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In my experience, when associations make a database system change, staff will sometimes talk about how the old system used to work. They’ll say things like “In the old system, we could add a new individual record in two minutes; now it takes five.” Or “In the old system it was really easy to pull a list of committee members, just by selecting a checkbox; now it takes ten steps.” Or other words to that effect.

Whether these statements are true or false, it’s critically important to address these comments as soon as they are raised. I suggest one or more of the following responses:

  1. Can we look at the process together to see if there are ways of making it simpler?
  2. Did you know that by doing it that way in the old system, we were creating a lot of other problems?
  3. Are you aware of all the other benefits this new system is bringing us?

and my favorite: “Weren’t you the one who was always complaining about our old system?” (This may or may not apply, so use judiciously!)

Like remembering only the good qualities of an old girlfriend, nostalgia for the old system can alter the perception of a new system. That’s why, among other things, I recommend you have a good database PR campaign in place to continually emphasize the positives of the new system. Don’t get stuck dreaming about the good old days that probably weren’t that good…

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I’ve written elsewhere that 80% is Good Enough when it comes to selecting a new AMS. That is,  if you can get 80% of your functional needs met while still staying within your budget, you’re in very good shape.

The same rule applies when matching data on exports during a data conversion. If you can match 80% of the records in multiple lists, you’re doing very good and should be happy with that. The last 20% can either be managed manually, or ignored completely.

Some caveats:

  • If we’re talking about members, you should be matching as close to 100% as possible. In other words, you shouldn’t be losing members during a data conversion.
  • If it’s data that is absolutely critical to your organization’s operations (e.g., certification or accreditation data) then gain, we need to be matching close to 100%.

So don’t beat your brains out if you can’t get 100% match on data exports. 80% is likely to be good enough, and getting those last 20% may prove to be far more expensive than it’s worth.

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Recently I was discussing with a client their rules for how they manage event registration. As my client described the different rules for how customers can register for their events, I complimented her on how clear the rules were. She responded: “We like to make the boundaries very clear. Just like children need boundaries, our members and customers need boundaries, too.”

And while this may sound a bit paternalistic, I think it actually makes a lot of sense. Really clear business rules help our members and customers make better decisions for engaging with us. Clear business rules also make the process easier for both customer and staff.

For example, some of my clients use online “wizards” (a series of questions) to help guide the member or customer to the correct membership type.  Rather than presenting ALL the membership types, with a few questions, the customer is pointed to the correct member type (e.g., based on level of profession, type of degree, etc.). These “boundaries” guide the customer to the right membership type, thus making it easier for them to join, and easier for staff to process (since there will be fewer errors).

So think about the “boundaries” you’re creating for your members and customers. Are they helping guide them to make the right decisions?

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Just like beauty, the idea of software being “user-friendly” is in the eye of the beholder.

Very often when I talk with clients about what they need from a new AMS, they’ll say something to the effect of “It has to be user-friendly.”

I agree.

But what does user-friendly look like? Well, that depends on who you ask.

And therein lies the problem.

Asking for “user-friendly” is like asking for pretty. Only the person looking at it can say if it is or is not.

So you have to define what user-friendly means. Does it mean staff can find any piece of data in two clicks? Does it mean that online users don’t have to log on to make a donation? Does it mean that staff can learn the system without training? Or something else entirely?

Like beauty, “user-friendly” is really in the eye of the beholder. So take some time define what it means.

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Long ago, I was a membership director in a couple of different trade associations. And as any membership professional knows, the most difficult members to retain are first-year members, those who have joined in just the past year.

The reasons should be obvious. Unless you have several programs designed especially for first-year members, most first-year members don’t have a lot of ways to immerse themselves in your association.

And to top it off, we tend to communicate with first-year members in the same manner we communicate to long-term members. And that’s a mistake.

The good news is, you can use your data to communicate with first-year members differently. Here are just a few ideas:

  1. When you’re doing an “all-members” communique of any kind, segment out the first-year members and alter the message to fit them. Even something as simple as “Since you’re a first-year member we wanted to point out some important news in this message especially for you.”
  2. Create a separate set of messages that are designed only for new members. Each message can begin with a note that says these messages are specific to them.
  3. If you’ve collected any data about the members (e.g., demographic information) use that data to tailor your message. “As a first year member interested in X, you should be aware of these programs that address X.”
  4. Create an internal report that identifies all first-year members within 90 days of expiration and shows all of their engagement the past year, and make sure you’re communicating with any members showing low engagement.

With today’s technology, identifying who first-year members and communicating with them is easier than ever. You just need to take a little time to tailor your messaging.


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When my clients implement a new AMS, the implementation plan always includes training for staff, so that they know how to use the new system.

But I always advise my clients to budget for additional training after go-live. Why? Because the reality is, no matter how good the initial training is (and often it is not good at all, but that’s a different post), staff will never be able to learn everything they need to know about the new system. That is because, in large part, they don’t know what they don’t know. Once the users start really using the system, in day-to-day activities, they’ll have all kinds of new questions and training needs that were never considered prior to go-live.

So when you’re budgeting for your new AMS, be sure to budget additional funds for after go-live training. You’ll be glad you did.

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Who ARE you?

One of my greater pet peeves is company websites that don’t list any contact information. I see this a lot with software companies (and maybe it’s just because that’s where I’m often looking).

When I click the “contact us” link on your website, part of what I want to know is WHO is behind the company (at least show me the leadership, if not a staff listing) and WHERE that company is located. Am I dealing with a company on the East Coast of the US, the West Coast, South America, Eastern Europe, Asia? C’mon guys, give me a hint!

I understand more companies are virtual these days. But is your STAFF virtual, too? Tell me who I’m working with. What are you hiding?

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So very often in my meetings with clients, there will be discussions around the different data points the organization is collecting. For example, someone will ask “What about areas of interest? Shouldn’t we be collecting those?”

My response to questions like this is always the same: “Yes, you should collect it, IF you are going to use it, and IF you are going to actively manage it.”

In other words, only collect data that you will use and that you will continue to update over time.

So in the case of areas of interest, you could use that data to target your marketing or possibly to identify potential speakers and writers. But interests change over time. So if you collect that data, you also have to commit to updating that data periodically.

So when you’re considering new data points for your database, remember, only collect the data if you’re going to use it and you’re going to manage it.

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