How to Make a Convincing Business Case for New Membership Software
Membership software is mission-critical technology, but organizations have limited financial resources to invest. Since the appetite for new technology is never quenched, your business case for new AMS software must demonstrate its superior business and strategic value for your organization.
Your case must address the concerns of your board and clearly show how new membership software will help your association improve the member experience and the bottom line.
You and your staff know it's time for new AMS software at your organization. And you'll need a compelling business case in order to convince your board that a change is necessary. Join us Wednesday, June 28, at 1 pm EDT to learn how to craft a winning presentation.
Document the problems with your existing membership software
To prepare a business case for new software, you must identify the costs of staying with the status quo and the benefits and impact of a new solution. Don’t assume you already know all this information, but rather, do your research. If you don’t have the expertise or time to take on this foundational piece of the project, consider outsourcing it to a technology consultant or business analyst.
Start with user and stakeholder interviews. Make sure you talk with staff from the IT, accounting, component relations, membership (of course), and other departments who use your current system and/or its data. If you intend for the new software to replace “rogue” databases, talk with the owners of those databases to find out why they resorted to them and how new software could help them do their job. The new software must solve their problems if you want them to change their habits and give up control of “their” data.
Document everyone’s problems with your existing software and processes: upgrade challenges, integration issues, workarounds, lack of reporting, and limited functionality are likely just the tip of the iceberg for your organization. Discuss their departmental goals and challenges and how new technology would impact them. Talk about opportunities lost because of existing issues with technology or data. For each problem or lost opportunity, determine whether it’s a technology, process, or people/culture issue. New technology won’t solve cultural issues.
Now, take a look at your organization’s strategic plan. How is the status quo preventing staff from achieving your organization’s strategic objectives? How is it hindering them from achieving their departmental goals? Quantify these “costs” as much as possible, for example, hours spent/lost, number of inaccurate or competing records, types of initiatives not taken, or data sets not available.
Show the impact of new membership management software on your organization
Now that you’re thoroughly depressed with the current state of your technology, it’s time to think about a rosier future! How will new membership software help staff make progress toward the goals outlined in your organization’s strategic plan? How will it help them achieve departmental goals?
Identify and prioritize these benefits, which might include:
- More personalized member experiences due to profile customization and delivery of more relevant content.
- Improved data integrity.
- Better data analytics providing 360-view of members, prospects, and customers.
- More useful reporting.
- Better integrations.
- Enhanced cybersecurity and privacy protections.
- Targeted communications.
- Improved chapter management (and relationships), dues processing, and reporting.
- Increased staff productivity.
Ask AMS software vendors about the impact their software has made on other associations. Talk with staff at those associations and include their testimonials in the appendix to your business case.
Ally with project champions and stakeholders
Making a business case for new technology is not a one-man or one-woman job. This is the time to bring together your project team so you can pick their brains as subject matter experts and get their buy-in for the project and the inevitable change it will produce. Plus, you want to present an allied front to the board and executive sponsor of your project.
The executive sponsor is someone who has the desire and the authority to help you secure the financial and staff resources needed by your project. Because of their influence with the board, they’re the first person you have to convince on the need for new membership software.
Another key player on your core project team is someone from the IT department—consider them your project BFF. They should have a good understanding of both the organization’s business and technology and help you translate IT jargon into plain English. You’ll need their assistance with data conversion and integrations. They can support your findings on existing challenges, software costs, integrations, and training and support implications.
The IT representative can also help you answer a critical question: where is the money coming from? Is there money in the existing budget? Is this considered an IT expense or is it coming from another or many budget line(s)?
Another question for your IT colleague: Is this project in the technology road map? If your organization practices IT portfolio management, has this project been prioritized for the coming year? If the project is not already in the budget, what other projects are vying for funding? You’ll have to show a greater need and return for yours.
Although you are asking for new membership (or association management) software, this is not a “membership” project, it’s an organization-wide project. When you make a business case to the board, you want them to understand that nuance. The support of users and stakeholders from different departments around the organization will help you make that point.
