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Is Your Member Data Mission Critical?

“What gets measured gets managed.”  Does Peter Drucker’s famous adage ring true for associations and membership organizations? 

Data management is a concern for organizations of all sizes and across all sectors. But for associations and other member-driven organizations, the care and feeding of the member data or membership list is truly “mission critical!” After all, it is the heart of any association or club, impacting all aspects of your mission, including member and volunteer management, revenue, communication, event promotion, and so on. 

Yet, according to the 2011 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, an “inadequate association management database” is still among the biggest challenges facing membership growth. This isn’t surprising to any of us at Wild Apricot – which caters to small associations and membership groups. Our support team often hears about the errors, frustration and missed opportunities caused by multiple spreadsheets or databases that have motivated organizations to switch to our membership management software

But it isn’t just small organizations that are struggling with membership data issues.  In an Associations Now article, David J. Martin, CAE (CEO of the Society of Critical Care Medicine) notes that at his organization “a policy of centralizing all member data in one system ... improved customer service and opened a multitude of new opportunities.” In fact, as he notes in the article title, consolidating multiple unconnected databases was: the single rule that changed my association.”

What steps can you take to overcome member data challenges?

1.     Develop a “Data-Driven Culture”

In her post, How Can Nonprofits Switch to a Data-Driven Culture?” Beth Kanter suggests: not all nonprofits are born with the spreadsheet gene. And it isn’t simply a technical problem that can be solved through training or purchasing analytics software. The challenge has to do with organizational beliefs and work styles.” 

Beth suggests that moving to a “data-driven culture” should be considered an evolutionary process that starts with the leadership and spreads top-down.  Here are excerpts of the tips Beth Kanter suggests for evolving a data-focused organization:

  1. Start at the top. The organization’s leadership needs to model and encourage a data-driven approach.
  2. Make the case to improve your measurement practice.
  3. Think big, but take baby steps.
  4. Share stories: Celebrate every bar graph …Also circulate stories about other nonprofits that have become data-driven success stories.

2.     Lead the organization in embracing the culture shift

David J. Martin also suggests the issue involves a culture shift led by association CEOs, who he notes “are charged with making sure the business runs well. In the 21st century, that means understanding technology -- the why and the how -- and establishing a culture that embraces it.“ 

At Martin’s organization, the evolution to a "single-database culture” involved  top-down leadership, education and tools. He notes that the process included “sharing the bigger picture with staff” so that “when they understand the power of a strong central database and the problems caused by ad hoc Excel sheets or nonintegrated systems, they buy into the single-database rule.”

3.     Investigate and demonstrate the benefits of an integrated system

If your organization is struggling to keep your member, volunteer and contact information up-to-date, it might be time to consider moving to a single, centralized database management system. With the right system or software, your organization can be more effective, spending valuable staff and/or volunteer time on activities that further your mission, and less time on administrative clean-up. 

Resources to help:

Check out our Membership Database Selection Blog Series:

We produced a Membership Database Selection blog series that designed to help organizations: identify your membership database requirements (Part 1); understand the various options available (Part 2); and determine the best membership database solution that meets your specific needs (Part 3). 

Check out our Getting Started With Membership Guide:

In addition, we’ve just launched a Getting Started With Membership guide that provides an overview of how Wild Apricot can be used to manage your members and other contacts like newsletter subscribers, donors, event attendees, volunteers, etc., and which describes the database structure (membership levels, database fields) and demonstrates the major functions of the system related to applications and renewals, updating records, searching, emailing and reports.

We'd love to hear about your data management challenges or ideas on how your organization has become "data-driven" - leave us  a note in the comments below.

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]
Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]
Published Monday, 17 October 2011 at 9:24 AM

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