Is dues processing at your association a frustration for everyone involved? It can be a time-consuming ordeal for staff at National, and staff and volunteer leaders at chapters—a process that’s been done the same way as long as you can remember.
Although the idea of changing such a long-standing process is daunting, you know a more efficient one will allow staff and volunteer leaders to dedicate more time to what really matters—delivering value to members.
When chapters are run by volunteer leaders and small staffs, it’s in everyone’s best interest to relieve their administrative burden by finding ways to streamline and standardize processes. National has to take the lead on this effort because you have the resources and expertise to design and manage a more effective dues and data sharing process.
This three-part series delves into seven dues processing challenges. Warning: these scenarios might provoke stressful memories and cause involuntary shudders. But don’t worry, we provide advice and action steps for solving them.
Challenge #1 – Data Reconciliation
You never know what type of data will accompany dues payments from chapters. Chapters use different membership applications and consequently collect different sets of data—data that’s formatted in all kinds of ways.
And, there’s a good chance they use multiple payment processors too. The payment data you receive isn’t accompanied by the unique member IDs you need. For example, when payments are processed with PayPal, someone in your office has to spend time verifying which member paid the dues so they can credit the right account.
And everything has to be done manually—the join and renewal information is matched with payment data and entered into your AMS. Is it all done perfectly? Of course not, humans make errors, especially when they try to get it done fast.
What if you could get the same set of data in the same format from every chapter along with a unique member ID that’s tied to the payment? Sounds too good to be true? Stick with us here, it’s not.
Solution: Assign a unique member ID number to accompany future dues payments. By the way, your colleagues will love you for doing this.
Next step: Understand how unique member ID numbers are used in your AMS and within your organization. Working with your IT and accounting department along with chapter representatives, develop a plan for getting chapters to use those ID numbers.
Solution: Offer chapters a self-service portal that’s tied to your AMS where they (or their members) can enter, update, or upload data. You’ll reduce the data entry burden on staff and encourage compliance with your business rules.
Next step: Figure out how to give chapters the permission to enter, update, or upload member data to your AMS via a chapter portal or other solution.
Here’s how that looks in real life. We know a national association with more than 700 local and state affiliated associations. The local affiliates collect and send dues to both their state and national association—reconciling that dues was a challenging process to say the least. National made the decision to reduce everyone’s pain by unifying the process so more time could be spent at the local, state, and national level on growing membership and offering better programs, not on data reconciliation and entry.
National offered local affiliates a few variations of join and renewal forms for their websites. The local affiliates can add their own branding and additional fields. The data collected in these online forms is automatically piped into National’s AMS. The dues are split and disbursed automatically (and appropriately) between the local, state, and national associations.
You can imagine how much National staff loves this new process. The local associations are receptive to the new process too because it eliminates the need to spend hours allocating funds and formatting data for their state and national associations. And, they save money because they no longer pay the state and National association’s share of payment processing fees.
Tip: One side can’t fix these problems alone. National and chapter reps must work together to identify problems and come up with appropriate solutions.
Challenge #2 – Payment Reconciliation
Collecting member data from chapters is challenging enough, the headaches increase when you receive all kinds of payment files (for example, PayPal, banks, Authorize.net) from your chapters. And, the funds are transferred from chapters to National at different dates—you never know when they’ll show up.
Your accounting team has to spend lots of time investigating and fixing problem transactions. And let’s not even talk about deferred revenue, yikes.
Where do you begin to straighten out this mess?
Solution: Synchronize the transfer dates for funds.
Next step: Talk to chapter staff to understand why they transfer funds to you when they do. Discuss the challenges their lack of timing presents to National, and the impact of those challenges on your ability to support them.
Solution: Get all chapters on the same payment .
Next step: Organize a National/chapter working group to research a standard payment processing solution. We’ve learned that chapters often recognize there’s a better way to do business, but they’re waiting for National to do something about it.
Solution: Offer an integrated payment solution that automates dues processing and reduces time spent on data entry and reconciliation.
Next step: Talk to your accounting, membership, and IT teams about the pains related to reconciliation challenges. Form a working group of National and chapter staff representatives to discuss possible solutions.
Tip: Think about an incentive you can give to chapters in return for their participation in a new process or adoption of a new system. Start with a small beta group that represent different sizes and types of chapters. Once they’ve tried out and accepted the new process, turn them into selling machines (champions) of the new process. Other chapters are more likely to listen to their peers than to National.
Challenge #3 – Data Formatting and Reporting
One of the biggest frustrations we hear about from national associations is the difficulty they have getting their chapters to share member data—and share it without National having to nag them for it.
Without a reliable and standardized method of collecting, sharing, and reporting data and information, you can’t easily identify who’s joined, paid, and renewed. How many members does the chapter really have? Is membership/retention trending down or up? What type of programs are they hosting? How often?
A lack of standard data sharing and reporting also slows down dues processing at National if staff has to take the time to contact chapters to verify names and numbers. For example, if the chapter is supposed to send $50/member to National, but you don’t know how many members the chapter has, the process (and sense of trust) can get complicated (and compromised) quickly.
You need accurate chapter data and information to assess membership and financial trends, evaluate chapter performance, and know what activities help grow chapters and engage members. If you can provide better chapter analytics to your colleagues in the membership, marketing, and education departments, they can use that data to plan more effective programs and marketing campaigns. A unified process can help you analyze chapter data and share chapter best practices.
Next step: Find out if chapters know which type of data they should collect from members. Make sure they understand how this data is used by National and how they could use it too.
Next step: Survey chapters to see what accounting systems they currently use. Take advantage of this opportunity to upgrade them from Excel spreadsheets and checkbooks.
Next step: Work with your accounting team to understand what payment formats are most helpful and useful to them. What are their pain points with the dues process?
- Rebating money back down to chapters?
- Deferred revenue?
- Time spent on reconciliations?
- Reporting from chapter to national?
Get the accounting team involved in developing solutions to solve these problems.
Next step: Identify the costs of your current process on staff time and revenue, including the lost opportunities to deliver value and spend more time on strategic and value-laden tasks.
- How many hours does the process take now every month?
- How many inefficiencies exist?
- Why hasn’t the process been changed?
- How do you make change/improvement a priority?
- Integrate data at the local level into the national AMS.
- Integrate chapter accounting systems with National.
- Provide a standard chapter accounting system. Because of the annual turnover in volunteer chapter leaders, the new system must be easy-to-learn and user-friendly.
Tip: Develop a business case for your association’s investment in a National-hosted system or other solution. Focus on how the new technology will help your association achieve its strategic and business goals. Prepare your case and create a groundswell of support by asking the accounting team about the problems they’d like to solve. Ask your membership team and other colleagues about the real-time chapter data they need to better understand members and chapters.
Highlight the benefits for National and its chapters:
Quicker and more accurate reconciliations and reporting.
Ability for national staff to go into local systems and pull reports, review data, import/export data, and set reminders.
Ability for chapter staff and volunteer leaders to spend less time on administration and more time delivering value to members.
The way your association and chapters collect and share dues and data affects your relationship. A dysfunctional dues process strains the relationship. Improve the process and watch the relationship strengthen. Our next post will provide solutions for some chapter-specific challenges with dues processing and other financial responsibilities.