Vendor Management: Keep Calm and Carry On

Earlier this year, my supervisor and I were chatting about our relationships with our vendor partners in the association indusrty. From that conversation, I found myself wondering what I could or should be doing differently  to improve these relationships. The end goal of course being that a better relationship will result in more successful outcomes with our projects and service contracts.

I pulled together a few peers from the ASAE Technology Council to have some conversations around this idea. We were selected to present on this topic at the 2013 ASAE Technology Conference.

Below is a short video by Personify:

“Keep calm and carry on” is part of the title of Prabash Shrestha and Rene Shonerd’s session on Vendor Management. Interaction with a vendor isn’t just in the selection process and not just for issue resolution. It should be an ongoing relationship, that’s mutually beneficial. Rene and Prabash join Mto Ngwenya to talk about the importance of building relationships with vendors and expand upon why this topic is valuable for associations and in particular CIOs in order to get the most out of their technology.




Springtime Expo

Have you heard of ASAE’s Springtime Expo?  Yes, it’s an event for meeting planners.  However, the expo is also a great place to visit technology vendors that specialize in that area of association managment: think software for distance learning, expo management, registration management, abstract management, and audio visual needs.  Last year, I attended for the first time and was amazed at the number of tech vendors to visit.  It’s happening on April 28th at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and the tradeshow only registration option is a bargain.  If you’re looking for technology solutions around meetings and events, check out the expo hall search to see if it might be worth a visit for you.

NTEN’s Triple Header of IT Benchmarking Reports for Nonprofits

image source: daveynin via Ookaboo!

Baseball fans and IT folks have at least one thing in common – they both love to review the latest statistics.  NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Network,  released a triple header of benchmarking reports this month.  All are available to download free, so grab your favorite ballpark snack and sit down to study the latest reports.

  1. 2010 Nonprofit IT Staffing and Spending Survey, sponsored by NTEN and The NonProfit Times.  In the fifth year of this study, 1192 nonprofits recently shared their benchmarking data for comparison.
  2. 2011 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, authored by M+R Strategic Services and NTEN. It features “an Analysis of Online Messaging, Fundraising and Advocacy Metrics for Nonprofit Organizations”.  It is based on data from 40 US based national nonprofits for the calendar year 2010 and is available in various formats: event recording, presentation slides, infographic and the full report.
  3. 2011 Nonprofit Social Networking Benchmark Report, sponsored by NTEN, Common Knowledge, and Blackbaud.  Over 11,000 respondents from nonprofits of all sizes recently participated in this study focusing on use of commercial social networks and about building and using their own house social networks.

ASAE Tech Council kicks off #ASAETech chat

The ASAE Technology Council kicks off #ASAETech chat today at 3 pm ET on Twitter.  Maddie Grant, the Chief Social Media Strategist at SocialFish and co-author of Open Community will moderate today’s topic, How to get more engagement in your online communities/social media sites.

These monthly chats will focus on hot topics for technology leaders in the associations and non-profits and will be moderated by volunteers in our industry.  Flag your calendar now for the 2nd Friday each month at 3pm ET.  If you’ve never tuned in for a live Twitter chat before, you can follow along simply by using Twitter search .  However, participating is easier using a site such as TweetChat.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a current member of the ASAE Technology Council and a big supporter of their efforts.  Let me know if you have a suggestion for a future topic or would like to volunteer to moderate.

Its not too late – Register for NiUG Chicago 2011

I highly recommend that AMS administrators and users get involved with their software’s users group.  iMIS folks should give serious consideration to attending one of more of the NiUG events held each year.  I’ve attended quite a few NiUG meetings on the east coast, and this slate of sessions and speakers offered at the upcoming conference in Chicago on April 18-20 offers a jam packed lineup.

