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I need to access my member database from another system. Does the AMS have functionality that can help access necessary data?
January 30th, 2013

It’s not uncommon to want to share (export) data collected in your association management system (AMS) with another system.  For instance, it is a common requirement to flow transactions from membership and renewal fees, registration fees, and products sold online into your accounting system.

Other examples of where you might want to have data move between systems would be your AMS and MLS (multiple listing service) if you are an association for realtors, or being able to move contacts between your email marketing solution and your AMS.

The truth is any kind of integration is do-able; but what typically drives the decision on what to integrate or customize is how much it will cost.  So here are five guidelines to consider as you plan your systems configuration.

1. Determine what integrations the AMS offers out of the box

It is fairly common for the AMS to have built-in integration with a collection of 3rd party solutions such as eCommerce, eMarketing and events management solutions.  When these integrations are built-in, it typically means that there is a relationship between the software publishers and the functionality is due to customer demand and, as a result, is well-tested and reliable.

2. Define the requirements of your organization and prioritize the list (need to have, nice to have, etc.)

Make a list of what you need to have and what would be nice to have.  This will help you choose the AMS which provides the best fit for your association, and it will provide you with different levels of investment.  It could be that you can afford all of your requirements.  But if the pricing suddenly becomes prohibitive, you can look at bringing costs down by removing the nice to have functionality from your list.

3. Investigate what integration and customization will cost prior to implementing the AMS

If you ask, “Can X by integrated with Y?” the answer will always be “yes.”  Today’s platforms and technology make pretty much anything possible. The more important question is “How much will it cost me to integrate X and Y?”  As mentioned before, the best answer is that the integration is built into the system and there is no additional cost.  There might be other situations where the integration is not built-in, requiring some customization, but the additional cost is not prohibitive. Based on the time savings you gain, the cost of integration or customization can be a good investment.  In other cases, the cost may be too high for your organization based on the return on investment.  As long as you know the cost in advance, you can make the right decision for your association.

4. Be clear on what might result as a result of numerous customizations

Having dealt with the cost as noted in point 3, it’s also important to know what impact the integration or customization will have going forward.  Will heavy customization mean that rather than accessing your AMS in the cloud you will need to invest in an on-premise version that will require an investment in servers and network infrastructure?  Will the customization impact future upgrades of the core AMS system?  Sometimes heavily customized systems will work on one version of the software but will not work immediately on new versions of the software.  In these cases it is critical to know in advance how to proceed with upgrades to prevent problems with your system.

5. Select a technology partner who understands both the project (the software) and the context (how associations work)

It’s difficult to completely execute steps 1 through 4 without an experienced technology partner who has a thorough understanding of the software and how associations work.  We cannot stress enough how important both areas of expertise are.  Someone could be very experienced with the technology but if they don’t understand the context of what an association needs to have to operate and accommodate their membership, it can be a disaster.  Likewise, someone could be the foremost authority on association operations but if they don’t have the software expertise, costs can quickly escalate and prolong AMS deployment with frustrating trial and error.

The spectrum of what associations chose to do with their AMS ranges from vanilla (using the solution ‘as is’ with no tweaks) to highly customized software to map with organization-specific processes.  The good news is, with careful planning and a trusted technology partner, you can find the absolute right balance for your association.




We want to give our members a great online experience. What AMS features should I be looking for?
January 30th, 2013

Put yourself in your members’ shoes and think about what they would want:  easy to use and highly intuitive user interface (simple, minimal frustration); complete and up-to-date information; and member interaction via well organized and easy-to-find resources, announcements, and discussion threads.

1. Intuitive User Interface

Your members have probably used LinkedIn or Facebook and they will naturally compare their experience on other social platforms with your association management system’s (AMS) online community and user portal.  The easier it is for your members to use, the more likely members will use it on a regular basis.   A great online experience begins with mastery of the platform, so be sure that the AMS user portal and online community is straightforward and easy to comprehend.

2. Access to their own information

It’s likely that the first area members will view is their own information.  Your AMS should be clearly organized so that members know what information to add to their profile.  Make sure data fields are clearly defined to encourage members to enter everything needed for a complete profile.

3. Access to educational and transactional information

Once members have begun to use the system meet their expectations by having important information such as purchase information and accreditation documentation available.

Members using your AMS’s online commerce pages to purchase products and registrations will appreciate having access to receipts and other transaction documents available for their records.  Make sure that the AMS allows for easy download or printing of purchases or registrations.

Many organizations with ongoing accreditation programs need an AMS that will track educational credits.  Members will need easy access to their records in order to provide documentation to the certifying professional bodies.  Keeping this information accurate and timely, as well as easy to access, contributes greatly to a positive online experience.

4. Access to other members

With most associations, the real treasure and benefit of membership is the interaction among members.  The key to delivering an outstanding online experience is to facilitate member interaction, from simple member directories to online communities.

