5 Signs You Need to Reevaluate Your Membership Management Software

Every time you open up your association’s membership management software, you’re convinced you can feel your blood pressure rising. You’ve resigned yourself to the fact that it doesn’t perform as you wish it would. Some savvy workarounds and data manipulation help you get work done, but the extra hours you’ve had to spend because of the software’s shortcomings…it’s painful to even think about.

The pain isn’t limited to you: your co-workers have reached their frustration boiling point with “your” database. It’s constantly ruining their day, and yours. Is it finally time to do something about it? Yes, if any of these five scenarios sound familiar, you should reevaluate your existing membership management software and start considering a replacement.

Is data management ruining your day? Here are some top association data management questions asked and answered to get you on your way to a clean database, happy co-workers, and—finally—peace of mind.

1. You Can’t Easily Pull the Data and Reports You Need

Do co-workers frequently ask you or the IT staff to pull reports for them? Even worse, do you have to pay a developer to create reports? Or, has something like this happened: the governance director asks you for the committee service and meeting attendance history of a group of members being considered for the board?

  • How long does it take you to produce an accurate report?
  • Can you do it yourself or do you need someone from IT to do it?
  • Do you have to outsource it to the person who built your database?
  • How confident are you in the list you produce?

What’s the point of having a membership database that, in reality, is a data vault? Data goes in but you need a data locksmith (aka a developer or IT department) to get the data out. It’s time to kick that database software to the curb.

Your membership management software must have robust analytical and reporting capabilities but not at the expense of the user experience. Anyone on staff should be able to easily access the reports needed to do their job. They should be able to query the system using the filters they need, not the filters a developer thought were sufficient.

When your association invests in new technology, for example, a learning or event management system, your association management system (AMS) should be capable of integrating with those systems and giving you access to the data in those systems too. With all this new data at your fingertips comes the need for new reports, but you shouldn’t have to learn an arcane application language to create them.

Your team must have the ability to collect and store data from your website, social media platforms, learning management system, event management system, and other systems—and generate reports based on that real-time data. Even while you’re on vacation, you should be able to set up your AMS software to run monthly membership reports at a specific day and time, and have those reports delivered automatically to colleagues or the membership committee. Does your existing membership management software do all this?

2. Outdated, Dirty Data Is Cluttering Your System

How familiar is this scenario? The government affairs department asks you for a list of members living in the states near the location of an upcoming conference so they can invite them to a PAC fundraising dinner scheduled during the conference. An easy enough request, right? You pull a list from your database and send it to the PAC program manager.

A week later, the chief lobbyist is at your door and she’s not happy. It turns out the list included duplicates, misspellings, and bad mailing and email addresses. What’s worse, it didn’t include several members who should have been invited but weren’t—talk about embarrassing. That’s the last time they’ll rely on your lists.

What we have here is more likely a data management problem, not a database problem. But if your database doesn’t help you prevent these errors, that’s a problem too.

If you want reliable, accurate, and complete data, your association must implement a data governance plan that includes documented data entry policies and procedures, especially if lots of people are in your system entering and editing data. Before people start using the database, they should have to complete training and pass muster with the database’s “owner.

A database with limited functionality makes the consequences of inept data management even worse. For example, does your database allow staff to quickly determine if someone is already in the database? If members have permission to update their profile, is that process, sorry to say, fool-proof?

Besides having functionality to help prevent common data entry errors, your association data management system must allow you to run data integrity reports on a regular basis so you can identify bad data, such as:

  • Email addresses with format errors.
  • Zip codes that don’t match the city/state.
  • Duplicate records.
  • Incorrect use of lower and uppercase text.

You need effective data management processes and technology to keep your data accurate and reliable.

3. Your Software Makes Data Cleansing a Nightmare

You may not even need a data integrity report to tell you what you already know: your data is in bad shape. But, to clean it up, you’d have to dedicate weeks to comparing records, sorting columns, scanning fields for errors, and fixing them one by one.

Yikes, that is the stuff of nightmares.

Data will always be an issue if staff isn’t following established business rules for entering and editing data. The dirty data problem compounds if your database software doesn’t:

  • Alert the user (staff and member) when they may be creating a duplicate record.
  • Provide an easy merge process for existing duplicate records.
  • Display pop-up alerts when users try to enter incorrectly formatted data, like “jane doe” instead of “Jane Doe.”
  • Automatically format data so it conforms to business rules, for example, adding dashes to phone numbers.
  • Provide drop-down menus that force users to select and enter data correctly, for example, properly formatted salutations.
  • Integrate with systems that normalize data, like mailing addresses.

Don’t bring bad data into your new AMS software. Talk to prospective partners about how their membership management software and data management tools can help you cleanse your data as part of the data conversion process during implementation.

4. Your System Isn’t Sufficiently User-Friendly

Your membership software has two groups of users, each with specific needs: staff and members. Let’s first look at the user experience for staff because, one, you’re the person who will hear their never-ending complaints if the system falls short. And, two, as database consultant Wes Trochlil pointed out: bad systems can make good people leave associations.

Everyone’s technology standards and expectations have been elevated over the last decade or so by the experiences they’ve had as users of ecommerce and brand websites. Why should talented professionals tolerate awkward and frustrating tools at work?

They won’t.

They’ll either decide to depart for organizations with better technology or they’ll give up on your “crappy” database and start maintaining their own “rogue” database. Talk about a recipe for data integrity disaster!

Your existing system won’t cut it for long unless it offers:

  • Personalized user dashboards.
  • Intuitive navigation.
  • Ease of running accurate and reliable reports.
  • Ability to pull data on targeted sets of members.
  • Plenty of training resources.
  • Mobile functionality so staff can get work done anytime and anywhere.

What about the member’s user experience? Your association’s mission is to provide the best member experience possible, including their online experience. Members should never have cause to think about the technology behind that online experience. No matter what they’re doing, your website (thanks to your AMS) should “know” enough about them to make it quick and easy for them to renew, register, purchase, or make a change to their profile. Is your current database allowing you to do that?

5. Your Software Isn’t Configurable Enough

Let’s say you’ve been working with your membership committee on a plan to introduce a new membership level for early career professionals. But there’s one problem: you can’t configure your AMS to accept the new level and dues rate. You’re told this change would instead require customizing the software—something your budget and timeline didn’t anticipate.

When embarking on an AMS selection process, knowing the difference between configuration and customization can prevent this kind of frustration further down the road. With configuration, you can make changes to how your system functions without rewriting the software’s core code. You can tweak the system, for example, by adding a membership level, but these changes don’t touch the core code. The advantage is more flexibility for your organization plus the ability to stay on the software’s upgrade path.

On the other hand, customization involves rewriting the code to change how the system functions. It’s tempting in the short-term to customize the system to replicate old familiar processes. But customization involves developer hours—meaning an increase to your original budget. It’s also more challenging to stay on the upgrade path with customizations because they may not work with the upgrades—and you’ll have to hire a developer to resolve those issues.

Your association must be in the position to anticipate and adapt to changes in your members’ industry and profession, technology, and market demographics. How can you do that when your technology is holding you back? And how do you explain this to the board?

If any of these five scenarios are painfully familiar to you, it’s time to consider a new system to manage your member, prospect, and customer data. The first step is to gather a team of coworkers who will champion this project along with you, including an ally from the IT department.


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