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This article, co-authored by Scott Oser and myself, outlines some highlights from our sessions at the recent ASAE Membership & Marketing Conference.

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This blog post is LONG and fascinating. It’s written by the CEO of an AMS company explaining why associations should not build their own AMS product.

Sure, he’s got a vested interest in associations buying off-the-shelf software, but he has an interesting perspective because prior to running his own AMS company, he was actually hired by an association to build a custom solution for them.

His experience underscores what I’ve told my clients for years: Associations should not be in the business of designing their own database.

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Amazon.com is easily my favorite place to shop online. Everything about the experience there is top-notch. Of course, any of us who shop on Amazon have had the same or similar experiences. That includes your members, too. And therein lies the rub for all associations. Click here to read the rest of the article.

Of course, if you’re already on my announcements list, you would have received notice of this new article right in your email box. Not signed up yet? Click here to sign up.

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On September 4, I’ll be the featured speaker at the Loudoun County Idea Swap hosted by ASAE and held at the National Recreation and Park Association in Ashburn, VA. Click here to get all the details here and register. It’s free!

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Tate & Tryon is hosting a FREE seminar on data management, designed especially for C-suite executives, this Wednesday, July 30, from 9am-11am, in Washington, DC. I’ll be speaking on the panel.

Click here for details and registration.

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I was once working with a client during implementation of a new association management system. At one point we got into a lengthy discussion of how to use the database to automate, as much as possible, the collection of application information from a certain type of member.

After discussing how we could use the software to do what the client needed to do, and getting a sense of how much work (meaning $) this would require to make it work correctly, it dawned on me to ask the most important question: “How many transactions are we talking about?” The answer: roughly 75.

A quick look at the math suggested a solution to this problem was going to wind up costing about $250 per application.

So before you go too far down the road discussing how your database can help address a problem, make sure the problem is big enough to merit the discussion at all. Start by asking, “How many people/customers/transactions/staff does this affect?” If the number is small, it will likely be just as easy to process data manually as it will be to program the database to do it automatically.

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In my almost-ten-years as an association professional, I worked for three different associations whose membership was based on organizations rather than individuals (commonly referred to as “trade” associations). One of the biggest challenges that trade associations have is that very often, membership in the association hangs on the relationship with one individual at the member-company. (At my associations, we referred to these people as the prime contact, or PC.)

The relationship between the PC and the association was critical, because the PC was the one making the decision every year on whether or not to renew. And what every membership manager at a trade fears is the PC leaving the member-company and having no one else to work with at that member-company. This is where a good AMS can help.

A good AMS package will allow a membership manager to track several key things that will help here. For example:

  1. You can track multiple secondary contacts, including those contacts designated by the member-company as secondary contacts, as well as secondary contacts identified through other transactions (e.g., event registration, product sales, etc.).
  2. You can track the activities of all contacts at a given member-company, including non-transactional activities such as volunteer activity.
  3. You can track titles of all contacts at a given member-company.

With these few pieces of information, if a PC leaves a member-company, you’ll at least have a good starting point for finding a new PC, or at least a champion within the member-company. For example, if a non-PC had served on one of your committees in the past, that would be a good person to contact if the PC has left the member-company. Or contact individuals who have attended several of your educational events. These types of people already see the value of your organization, and could become a new PC or at least become a strong influencer on whoever the member-company designates as the new PC.

A good AMS can let you create ties to your member-companies that run deeper than just the relationship you have with your PC. Make sure you’re leveraging all of that data!

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One of the biggest challenges associations face during a transition from one AMS to another is data conversion. Deciding what data to convert and getting it into the right format for the conversion can be a very tedious and fraught process. But there is one way to make data conversion really easy: Don’t convert any data.

I know, I know, it sounds radical. But I’ve had several clients over the years make exactly this decision. How can they do it? Here’s an example from one of my clients:

First, they acknowledged that the data they had was very suspect, because of the system they were using. While they knew the names of their members and when they had last paid, all other data was questionable, at best. So rather than trying to figure out which data was right and which data was wrong or missing, they simply agreed collectively that starting fresh was the easiest and safest way to proceed. So they converted their members (roughly 700 organizations) and contacts at those members (roughly 1,400 names) and the membership associated with the member records. And everything else was left in spreadsheets that they can access, if needed.

Of course, not every association will have this option. I once worked with an association that had to convert 50 years worth of certification data, because they still had active members who had certification information from that long ago!

My experience is that most associations try to convert more data than they really need to. If you want to make data conversion really easy, don’t convert any data!

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Almost every AMS on the market today has some form of CRM (customer relationship management) functionality that allows staff to track contacts made with members and customers (e.g., phone calls received or made). This CRM functionality provides an opportunity for the association to capture and track the kinds of interactions the association is having with members and customers. This data can then be used for (among other things) promoting membership to non-members and demonstrating the value of membership during the renewal process.

For example,  one of my clients provides legal service to both members and non-members. They keep track of all phone calls related to their legal service in their AMS. Here’s what they can do with both members and non-members:

For members, during the renewal period, they can include within the renewal letter a short note that says “Over the past year, we’ve assisted you with legal information calls on three different occasions. Renewing your membership will ensure that you can continue to receive this type of information quickly and easily.”

For non-members, when they save a call for a non-member, as soon as the call is logged into the AMS, a workflow can automatically send an email thanking the non-member for the call and asking them to join.

These kinds of activities require discipline on the part of the staff (to ensure calls are logged) and a decent CRM system that will allow you to capture the calls and pull the data when needed (e.g., during the renewal process). The technology to do this already exists and chances are you have an AMS that can accommodate this. Now it’s up to you to get into the habit of logging the calls!

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My oldest son (age 16) is interested in rebuilding our wooden swing-set, which is over 12 years old and in serious disrepair. At dinner recently, he sat down with a pencil and paper and started quizzing his siblings about what they would like to see on the swing-set. After creating a list of 10 to 12 items and features, including things like a slide, swings, and a climbing wall, he began describing how the new swing-set would look. After a few moments of this, I said: “Charlie, you should sketch this out for us to look at. If you just describe it, everyone will picture something different.”

My 8-year old daughter Lila immediately responded, “Yeah, I’m picturing hippos in a swimming pool!”

Sometimes drawing a picture, a sketch, or a flowchart, can communicate information much more accurately than just spoken or written words. Think about that next time you’re trying to explain to your database users how data flows through the system, or how a certain procedure should be followed. You just might find that the picture in your listeners’ heads is not the same as the picture you’re trying to describe.

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