What Small Membership Groups Want to Know About Technology

Lori Halley 04 March 2013 0 comments

This month, we’re focusing on technology and websites. So I thought it was fitting to start with a look at some of the questions around technology identified by the participants in our recent Small Membership Insight Survey.  

We asked survey respondents what they’d like to ask their small membership peers, and in response, here are some of the questions they had about technology:

  1. Do you find a majority of board members are still reluctant to embrace new technologies?
  2. What level of technical skill do you have on your board to implement web applications?
  3. What software to use to automate admin tasks?
  4. How do you maintain your membership database?
  5. What’s the most cost-effective way to offer on-line settlement?
  6. What combination of software do you use to manage your organization?
  7. How do you use IT to drive costs down?
  8. How do you handle the IT/Technical aspects of administration and communication when a true "pro" is out of financial reach as an employee or consultant?

Emerging Themes

These questions offer great insight into the challenges that small organizations face in trying to grow and serve their membership with limited resources. And while we don’t have all of the answers, we thought we could get the conversation started by offering some thoughts on a couple of the themes that emerged through the respondents’ questions.

Our survey findings suggest that a typical small membership organization is either solely volunteer-led or has one full or part-time staff member. In these organizations, roughly 60% of functions, such as managing membership and volunteer management, as well as financial and event management, are handled by volunteers. So it isn’t surprising that the volunteers and staff of these organizations are looking for technological solutions to help reduce or streamline administrative tasks while keeping costs down.

Learning to embrace new technologies

As Jeff Hurt noted in a recent post – Technology Mastery is a Must to Succeed Today

“Technology Ignorance is Not Bliss … you can no longer afford to ignore the impact that technology has on your current and future operations as well as your organization’s culture. Technology advancements are not going away.”

Since the world – including the members of even the smallest organizations – has moved online, it’s time your organization (board members and all) embraced technology as well. And to paraphrase an idiom, unfamiliarity with your members’ and prospective members’ technological habits and expectations, may well lead them to “breed contempt” for your organization.

Hurt suggests that leaders employ a “High Beam Strategy” to set an “accurate vision and direction for the future of your organization” in order to “accurately predict how future society dynamics will impact” your organization. However, he also notes that “Not every leader must become a technology expert. They only need to be able to understand underlying structural concepts of how to connect valuable digital plumbing.”

Another blogger, Shannon Neeser of XYZ University, offers an example of how organizations can and should embrace technology. She notes that as our reading habits change and we begin to use e-readers, tablets and smartphones instead of books, libraries have had to embrace digital technology to survive. Neeser explains that “Libraries are becoming a place to check out e-books and leading efforts to scan and digitize rare, unique and fragile collections, making them even more accessible. Libraries are staying true to their mission and finding great ways to remain relevant. Your association needs to do the same.”

In order to “keep up,” Neeser suggests that organizations “Take a look at your mission and consider how people look for that value today. Provide the value to your members in the way they want to access it now. …Has technology changed the way your association does business; has it changed the way your members expect to do business? …. Don’t let your association be the last to adopt new technology that your members value. If you don’t even use their tools, how will you convince them you know how to add value to their lives?”

Cost-effective tools for membership management

Once you’ve convinced your fellow volunteers, board or staff to embrace technology, you can start to take advantage of some of the cost-efficiencies available with online technologies. This is at the heart of questions 3 through 7 from our survey respondents above. If your organization is struggling with any of those issues, it may be time to look at automating your membership management processes – from membership database and directory to your  renewals procedures.

If you’re wondering how your small membership peers are managing their renewals, our findings from our Membership Renewal Survey in 2012 indicate that:

  • Almost 64% of small membership organizations are using automated renewal reminders
  • 82% offer some form of renewal "self-service," usually through their website

Rather than using “a combination of software” as suggested in question #6 above, you might want to consider an Association or Membership Management system or software to streamline the renewal process and reduce the resources required for membership administration. Many membership management systems (such as Wild Apricot) enable you to automate:

Benefits of moving membership online "to the cloud"

If your organization is lacking in “IT/Technical” expertise as suggested in #8 above, you might want to consider a user-friendly, cloud application for membership so that a number of volunteers or staff can share the administrative tasks.  Cloud computing offers many benefits, such as:

  • Accessibility:  Cloud software/systems can be accessed anywhere on any computer that has Internet capability. For example, the volunteers or staff of a membership organization using a cloud-based membership management system, can manage their member database or update their website remotely from their individual computers via the web, without uploading any software on individual computer hard drives. 
  • Ease of sharing and updating: All data or files are stored online (in the cloud) instead of on a particular hard drive, so files can be shared easily and are always up-to-date. This means, no duplicate member lists or out-of-date email lists and no need to email or copy files on USB sticks for updating.
  • Reduced maintenance: Cloud or web-based software or systems are automatically updated so there is no need to pay for or install upgrades as the system is enhanced. This also reduces the need for IT support.

What do you think?

Do you have any advice or answers for our survey respondents?  Please let us know in the comments below.

Stay tuned to the Wild Apricot Blog this month for more posts on technology and websites.

Image source:  Apps In Sphere Pattern - courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 04 March 2013 at 8:30 AM

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