Member directories should be flexible enough to allow members to search on a variety of fields.  Perhaps they are from Vaughan and want to search to find other members nearby: the AMS should be able to do that.  In another instance, a member might want to search by company name to see all of the members from that company.

Having an AMS that provides a full blown online community opens up all kinds of opportunity for members.  Avectra provides all the member search options as well as a private social networking platform, somewhat similar to LinkedIn, which allows members to consume and contribute information in the form of announcements, discussion threads, resources (such as white papers, research, presentation slides), and surveys.

In order to facilitate focused discussions, groups and subgroups can be created.  An illustration of this might be an over-arching group, such as the Annual Conference, that includes all members who have registered for the event.  There might be subgroups that could be created based on the various session tracks or level of participation (planning committee, volunteers, first time attendees, etc.).  Think of subgroups much the same way you’d think of ‘birds of a feather’ focused discussion tables at an event.

Online community groups provide an online forum where your members are able to keep in touch with other members.  The online community is a great place to get feedback on association offerings and adoption and post announcements on important association news.

Your AMS needs to be simple to use yet robust enough to deliver all that your membership requires in order to maintain a vibrant exchange.  By ensuring these four deliverables are available for your members, you will not only create an outstanding member experience, you will strengthen the connection between members and your association.




We’ve recently redesigned our website. Will the AMS pages fit with the look and feel?
January 31st, 2013

Combining AMS and your website

Taking a step back, if you haven’t redesigned your website but are thinking about it, consider investigating the Association Management System (AMS) at the same time.  It’s important that the online experience of your members is frustration-free and easy to navigate.

Also, by treating the AMS implementation and website changes at the same time, you will buy yourself precious time down the line because you will not have to reverse engineer the technical aspects of coordinating the two platforms.

Avectra can serve as both the website and the AMS.  This approach means that every aspect of the communication between your website and AMS is built into the system.

Integrating AMS and your website

However, if you’ve already made the move, make sure that the AMS will integrate smoothly with the style of your website.   Ask the AMS solution provider what types of templates, widgets and tools are available to you to access information and provide the online forms that members will need to act from your website.

Avectra provides functional e-Marketing and Web design templates to match your website branding (colours, fonts, and layouts).

It is also possible for members to view and edit their member profiles from the web.  This ensures that you have the most accurate and up-to-date member data.

You may grant specific, member-based permissions that make available resources, discussions and other information of interest to the member according to their membership and profile setting.  This could include directories, compensation studies, exclusive events, or whatever you wish to make available.

Integration between your website and AMS means putting more control in the hands of your members.  Easy, online member self-service meets the expectations of your members while saving your staff time.

Vanity URLs from AMS

The acronym URL stands for uniform resource locator.  It is the web address of a specific platform or resource.  Every time you create a new web page or a blog posting, a new, unique URL is created.  When you create an online registration form, a URL is created.

Sometimes the URLs are pretty straightforward and easy to understand.  For example, Twitter.com will take you to the Twitter home page, affinityNFP.com will take you to our company website.  Other times, the URL generated is a long string of alpha-numeric characters that are not easily identifiable or have taken your member to another online site.

The ability to create a vanity URL means you can name a page, form or post with an easily understandable URL.  When working between an AMS and your website, there are URLs that will be created that won’t match your website domain.

For instance, let’s say that you have created a registration form for an upcoming event.  The URL for that registration form may include the name of the tool used to create the form and a long string of meaningless characters:

http://NameofRegistrationToolJumble.940id=4866934

Avectra will allow you to map that ID to a vanity URL so that the member sees a URL that is more easily understandable:

http://YourOrganizationDomain/ABCevent

It will appear to the member that they have never left your site and that they are in the right place to register.

Your members’ online experience is easier and preferable when the integration happens in the background and from the user vantage point appears to be taking place all within the association’s website.

If there is no integration between your AMS and your website, member navigation can be confusing and contrary to the experience you want to deliver.




We need to manage multiple membership types and fee structures. Can the AMS handle this without a lot of manual work on our part?
February 1st, 2013

Multiple Membership Types and Fees

Given the diversity of associations and the people they serve, membership types and fee structures are anything but one size fits all.

One association may have a simple three-tier membership structure such as Regular, Student, and Senior membership types, each with a specific membership fee.  Other associations have memberships categories of Individual and Organization, with several subcategories beneath them and different fees for each subcategory.

In other cases, membership types may be uniform, but membership fees are formula-based.  For example, an association of automobile dealerships might structure fees based on the number of vehicles sold; or an association serving online media organizations might structure fees based on the number of online impressions.

The Association Management System (AMS) you choose for your organization should have the ability to handle the complexities involved with multiple membership types and membership fee structures.  You do not want to waste time either manually searching for member type or calculating the correct fee for a particular member.  The system should handle this for you.

