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Guide to Helping Your Members Embrace Technology

Author: Tatiana Morand
October 27, 2011
🕑 17 min read

We know from our annual survey and our Small Membership Advisory Community sessions that the volunteers and staff managing associations, clubs and non-profits are having trouble trying to get their board as well as their members to embrace technology. Do any of these challenges sound familiar?

Is your membership organization finding it difficult to…

  • get members to use online self-service tools to update their contact information, complete renewals and make online payments
  • move away from printed newsletters and to digital versions
  • get the board to engage in online communities and social media networks
  • convince staff and volunteers to use online tools to manage member databases
  • have participants register and pay for events online

Why is it so difficult for long standing members to adopt change and new technologies? Why is it so important to convince them and your membership at large? And how exactly do you go about helping them embrace technology?

In this guide, we’re going to try to answer those questions. We’ll outline some of the challenges you face in getting people to adopt technology. And we’ll offer some ideas and processes that might help your staff, volunteers and members accept change and see the benefits of embracing technology at your organization.

You, Your Members & Technology: Why So Reluctant?

You might find that your members are sending you checks even though you’ve invested in an online payment portal, or that supporters are still requesting paper newsletters when you’ve set up a digital version.

To help your volunteers and members face change and embrace new technology, perhaps the best place to begin is by trying to understand why they are so reluctant in the first place.

Is the reluctance to embrace change strictly a generational problem? It’s certainly true that different generations have different skill sets and abilities when it comes to technology. Your organization probably has a diverse group of members and stakeholders. You may have a large percentage of Millennial members who are “digital natives” and are up-to-date on current trends and willing to try out new technology. However, for many organizations, the majority of long-standing staff, volunteers and board members may be “Baby Boomers”. While many of this generation has certainly learned to use computers and digital systems in their careers, others may not be too tech savvy and therefore may not be comfortable with or willing to change how they have been doing things.

So it’s important to understand your members and their attitudes in order to  strike some kind of balance between embracing emerging technologies and maintaining existing methods.

Understanding your “Boomer” Members and Volunteers

While it isn’t all about generations, part of the problem with embracing change and accepting new technology is about attitude. So understanding your long-standing members’ or volunteers’ attitudes can be a good first step.

According to a 2009 report published by The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and Microsoft titled, “Boomers and Technology: An Extended Conversation”, “Boomers” have a few minimum criteria when it comes to technology:

They want technology to:

  • be safe and easy to use;
  • adapt to their specific needs;
  • connect each other;
  • act as a tool not a tyrant;
  • be a force of good.

So, now that we know what they want and expect, let’s look at some specific reasons why Boomers think this way, and how you should frame your thinking when developing new technologies for use in your association, club or nonprofit.

Too Complicated:

Complexity can be a deterrent. The AARP report found that Boomers “blame manufacturers for creating unnecessary complexity”. According to their research, “Too many features” is the primary reason for frustration among 57% of Boomers. One respondent said ““My little digital camera, which fits in my pocket, came with an instruction manual that was bigger than the one that came with my Subaru.”

You may have already embraced and implemented technology that seems to be a good fit for your organization – but your users may perceive it as being too complex. What seems simple and streamlined to you, may seem like a complicated deterrent to your members.

Failure to adapt to their needs

Millennials are often referred to as “digital natives” and early adopters. This generation is generally inquisitive about new technologies and are always looking for the new popular thing. They will actually make changes in their lifestyle and habits to try new technologies.

Boomers on the other hand are seen as “sensible adopters”. They may not want to drastically change the way they do things to use some new technology or software. However, Boomers have been found to quickly adopt technology that directly addresses their needs. For example, many of your volunteers may have learned software that applies to their professions or careers, but they may not seek out new technology just because it is the latest, greatest tech toy.

So, your Boomer members aren’t so much tech-adverse, but they need to know that the technology in question is worth learning or adapting to. They want to see the benefits of learning new ways of doing things. Once the new technology makes sense to them, they are less hesitant to give it a try.

In addition to ensuring new technology is necessary and beneficial, older Boomers may also face some physical limitations to adoption. A Pew Research Study found that  “Not only do [Boomers] use many common technologies at relatively low rates, they also face unique barriers and challenges to increasing those adoption levels.” This means organizations should be sure there are no barriers to use, including things as simple as using larger typefaces for easy legibility on online forms or clear instructions for completing, enlarging or increasing volume on web-based materials.

So when you are thinking of ways to incorporate technology into your organization, be sure it meets the needs of your members. Any new solution should be capable of being adapted to their needs.

