In the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, after multiple threats to his life and overcoming impossible obstacles, Indy meets the Grail Knight, keeper of the Holy Grail. He is surrounded by chalices and says to the hero:
“Choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.”
In a less dramatic sense, if you’ve worked for an association or membership organization, selecting membership management software can feel the same way.
Choosing software that is a good fit for your organization will help you engage members and achieve operational efficiencies, freeing up more time to focus on providing value for members. Selecting software that doesn’t fit your organization will mean more hurdles and even stunting your organization’s growth.
But just how do you “choose wisely” when there are so many factors to consider?
The first step in finding membership management software that fits your organization is understanding what you need from current and future perspectives. What are your requirements right at this moment and what do you see your association needing in the short and the long terms?
This need also encompasses:
- What your staff requires to do its job.
- What your members want from a features perspective.
- What is out there that could help you perform daily tasks more efficiently.
As you can see, there’s more to assessing your association’s needs than just writing down how you perform your day-to-day duties and what tools you use. This article will give you insights into how you can perform a need audit and then begin to look for membership management software that will fit your current requirements and grow with you in the future.
4 Steps to Assess Your Membership Software Needs
Step 1) Analyze Your Current Processes
The easiest part of your needs assessment begins by noting what you do, how you do it, and what tools you use in every major area of your association. Areas to think about might include:
- Membership Management
- Marketing and Membership Communication
- Member Networking
- Chapters and Groups
- Educational Content and Resources
- Engagement Activities
- Call for Sessions
The types of questions you might want to ask yourself to begin assessing your needs include questions like:
- How do you manage members currently, including how you update member information?
- How are members billed? Annually or by anniversary?
- How do you run events?
- How do committees collaborate on which speakers to select for your conference?
- How do you handle marketing and member communications?
As you perform this assessment, note who does what and the tools, vendors, and cost associated with each software platform, app, or other technology you use to perform them. This can be a very cumbersome process but is necessary in deriving a complete understanding of your technology needs. You need membership software that allows you to fulfill all of your business processes.
Step 2) Set Future Goals
At the end of the day, your AMS software is nothing but a tool to help you accomplish your goals. And you can’t choose the right tool unless you know what your goals are. Think about what you’ll be using your AMS software to do, so consider the three main types of goals (and needs) below.
Once you have completed your assessment of current operational processes, outline all your short-term and long-term for your organization. For instance, if one of your future goals is to engage members more actively online, note this. These types of future plans and strategies should flavor your search for technology because some membership management software will help you achieve your goals better than others. For instance, some systems incorporate ongoing member engagement and virtual tools better than others.
In addition to your goals, create a technology wish list based on your current membership system. What do you wish your current software did? Again, you needn’t worry about the “how” at this point. Don’t rain on your own parade with ideas that you’ll never find software that will do what you’d like. Simply note your desires and save them for a later conversation with new technology vendors.
Look into the Future
Finally take some time to forecast essential future needs. This is not the same thing as noting your goals. Your future needs may be something that shape your goals or it may be something you know is going to happen and need to prepare for. For instance, you may know that in the future you need to build out more membership tiers or look for a source of non-dues revenue in order to stay relevant and well-funded. This will affect how you look at your next membership software options.
Step 3) Review Productivity Opportunities
Take a hard look at your list of current tools and processes. Are there any areas where you think you could be more efficient? Even if you don’t understand the solution right now, highlight or star this process on your list as an area to explore further. It’s an opportunity to improve. Once you begin auditioning vendors, you can have conversations about best practices and whether or not new software will help your processes advance.
To make this easier, you label each process with “ideal,” “open to change,” or “inefficient.”
- Ideal means you won’t change it for technology.
- Open to change means a process could be improved and you’d be willing to entertain options and suggestions.
- Inefficient describes a process that can and should be improved by your next technology purchase.
No membership management software will fit your needs exactly unless you have it custom made. Even when you do, you’re only designing your ideal software as your association stands at that point in time. If your needs change, you’re back to development.
That’s why it’s important in this assessment to understand what your sacred processes are and what you’re willing to adjust. Once you begin talking about software capabilities with vendors, you’ll already know what you’re unwilling to alter. Just remember that every sacred process can affect budget and may not be the most efficient way to complete a task.
Step 4) Evaluate Member Needs
Remember Indy’s search for the Holy Grail and how he was given a very important choice to make? There were a number of bejeweled chalices and pricey items. He could’ve selected any of those, but he selected an average, weathered cup instead. He chose it was because it was what a humble carpenter would have had, not something ostentatious.
When selecting membership management software, you need to understand your members the same way Indiana Jones understood the quest he was on. Bells and whistles don’t matter if they don’t help your members.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What are my members interested in?
- What are my members’ top priorities?
- What motivates my members to take action?
- What are their Internet habits?
- What information and interaction can you provide them with that they will find value in?
Take the time to understand what they want now and predict their future expectations. Selecting membership management software that your members love will help you meet more of their needs.
Selecting Membership Software Takeaway
Selecting membership management software can seem like a daunting challenge, but it’s also an exciting time because it allows you to choose a tool that will help your organization become more efficient, improve retention, and grow faster.
Use the assessment you’ve done in this article to help you begin to compile a list of potential vendors, and later, to pare them down to a shorter, more manageable list.
You’re through the hard part – the assessment phase. Now you have the tools you need to begin your search. Remember: choose wisely.