The pre-conference schedule offers 5 choices of full day training sessions for an additional fee.  The extra fees are reasonable by comparison with other training centers.  Plus at NiUG, you get the benefit of training with iMIS expert trainers on an iMIS Database with iMIS tables and fields.  For new iMIS Database Administrators, these sessions can be eye opening, empowering you to return to the office and create new solutions to business problems at your association.  The pre-conference sessions include the following offerings:

  • Task Center
  • SQL Server Intermediate/Advanced
  • Crystal Reports
  • SSRS-SQL Server Reporting Services
  • Introduction to iMIS Membership and AR/Cash

The conference itself includes the following sessions:

  • What’s coming in iMIS 15.2 -from ASI
  • Trends and Engagement with Mobile Platform in Your Organization-Alan Atwood, TX Medical Assn and Kelly Flowers, Powered by DUB
  • Social Networking Going Mobile: Becoming Social and Generating Engagement- Andy Steggles, Higher Logic
  • A look at ASI’s Resources – from ASI
  • And 18 additional breakout sessions over 2 days. 

If you miss this event, start making plans now to get to the next NiUG event in Baltimore on October 19-21, 2011 at the Hyatt Regency Inner Harbor.

10 Easy to Follow Data Entry Standards

Is your association database full of duplicate records?  Is your undeliverable mail bin overflowing with renewals and marketing messages that never reached the intended recipient?  Does it take an army of editors to prepare a directory or similar list of members for public distribution?  These are all signs that your database and your data entry team could benefit from use of formal data entry guidelines.  

The heart and soul of all association management systems are the contact records for our members. So when considering a data integrity strategy, you must begin by considering how new data is entered into the software.  For most of us working with US-based associations, the easiest way to get started is to adopt rules around contact information from a third-party source  such as the United States Postal Service address guidelines.   The full publication (Publication 28) can be used as a reference guide, but you’ll be most successful if you adopt a short set of rules that are easy to follow.  Below is my simplified version of data entry rules based on their address standards:

  • Spell out company names except Inc, LLC, LP, etc
  • Do not use punctuation except the hyphen between the zip and the plus 4 code. 
  • Numeric street names should (almost always) not be spelled out (7th, not seventh)
  • Abbreviate directionals before and after street names (123 S Main St NW)
  • Abbreviate street suffixes (Ave, Blvd, Cir, Ct, Dr, Ln, Rd, St)
  • Do not use the pound sign (#) as a secondary address unit designator, instead use standard abbreviations (Apt, Bldg, Fl, STE, Unit, Rm, Dept)
  • Spell out city names (Fort Myer, not Ft. Myer)
  • Use two letter abbreviations for US states
  • Manage records in proper case and use uppercase formatting for mailing labels reports
  •  Add the plus 4 to US zip codes (use an integrated address verification service to automate this)

Effective Web Self-Service Forms

Wes Trochil recently talked about the effectiveness of self-service web pages. He cites a Gartner study that found that 65% of self-service interactions result in a call to the customer service agent.

I agree with him that this statistic is dumbfounding, and I had just such an experience myself earlier today.

I found myself searching for a new health care provider.  I pulled the membership card out of my wallet and opened a web browser. I typed in the web address and landed on the company home page.  The navigation was straightforward and easy to follow.  Within a few seconds I found what I was looking for the “Find a Provider” directory.  So far, so good.

Then I landed on the search page and encountered my first problem.  The search form began with a required field labeled “Select Your Plan”.  The drop down list menu offered several options.  However, I didn’t recognize any of them as My Plan.  I had no idea what My Plan was.  I paused to study the membership card in my hand.  No plan name was listed.  I flipped the card over to study the fine print on the back, but again, nothing helpful.

Since the pick list only offered a few choices, I guessed at one and continued to enter the other seqarch criteria:  Zip Code, Type of Provider, etc. 

Six required values later, I stumbled upon my next hurdle.  “Select Your Network”.  I’m again presented with a drop down list of values which mean absolutely nothing to me.  So again, I studied both sides of my membership card, but found nothing useful to help me continue my self-service web search.  

I abandon the website and picked up the telephone.  The customer service representative asked me my name and plan number and quickly provided me with the answers for those two required fields that prevented me from completing my web search successfully.

So natural, I found myself wondering – Why didn’t the web self-service form ask me for identifying information that I could reasonably provide or find myself?  Or why didn’t they print the name of the plan or network on the membership card? 

