Association veteran Maggie McGray recently sounded the alarm on a big problem: Associations themselves, especially small staff associations, are the ones left holding the bag right now. Association software companies and consultants, including those from the community space who saw the money, might be doing well, but small staff associations are highly vulnerable to unexpected costs.
Many of them don’t even have one full-time person focusing on their online community and membership efforts, let alone have development resources or space in their budget after already investing in these expensive software solutions, and often training, consultants and conferences to go with it. Are associations being taken advantage of, and taken for granted? We discuss:
- The lack of in-house community and association talent at association software vendors, as compared to their large sales teams
- Software vendors who used to pitch their solutions as an all-in-one that are now backing away from that
- What association management software companies should do from here
“From the association staff point of view, there’s a lot of frustration with the shortcomings of [association management software] and them being built by people who’ve never run an association. It’s a software platform and a suite of functionality that has been sold for the past 20 or so years in the association space as basically, ‘If you’re an association, you need this to run your business on.’ They’ve continued to add in the bells and whistles and upsell it as, ‘You want to be all in on this.’ It’s sort of like the entire industry is beholden to this technology to the tune of anywhere from hundreds of thousands to several million to $20 million. A lot of money. Especially when you’re talking about the enterprise versions that are customized out and a lot of consultants involved in that. We’ve all bought into it. We’re all beholden to these companies.” -@maggielmcg
“[Software vendors] are making a bunch of money, and they can hire a bunch of sales people and stock up. The associations, your budget is limited. Your resources are limited. Each one of these [software] changes impacts your bottom line, your staff morale, your ability to do other things, your ability to serve members. It’s really a very significant impact. There’s such a disconnect. … I’ve talked to a lot of friends offline about this deal. They’re like, ‘If I have to go back to my board and explain… I just spent two years getting buy-in for this system … if I have to now go back to them in a year and say that we need to switch again because something happened, I’m going to lose my job.'” -@maggielmcg
“The problem is that association execs are the ones who are in charge of the platform selection. It’s usually either lead by IT or it’s lead by C-level. It’s pretty much never, ever lead by – it’s usually not even informed by – anybody who understands what an online community is, how it functions, what functionality you need to have.” -@maggielmcg
“At least in the for-profit world, whether it’s a user community, whether it’s a brand community, there’s people in marketing. There’s people in customer service. There’s people at a high enough level who are at that table, so if the company is considering investing in a software platform for that, obviously, they want to go to the internal expert who understands what you’re trying to gain from this. In the association world, you don’t have that at all. It’s a software purchase that then is sold as, ‘You just buy this, and it’s magic. It’s member engagement, and you don’t need anybody. You just buy the software and… community!'” -@maggielmcg
About Maggie McGary
Maggie McGary is social media manager at the American Psychological Association (APA). She has spent more than 15 years in the association world in various marketing and communications roles. Maggie is a frequent presenter at association and industry conferences on the topics of social media and digital communications best practices, as well as a blogger whose guest posts have been featured in numerous publications including The Washington Post and Social Media Today.
She is a member of The Community Roundtable and has been blogging/presenting about community management and social media for the past decade. Maggie is also one of the organizers of cmad.co’s Community Manager Appreciation Day celebration.
- “Community Brands is Born From the Combination of Three Association and Nonprofit Tech Leaders” press releas
- Maggie’s website
- American Psychological Association, where Maggie is social media manager
- cmad.co’s Community Manager Appreciation Day celebration, which Maggie co-organizes
- Aptify, Abila and YourMembership, which now all operate as one company, Community Brands
- “The Community Brands Deal is Great for Vendors; Associations, Not So Much” by Maggie
- Higher Logic, a sponsor of the show (though not of this episode), who raised a $55 million funding round last year
- ASAE, the American Society of Association Executives
- Community Signal episode where we discussed the acceptable rate of incorrect moderation decisions
- JP Guilbault, president of Community Brands and formerly president and CEO of YourMembership
- Maggie on Twitter
- Maggie on LinkedIn
00:04: You’re listening to Community Signal – the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet as you listen using #CommunitySignal. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
00:20 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thank you for joining me for this episode of Community Signal. I see associations as part of the wider community space. We’ve certainly talked about them here on this show previously. On this episode, thanks to a recently announced merger between three big players in that space, we’re talking with Maggie McGary for a frank discussion on how well associations are being served by association management software vendors. Maggie is the social media manager at the American Psychological Association – the APA. She has spent more than 15 years in the association world in various marketing and communications roles.
