Name the biggest frustration you have as an association professional. Let’s all say it together on 3. 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . technology.
Without a doubt, a lot of disgruntled and grrr-worthy moments center on the computer room, our poor war-torn IT staff members, and the lack of solid information coming from our systems. People gather by the water cooler and grouse about the association management system (AMS) and how it doesn’t give them the information they need. Staff members are confused about the way to maintain records. Our white boards are filled with lines and boxes of how to manually track our new membership campaigns and fundraising initiatives because no one knows how to make it work in the AMS – or we think our AMS can’t do it the way we want to.
The vexation around the office reaches a frenzied pitch and finally percolates to the top. A decision is made – “Let’s get a new AMS to solve our problems!”
No doubt there are times when it’s appropriate to get a new AMS. Your organization may have outgrown the inherent capabilities of the system you’re on or you need additional offerings that can’t be built or plug in to the system. But before kicking your AMS to the curb, make sure you’ve done these things to maximize the investment you’ve made in your current system.
1. Train your staff.
Even for staff who have been working with the system for years, it’s imperative that they receive training once or twice a year. Evaluate the process they use to input data. Test them on their knowledge of the records and files in the system. Make sure they fully understand the structure and methods you’ve outlined for inputting information into the system.
If you’re using a larger and evolved AMS, it’s likely that they have updated their capabilities and offerings within the last two years. Training is important so that you know how to use these new features, or so that you are aware they exist.
For example, don’t mope about a system not being able to handle your ecommerce without investigating the updates your AMS has made in this area. Change is happening all the time.
2. Unwind your processes.
Make sure you are clear on your own internal processes and procedures. As a nonprofit consultant I often see organizations who have maintained status quo or who developed very intricately designed processes for no reason. Often it’s because it was historically the way things had to work. Make sure that each step of, let’s say processing a membership application, is absolutely necessary. Don’t perpetuate an unnecessary practice.
Look at the simple processes, as well. What are your naming conventions for files and documents? How does a check request flow through the office? What happens when a member calls with a question on your learning portal? Examining the flow of a member’s request through your system will help you understand how to better help them. Examining your documents and documentation will help you cut the useless from the useful.
What you must not do is blame the faultless AMS.
3. Revamp your measurement tools.
It’s time to measure engagement. Your most involved members are likely your most valuable members. Measure what makes an engaged member and you can create more of them. Any interaction a member has with your organization should be tracked. Attendance at events, phone calls into the office, download of a document – all of these are important touchpoints for your members and important pieces of intelligence for you. Many AMS systems will let you track that information, thus making the AMS a valuable tool for your retention efforts.
If you are having trouble getting information from your AMS, look toward getting trained in pulling reports and creating dashboards. If information is in your AMS, you can most assuredly get it out of there and measure what you need to.
4. Use the system for operational growth.
Your strategic plan is your benchmark for success. Set up your AMS to measure against your goals to align your operations with your strategy. As mentioned above, getting the proper dashboards in place will help you track success. If it appears your AMS can’t benchmark alongside your strategic plan, this is a real reason for change.
5. Add in the intangibles.
Every computer demonstration looks slick and easy. All the connections are seamless, all of the scenarios are optimized to make for the best impression. But changing an AMS requires a whole lot of energy. So before you make that change, consider the pain, suffering, and cost created by:
- the cost of retraining your entire staff
- the time to rebuild all of your reports
- the planning needed to ensure all features and special programs are included in the new AMS
- the big budget you will need to support the change
Changing your AMS is a legitimate decision if it cannot keep pace with the kinds of things you need to do as an organization. But before you change for the sake of change, investigate how your current AMS can meet those needs and how your current operation needs to change. It could save you tens of thousands of dollars.