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Databases Aren’t Just for the Membership Department

Written by Ray van Hilst on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices, Avectra netFORUM Software


A few months ago I sat down with a number of Avectra customers using the company’s netFORUM Enterprise membership management system.  Several were clearly “power users” and others were in the “I know we could do better but I’m not quite sure how to get there” categories.

So what was the key difference between the two?  System adoption by the rest of the organization.

Let’s start with the “we can do better” org.  This group has about 15,000 members and 40 staff members working in 15 departments ranging from member services to publications to government affairs.  The database manager works in the membership department and is clearly a power user who can get the association management software to do amazing things.  However where she starts banging her head against the wall is when she sees e-Mails about a product go out to an old list (she hears about it because unhappy members contact her) or the event team sends her an excel file after an event to add to the membership database.

The issue? Other departments haven’t bought into the association management software and aren’t using it.  They have their own databases.  When a member changes an address they call member services who updates it in the AMS but because the other groups won’t use the system, they don’t have access to the current information.

Now let’s look at the “power user” org.  This association serves 126,000 members with just over 50 staff members.  The first thing that jumps out is that while they have only about 10 more staff they are serving almost 10 times as many members.  In this association, every action is tied to the AMS.  Any member call gets logged in the system and all records are updated.   When someone wants to do a mailing, they have the most up to date list.  When a scholarship fund raising campaign is needed, they not only immediately know who the right people are in a region but they know who has already donated so they don’t need to fatigue their members?

What are some of the differences and how did these organizations get where they are?

  • Change Management – in the Power User org, AMS adoption was mandated from the top down.  With executive buy-in and backing, membership and IT departments not only had funding, but had authority to assimilate each of the organization’s individual databases.
  • Usability Issues – in the “almost there org”, other departments complain that they don’t like the system and that it’s too hard to use.   They keep saying, “I can do all I need to in Excel and it’s faster” while thinking about their individual needs rather than the needs of the member and the entire organization.

The good news is that it’s not that hard to change and get your organization on the same page (ok, it’s hard as in “some work” but it’s not hard like physics or calculus):

  • Usability Concerns or Complaints – Are staff saying “I can’t use the system” just because they are complaining or do they have legitimate issues?  Survey them and find out.  Maybe what you need is more training, to add functionality, or review your business processes?  But you don’t know if you don’t ask.
  • Promote Wins – People like to be associated with winning projects.  When you’ve implemented a new process or done something great with the system, make sure the entire staff knows about it.  “Did you know we processed twice as many memberships in half the time last month?”  I’ll be that those other departments come ask you how you did it – and now you can convert them.
  • Be the Hero – Look for opportunities to save the day with your super-human AMS skills.  Once you show other departments there’s a better way, they’ll say “how can I do that?”  They’ll be thankful when you tell them they can do it themselves and they can make their department look even better.
  • Create Evangelists – Every organization has someone who others look up to and has quite a bit of influence.  Find that person and show them all the cool things your AMS does.  Get them to talk about it in meetings or when someone asks for help make sure they now how the AMS can help.  You need a strong personality to push adoption and this is just the person to do it.

In addition to revisiting your change management program when you implemented your AMS these ongoing activities will slowly convert naysayers in to power-users.  And along the way your association and your members will reap the benefits with more efficiencies and better member data.



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