Ask a membership professional about some of their biggest challenges, and selecting and implementing membership software is right up there. Why is it so challenging? For starters, before you even get to the selection phase, you have to convince the board to fund the project.
There’s a lot 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. How much longer can you tolerate the lousy system you have now?
Making the case to your board for new association management software (AMS) requires research and preparation. Here’s what you need to know (and do) before you present your business case for software to the board.
You have the data to present to the board. Now what? We’ve built a presentation template to get you started. Check it out!
1. Get the CEO on Your Side
Before you attempt to convince the board that your organization needs a new membership management system, you have to convince your CEO first. The CEO has influence with the board. She can lay the groundwork for your argument and warm them up to your message. But the CEO needs the facts (or talking points) to make your (and her) 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 CEO for her opinion on the investment. If the CEO isn’t on your side, it’s doubtful the board will back you up.
No one knows the board better than your CEO. She’s been down this road before and can anticipate objections and questions, and even provide advice on how best to make your case.
2. Prepare a Persuasive Presentation
The more prepared you are to make a case for new software, the more likely you’ll get what you want. Board members may know you already and expect nothing less, or they may not have ever seen this side of you—it’s your chance to make an influential impression.
Take care with the language you use. Although you may be tempted to hand off the board presentation to a colleague, don’t do it. The advantage of having someone from membership do the talking is you’re less likely to slip into technical jargon. Speak plainly. Translate technical terms in your presentation and in supporting documents.
You’re also more likely to speak with the member perspective in mind. Make the connection between the software and member value (or association goals) as often as possible.
Use the right language. Don’t talk about a membership database used by the membership department. Yes, it is membership management software, but you need to emphasize that it’s an association management system that will be used by staff across the organization.
Respect the board’s limited time. Keep your presentation concise and high-level, focusing on the impact the new software will make 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 a gloomy picture of your situation today, and a rosy picture of 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. A single board member, if put off by how lightly you treat their concern, can shift the mood in the room from warm to cool.
Bring your project partners. For example, colleagues from IT, accounting, and other departments who are super-users of member data. 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 here and worth repeating throughout your presentation. You have to connect this investment to your association’s strategic goals and to the delivery of member value. If you need help making this connection, ask a few vendors for help. We’ve helped clients make these same arguments in front of their boards or executive team.
3. 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. They rather stay on the set course than explore new trails.
You’re asking them to invest in your big idea. You have to show them that sticking with your old software (or some version of it) is a riskier proposition than investing in new technology. That seems obvious to you and me, but don’t assume it’s obvious to your board.
Identify your existing software’s shortcomings. Make a list of all 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 necessary business processes.
- Integration difficulties and their effect on data-sharing and staff collaboration.
- Reporting issues and their effect on your staff’s analytics and decision-making ability.
- 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.
Board members don’t like taking risks, but 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 system may not be the safest choice.
When describing your existing software, consider using adjectives like “legacy,” “aging,” and “20th century.” You want to 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.
4. 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 software will help staff better meet association objectives and deliver value to members.
Make the connection for your audience. 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 may be dominated by senior leaders who are more interested in advocacy than other association services. Be prepared to tell them how new membership software will specifically help advocacy efforts.
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 first. Talk to your colleagues. Prepare your evidence: whose time, how much, and what could they do instead.
Contrast the opportunity costs of staying with your existing system with the new opportunities and benefits your association can leverage due to increased functionality, for example:
- Data integrity along with a 360°-view of members, prospects, and customers—aka “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 your board that your association operates in a competitive environment. Only 21st 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.
5. Share Your Recommendations for Next Steps
During your initial presentation, the board may only have time to hear your presentation and make a decision later. Or, they may be ready to hear more about the project—so you better 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 their investment will be managed well. Be ready to give them a high-level overview of an implementation project:
- Staff involvement
- Requirements gathering—a cross-departmental effort
- Data cleansing
- Discovery process with the vendor
- Software configuration
- Data migration
- Change management
At this stage, you may 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 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 might be a good time to discuss the benefits of going with professional expertise rather than relying on in-house staff to take on this workload.
6. Be Ready for Budget Questions
Until you identify your requirements for a new AMS software and talk to vendors about configuration, integration, and data migration needs, you won’t be able to get a reliable estimate for your board. Don’t talk money with your board until you’ve identified your requirements and received proposals from AMS 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
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.
Ready to start creating that killer presentation to the board? We’ve built a template to get you started. Check out The Business Case for a New Member Database Software template.