Technology is intrusive

Many Boomers find that technology is intrusive and disruptive. People wearing headphones in church, family members on their cellphones during dinner, and fellow club members texting instead of having a conversation, are common complaints. Some Boomers perceive rapid changes in technology as detrimental to the human experience they are used to. But that thought isn’t necessarily true. Technology can be used to enhance interaction and bring us closer. This distorted perception can erect barriers for members or volunteers who got involved with their membership organization primarily to interact, network and share information with their peers.

That means you need to find ways to bridge the reality-perception gap.

Lack of training

As we’ve said earlier, younger generations, such as Millennials, are “digital natives” who grew up trying out new technology and now look for tech solutions to everything. They are comfortable trying out new software and systems.  But many Boomers and Gen X’s may be reluctant to try to figure things out on their own. A Pew Institute study found that most older adults say they would need assistance learning how to use new devices and digital services. So there is a clear need for training or at the very least, instructions and orientation to new technology. Boomers are looking for quick tips and  tutorials, not drawn out manuals or formal training.

Security concerns

Security concerns are another reason for Boomers to shy away from technology. Leading IT security software manufacturer ZoneAlarm conducted a study in 2012 that showed that 58% of Baby Boomers rank security as the most important consideration when making decisions about their computers.

Trust in computer systems seems lacking. Boomers who have been long-time customers of banks are comfortable with using software to transfer funds and pay bills. Yet well-known e-commerce companies like Amazon or eBay still struggle to attract Boomers as regular customers. The idea of providing credit card information and bank details through an online form still seems foreign to this generation. This lack of trust in security may be a key reason your members or supporters are reluctant to use online renewal and payment features.

Again, you have to look for ways to dispel this negative perception and help users feel confident and comfortable when making online transactions. For example, using reputable online payment providers as part of your membership management systems and ensuring security assurance is provided, can be key to encouraging moving members towards online self-service transactions.

Give your users options and step-by-step instructions on how to go about making a transaction safely. Bust the myth that making transactions online is risky using reassuring safety features.

Understanding member, volunteer, board or staff apprehensions

The bottom line is that you need to try to understand and empathize with the attitudes, concerns or genuine barriers to tech adoption by your members, volunteers and staff.  Perhaps the best way to identify issues is to ask them!  Have you considered, for example, conducting a survey or a focus group and asking about their concerns? Of course, if you have many members who are reluctant to go online, then you may need to mail out a survey or even conduct face-to-face focus groups. It might help if you struck a small task force with one of your more reluctant Boomer volunteers spearheading efforts to better understand and deal with tech reluctance. Ask these individuals about their preferences and their concerns.

Convincing “sensible adopters” to make the change

Now that you have a better understanding of the attitudes behind the reluctance to embrace new technology, let’s look at how you might convince your various stakeholders to move towards tech adoption.

After all, as the Pew Research Internet Project has discovered, individuals who have become accustomed to “using digital tools with some frequency,” and  “have integrated the internet and other digital technologies into their lives tend to view them as essential resources that positively impact their daily life. Fully 79% of older adults who use the internet agree (47% strongly) with the statement that “people without internet access are at a real disadvantage because of all the information they might be missing.” In fact, the majority in the study agreed that “the internet makes it much easier to find information today than in the past.” This means you need to convince the reluctant tech-users of the benefits they’ll derive from embracing technology.

Your organization is made up of many different stakeholders: your members, your volunteers, including the board, and administrative staff or volunteers. All of these groups will have different challenges when it comes to adopting technology.  Here are some tech tools and features, as well as key points to convey to encourage adoption.


Our customers and Small Membership Advisory Community members often ask us: “how can I convince my members to use our website?” or “how can I get members to use the online self-service tools?”

Let’s look at some of the online tools membership organizations want to implement and consider ways of introducing or explaining the benefits of these in order to encourage use.

Membership applications:

For prospects, your application form is the gateway to membership. When you have an online membership application  form, the prospect can check out membership benefits then immediately sign up and pay their membership fee. There is no delay and no need to print out a  form and mail in a check.

But for those who are “tech-adverse”, the online application form may also be a barrier to joining. That’s why the form should be as simple as possible, so that any potential member can sign up in a matter of minutes without assistance. Using drop down menus and multiple choice options can help simplify the forms even further. Having clear, easy-to-follow instructions is also key to ensuring reluctant folks complete the form. In addition, when the application leads to an online payment portal, be sure there are clear instructions and even a link to security information.

Membership renewals:

Like membership applications, having members renew their memberships online offers time-savings for all involved. But if some members are reluctant to let go of traditional membership renewal processes (e.g., completing printed forms and mailing in their checks), you may need to demonstrate the benefits of online self-service renewals.

Perhaps it can start by including clear messaging in their renewal emails so that they understand that they can simply click on a link and renew quickly and easily. You can also offer them  the option of recurring payments for membership fees through your automated membership management system. Make sure to offer clear instructions and minimize the number of clicks or steps involved in the renewal to demonstrate efficiency and time-savings.

