing needs.
Brennan can help you ask the right questions in choosing the best technology solutions for your association – to ease your administrative burden, better engage with your members and build your membership base. Talk to us about our CAMS platform today, which is a Cloud-based Association Management Solution, powered by Microsoft Dynamics 365.