The process of procuring new technology can be tricky for any organization. Across the board, technology procurement demands time and money, a deep knowledge of technical requirements, and a hefty dose of forward-thinking on how the tech you adopt today is going to serve you in the future.
But for nonprofit associations, technology procurement can throw up a more specific set of hurdles to jump through.
For one thing, resources tend to be tight. Some businesses can afford to throw money at the problem of complex tech procurement. But nonprofits usually have to keep their eye on their budget.
While businesses are usually procuring tech for a single need or group—think a sales team or a marketing department—associations often have to juggle demands from multiple user groups and target audiences, from association members to administrators and tech support.
These competing demands can make it hard to clearly state your objectives during a technology procurement exercise. Do you want to prioritize membership experience or cost-saving? How can the tech you procure strike a balance between day-to-day operational needs and long-term growth and revenue-generation? And what about incorporating e-commerce requirements and third-party integrations?
For associations, all of these questions can turn tech procurement into a daunting task. But in this post, we’ll steer you in the right direction with a checklist of our top technology procurement tips for associations. Here, we cover the four key types of solutions that should guide your technology procurement process, and what you need for each:
- Membership management
- Accounting software
- E-commerce technology
- Third-party integrations
Let’s dive in.
Virtually every association has some form of membership system in place. Members need to be managed and technology can be a powerful partner to help you.
When you’re considering technology procurement for your association, it’s critical that you think about what your members need, and what your internal stakeholders need to service them.
These requirements can usually be broken down into four main parts:
From a technology perspective, your membership requirements will likely align closely with the requirements of a CRM that any other type of business would utilize. That is, you need to track:
- Who your members are
- What they’re doing / how they engage with you
- Where they are in the membership lifecycle
- Metrics, KPIs, and easily accessible reporting around all of the above
For instance, you need to know if your organization is growing or shrinking, so at the most basic level, you need to know who your members are.
Then other elements get layered on top, that will help you serve your member's needs better. For example, you might notice that your association has a lot of members in rural areas. That might drive additional chapters to open up or an increase in technology spend that facilitates remote member engagement.
Lastly, you require a tool that can help deliver data on your members in a consumable way. That means dashboards, configurable reports, and customizable data fields to suit your use cases.
Membership marketing is how you market to both your external audience and your existing members. Usually, the purpose here is to drive sign-ups and improved engagement. If we map this to business requirements, this is about marketing automation.
For associations, member marketing solves three problems:
- Brings new members into your organization
- Increases engagement with active members
- Re-engages churned members
To achieve these objectives, you need your member marketing tool to do a few things.
First, it needs to integrate with your membership management tool. If the tool you’re using to track members and the one you’re using to communicate with members can’t talk to each other, your life is going to get a lot harder.
Second, it needs to make it easy to reach your audience where they are. If your members are all about email, then it needs to make it easy to automate email marketing. If they’re all about direct mail, then it needs to do that.
Third, it needs to track cleanly so you can understand which bits of your marketing work, and can allocate time and resources accordingly.
- Find a vendor you trust. Your membership data is both a powerful asset and a major trust signal. Find a reputable vendor and avoid security calamities.
- Look at integrations. Membership data will likely be pulled and pushed in lots of different directions. Find a vendor with flexible and easy integrations and a wide range of partners.
- Find tools that suits your expertise. It’s easy to “over-buy” when it comes to membership management, mostly because the more complex tools are so incredibly powerful. But remember: software is a tool like any other. That is, it’s only as powerful as the people using it.
- Capture the data you need. If you’re not letting data guide your decisions, you’re likely not using resources as efficiently as you could be.
Associations often have surprisingly complex accounting and financial needs for their size. Yes, they’re often small organizations. However, they’re also usually nonprofits (with tax and financing challenges around that) with variable workforces, they take regular / annual payments and, in some cases, have a degree of productization of their offering, so have some revenue generation (more on this in a minute).
Finally, associations usually rely on donations, further complicating a complex accounting situation.
All that said, there are a few things that you need to consider when you’re looking at accounting requirements.
Automated reporting + tracking
Nonprofits are required to do a lot of reporting — and this can take weeks to collate and understand. The more automated you can make your reporting, the more time you’ll free up to think strategically about the finances of your organization. Not only that, but regularly run, automated reporting provides clarity to a wide range of stakeholders and ensures there’s a single source of truth when it comes to financial data.
We could write a whole report on fundraising procurement. But in the meantime, here’s a few must-have requirements:
- Get a tool that offers high-quality reporting on campaign success / failure
- Buy for current needs, but also keep an eye on what the organization may need in the future. You don’t want to be replacing your solution in two months time.
- Find a solution that services your existing campaigns effectively.
- Event management, gift tracking, and corporate donor management are all excellent features to consider.
Basic accounting needs
On top of the specifics mentioned above, you need to consider the basics of accounting software. Things like simple invoicing, expense management, fund tracking, and basic cash flow reporting. The easier this all is to use, the better off you’ll be.
- Automated reporting, even if it’s more expensive, will likely save you time and resources and thus, achieve a positive ROI.
- Find a cloud solution. Accounting is increasingly moving to cloud software, and these days there’s little need to bother with local solutions when there are so many excellent cloud ones out there.
- Reporting on fundraising down to the campaign level will provide a lot of clarity into what works and what doesn’t.
- Events, gift tracking, and corporate donor management are all speciality functionalities that, if you need them, are usually worth paying for since they suck up a lot of time to manage manually.
- All-in-one solutions are usually easier. There may be sacrificed to quality, but it makes life a lot easier when everything is in a single tool
- Reduce “exceptions” by buying into an ecosystem. Even exception (e.g. “this vendor isn’t on the portal”) is both a vulnerability and a major time sink. Try and find a tool that will help you eliminate them.
We mentioned earlier that some organizations have productized some of their content and offering. And that means e-commerce is in the picture. But regardless of where you are in your productization (if that’s an objective), e-commerce will likely be part of your association procurement process.
Here’s what you need to look for when you’re evaluating e-commerce requirements in terms of both features to look for and internal requirements to be aware of.
E-commerce features really come in two categories for associations: basic “must haves”, and “nice-to-haves” that may or may not be covered elsewhere in your tech stack.
At its most basic, an e-commerce tech procurement needs to include:
- Some way to process transactions online
- A system to manage inventory
- Some web / storefront construction and maintenance.
On top of these basic functionality, your e-commerce platform might also:
- Manage marketing automation
- Create and execute subscription services
- Build and maintain your entire website
- Manage your content
These, of course, are outside the core functions of an e-commerce platform. However, product offerings are so rich now, for a smaller association with a real focus on e-commerce, they might suffice as the organization scales to true best of breed.
E-commerce questions to ask yourself
On top of the above features, there are a few questions you should ask yourself as you go through the procurement process.
First, what level of sophistication do I need? Can I solve this with an existing tool? Plenty of organizations don’t need a full e-commerce suite. A plugin to your AMS or your CMS / website provider might suffice.
Second, how big a role does e-commerce play? Even for larger associations, e-commerce can play a relatively minor role. Your need should match the tool you buy since there are so many great options on the market.
Third, are you running your membership dues through your e-commerce platform? Setting up a subscription might be clunky, but could save you a lot of time down the road. Understanding what you’re planning on doing with the tool before you buy is a surefire way to get a better result.
- You have to at least be able to process transactions, manage inventory, and manage a digital storefront
- There are additional options like SaaS, marketing automation, content management, and website management to think about
- Consider your needs carefully before you invest so you get a tool that works for you.
Third party integrations can be a major pain. However, getting all your different systems to talk to each other and the outside world is essential to successful tech procurement and data visibility / optimization. Not only will a unified view of your data helps you make decisions quickly and operate more efficiently, but integrations between systems suck up a disproportionate amount of time. So even though they might only be a small part of the overall purchase, they’re critical to a successful procurement.
With that in mind, rather than list all the integrations you’ll need to consider, we’ve put together a short framework to help you identify what integrations you’ll need.
Step 1: Identify your goals
First, identify what you’re trying to do overall. If you’re involved in a procurement process, there should be some documentation around this in terms of objectives and goals. If this hasn’t been identified, this is a good place to start.
Step 2: Identify the data you want to track
Next, work out what data you want to use or will need to achieve your objective. Say, for instance, that you’re procuring an association management system to track members. You might want to track their names, contact information, date they signed up, etc...
It can be useful to brainstorm these fields, and then later drop them into an Excel spreadsheet.
Step 3: Identify where your data is going to live
Once you have the objective and the data, work out where you want it to live. Each piece of data you want to track, even if it is used somewhere else, should have a single source of truth. What’s more, the more data you can store in a single system of record, the better off you are.
Step 4: Identify what systems need what data
Finally, look at your different tools. What systems and teams need what data to operate efficiently?
With this framework, you can begin to get a sense of where your data is, needs to be, and who else needs access, which will, in turn, help you prioritize what systems need to be integrated and how closely.
Complete Technology Procurement Checklist for Non-Profits
- Find a vendor who’s trustworthy based on third party references and industry leaders
- Look at integrations. Your membership tool will likely become the heart of your business
- Find a tool to suit your level of expertise
- Consider automated reporting as an ROI-positive account purchase due to the time you save
- All-in-one, cloud-based solutions proliferate in the market. Stick with these rather than local solutions and get all the benefits of SaaS and the cloud without the headaches of security risks.
- Your platforms needs to process transactions, manage inventory, and function as a storefront.
- There’s plenty of additional functionality that can be covered by an e-commerce platform. Find out what you need and what you can use existing technology for.
- Consider where your organization is in terms of growth, what role e-commerce plays, and if you’re processing membership fees or other purchases through the platform.
- Consider tools you’re using now and tools you’ll likely be using in the future.
- Consider buying into an ecosystem rather than a single swiss army knife tool or disparate point solutions
- Map out what data needs to go where for both common and edge use cases to understand how your integrations need to work
- Understand your goal, the data you want to track, where the data is going to live, and what systems the data needs to be pushed / pulled to in order to prioritize the right integrations
We hope this article was helpful both in understanding what you need and why you’re buying it. If we missed anything on the checklist, just let us know in the comments on Linkedin. Happy buying!