Your association database is the single most important asset your organization owns.
Many associations and chambers of commerce don't hold patents, produce products or create proprietary information, such as extensive research projects or detailed industry reports. However, the collection of data in your membership database IS a propriety asset.
This data is unique and extremely valuable to your organization.
Your membership database software should contain everything you need to manage your members and their employees: contact information, related employees, invoicing, transaction and contact history, committees, email & communications tools, reporting and much more.
Yet, with an asset so crucial to their organization's success, many business associations and chambers of commerce make mistakes that directly impact the usefulness of their membership database, and - ultimately - the success of their organization.
Mistake #1:Secret Lists
This is where you keep your own "secret" Excel file of members who want to receive two copies of the newsletter or that group of members that you keep as advisors on certain issues. Or, anything else you want to keep track of but can't find a way to do it in your member database.
You might not think this is a big deal, but you've now created two (or more) systems that must be kept up-to-date, creating the potential for additional data entry errors. And, updated versions of these secrets lists are usually hard to share among several people who may need access to them.
The solution: Your database should allow you to create tags, groups or codes that let you manage an unlimited number of groups for your members and their employees. This way, your information will always be current and you can share that information with other employees, without worrying about who has which version of the list.
Mistake #2: No database-website integration
It seems hard to believe in 2012, but we still see associations who need to manually update membership directories, event calendar and more on their website. Even using a method of exporting to excel and importing into the website is outdated and creates opportunities for mistakes. Events may not be updated properly and your membership directory will always be missing some new members or displaying members who should be removed. These kind of mistakes lead to unhappy members and additional work, and they can easily be avoided.
The solution: A web-based membership management system with direct integration with your website allows you to automatically keep your information current and provide better service to your members and your community.
Mistake #3: Not having all the staff use it.
Your organization succeeds when all members of the team are moving toward the same goal and sharing information effectively. When one or two (or more) of your team don't have access to - or refuse to use - your association database, your organization cannot work together as a cohesive unit. When a "non-user" needs information, they usually have to ask someone else to do if for them. This takes additional time and keeps that person from doing other important work.
The solution: Even if staff only use the database once or twice a month, make sure they are trained on how to get the information they need to do their jobs and serve your members. I'd even ask how they can use the database more to help the organization reach its goals.
Mistake #4: Sharing Logins
Sometimes to save money or to "keep things simple," organizations will create generic logins for staff to access their member database, or they will tell staff to share logins. While this seems like a good idea at first, remember how critical your data is to your business. This data includes who is accessing your system, when they are accessing it and what information they are changing. Without unique logins for your staff, your software's audit trails of who changed what information and when will be almost useless. And, without knowing who has or has not logged in, you won't be able to effectively gauge which staff members may need refresher training to help your organization perform at a high level.
The solution: Make sure every person at your organization has a unique login to access your membership management system.
Mistake #5: No documented data entry policies
We've already discussed how important your data is to your association. However, many organizations forget that how you enter that data matters, too! Simple items such as always entering addresses and abbreviations consistently will help greatly when you search for members and information later. And, making sure you're creating consistent nomenclature for systems code and tracking mechanisms will make your life much better when you need to generate reports from your membership system.
The solution: Take the time to create simple data entry policies and train your entire staff. Make sure you include these policies as part of your onboarding plan for new staff, too. As mentioned in #3 above, your team needs to be working with the same information to work together and drive results for your association. Knowing how information should be entered (or has been entered) will minimize the chances for errors and increase your opportunities for success.
What other mistakes do you see associations making when using their membership management software?