Streamlining Membership Management For A Veterans Association: The Breakdown
Veterans associations do incredible work and their members are vital to the health of their organization. Good, practical membership management is therefore an essential asset to have when working in this type of organization.
Membership management can be tricky so it is important to focus not only on how to gain more members, but to engage them for longer.
Here is how:
- Cut Down On Dirty Data
- Align Chapter Management
- Invest In A Good Membership Software
- The Power of Consistent Communication
- Empower Your Digital Transition
- Check For Gaps In Membership
Let’s get started!
Cut Down On Dirty Data
If your first thought is "Who has the time?", you are not alone. In the midst of daily operations and the consistent feeling of falling behind, many organizations aren’t as rigorous with their data clean-up as they probably should be.
Devoting time into getting your database in order is a worthwhile investment as it will give you precious insights into your members, processes, volunteers and of course, the overall health of your organization. If you don’t know exactly how many members you have acquired in the past five years, calculating your return on investment can be complicated and even misconstrue your annual and financial reports.
Good membership management truly begins here and while this may seem like a daunting task, here is how to get started:
Delete Admin Access For Old Members
In order to facilitate responsibility and accountability, suspending admin access to your current database system, or Excel spreadsheets, is the first step.
Many organizations, particularly for professional associations like veterans, bring on temporary help or volunteers to handle membership management. As the seasons come and go, so do those volunteers and their administrative rights with them.
While we are certain that none of them have bad intentions, it is always best to put your member’s safety first and delete admin accounts as soon as volunteers renounce their duties. You may have sensitive data in your database and want to limit access to as few people as possible. Not only does it help keep your organization compliant under certain data protection laws, it keeps your organization safe from any possible hacks or data leaks.
While not only for safety reasons, knowing exactly who your administrators are is simply practical while cleaning up your data. You can divide the work up into different priorities and give each admin a different task, working together for quicker turnover. This is one of our best processes at Springly, we are big believers in the idea that multiple brains are always better than one!
Get Rid Of Any Lapsed Members
This is as simple as it sounds, your database should have a dedicated space not only for current members, but also for old members and remembrances for members who have passed away. Particularly unique to veterans associations, diving up these sections will help keep you organized and verify that you are optimizing your membership cycle to its maximum potential.
Think about it this way, if you put all of your groceries in the fridge and mix the protein, vegetables and fruits, you are certainly going to forget what you have to cook with, and risk something going bad.
To keep your database clean, we highly recommend archiving old members in your software or splitting them apart into a separate folder. You can eternalize members by dedicating a special place on your website, creating a directory, or even putting their names into an honorary list.
The benefits are two-fold: your database is more accurate with your active and/or potential members, and you avoid duplication or confusion while executing other tasks.
The third step to purging incorrect data is arguably the most cumbersome, but undoubtedly the most essential. Many nonprofit organizations struggle to keep their documents up to date and while this requires a certain level of rigor and dedication, it will be worth it in the long run.
Updating member information depends on what information you collect originally, but can be data like:
Primary email address
Secondary email address
Credit card information
Awards and honors
The accuracy of your member information can be a huge detriment to the effectiveness of your campaigns if it is a recurring issue. For one, with incorrect email addresses your email communications on membership renewal not be communicated to the right person, but can also negatively affect how and where your emails land in your recipients inbox.
By sending out emails to incorrect or nonexistent email addresses, you risk tarnishing your email reputation. This is important to keep in mind because it highly affects where your emails land, either in your recipients inbox or in spam. When this happens, your emails are nearly invisible to your recipients and therefore your communication becomes ineffective.
For more basic contact information, like a postal address or phone number, it is precious time and resources that are being misdirected. You may believe that a wrong phone number here and there aren’t a big deal, and you are correct, but anything over a handful of wrong numbers will build up to a serious time debt.
For example: If you have a volunteer calling all of your 3,000 active members to remind them to renew their membership, and 500 are incorrect, that is a great deal of time that could be better used to help register new members and promote your mission.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget that time has a monetary value. We often like to think of our time as "free" because we give it freely and can use it how we choose, but every minute spent is certainly spent on a task, therefore it must be used wisely. To calculate the economic impact of your time, determine how your salary breaks down by hour.
If you are using a software that allows members to access their own contact information, it is a good idea to invite them to update it regularly, once a quarter or a few times a year.
If not, and you want to work on this as a long term goal, you can ask members to update and verify their information during their membership renewal, upcoming meetings, events, or working groups. This is a low risk, high reward tactic that helps keep data clean and organized.
How many times have you had to create an account on a website, even though you already had one, because you don’t remember what email and/or password you gave? I certainly did my fair share! The same goes for your members.
Having doubles is normal, but it is something that should be actively avoided and checked on a regular basis.
