If you’re concerned about the growth of your organization, it’s only natural to focus on topics like membership recruitment and retention, marketing efforts, and ramping up your presence on social media.
While each of those processes matters a great deal, it’s important to not overlook some of the behind-the-scenes technology and capabilities that enable you to keep the lights on in the first place. In this post, I’ll focus on three key technology considerations that can impact your ability to grow, and share some related best practices.
Integrate technology across your organization
One of the most important priorities for most organizations is to make sure their various systems can talk with each other. Most associations have some combination of core systems, usually beginning with accounting, Association Management Systems (AMS), and Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and sometimes extending to automated accounting systems and other solutions. Often these systems have been acquired and developed incrementally over the course of years, and in some cases they interact effectively enough. But in other instances, there are disconnects and incompatibilities. When systems are unable to talk with each other effectively, it can mean rework, errors, and worst of all, poor-quality member service.
If you are having problems with systems that don’t interact effectively, there may be technology solutions that can help. Rather than simply create more workarounds, sometimes the best approach is to speak with a technology integrator and explain your challenges.
Reducing the need for paper documentation
A technology solution that can deliver real value for your members and partners is to automate aspects of your accounting system — in particular, your accounts payable function. Transitioning to automated accounting systems can help you move toward a paperless (or nearly paperless) process for documentation and online bill payment. That can free up staff time so that they can focus on solving more complex problems that members are having related to payments or reporting.
While your bank may be able to provide partial solutions, in many cases the supporting documentation doesn’t automatically transfer to your internal accounting software. More effective solutions essentially come with their own bill management and payment lifecycle, creating audit trails at the same time they’re generating payments. The solutions also provide staff in operating units greater visibility into their own budgets, while effectively safeguarding your organization’s assets.
Cloud-based and SaaS solutions
Another area you may want to look into is moving to a cloud-based and or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) system. This trend has been developing for some time, but it’s becoming increasingly important — especially in terms of data security. In the past, some associations were able to operate with systems that lagged behind the most recent software release. Unfortunately, the increasing incidence of hacking and ransomware attacks makes it more important than ever to keep your system up-to-date. Cloud-based systems can address this need automatically.
A few additional words of advice
It’s worth pointing out that not all technology enhancements have the same impact on efficiency and member service. Don’t be taken in by the lure of the new and shiny. For example, you might get advice to install the newest, flashiest Learning Management System or enhancements to your website. However, these enhancements may not measurably improve your ability to meet member needs — and they also come at a cost. Investing in new technology is only smart to the extent it helps you accomplish your mission.
When it comes to technology, it pays to question everything and be open to change. With the variety of automated accounting systems and specialized tools on the market today, you almost certainly have options today that you haven’t considered before.
Time to get growing?
As long as associations and other nonprofit organizations have existed, a complex array of challenges has often limited not only their ability to grow, but even to sustain themselves from year to year. The current economic environment has been especially hard on associations — but even if and when business “returns to normal,” other challenges will almost certainly emerge. Associations that embrace this reality are one step closer to developing and implementing alternate solutions for sustained growth.
As discussed above, there are a variety of best practices and models that can point the way to better outcomes. The stakes couldn’t be higher — but by adhering to these best practices and incorporating them into your management strategy, you can optimize your organization’s likelihood of success.
For more information and insight increasing member engagement, feel free to contact Vault Consulting.