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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

A model approach to Membership Management

I was chatting the other day with a friend who works as membership director for an association of universities. The discussion, of course, got around to software, and she said, "Most vendors' membership modules seem to be built around the idea that their main purpose is to help me keep track of my members."

Well, if that was a crime, we were guilty - what else would the main purpose of a membership module be?

"Most of a good membership director's work is not about tracking members" my friend explained. "It's about making sure existing members are being served, about retaining members, and about winning new members. The software needs to have tools that allow me to model the approach I take to member service and member sales."

Looking at it this way, I see that membership management is a lot more like fundraising and grant management than I had thought - all three involve specialized forms of relationship management. In our MEMBERS ONLY software, most of the features needed to manage these relationships are not in those specific modules, but right in the core CRM.

In our early meetings with new users, I hear a lot of oohing and ahhing over features in our CRM software that can assist in this area. I'm thinking of lists and list folders that can help you catagorize people and organizations into key consitutnet groupings. I'm thinking of ticklers with specific task types and topic assignments that can assist you in knowing the next step with each membership prospect. And of course the blast emailer that lets you communicate directly with any subgroup of your community.

But I think these capabilities are rarely used to their full advantage. That's because there is another piece of planning work an organization needs to do first. My friend the membership director mentioned the key to this planning in describing what the software needs to do - it needs to model her approach.

How can you do this?

  1. Articulate your model. You may have never laid it out this clearly before, but you already have a model.You need to begin by analyzing the way you actually think about servicing your members and courting your prospects. What logical groups do they fall in? How do they move from group to group? What actions do you take for people in each group? This is your model.
  2. Create Lists for your consituent groupings. Once you have articulated a systematic way of classifying your members and membership prospects, create MEMBERS ONLY lists so you can flag the members of each group. Also, think about whether any of these lists can be set up from queries, and create and save those queries.
  3. Define Key Tasks. Your model was built on groupings and actions. Define task types for these in MEMBERS ONLY dropdown maintenance, so you can add specific ticklers for these tasks with scheduled dates. Now using the query or list browser, you should be able to target your work to specifc constituent groups.

What steps do you need to take first to be able to use your system this way? And how can we help you take a general set of tools for Community Relationship Management and turn them into a focused approach to membership development?


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Friday, August 12, 2005

Gimme that old time CRM

Well, I’m off tomorrow to “Fiddle and Dance” at Ashokan – it’s a week of classes, workshops, dances, jams, and concerts, focusing on traditional music from the Southern US. It’s a music often called “old-time.” So this week my usual round of adding features to our software, talking to clients about their websites, and assembling proposals has been leavened with an unusual amount of fiddle and mandolin practice, and as I drifted off to sleep last night I found myself musing about “old-time CRM”.

Fiddle and Dance

photo by George Touchstone

What a whacky idea. “I remember how back in the good old days, uncle Jeb would sit on the back porch and play Salt River on his homemade banjo while I managed my contact database…”. But really, there was oldtime CRM –remember? My database back then was a little pocket notebook full of names, address, and obscure scribbles and doodles. And once a year, on some long lazy day coming up on New Years , I’d get a new notebook and copy all the current information out of the old and into the new.

This was a great process. As I copied I would find and flag people I had no current address for, and try to track them down. I’d remove a few folks who, sad to say, had passed away. I’d add new info to old records, – a spouse’s name or a new child’s birthday. A few names would inspire me to pick up the phone right then.

Just like my brand-new IPOD helps me stay plugged into old-time string-bands, your cutting edge object-oriented SQL-based buzzword-compliant information system ought to promote this old-time CRM. Now that we deal with so many names, its easy for our contacts to become a little less personal, despite all the reports we design and queries we save..

How do you make sure that your information is up-to-date? That you are staying in touch with members and their concerns? That information which would help you maintain members and convert prospects is entered into the system? Guys selling copier supplies often know better how to do this detailed contact management than we association and non-profit folks. Do you use your database just as a way to “Keep track” of your members, or do you use it to actively develop your organization? That's old-time CRM.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Those whacky wikis

We all know how challenging collaborative writing is: Jefferson carried around a copy of his original draft of the Declaration of Independence until his dying day, so people could see how it read before Franklin and his committee ruined it by putting it in the form we know today. Self-evident, indeed! And you think revising your Board manual is hard!

I’m not sure software innovation will do anything about easing ego problems, but it has certainly eased the need to travel between Virginia and Philadelphia to work on a document together. In our search for collaboration tools we've been looking at web sites that in one way or another make use of the wiki model - pages which are freely editable by a community of users. The term wiki, from the Hawaiian creole for "quick" , was first used by extreme programming maven Ward Cunningham to describe the technique when he used this approach for the Portland Pattern Repository. His "People, Projects and Patterns" Wiki there has been running for over a decade, so the wiki has been around for a while, even though it is just drifting into popular use.

Probably the most dramatic wiki project is the wikiPedia - an online encyclopedia edited by -- the entire world. A team of volunteers looks over the changes each day and reverts the edits they deem unacceptable back to the prior version. But online projects using open and collaborative editing are starting up on a variety of topics – for example, look at the corporate watchdog site at

The page you are currently reading is maintained on a commercial wiki server: The charge: $4.95 a month to create and maintain your own wiki site! Editme lets you set security on every page - making it publically editable, editable by users with a password, or just by the site administrator. My articles are locked down - our staff can make edits or corrections - but others can just read them. But here's a page you can all try out the editor on. Just click Edit under the Page section of the right hand menu! A change log lets an administrator view all changes to a page, and roll back to a prior version if necessary. Pages can have comments, images, and a list of file attachments. I can make a list of features I wish it had, but for $4.95 a month, it's hard to complain. You can use it as a classic wiki; but I've seen how some small organizations have used it as a poor man's content management system for their main web site. We've been trsting it out as a vehicle for an online help system, where users are free to edit text and make comments.It won PC Magazine’s Editor's Choice back in Dec 03 for best wiki service.

A more full featured wiki tool in the making can be found at Meant to be used as a tool for remote team collaboration, a variety of installable applications can be added to this wiki, including a bug-tracking system, a discussion forum, a contact manager, and a calendar. The beta is free, but the development team makes it clear that eventually there will be a charge for the service.

If you want to get pointed to be few more wiki's to explore the variations on this theme, check out all the sites mentioned in Business Week's article of about a year ago. If you are looking for ways to manage collaborative writing projects in your organization, you might just give one of these tools a try.

Please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Thinking Strategically

Did you folks know there's another Michael Stein? Who also spends his days thinking about software for non-profit organizations? I was surprised too, but it's true... he lives on the West Coast instead of in D.C. - and we have different middle initials - and there are no doubt other ways to tell us apart.

I mention him because he turned me on to a book that I'd like to recommend to you: NonProfit Internet Strategies - it's by Ted Hart, James M. Greenfield, and Michael Johnstone. It deals in depth with a theme I'll no doubt be sounding over and over again in these pages: that technology is really not much use to an organization without a coherent strategy for how to employ it.

For example, an organization may have a general stratgey about home to increase volunteer involvement, and then say "oh, and we should let volunteers sign up on the web site". It's a good idea. But they are using technology as an add-on, instead of as a strategic tool.

What's the difference? In Alison Li's chapter on volunteer recrutiment and management, she starts by saying

Online tools are not just supplementing traditional methods of interacting with volunteers: they are challenging organizations to expand their conception of volunteers and volunteering activity.

Her example is that of the March of Dimes. In decades past, their campaign was carried our primarily by local voluneers ppunding the pavement. In more recent times the campaign wasmanaged in far more centralized way, with highly efficient direct mail. But they lost the fundraising impact of the personal networks of their army of volunteers. Today the internet provides a tool where you can build a campaign the capitalizes on the power of local volunteers using the global reach of the internet.

This is the principal message of all the authors' contributions: that the new technology has truly transformed many of the basic tasks of the nonprofit. Their central focus is on fundraising, but the book includes material on online community building, inspiring your constituency, volunteer management, online advocacy, and building a recognizable "brand". The authors come from a number of nonprofit organizations, technology firms and consulting groups, and the editors have a long background of nonprofit and philanthropy management. If you're hoping to jump start your thinking about your website beyond using it as an additional medium for allowing a supporter to make a donation or sign up for an event, this book is certainly good a a few sparks.

NonProfit Internet Strategies.
Ted Hart, James M Greenfield,and Michael Johnston
John Wiley & Sons, 2005

Please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Goin' to Meetin'

One of the things I'll be talking about from time to time is online collaboration, as MEMBERS ONLY SOFTWARE explores new tools to expedite work among our teams and with our clients. Lately we've been very excited about GoToMeeting, a Citrix service for online meetings and presentations. We've been using it for presentations to prospective users, training sessions, as well as testing and walkthru sessions with clients. And at least one of our clients has gotten so excited abot using it with us that they are considering using it for all their in-house training sessions.

GoToMeeting is a real example of Less is More. Prior to trying out GoToMeeting, we had evaluated and used to other Web-based meeting tools, WebEx and Avecomm. Both of these products charge more and provide significantly more functionality than GoToMeeting. But the additional functionality was the problem, from my point of view. There were a carload of features: you had to learn how to use them and when to use to use them. You had to remember to set them up. GoToMeeting seems to provide a much more natural interface, allowing the presenter to share his or her desktop with up to twenty-five participants.

For example, Webex provides a "WhiteBoard" for setting up the meeting agenda on. GoToMeeting does not. But you can create the agenda in Word, or Powerpoint, and have it on the screen as participants join. Webex has a special format for showing Powerpoint presentations. They even provide a utility for putting your powerpoint into this format. With GoToMeeting, you just show your Powerpoint.

And GoToMeeting allows the meeting organizer to easily change who the presenter is, so in the course of a meeting you can be working off of one person's desktop, and then another. I can show you how a new MEMBERS ONLY feature works, then take control of your pc and install it, then watch you use it on your system. This is a tool for real collaboration.

Another big selling point is GoToMeeting's all-you-can-eat pricing model. Instead of paying by the minute, your subscription gives you unlimited minutes - of both the phone conferencing system and the web-based presentation system. This encourages rather than discourages use - and has led us to work online presentations into our collaborative style. At the drop of a hat, I can call a client and say, "So what do you think of this new report" right off of my desktop without having to upload or install it anywhere.

GoToMeeting's version 2.0, which just appeared as I was finishing up this entry, adds a feature I'd been missing. Some of the other online meeting services have long provided annotation tools - tools to mark up a screen while you are showiing it. Its very nice during on online training to highlight a button, for example, or draw an arrow pointing to a value in a report. GoToMeeting as finally added limited annotation capability.

But if you want to add truly flexible screen annotations to your online trainings, you might want to look at the Milori Training Tools. These let you generate a surprising array of effects on your screen to augment your presentations. Besides annotating a form, you can generate an effect that shows the user that you have pressed a function key or clicked with the mouse.

Avecomm has a feature I'd like to see in GoToMeeting as well - support for voice over IP. Citrix says its coming.