Not only do you risk sending the same information twice (or three times) over, doubles are taking up precious memory in your database system. If your system allows you to merge two profiles like on Springly, it is essential to verify the information beforehand and check with your member which contact information they would prefer to keep in priority.
Organize With Groups
As discussed above, breaking down your members into different groups is an excellent way to streamline your management in multiple ways. By organizing your groups by platoon number, service area, service group or membership year, you are able to have a clear view of your membership base. Having this information can help:
Make strategic decisions
Prioritize time & resources
Focus employee & volunteer recruitment
Target reporting & follow-up
Align fundraising activities
For example, let’s say that you organize your groups by service area. While going through this exercise, you find that you have twice as many members in the U.S. Navy veterans than that of the U.S. Air Force veterans. Based on this information, you can make a strategic decision to focus more of your time and resources on recruiting more members in that section as there is a higher return on investment.
While not purely strategic, having membership groups can alleviate a lot of pains regarding communication. Your communication lists are theoretically pre-made and filled out and you have one last task to do when sending out targeted messages.
To sum it all up, having a clean and organized database is the first step in streamlining your membership processes. Especially when dealing with members that may be older, less tech savvy, or uncomfortable with email, keeping your CRM up to date is essential to not only saving time, but using it in the most efficient manner.
Align Chapter Management
Regardless of if you are a local chapter of a veterans association or the national headquarters, chapter management is an often overlooked part of membership management. One of the major challenges large associations face is how to streamline membership at not only each individual level, but for the organization as a whole. Let’s look at how adopting a standard over the entire network will help regulate processes and make things move a bit faster.
Give Autonomy To Your Chapters
If you are a national headquarters managing hundreds of chapters, you are certainly challenged by collecting all data, reporting, all the while being responsible for your organization’s brand, and image. As a local chapter, you may be spending a lot of time relaying information, editing data, exporting membership information, and sending it all to those above you.
Giving autonomy to the local chapters is extremely important as they will certainly have different needs than the headquarters. Standardizing membership isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution therefore membership needs to be aligned with the national policy but flexible enough to be adapted to the local need.
How do you do it all? Good communication.
As a headquarters, it is an essential part of your role to communicate any language elements, membership offers, new policies or contact information to your local chapters. Rather than waiting until you have to communicate, take the initiative to check in every membership cycle. This will create a strong bond with your chapters and open a line of communication and trust that flows both ways.
Take the time to learn what they have struggled with, what their strengths are, and what they have learned about their members during the past cycle. As they are the ones directly involved with members on a day to day basis, so we are sure you will gain some interesting insights.
Pro Tip: If you don’t have time to contact each chapter individually, send out a quarterly survey to get direct feedback from the field. While a human touch is always preferred, some feedback is better than none.
This bottom-up policy will allow you to give more autonomy and freedom to let your chapters through not only building trust, but through an open line of communication.
As a local chapter, you are obligated to follow the guidelines of national policy but also act as experts on the local need. It is your role to communicate the local needs upwards which will, in turn, influence new policy changes. As we stated above, if the national chapter does not communicate regularly, it is your responsibility to do so.
Pro Tip: Verify that you are communicating in a way that the national office will understand. Instead of just asking for changes or updates, support your ask with concrete data, qualitative data (i.e. quotes), or with the support from other chapters.
By creating trust and good relationships between chapters and headquarters, big topics like streamlining memberships become a breeze. As everyone is aware of the changes to come, why decisions were made, or the process for requesting new policies, membership becomes an easy standard that will last over time.
Invest In A Good Membership Software
If you are looking for a direct way to save time, this is it. A good membership software has the power to completely transform your organization in just a few weeks, boosting not only membership recruitment, but engagement and retention. Not to mention saving you quite a few late nights and headaches along the way!
All In One Software
There are a lot of software options out there but the most popular and easiest to use are all in softwares, like Springly. They are easy to use for many reasons but notably because they have several tools in one that aim to ease your daily administrative tasks and automate others.
For example, Springly has over 50 features to make veterans associations lives easier. Equipped with a powerful CRM, membership management system, communication tools, event management system, website builder and more, you have everything you need to streamline membership.
Besides the benefits of having one tool for everything, the main takeaway is that you only enter data once, therefore the risk of data entry errors are greatly reduced. It also keeps your database full of clean and up to date information, which as you read earlier, can be a real challenge moving forward.
You use this single entry to do multiple things like send emails, payment reminders, subscribe to events, export lists, create groups, and more all without having to copy and paste the information. One entry for multiple actions.
A good membership software saves you time by automating the smaller tasks you might be executing in other programs like Excel. Tasks like:
Importing and exporting data
Sending payment confirmations
Updating contact information
By using an all in one system that is specialized for membership management, you have different options to configure that generally end with the menial tasks being moved online and done automatically for you by the software.
