The institution as a member is at the center of all association activities – central access to member data and fact-based, strategic organizational development play a key role here. Analogous to the customer, who is the focus of entrepreneurial sales activities, it is important to align association work with the member so that successful existence, membership growth and strong positioning are possible.
Staff shortages, membership management, a clear association profile, social responsibility – the range of current topics in the association industry is wider than ever. The linchpin here continues to be member communication and digitization. This is also confirmed by the annual survey “Association Trends 2023” by the Gesellschaft für Verbandsmanagement e.V. (DGVM). The cross-sectional organization for full-time managed associations in a wide range of industries in Germany regularly surveys its members about their own objectives and expectations.
This year, the top trend “Continue to drive forward digitization / Exploit opportunities for the association” leads the ranking. At over 67 percent, more than two-thirds of the associations surveyed focus on the topic of digitization, which indicates that identified potential is to be further exploited. The topic of “intensifying member communication, winning members and retaining members” also achieved a remarkably high value of just under 60 percent.
But how can the needs behind these trends be implemented in day-to-day association work? A look at the practical side of things shows: The professionalization of contact management by means of a professional customer relationship management solution (CRM) is a matter of course in the private sector. Following this example, association-specific CRM solutions can also be used to make association processes sustainable, networked, holistic and, above all, member-centric. This stable foundation is of central importance in order to be able to react flexibly to new developments.
Data quality and efficiency thanks to digitization
Association employees and management want processes that are as consistent and efficient as possible. Integrated thinking assistants (e.g., integrated address directories) in particular support daily work and facilitate digitization in practice. At the same time, a valuable basis for high and reliable data quality is created. This includes active member management, member service, event organization as well as (legal) advice and much more.
In order to manage the diverse association activities in a clear and transparent manner, Excel lists or the knowledge in the heads of employees have long since ceased to be sufficient. On the contrary, a large number of associations already rely on a CRM solution today, because the daily tasks can be performed much more efficiently and in a time-saving manner.
For example, new contacts can be created quickly and easily with the help of address wizards, and existing information can be added. Through daily work with member contacts, information is continuously enriched, for example through telephone calls, appointments and e-mails. In this way, all information is intelligently linked together in one solution. This information is available to employees centrally and always up-to-date in the digital 360-degree file (member history). Internal as well as external inquiries can thus be processed efficiently and with high quality.
The centrally available information can be used to support a wide variety of processes. Examples are the organization of events (selection of addresses according to certain characteristics, administration of registrations), the member service or the regular billing of membership fees. Process support saves valuable time and effort in the office.
Only through the central storage of data can claims for data deletion and data information be met in a legally secure and DSGVO-compliant manner. Rights and role concepts ensure that only those employees and teams are allowed to read and edit data to which they have access.
Communicate purposefully across all channels
Association members rightly expect individual support and consistent service. Personal, direct, timely and high-quality communication is the critical factor in maintaining relationships.
The formula for success is therefore: the more individual the advice or service, the higher the member satisfaction.
Regardless of the location on the member journey, it is important to address members via the appropriate channels and to enter into dialog. With the support of a professional association solution, different target groups can be selected quickly and easily. Whether mailings, newsletters, serial letters or surveys – the contacting and support is consistently aligned to the respective needs and effectively designed. The time gained through this increase in efficiency can be used for the actual association work (lobbying, representation of interests elsewhere, educational mission, etc.).
Interlocking of the system landscape essential for efficiency
In addition to a central CRM association solution, associations often use other systems in which important data (e.g., master data, contracts, file entries) are stored. Care must be taken to avoid duplicate data maintenance and to ensure that the software solutions are interlinked. Regardless of whether it is the member portal, the login area, or the output of member companies on the website – changes can be synchronized bidirectionally between member portals, CMS systems, and CRM solutions with the appropriate interface, and changes can be applied automatically.
Keeping an eye on memberships and contributions
As complex as the association landscape is, as diverse are the contribution regulations, which have often grown over years (decades) – ordinary members, extraordinary members, sustaining members and many more. An efficient association solution helps to maintain an overview. At the push of a button, it is possible to transparently track which member has been active since when and at which (special) conditions.
Clearly coordinate committee work
The structure of the associations is at least as varied as their contribution regulations, apart from the legally prescribed board of directors under Section 26 of the German Civil Code (BGB). In almost all associations, there are committee structures – be they working groups, task forces or other groups with different names that work on various topics within the association. In addition to the content-related work, these structures must be managed administratively so that the mostly volunteer committee members can concentrate on the content-related work. The CRM enables the association’s employees to coordinate committee activities effectively. This makes it easier to manage committee memberships and appointments as well as documents such as statements and minutes.
Optimized event management
Whether it’s a committee meeting, specialist congresses or continuing education courses – the variety of events in the association sector is immense. It offers equally important opportunities to cultivate personal relationships, promote exchange, create a platform for dialog with experts and act as a mediator of competence and knowledge.
For the respective organizers in the associations, the organization of the events poses a major challenge, depending on their complexity, in the absence of an efficient digital tool. Who is invited to the event? Who takes part? Who was registered and yet did not come? Should the invitation be sent by mail or letter? To which addresses should documents be sent afterwards?
A professional CRM supports employees in planning and implementing a wide variety of events in a short time. Central data access provides employees with an overview of all relevant events. All information on speakers, service providers, participants, documents, other documents and tasks can be found directly in the event file.
For example, when members register for a specific event via a participation link or a registration form on the association’s website, the information is stored in the CRM and is available to employees for organizing the event without any further effort or duplicate maintenance. Required documents such as lists of attendees can be created in a time-saving manner at the push of a button.
Using evaluations and reports holistically
Organizational development is critical to the current and future success of any association. But how can this development be driven forward? In order to make informed decisions and evaluate measures, key figures are essential. CRM systems support employees with meaningful reporting to generate valid information from existing data. A quick and simple evaluation creates clarity for operational and strategic decisions and offers one thing above all: a transparent overview and data-based success control.
Conclusion: Personalization and digitization as building blocks for future-proof associations
Associations should rely on tools for digitization and personalization. With the help of a CRM solution, member loyalty can be increased, thus reducing the risk of membership loss and safeguarding the association’s existence. The basis for this is member-centric association work. A professional CRM solution actively supports this project by consistently networking association activities and efficiently supporting complex administrative processes.
Five tips for a successful digitization strategy:
- Be inspired: Use existing knowledge and seek advice from experts as well as different software providers to learn about the possibilities in detail and new impulses.
- Develop awareness of opportunities: Get employees on board, listen to them and motivate them to rethink existing processes digitally.
- Developing a picture of the future without mental boundaries: Gather the implementation options in an unbiased and open manner and formulate a joint vision from them.
- Digitization as a strategic association topic: Together, understand digitization as a future task throughout the association and celebrate progress piece by piece.
- Start simple: Do not be deterred by the potential size and details of the project, but see the opportunities. That means taking one step at a time toward digitally efficient association processes.
About the Author:
Lisa Reich is an IT business economist and digital transformation manager (IHK) who has been working in the association environment for several years. She has gained experience in the introduction and implementation of digitalization and CRM projects. As an enthusiastic believer, her current focus is on advising non-profit organizations that are intensively considering the opportunities of a CRM implementation and expansion. In her consulting work, it is important for Ms. Reich to keep an eye on the sustainability of current decisions as a cornerstone for long-term success. Ms. Reich is employed as Customer Success Manager at CAS Software AG (CAS Communities) in Karlsruhe.
Note: For reasons of better readability, the article does not use feminine and masculine forms of language simultaneously and uses the generic masculine. All references to persons apply equally to both genders.