One of the biggest challenges facing many associations today is the rapidly changing pace of technology. Today, new and improved technology is enabling associations to provide services, manage the organisation's day-to-day functions, and communicate with members in a way not previously possible.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant change in how associations interact with members, including an accelerated uptake of online technology. Virtual platforms that enable us to host webinars and even whole conference platforms are changing not only our methods of connection with members, but the very nature of associations.
This shift to a virtual world has created many challenges for associations, particularly if their website and database platforms are not up to scratch and need upgrading. Regardless of how advanced the technology might be, the key consideration to keep in mind is its ability to fulfil the needs of members and staff.
If you or your association are about to upgrade to a new website, there are some essential tips to consider before you start.
In a recent discussion with an association Board, the subject of moving to a new website was raised. The existing website was shown to the Board by the CEO. The ensuing discussion focused on the visual look and feel of the website, including the colours, font sizes and photos. And yet, there was no mention of the functionality of the website, such as member login, event management, or the membership application process.
As the Board was not familiar with the processes involved in administrating and updating the website, it was not surprising that they judged the quality of the website through the graphics and information on the pages.
As such, it is important to accurately define the meaning of the word ‘website’. When talking about a website for an association, this should encompass both its look and feel, and the functionality behind it—the database, accessibility by members, ease and ability to update and provide information, generate reports, create opportunities for members, link members with each other, deliver newsletters, manage events and so on.
What is it that you want your new website to be able to do?
Many website platforms are slow and cumbersome: uploading documents, photos and video links is complicated and takes time.
So, before you even begin to imagine your bright, shiny and new website, start by identifying the problems with your existing website. Develop a list of its flaws. Maybe it’s difficult to embed images in blog posts, or featured images aren’t the correct size, or perhaps members complain that your resource library doesn’t have a search function.
It’s a good idea to spend some time talking to your members and your staff. It is a really good opportunity to identify what areas of your website could be improved.
Once you’ve identified all the issues, move on to developing a list of what you would like your new website to be able to do. This list should take into account the flaws of your existing site. It should also be forward-looking: it shouldn’t just satisfy your current needs, but those for the next 10 years.
Bearing in mind though, of course, that technology is changing rapidly. So, it is likely that your website will need at least a partial update within the next two or three years.
It is important to take your wish list and develop a detailed requirements document. This can be used to brief potential suppliers and solicit quotes.
Your requirements document should include items such as:
If your budget allows, hire a business analyst who can develop the requirements document for you. This will save on time and cost.
Your budget is a very important part of moving to a new website. The cost for an integrated membership website platform starts from about $4,000. There are some membership platforms that have ongoing expense: some platforms charge by the user, while others charge by the number of contacts in your database.
It is also important to consider the ongoing maintenance costs, which include technical support; most IT consultants charge over $150 an hour.
Very few vendors have management experience within an association. In addition, their job is to sell their products. All this makes for a situation in which it is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole—vendors often just don’t understand the needs of an association.
As such, it is vital that you make your requirements very clear. This can only be done through the presentation of the requirements document and budget.
AES has been involved in the selection of vendors for many associations. We do not approach vendors on behalf of an association unless we have a requirements document to include in the tender process.
This allows the vendors to address how they will be able to meet your needs and provide costs for any customisation required.
In your request for tender, ask key questions such as:
Confirming consulting costs is important, particularly if your Board is likely to want to make changes. Many associations have underestimated the costs associated with implementing the systems or the solutions they require. We have several case studies that demonstrate how associations can experience serious financial stress when launching a new website.
After reviewing the proposals and completing all your checks, there are still some questions you need to ask your preferred vendor before you sign the contract.
Make sure there is sufficient support during the implementation process and ongoing. Are there documented training procedures that can be accessed? Is there a help desk and is it located in Australia? What is the escalation procedure if the website collapses or some functions or other problems cannot be rectified?
Finally, make sure to get some legal advice before signing the contract, including a review by your risk committee.
Last, but by no means least, confirm a very clear implementation timeframe with your chosen vendor. A vague estimate like “we should have your site ready in about six weeks” is simply not good enough.
Make sure you include dates for activities like:
For such a major project, it might be worth using project management software or tools. This can help ensure that all project timelines are met and there are no cost blowouts. This is particularly important as the vendor will be reliant on the association to provide key information and data, and vice versa.
It is also important to allocated a dedicated project manager. This might be a volunteer from your association, or a paid project manager, so long as the person is trained and fully understands exactly how your association works.
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