Let’s break this down with an example. Joan manages a local chapter of an Army veterans association. She runs a weekly professional training for her members. She keeps track of her members on an Excel spreadsheet, and uses a ticketing system for her weekly events.
Joan wants to check which of her members have registered for her event and reminds them to buy t-shirts to wear to the training. Without a software, Joan has to follow these steps:
Filter her excel spreadsheet for active members
Compare it to her event registration list
Export those names and emails
Import them into her emailing tool
Send the email
If Joan adopts a membership software, she can automate many of these tasks and only:
Filter her database based on active membership and event registration
Send the email
All of those in-between tasks are taken care of for you, so you can focus your time to where it really matters.
Nonprofit organizations use on average nine different tools to manage their daily tasks. Each tool has their own monthly or yearly subscription and it generally comes with a cost. While they individually may not be very expensive, the tools tend to add up and are a significant investment at the end of every month.
Member management softwares are generally all-in-one solutions and are perfectly capable of replacing all of your other tools for one price. Because you are not paying individually for each subscription plus tax, the financial investment is less than using multiple programs.
Pro Tip: If you have the possibility, try and pay your software subscription or license for the entire year. Paying the first 12 months upfront often brings a significant discount instead of paying monthly.
Boost Member Engagement
Having good software saves you time that you can reinvest where it really matters: your members. Not only do you have more time to dedicate to them, you have the right tools to do so.
With an organized member database, you will be able to see your lapsed members and re-engage them with a targeted email, tickets to an event, or simply a quick reminder to visit your website.
In just a few clicks you could encourage a member to sign up for the coming years or answer any questions they have. Streamlining membership is much easier when working on a simple solution where a software tracks data which will help you analyze their engagement.
Many softwares have pre-made reports already created which can give you a quick glance on what is going on below the surface, an option that you might have taken days and several Excel spreadsheets before. In our digital age, data is power and it should become routine to look at data as a friendly reminder of what is going well, and what could be going better.
Training, Training, Training
One of the best and most important aspects of having a membership software is the possibility for free training. This is often overlooked when doing research into what membership software you will adopt, but we highly recommend that this should be in the first questions that you ask to your software provider.
In order to make the most of your investment, you should make sure that you are using all features of the software correctly and in the most efficient manner. If you have a doubt or feel that a task is taking too long, ask for a quick training on the subject, or open a ticket with the help desk. Many nonprofit software companies hire experts in the nonprofit world just for this reason, they speak your language and truly understand the value of every cent and second of your time.
Even if the training isn’t free, or you have a large subject you need to tackle (i.e. data import) and are spending a lot of time trying to understand on your own, the financial investment will come back to you ten-fold.
The Power Of Consistent Communication
Finding the most efficient way to communicate with and to your members can present a real challenge for veterans associations. Many struggle between their members who may not be technologically adept while others are faithful technology lovers from the get go.
Communicate In Your Members Language
For good membership management it is important to know your methods of communication that will reach the maximum number of people in the most efficient way possible. This often means a mix of one-on-one communication strategies and quick solutions, like email, to reach your entire target.
If you are communicating mainly via email, track your opening rates and email clicks to learn more about the effectiveness of your communication. For a quick reminder:
Opening rate: the number of emails that were opened versus how many were sent
Click rate: the number of clicks versus how many emails were went
It is important to track this information in particular because it can tell you a lot about the effectiveness not just of the content, but the actual communication channel you are using.
For example, you send out an email to all of your 5,000 members with a link to renew their membership. If you see that 1,500 open the email and 750 click on the link to renew their membership, you can see that there is a large opportunity being missed to engage your current database.
While it requires a bit more effort, the result will make up for the extra time and investment. Conduct a survey to better understand how your members would prefer to be communicated with. Mail? Send membership renewal packets to their home. Phone? Ask them to renew over the phone. In person? Have them come down to your local office.
While you can’t spend your time setting up multiple different processes for different preferences, having two different systems that reach the largest number of people (often via postal mail and online) is manageable and helps streamline membership by making your efforts more effective.
Write Language Guidelines For Your Team
Copywriting is a true artform that has turned into a much sought after skill in the nonprofit world. Copywriting is the act of writing text for marketing or sales purposes and is an excellent skill to have whether applying for grants, fine-tuning your website or keeping a consistent brand image among a large association with multiple chapters.
Copywriting is important for nonprofit organizations because it can spread your organization's mission and create a healthy identity. Even more so, the group’s communication can highly affect the recruitment of volunteers and new members. While you don’t need to run off and hire a professional copywriter, the creation of a document of language guidelines can be the key to streamlining membership on multiple levels.