During the project, you will rely on the knowledge and expertise of existing and future software users and stakeholders, for example, an accounting department representative will be your dues processing expert. Depending on how you plan to use the new AMS software, you may also want representatives from the component relations, governance, meetings, and other departments. You not only need their assistance, you need their buy-in because they will have to take time away from their regular responsibilities to dedicate time to the project.
Beyond subject matter expertise, successful projects require the expertise of a business analyst and project manager. You can assign these roles to internal staff but if they’re not trained in these disciplines, the project will suffer. A business analyst can help you prepare your case for the board—but, in a pinch, AMS software vendors can also provide assistance. A project manager can provide guidance on timeline, scope, milestones, and project resources.
Finally, and most importantly, you need to learn about the people making the business case decision—your board members. Their expectations are often informed by their own profession and industry. One board may want to see a tangible financial return on any investment, while another board may understand that less tangible benefits are just as important. What type of information will your board want to see before making a decision?
Talk to your executive sponsor or CEO about the focus and priorities of board members. You need to speak to their goals and concerns. How will this software help the organization achieve those goals and address those concerns?
Know what you're getting into
Find out how the board approval process works.
- Will the decision be made immediately or take some time?
- Are you asking for the approval to go forward with the RFP process, or the approval to fund the entire project?
- How precise does your budget have to be?
Learn enough about the project management process so you can show decision makers you have a clear understanding of the project’s impact on internal resources. Know when and why staff will be involved at different project stages. Have a high-level communication and change management plan ready.
If the board is looking for a solid budget, allow time to gather and document requirements so you can give vendors enough information for them to provide an accurate proposal. Ask vendors what they need and find out about all possible expenses for data conversion, training, implementation and beyond.
Prepare your business case
Find out what your board expects and needs in a business case to make a decision. A business case can include:
- Executive summary – in a nutshell, the entire story about the need for and impact of new software.
- Background – the current situation and challenges, how the decision to select new software came about.
- Benefits – focus on the impact of new software, not features, including how it will solve existing challenges, opportunities it will make possible, how it will add value to the member experience, and how it will help the organization achieve its goals.
- Consequences – what happens if you stay with the status quo, what lost opportunities.
- Alternatives – other options, if any, for solving existing challenges.
- Considerations – how the project will impact your organization (change management, staff time) and project success factors (leadership buy-in, departmental cooperation).
- Risks – strategies for dealing with and mitigating as many risk factors as possible, including change management, staff issues, and market risks.
- Costs of the entire investment – software, consultation for selection and implementation (tech consultant, business analyst, project manager), training, and training budget for future fiscal years.
- Timeline – allow time for data conversion, add buffers.
- Moving forward – project management process.
Remember to speak the language of your leadership—don’t use technical jargon.
People tend to stick with the devil they know. It’s difficult to get them to willingly invest in and follow you to an unknown landscape. Prepare for objections you will sense and hear. Anticipate questions. And, present a united front—let them see the support your project has from departments across the organization.
You’re not only making the case for new membership management software, you’re making the case for change. You’ll need change champions at your side. While you build your business case, try to build user and stakeholder buy-in.
Ready to start creating that killer presentation for the board? Join us Wednesday, June 28, at 1 pm EDT to learn secrets of getting your board's buy-in for new software.
About Eric McDonald
As an Engagement Manager with Aptify, Eric helps clients determine whether Aptify is a good fit for their organization as they look for a new AMS. As part of the process, Eric works with clients to consider implementing new systems and new business processes to boost efficiencies and drive greater change throughout the organization. Eric is based out of the New Orleans office, calling the “Big Easy” home since 2010 when he moved there to earn his MBA from Tulane University. Outside of work, Eric loves to CrossFit, spend time with his spouse, cuddle with his Corgi, Bentley, and watch every Saints game—Who Dat!