This story illustrates several lessons.  First, is the importance of web usability testing with your members when designing new member self service pages.  If you already have several existing pages and no budget for usability testing, you  still have several options to test your forms.  Role play scenarios in the shoes of an average member to see how friendly your pages really are.  Recruit volunteer leaders or fans from your Facebook page to test the form for you.  Or consider adding a simple feedback email link to the form itself for all web users to provide feedback directly.  Lastly, meet with those folks who are on the front lines when dealing with members-your receptionist and your customer service representatives.  Ask them to list (or track for a short time to determine) the top 10 most common questions they are asked on customer service calls.  Then focus in on those that can be addressed by improving an online self service form.

For extra credit:  Check how your forms render in various web browsers (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, etc). Ask yourself which of these forms your members are likely to use on a mobile device and again, check how they display on various devices (iPhone, Andriod, Blackberry).  Check your web stats too to see what percentage of pageviews on occuring on mobile devices and in various browsers.   

Book Review: SharePoint for Nonprofits

SharePoint for Nonprofits

I recently received a copy of the new book “SharePoint for Nonprofits: The Definitive Guide to SharePoint for your Nonprofit, Association, Charity and .ORG” by my friends Sean Bordner and John Stover.  If you’ve ever had the chance to work with these guys or attend any of their presentations, you know that they are passionate about SharePoint. Their enthusiasm for the platform is also evident in their writing. 

I would recommend this book for any association professional who is about to embark on a website CMS selection process, who is exploring new ways to manage association data, or for those who have responsibility for managing or supervising use of the SharePoint platform in an association environment. 

The book begins by defining SharePoint simply as “software used to build web sites” and then expands that thesis to a more robust explanation loosely translated to – a single platform that is used across your entire organization, inside and out to increase productivity, standardize documents, templates, business processes, applications and even your application platform.

If you’re not familiar with SharePoint, that definition may sound complicated; however, the authors use real world examples of how associations are using the software to make it easy to understand.  This is not a technical reference book on the how-to’s of SharePoint.  It was not written for the programmer and developers.  Instead, it’s written for anyone hoping to learn how SharePoint’s features offer real world solutions to common business process issues. What distinguishes this book from other SharePoint books is that these guys also understand the nonprofit sector.  They understand membership and donor based organizations and the unique challenges that association executives struggle with everyday.

The format allows you to skip around to the sections that are of most interest to you.  It includes sections dealing with management topics of project planning, governance, and user adoption.  It provides a nice orientation to the SharePoint terminology and spends time explaining hosting and licensing options.   

You can order a copy for yourself on Lulu.

Technology Prioritization Matrix in the Association Industry

ASAE hosts a town hall meeting to kick off the Technology Conference each year. This year at #Tech10, Reggie Henry facilitated a discussion around 12 strategic technology areas for associations. The session was attended by upwards of 60 technology leaders who were overwhelmingly association staff at the management or senior management levels in their respective organizations. The strategic technology areas included the following:

  • Cloud Computing
  • Business Intelligence
  • Digital Publishing and Marketing
  • Enterprise Content Management
  • Mobile Apps
  • Strategic Social Media
  • Virtual Conferences
  • Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Consumerization
  • Virtualization
  • Business Process Management
  • Rich Media

Participants were asked to answer two key questions about each of 12 areas:

1) When do you think it will be ‘common’ in associations?   
2) What benefit level do you think it will provide?

Through the use of audience voting devices, we each submitted our responses.  The complete results are available including additional demographics about the participants (staff size, budget size, etc) and detailed charts for each of the technology areas discussed.  The results of our responses are summarized in this chart (click to see at full size).

As a benchmarking exercise for yourself, you may want to pull out the technology strategic plan or IT Roadmap at your association.  Compare how many of these items are on your planning radar.  Is your association on the same timeline as groups of a similar size?  Is your group leading the pack or lagging behind?  Are their items that are missing from your current agenda that can be updated on your plans for next year?

Real Stories from the RFP Process

This year at the ASAE Technology Conference, I’ll be facilitating a session on the RFP Process.  Using samples and stories from seasoned association vendors, we’ll learn what makes up a great RFP by learning from the mistakes of others.  Check out this preview from Sigmund VanDamme and Joe Shaben at Nimble User for a few quick tips: