Changing member management systems? Here are a few things to consider before beginning the process.

Whether you are moving your membership database from a simple Excel spreadsheet or another online Association Management System (AMS) it is always best to take your time in reviewing and researching the wide range of options available. When I first started working at Strauss eight years ago, we kept all our member records in a FileMaker database. At the time, this system worked for what we needed but as our clientele grew and software progressed, changes needed to be made to make sure we were keeping proper track of all records and providing our clients and their members with the data and records in a structure and format most beneficial to them.

We currently use two different Association Management Systems depending on the specific needs of a client. To get to the current two systems the staff reviewed many options before making recommendations and a lot was learned during the process.

1. Identify your decision criteria.

A. Having clear decision criteria from the start makes every major decision easier. Getting a group consensus on these criteria will save you a lot of time during the process.

B. One way to clearly identify your specific decision criteria is by having your staff finish the following the sentence with several bullet points of their own – “The best AMS will …”

C. Answers can relate to many things and often sound like:

i. “…be less than $X per year”
ii. “…support up to X users at the same time.”
iii. “…will run the following reports in real time…”
iv. Etc.

2. Ensure your decision criteria reflect the association’s future goals and needs.

A. Make a list of what the current needs are for the association and what features would be beneficial in the future.

i. Member Benefits. What services do members get? Do you have an online store for product purchases?
ii. Member Communication. How do you communicate with your membership? Do you need to search a member list by certain profiles to create mailing lists? Do you have groups and do they need access to manage their own group information? Do you offer newsletters and other publications?
iii. Event Management. Are there multiple days, sessions or workshops? Do you need to manage exhibitors, speakers, sponsors and volunteers? How do members register and pay?

3. Take your time researching and reviewing the different management systems available.

A. Have everyone who will be using the system do a demo prior to making a decision.

B. One of the decision criteria we identified for a new system was easy integration with Quickbooks. The system we selected reports and integrates extremely well with Quickbooks, which saves our accounting manager a significant number of hours each month. It also allows us to provide information on paid memberships and outstanding accounts more easily. The reporting system contains the information in a format that also makes the audit process smoother and faster.

4. Make sure the system is easy to use for staff and members. Some people are more technologically savvy than others and it is important to take this into account when reviewing the options.

5. Be prepared to invest time and money in training with the new system before making the official switch. It is beneficial to make sure that everyone who will be using the system is aware of all features that are relevant to them and make use of those resources. Having staff members comfortable with the system prior to the switch will also allow for a more seamless transition in the eyes of members.

6. Take your time moving all member information over.

A. Moving membership records from one system to another can be very tedious and time consuming, but it is very important that you take your time reviewing the records so that it is done correctly. One small error can have you redoing the entire list again, which can take several hours.

7. Test, test, test.

A. In one of the training sessions the instructor told us to ‘try to break’ the system. Doing as much testing as possible with all features will limit the amount of updating you need to do after the system has gone live.

B. Have a third party review the site, whether it be a board member or member. They may have concerns that can be addressed before going live, saving development/customization time later on.

8. Don’t forget to make it clear to the membership WHY the change is happening.

A. Make sure to communicate the value that the new system will bring to members – it might be a slight inconvenience to members to have to reset their log in information and learn a new system so make sure they know how it will positively affect them.

9. Ensure that all staff members are using the new system in the same way to ensure consistent recording/financials.

Changing Association Management Systems can be a daunting task as it involves large amounts of data and can require a fair amount of familiarization and testing. With such a time consuming and important endeavour, it is necessary to be thorough and take your time reviewing and implementing each step of the process.

By being as thorough as possible and only launching the new system once the software has been tested and staff has been trained, you will ensure a more efficient transition. There will be less troubleshooting amongst the staff working with the new system and, ideally, members will only see the benefits of the new system rather than glitches.