Member-facing Information

We’re often asked about Avectra’s ability to accurately calculate the fees, for membership or renewal, based on the individual member’s profile.  Avectra is able to handle this automatically, freeing staff from time-consuming manual calculations and reducing the margin for error.

Members going online to handle transactions, such as renewals or event registration, will only see the memberships and fees for which they are eligible, based on their membership type.  The system makes the selection based on their profile and only presents the options open to the particular member.  This eliminates confusion as to which option or fee the member should select and members will not see the fees for other registration or renewal types.

Maintaining Member History

The AMS should also make life easier for association staff by providing access to all member information and history in one place.  You don’t want to be scrambling when searching for information to respond to member or management queries.

With the AMS serving as the sole repository of information, you’ll be able to research and analyze trends and data regarding:

  • Length of memberships
  • Types of members
  • Events
  • Online community involvement
  • Committees
  • Recruitment
  • Renewals
  • Volunteers

Immediate access to information means the ability to launch new initiatives faster, respond to inquiries quicker, and thoroughly research strategies and trends.




Can the AMS handle membership dues and more and provide optimal security?
February 2nd, 2013

Most associations want the ability for members to pay for their membership and register for events online.  But there are other transactions that you’ll want to be able to handle through your association management system (AMS), for example professional development materials and association merchandise available to your members.

Paying for membership purchases and event registration online is pretty standard with all online association management systems (AMS).  But be sure to explore whether the system can present the purchase in a member-friendly manner.

We especially like the way Avectra netFORUM handles purchases and registrations.  For example, if your association has multiple membership types with each type having a different membership fee, based on their profile, the system can be set up to present only their fee when members go to renew.  This can go along way in eliminating confusion and members selecting the wrong renewal fee.

Conversely, if you’d like to highlight the discount that members enjoy, the system can be set up to show both member and non-member prices.

With Avectra you can:

  • Establish automatic pricing structures based on member status
  • Create and track invoices, and process payments from individuals and organizations
  • Validate and charge credit cards electronically at point-of-sale
  • Store credit card authorization codes, not credit card numbers, to limit your liability

Additionally, all of these processes can be easily exported to your accounting system.  Not only can you track all of the purchases and set prices, you can quickly tie all the purchases to individual member records.




Relationships are so important to my association. Can the AMS track all the relationships that we need to see?
February 3rd, 2013

While most association management systems (AMS) do a good job of tracking members, most associations have a variety of other relationships that are important to the organization and require attention.  Whether member prospects, volunteers, speakers, current and past board members, past staff members, or affiliate organizations, to name just a few, it is often helpful to have profiles on all the various constituents, in addition to members, for planning and communications purposes.

Furthermore, associations are all about connecting people with people and fostering relationships.  These relationships are all different, requiring different communications.  If an association management system (AMS) is limited to one kind of relationship and does not have the flexibility to handle a variety of constituents, it results in separate spreadsheets or lists collected and maintained outside of the system without the fields, demographics and history that are so important to the contacts.

When selecting an AMS for your association, prepare a list of the categories of constituents you’d like to have access to and ensure that the system is flexible enough to identify and track these relationships.

The AMS should be sophisticated enough to handle a person or organization that has multiple roles.  For example, an organization might be a sponsor or an individual might be a member and a speaker.  Can the system track key data for the various ways they participate in the association?

Beyond the multi-facets of a particular person or organization and their relationships with the association, it’s important to be able to track relationships on constituents with one another in order to facilitate mentoring, new member orientation, committees, event planning and the like.

Ensuring that your AMS can handle and provide you with the information based on these relationships will lead to greater efficiency in organization and planning as well as a richer constituent experience.




Should your Association Customize or Configure Software – A Real Difference
February 4th, 2013

You know your organization and its unique business processes better than anyone, and you know that it is exceedingly rare, if not impossible, to find a powerful and broad ranging software product – such as an Association Management System – that will operate “out-of-the-box” just the way your organization does.

Whatever solution you settle on will require, at the least, some tweaks and adjustments to enable you to access and exploit all of the functionality potentially available. But there’s a real and crucial distinction between some tweaks and hardcore customization. In selecting software, it’s critical that you work with your solution provider to understand which of those will be required to make the software operate as well as you want it to.

The difference can be summed up this way – will it need to be configured, or will it need to be customized? While these words are sometimes used almost interchangeably in the software industry, they don’t really mean the same thing at all. Configuration means that you can change the way the software works for you within the software itself. Customization, on the other hand, requires someone to get under the hood and start writing and re-writing actual code – and such changes are not only expensive but often create headaches when the software is upgraded.