Once again, if there is reluctance to use your online payment processing for renewals, offer information about the payment service provider and details around their security precautions, as well as simple instructions to make it easier and help folks feel more comfortable with the new process.


Many organizations are moving to e-newsletters that are emailed to recipients, but reside on your website. But many of your long-standing members or supporters are used to receiving a printed copy and may be reluctant to change. It can be important to let these folks know the benefits to all involved – both to them and the organization –  in moving to a digital newsletter format.

An e-newsletter offers the membership organization the ability to share information quickly and easily, since there is no delay due to layout, printing and mailing. This means that members and supporters can receive up-to-date information, calls to action and news almost immediately. It also enables members to interact with their organization, through hyperlinks to surveys, forums or additional information.

For nonprofits, an e-newsletter enables instant fundraising (e.g., “Click Here To Donate”); it can also enable quick crowd-raising and volunteer engagement.

In addition, e-newsletters are beneficial to the organization – reducing costs to print and mail publications, as well as reducing staff time to produce a printed version. These reduced costs can be applied to providing additional member benefits, products, services or programs that benefit members and move the organization’s mission forward.

So e-newsletters can be a win-win situation for all involved. But be sure that digital newsletters are both informative and easy to read – show and tell using a clean and easy to read format, lots of visuals, large font sizes, and easy to see and use calls-to-action that involve and engage members and supporters.

Event registration:

Events are important activities for most nonprofits and membership organizations. Using an online event promotion and registration portal allows users to to register and pay for events quickly and easily. But many of your long-standing members or participants may be used to receiving printed programs and registration forms, and sending in checks that need to be manually administered.

The move to digital tickets and email confirmations can save time – for both the registrant and the event administrators. So be sure to make that clear to those who may wonder why you’ve moved event registration online. Be sure to let event registrants know that you are trying to conserve  energy and paper (saving trees) with online self-service registration. Remind folks in your emails that it is convenient for them to simply click a link in your promotion email and they can register and pay via a secure payment processing system, using a credit card.

To help encourage adoption of online event processing, make sure registration forms are brief and simple and use, with preset drop-down menu options to speed up the process. And always offer up an email or phone number for questions or concerns.


Volunteers are a critical resource for nonprofits, clubs and membership organizations. They offer up their time and energy to run events, programs, fundraising and in some cases, managing day-to-day administration as well. Their efforts are invaluable. So it’s imperative that the systems you put in place are designed to save them time and make their life easier.

However, sometimes these volunteers are reluctant to change the way they do things, even though the new way or new technology may be more efficient. For example, the person responsible for managing your membership database may have developed a system using a number of spreadsheets and mail merge functions to handle renewals. Moving to an automated membership management system may seem daunting – a new process and software to learn.

But if you can offer a smooth transition to your new online system, as well as video and online help support, your volunteers might be willing to embrace the change.  Be sure to demonstrate that making the change will result in less work once the system is functioning – with automated renewals, invoices, payment tracking and confirmation emails. For example, with WildApricot, invoices are automatically sent out by email whenever a membership or event transaction takes place. This saves a lot of time and effort, and offers a clear means of tracking both communication with the member, as well as automatic updating of financial records.

For those volunteers who are used to their long-standing processes for event promotion and registration, demonstrate how easily they can keep track of multiple events, payments and event preferences, such as custom dinner orders or group payments. Make it clear that the energy they save can be applied in other areas to ensure their event or fundraiser goes smoothly.

If you are a WildApricot user, consider introducing the mobile app, which can be especially helpful to volunteers at events. You can use the WildApricot app to check in attendees at events or check your membership or contact database on the fly. After all, even most folks that are “tech reluctant”, are used to using their SmartPhones.

Board members:

Of all of your stakeholders, your Board may be the most entrenched in preserving long-held traditions. Many of the members of your Board may have become used to processes over a number of years and may be reluctant to embrace change. But with the right leadership, this group should actually be modelling behavior that embraces change – but change that makes sense for all of the members and for the organization as a whole.

In terms of tech adoption, the Board may need to lead the charge in terms of bringing on automated or digital membership management systems. They’ll be the ones who see the potential return-on-investment involved with automated membership applications and renewals. And they’ll see the advantages of having e-newsletters that get information out more quickly and cost-effectively, and encourage member and supporter engagement as well.

But your Board can also embrace new ways of working as a team, using technology. For example, the group can look at document sharing software such as Google Drive. This would allow the Board to create and share a variety of documents across the entire Board team. Text documents, reports and presentations can all be created and collaboratively edited in the cloud. Google Drive’s built-in features like comments and chats create a dynamic real-time environment where Board members can interact with one-another remotely, without having long in-person meetings. For example, Board members could be invited to work on next week’s agenda or have committee members collaborate to create their next presentation. Editing completed documents is breeze as well. For example, a chairperson can add links to a supporting document, such as the most up-to-date event budget or Treasurer’s report, without having to send these to all of the Board members or print out additional copies. All changes are saved in the virtual drive and are available for everyone to see. This saves time and money, as well as trees.

