Kiki L’Italien of Delcor hosted her weekly twitter chat for associations yesterday and it spawned a lively exchange between vendors and association/nonprofit professionals. If you’ve never joined in — you need to add it to your calendar. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Key this in: Every Tuesday, 2:00 ET #assnchat.
Yesterday’s edition focused on association management software (AMS)/CRM/CMS and a whole bunch of other letters in the alphabet. You can read the entire transcript here.
Being a part of this twitter chat, I realized there are a lot of associations out there looking for guidance in this process. First, know an AMS is not a luxury for the large, well-funded association. There are plenty of cost-effective options out there. Research and communication are key to finding the platform that best fits your organizational needs. YourMembership.com suggests that you also:
- Assess Needs vs. Wants. The two concepts are not the same. Ask yourself what are the mission-critical needs of your organization. Then add those things that would make your life easier. Next add the luxuries you’d love to have if cost was not a factor.
- Account for Your Members. You’ve analyzed your organizational needs versus your wants. Do the same for your members. Not sure what they want? Ask them. You can do so in a casual conversational style or through a more formal survey. But make sure you make time for member buy in. If you’re considering adding a new system, why not find out what it would cost to add features that would content or impress them.
- Compare Apples and Apples. Now you have a chart of what your members and organization wants and needs. Begin researching vendors. Ask the same questions of all of them. Ask pricing questions. Be sure to find out what’s included in the price and what’s additional. If one vendor mentions their price includes X, ask your other potentials if that is included in theirs. Be specific. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you find someone who is hesitant or gruff in answering, rethink your possible partnership with them.
- Reevaluate Your Existing Offerings. You’re adding an AMS but some products include additional offerings that can help you and/or replace existing systems yielding greater cost-savings in the long run. Think larger than your list of wants and needs. Ask whether this new system will sunset any of your others. If so, how much money can it save you? Think convergence. As a side note, don’t forget to examine your website. Some AMS platforms also provide a complete member website. Could your existing site be upgraded to one more user-friendly and dynamic at no additional cost?
- Realize You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know. If this is your first time shopping for an AMS, open the dialogue. Ask your potential vendor to identify pain points in other organizations that their software has helped with. (For instance, you may find out that a similar organization saved time and money using their bulk email system and you hadn’t even realized it was included in the suite you were looking into.) You don’t want to add this new system and find out weeks or months down the road that you could’ve also added more features if only you had known their benefit at the time.
- Invest in/Account for Your Future. You are a small organization with limited funds and a small member base. Is that how you see yourself in the future? Do you have any plans to grow? What features will you need in the future? Research systems that allow for growth. Don’t invest your time and money in a stagnant piece of software. Find out if your options allow you to select the features that work for you and if they do, can you change your mind? For example, if you choose not to use the events manager component currently can you turn it on later? Will you have to purchase it in the future for a higher price? Can it be incorporated easily into your system at that date or is it a question of if you skip it now, you can’t add it easily later. Don’t be afraid to ask your vendor about their development schedule. You are thinking about your future. Make sure they’re thinking about theirs. How often do they roll out new features and enhancements? Do you have to pay for them when they do? Are all of their customers using the same version of the software? Are there mandatory (costly) upgrades that must occur?
Investigating something as robust as association management software can be unnerving at first. But there are plenty of resources out there to help you with your search. ASAE has lots of information and vendors selling these platforms should be more than happy to take the time and explain the options. Talk to other associations who have recently added systems. Take demos, attend webinars, talk to everyone about the process. Associations are not the only organizations implementing membership management software and speaking with people outside of the association world sometimes can give you insight into “knowing what you don’t know.”
This is a rudimentary list of beginning the process. Do you have any other things/cautions to add?
Feel free to submit general questions on finding the right fit for you or fill out a contact form for a more in-depth discussion of product.