Ask a membership professional about some of their biggest challenges, and selecting and implementing membership software is right up there near the top of the list. Why is it so challenging?
For starters, before you even get to the selection phase, you must convince the board to fund the project. A lot is riding on your proposal to the board: staff’s productivity and effectiveness, data security, and usefulness, maybe even your reputation, and definitely your stress level. But making the case to your board that it’s time for new association management software (AMS) requires research and preparation.
Here’s what you need to know (and do) before you present a business case for software to the board
Get your executive director on your side.
Before you attempt to convince the board that your organization needs a new membership management system, you must first convince your executive director. The executive director has influence with the board and can lay the groundwork for your argument and warm them up to your message. But the executive director needs the facts (or talking points) to make the case – the same facts you’ll present later to the board.
As the board meeting agenda is being developed, some board members may even ask the executive director for an opinion on the investment. And if the executive director isn’t on your side, it’s doubtful the board will back you up.
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Conversely, having your executive director on your side can help you anticipate objections and questions, and even determine how best to make your case.
Build a compelling presentation.
The more prepared you are to make a case for new software, the more likely you’ll get what you need. Some tips:
Take care with the language you use. Speak plainly and skip any technical jargon. Translate technical terms in your presentation and supporting documents, and speak with the member’s perspective in mind. Make the connection between the software and member value (or association goals) as often as possible.
For example, don’t talk about a membership database used by the membership department. Yes, it is membership management software, but it’s important to emphasize that it’s an association management system that will be used across the organization.
Respect the board’s limited time. Keep your presentation concise and high-level, focusing on the new software’s impact on members, staff, and the organization. Back up these talking points with details in a report you provide in advance. Give them just enough details to paint an accurate picture of your challenges today and a vision of all your organization could do in the future with new membership management software.
Do your research. Present your argument and recommendations with confidence. Be ready for questions. Prepare to overcome objections.
Listen to objections. Don’t take them lightly. If put off by how you treat a concern, a single board member can shift the mood in the room from warm to cool.
Bring your project partners. For example, ask colleagues from IT, accounting, and other departments who are super-users of member data to join you. If called upon, they can back up your arguments. More importantly, their presence reinforces the idea that this is association software, not just membership software.
Connect technology to member value. This is a point worth repeating. You must connect this investment to your association’s strategic goals and the delivery of member value. If you need help making this connection, ask a few vendors for help. For example, the Aptify team has helped clients make these same arguments in front of their boards or executive team with success.
Assess the current state of your membership software.
Boards are temporary guardians of your association’s money and resources. They don’t want anything to go wrong on their watch if they can help it. Because of this “safety-first” mindset, many boards are risk-averse.
You must show them that sticking with your old software (or some version of it) is a riskier proposition than investing in new technology. That might seem obvious to you, but it might not be obvious to your board.
Identify your existing software’s shortcomings. Make a list of the ways it’s hampering productivity. Talk to your colleagues so you don’t miss anything. Then, add to your list all the ways the software prevents (and will prevent) your organization from pursuing new strategies and tactics and how those missed opportunities affect your organization’s ability to achieve strategic and business goals.
Some of these challenges may include:
- Lack of specific functionality needed to serve members, make decisions or run business processes
- Integration difficulties and their impact on data-sharing and staff collaboration
- Reporting issues and their effect on your staff’s analytics and decision-making ability
- Inefficiencies from staff workarounds and manual processes
- Data integrity and its effect on staff’s confidence in data and on member service
- Mobile responsiveness
- Insufficient software support
- Staff time spent on tasks and reports that should be automated
- Explain how these challenges impact members, staff, and the association.
And, while board members don’t like taking risks, tolerating an older database comes with its own risks, namely, security risks. Educate your board about protecting your member and customer data and how an investment in updating your software is necessary. Consult your IT team and vendors to find out how your current system may not be the safest choice.
When describing your existing software, consider using adjectives like “legacy,” “aging,” and “twentieth century.” It will help paint a picture that contrasts the challenges and risks of continuing to use your old system with the benefits and promises of investing in new technology.
Clearly articulate the “why”.
Making a case for change is never easy, but you must convince your board that new membership management software is in everyone’s best interest. A new AMS system will help staff better meet association objectives and deliver value to members.
Make sure individual board members see the connection between new software and the association goals or projects they value. For example, in a trade association, the board might be dominated by senior leaders who are more interested in advocacy than other association services. In this case, be prepared to tell them how new membership software will specifically help advocacy efforts.
Also, board members love numbers, or at least some do. If you plan to talk about freeing up staff time by streamlining or automating processes, do your homework. Prepare evidence to show whose time, how much, and what could they do instead.
Contrast the opportunity costs of staying on your existing system with the new opportunities and benefits your association can leverage due to increased functionality. For example:
- Data integrity, plus a 360-degree view of members, prospects, and customers (a.k.a. “a single version of the truth”)
- Member self-service and its impact on data integrity and staff time
- Integration with other association systems and social media platforms
- Engagement scoring and how that impacts decisions, strategies, and tactics
- Reporting and analytics potential
- Mobile accessibility
- Ability to offer new types of membership
- Software support and roadmap
Remind the board that your association operates in a competitive environment. Only twenty-first-century technology can provide the competitive advantage you need to fully leverage your data and better understand members, prospects, and customers. A new membership system will give you the tools you need to improve how you communicate with, market to, and deliver value to your members.
Share your recommended next steps.
During your initial presentation, the board might only have time to hear your presentation and then make a decision later. Or, they might be ready to hear more about the project. So be ready with an initial project plan.
Having an initial project plan will instill their confidence in you or the person or team driving the project. The board will take comfort in knowing the investment will be managed well. Be ready to give them a high-level overview of an implementation project that includes:
- Staff involvement
- Requirements gathering from across all departments
- Data cleansing
- Request for proposals
- Discovery process with the vendor
- Software configuration
- Data migration
- Change management
At this point, you might want to prepare and send a Request for Information (RFI) to several vendors. An RFI describes your situation: why you need and what you’re seeking in a new system, your timeline, and the anticipated budget. It helps you narrow the field down to a few suitable vendors.
If you anticipate that your budget request will include funds for hiring project management, business analysis, selection, and/or implementation consultants, this is a good time to discuss the benefits of going with professional expertise rather than relying on in-house staff to take on this workload.
Be ready for budget questions.
Until you identify your requirements for a new AMS system and talk to vendors about configuration, integration, and data migration needs, you won’t be able to get a reliable estimate to show the board. So, avoid talking about AMS costs with your board until you’ve identified your requirements and received proposals from vendors. Make sure these proposals are based on your requirements and the extent of data conversion required.
In the meantime, you can discuss what goes into the price of an AMS project and why you can’t provide an estimate until you know exactly what you’re going to get from each vendor.
Factors affecting the budget include:
- Functionality required
- Integrations required
- Data conversion
- Licensing model
- Consultant services
As a membership organization, your association must have the right technology to support goals, address challenges, and ultimately provide a member experience that attracts members and keeps them around long term. Keep in mind that the board’s decision to invest in new membership management software will rest on how well you make the case that any upfront costs will be more than covered by the benefits and value it will deliver.
Read the guide, Gaining Board Approval for Technology Budget to learn more about how to convince your board it’s time to make a change.