Fortunately, netFORUM Pro is specifically designed to allow it to operate in most business environments and to be tailored to fit many different business processes with nothing more than configuration. AffinityNFP is here to help you find the best ways to configure netFORUM Pro to work seamlessly with your organization and within your existing software environment.  Many associations are seeing the power that comes from having their Avectra solutions integrated other software solutions, for example accounting. And even in the rare event customization may be needed, we will also keep the changes as minimal, efficient, and as trouble-free as possible.




Avectra’s MemberFuse Creates Insights, Opportunities for Your Association
February 5th, 2013

It’s hard to understate the impact of social networking on the way associations interact with their members. But if you’re using someone else’s social networking environment, you are forfeiting a host of benefits and opportunities to engage your members. Avectra’s MemberFuse offers you a way to establish your own private, safe, and secure social community and integrate that community with netFORUM. Because both MemberFuse and netFORUM are designed as elements of the Avectra Social CRM suite, they work together seamlessly. The two solutions mutually exchange data generating more meaningful member profiles and strategic socialytics.

Such robust data and socialytics give you a dynamic picture of where your members’ interests and preferences are – and where they’re headed. Not only is this a vital tool in building loyalty, raising engagement, and enhancing retention, it also gives you new opportunities to generate revenue. With easy access to insights about who your members are and where their interests lie, you can hone your messaging, fundraising, and marketing campaigns to achieve the highest possible return on investment. By leveraging the data you gain from MemberFuse, you can generate profiles of groups of members who would most likely be interested in hearing about specific events, products, and services. And when your members are on your own social network, you can even create new revenue opportunities by generating and marketing tightly targeted and valuable advertising opportunities.




Does Your Association’s Social Network Platform Make Intelligent Recommendations for Members?
February 6th, 2013

Avectra’s MemberFuse offers you and your members more than just an alternative to other social networking platforms. While it offers a wealth of social networking and community building features, its core infrastructure was created on a User Centric Architecture (UCA), enabling your members to customize their experience with easy, robust semantic searches.

One of the primary principles of successfully engaging members of any social community is making sure members can easily find and conveniently track the kind of information they care most about. MemberFuse’s UCA offers your members a number of intuitive, easy ways to do just that.

MemberFuse features are designed to simultaneously take into account the rich data included in your netFORUM association database, the expressed interests of each user, and the aggregate of activities conducted in the community. By considering all this data, MemberFuse offers an experience tailored on-demand to suit each individual user’s interests. In practice, this means that MemberFuse can make intelligent suggestions – for instance about who a member might like to add to their contact list based on mutual interests or what events or upcoming activities they might want to add to their calendar based on their activities.

So, while MemberFuse delivers all the advantages of hosting your own, in-house social network platform, it also gives your users powerful and easy ways to engage with your association and each other.




We’re a Canadian Association. Can the AMS handle Canadian tax and is it hosted in Canada?
January 29th, 2013

Nothing is more frustrating than investing precious time in evaluating a software solution only to find out in the eleventh hour that while it has the association-specific operational functionality, it is not able to provide Canadian functionality.

One of the first questions you should ask is: can the association management system (AMS) handle Canada-specific requirements?

Because we are a Canadian technology company, when selecting solutions to offer our clients we look to make sure those solutions address Canadian terminology, tax issues and hosting and security concerns.

In evaluating AMS solutions, we selected Avectra for our product portfolio because it was cloud-based, provided a rich offering of features associations require, and it works for Canadian associations.

Terminology

Avectra provides default terminology appropriate for Canada with regard to address fields in member profiles and event registrations, as well as system-wide labeling.  While it could be argued that this is a minor thing, member experienced is enhanced by not having the distraction of field descriptions suitable for the U.S. but not for Canada.  And, any negative impact on member interaction with the association online platform is not a minor thing if it deters members from full participation.

Tax

If your association offers items for purchase, depending on the type of purchase, federal, provincial and sales tax on those purchases may come into play.  This could impact membership, events and other items for purchase.  Avectra can handle Canadian taxes properly:  be sure that the AMS that you are evaluating can as well.  If a belabored manual process is suggested as a workaround, you risk members avoiding a purchase due to the ‘hassle factor’ and you burden your staff with an unnecessary administrative task with each transaction.  The better solution is to select an AMS that can do this automatically.

Hosting

Avectra provides Canadian associations with a cloud-based AMS that is hosted in Toronto.  This is important because it ensures your compliance with Canada’s privacy laws, including the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

Additional peace of mind comes with know your solution resides in a data centre with state-of-the-art security that would be cost-prohibitive for most associations to attempt to secure on their own.  On top of the robust security, by virtue of being hosted, your data is more accessible given data centre guarantees of accessibility and is not subject to downtime caused by natural disasters or server outages.  Hosting also provides regular back up of your data, a critical procedure often overlooked.

By selecting a Canada-ready, Canada-hosted AMS, you alleviate many headaches, assure compliance, and remove another potential barrier to member usage.




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