Language guidelines can include anything regarding the specifics of how you communicate on different channels:
Credit and quotations
Social media rules and regulations
Keeping consistent messaging for your membership offers in particular can directly impact the effectiveness and efficiency of your campaigns. There are many veterans associations in the United States and potential members will give their time and money to those they feel that do not only offer the best benefits, but also have a professional look and feel.
A simple document that is circulated from headquarters to local chapters will suffice, with the key messages to communicate to your members, the mission statement, and organization history, for example. If your headquarters does not provide language guidelines, creating one for your development team is a quick exercise for great reward!
Communication is key to streamlining membership, if not only for internal processes, but for your members as well.
Empower Your Digital Transition
While we lightly touched on this subject while discussing software, the benefits of a digital transition are ten-fold. Many organizations struggle with technology because many feel they do not have the time or bandwidth to take on the project of digitizing their processes.
Outside of the numerous benefits of using a membership software, a digital transition goes much farther than adopting new tools and technologies.
Safety and Security
Many can doubt the safety going digital, especially in our modern age where technology changes at lightning speed. We are here to tell you that digitizing your files and historical data is safer than ever before and significantly safer than keeping paper files.
In general, while using a software, your data is encrypted, which means that it cannot be hacked or stolen, with several backups saved for you. With paper files, you run a large risk of losing your data forever in case of fire, break-ins, natural disaster, a disgruntled employee, or any other misfortune you can imagine.
Your historical data, particularly for veterans organizations who honor their legacy members, is the backbone of a successful organization and protecting that information should be a top priority. As we all learned in history class, how do you know where you are going if you don’t know where you have been?
If you are worried about your data’s safety in a software or any other data storage center, there are a few questions you can ask:
What happens to our data in case of emergency?
Where are your servers located?
Have you had any data leaks before?
How is my data protected?
Moving your data online is a key part of your digital transition and can be often left as the final task because it is certainly not an easy task to accomplish. Having all of your historical data safe and accessible will streamline processes and aid in creating future membership offers, reporting to headquarters, applying for funding or even just knowing the history and legacy of your organization.
According to the Global NGO Technology report, 85% of nonprofit organizations accept online payment. While this number will only grow in the coming years, it is undeniable that online payment has become a great way to stay relevant in the nonprofit world.
Online payment is beneficial for everyone, your members and employees alike as it takes many smaller steps and turns them into one, simple action for the user.
By accepting offline payments like in the form of cash or check, there is a strong probability that you will spend a long afternoon making phone calls and sending emails for a missed signature, missing cash, receiving only half of the membership fee, a bounced check or more. This time is better spent on thanking your members for their contributions!
With online payment, there is little to no risk involved and your member is paid and up to date in two minutes or less! All they have to do is enter their card information and click "pay."
On the other hand, online payment does come with an associated cost, often called a transaction fee. This is the fee that you, or your members, pay to cover the cost of processing the payment with different types of credit cards.
Pro Tip: Do a quick search for the transaction fees for each payment processor you are considering. Be sure to check if the company takes a margin for themselves as well as the cost of the transaction to compare and contrast which processor is right for you. Springly does not collect any fees on transactions.
By providing online payment to your members, you encourage them to use a simpler and more secure system, as well as avoiding trips to the bank. It’s a win-win, and the transaction fees are generally covered by the boost in memberships you see by offering this service.
Empowering your organization to complete your digital transition is not a simple task and often involves discussion at multiple levels. Streamlining your membership management can have a healthy boost via the help of good, ethical technology.
Check For Gaps In Membership
Last but certainly not least, it is critical to check for gaps in your current membership offers. It is easy to get comfortable with what works but, what if what is simply "working" could be better?
Send out a survey to current members and ask their opinion on what they think could be better about their membership. Not only does it give you excellent feedback on what you are doing well, it can also give you ideas to fix what could be improved.
Pro Tip: Try and keep your survey as short as possible, not taking over 10 minutes to complete. While having detailed feedback is important, it is better to send more surveys that are shorter than one long one. You will find that you will get more answers and higher quality data.
A good question to ask is: "If you had a magic wand, what would your ideal membership look like?" It is a great way to get people thinking, brainstorming, and you will end up with a lot of ideas you had never considered before!
You can add offers for a special occasion using a buy one, get one free offer, a friends and family discount, premium memberships for different service areas, or even a lifetime membership for a larger fee. These are all ways to switch up your membership offers and respond to any needs that may be unmet.
Once you have a representative sample of your membership database, present the suggestions to your development team or at your next board meeting. Filling the holes will not only make your members feel heard and appreciated, it also encourages new members to join, and streamline any gaps in service you may have had before.
Streamlining membership management for a veterans association is an important task and one that requires time, effort, and good communication. We hope this article helped you learn where to begin and what subjects to tackle from start to finish.
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