Tips For Encouraging Tech Adoption

So, we’ve heard some of the detractors to tech adoption and change, and looked at some specific technology and features you might employ. Now let’s look at some tweaks and ideas that will encourage tech adoption across your organization. Use these as general guidelines when researching, purchasing and customizing new technology or software.

1. Simplify everything:

Devices, products and services with too many features or complicated layouts deter users. Stick to limited functionality in any single piece of software or service. Fewer distractions leads to a better understanding of the software and decreases the learning curve.

Try incorporating:

2. Tailor new technologies for users:

Keep in mind your main audience when developing or choosing new technologies. They may have attitudes, fears or physical limitations that may deter adoption. Simple modifications like larger fonts and clear graphics can go a long way to increasing both adoption and usage.

Tailoring tips:

  • ensure you use a clean design format on your website – especially event pages, news, renewal instructions, etc.
  • use clear, large font sizes
  • avoid using reverse type (white type on black background) – it’s too hard to read, especially for aging eyes
  • provide clear instructions; offer tutorials or links to webinars to help new users feel more comfortable

3. Don’t be intrusive:

Make any technological changes minimally intrusive. Push notifications, constant reminders or lengthy emails are likely to be rejected. Your aim should be to find ways to incorporate the technology that benefits your organization and your stakeholders, in a way that is non-intrusive so it seamlessly fits into your members’ or supporters’ life (whether they are Boomers, Millennials or Gen Xers).

Reduce intrusion by:

  • keeping instructions simple and to a minimum
  • refraining from using pop-ups or opening new browser windows
  • avoiding the unnecessary use of sound or large moving graphics

4. Emphasize security:

Recent news on hacking and identity theft can be difficult to overcome. Use real world examples and live demonstrations to show how easy and safe it is to use payment systems such as PayPal or enter credit card information. Equate the safety features of your system with those used in trusted banks; and emphasize features built into their own internet banking systems (phishing prevention, SPAM blocking, fraudulent activity tracking, etc.).

Reassure members about security by:

  • using online payment systems like those supported by WildApricot
  • highlighting modern online payment security measures taken by major credit card companies (Visa, Mastercard, AMEX, etc..)
  • taking advantage of implementing access restrictions and member privacy settings to provide security and protect members’ privacy

Final Takeaways

Most associations, clubs, and non-profits have members from all walks of life. The demographics are varied – including Baby Boomers, Millennials, Gen Xers and more. What all of these folks have in common is: the potential to harness the power of technology to make your organization more efficient and therefore more productive.

Whether you have an existing digital system or are looking for tech solutions to streamline your organization’s administration, try to find a balance between new technology, security and ease of use. The better the balance, the easier it will be for you to convince your members of its merits.

The tips outlined above are a great start, but don’t expect to get all your ducks in a row right out of the gate. Taking smaller calculated steps may be the best way of helping your members, volunteers or staff embrace tech adoption and slowly start to see the value of making meaningful change.

Don’t think of this as a huge, disruptive overhaul project but rather as three smaller steps:

  1. Have a conversation: Talk to your members, donors, staff and volunteers. If necessary, conduct a survey or a focus group to discuss challenges, issues and possible solutions. Find out how to best serve all of your stakeholders and move forward with options that meet their needs. Focus on asking questions that help to highlight benefits to them and the organization, such as saving time, improved efficiency, cost-savings, security and the ability to connect and provide information faster.

  1. Shop around: Once you know what the problem areas are, research possible options. Keep in mind features that we outlined above. This technology should address issues and concerns raised by both the organization and your members. Take advantage of free trials and demos so that you can test out your options and gauge what best suits your specific needs.

  1. Implement: If you’ve spoken to your staff, volunteers and members and found appropriate software that addresses their needs, implementing your changes should become easier. Be sure to demonstrate the results of your findings and how exactly the new systems will help them. They will appreciate that their needs were taken into consideration. Show off the new features at every opportunity and try and build incentives to adopting the changes early on.

Remember that the aim of all this is to make your staff and volunteers more efficient, and your members feel more connected to your organization. Making transitions like this can be disruptive as there’s always an adjustment phase. But a well researched, well designed and well implemented system that keeps its users’ preferences first, will in the long run make a positive change.

Read More: 200+ Amazing Free or Cheap Nonprofit Software Tools

Need more insight into how other membership organizations have benefited by adopting technology? Here are some examples of how WildApricot’s membership management software has helped organizations like yours.

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