00:52 Patrick O’Keefe: She is a frequent presenter at association and industry conferences on the topics of social media and digital communications best practices as well a blogger whose guest posts have been featured in numerous publications including The Washington Post and Social Media Today. She is a member of The Community Roundtable and has been blogging and presenting about community management and social media for the past decade. She is also one of the organizers of cmad.co’s Community Manager Appreciation Day celebration. Maggie, welcome to the program.
01:20 Maggie McGary: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
01:20 Patrick O’Keefe: It is a pleasure to have you. Last month, it was announced that Aptify, Abila, and YourMembership, three association management software vendors, were merging to form Community Brands. You wrote a really smart piece about this that I just discovered last week, so I’m more of a johnny come lately a month late. But, hey, I found it.
01:41 Maggie McGary: That’s alright.
01:41 Patrick O’Keefe: I found it in the same calendar year, so that’s good. Your piece was about how this deal might be great for the companies and for their executives and investors, but it might not be so great for association managers and people who actually run the software. First of all, I really like this piece. I want to commend you on writing it.
01:58 Patrick O’Keefe: It is far too rare, these days, when I see someone in the community space who has credibility, as you do, write a piece that is truly critical of companies or people in the space with money and/or influence. Criticism is not bad. It’s how we get better. Too many people, too many resources in our space are, my words, in someone’s pocket. You wrote something that’s powerful with integrity, so thank you for that.
02:20 Maggie McGary: Thank you. Thanks. I appreciate that very much, and I appreciate you reading it.
02:24 Patrick O’Keefe: Well, before we get down to business I have to say – quick disclaimer here – Higher Logic is a sponsor of our show. Not of this episode. They only sponsor every other week, and this show happened to fall in between their episodes. Higher Logic is in the association space and is mentioned in your piece referencing their $55 million funding round last year. The people at Higher Logic know me and know that I will be honest on this show.
Patrick O’Keefe: That means being critical of anyone in this industry and that this program has unquestioned independence. I appreciate their support of our vision and independence. I know you mostly talked about the three companies involved in the community brands merger, but I just want to get that out of the way. Get my ethical thing aside.
03:01 Maggie McGary: Sure. No problem.
03:02 Patrick O’Keefe: Because I think that’s important.
03:03 Maggie McGary: Yeah. I know the people at Higher Logic well myself too. They know me for being outspoken, but they also know that I’m a supporter of the platform and online community in general.
03:12 Patrick O’Keefe: Good. Let’s forget all that because, really, that’s just a necessary disclaimer. Like I said, I’ll be critical of anyone. I want to have a conversation here, so let’s get down to business. You are someone who has worked in the association space for a while. You hear the news of this merger, and you write this, again, great piece which we’ll link to in the show notes. In it, you say that, “What’s ironic to me about this whole new glut of interest in/wave of private of equity investment in association tech is that the whole reason the space is of interest to private equity investors is associations. Yet, the ones who are getting the short end of the stick are associations.” Why? How are they getting the short end of the stick?
03:49 Maggie McGary: Well, so it was interesting. What I didn’t explicitly state in the post that I wrote was last fall I attended a panel that was about the specific issue.
04:01 Maggie McGary: About the interest by equity investors in the association management software space, in the association technology space. That was kind of a sound byte from that panel. There were a number of execs in the space.
04:14 Patrick O’Keefe: Association software execs or association execs?
04:18 Maggie McGary: Association software execs.
04:18 Patrick O’Keefe: Got you.
04:18 Maggie McGary: Sorry.
04:19Patrick O’Keefe: Okay.
04:20 Maggie McGary: It was a conversation about why is this space all the sudden attracting the interest of equity investors. Everybody kind of unilaterally said that what investors really like about the space is that associations are kind of… they’re stable, they’re member supported, they are… a lot of them have that, it’s in the association world called the golden handcuffs which is a lot of professions, their certification or credentialing to practice is also run through the association. There’s that kind of concept that you’re sort of bound to your professional association throughout your career.
04:56 Maggie McGary: To me, it was really ironic, and we were kind of… The association staff present at that conference were sort of tweeting about this during the event is, yeah, that’s great for the vendors, but it’s ironic that the very reason that you’re attracted to these technology vendors and the very reason that they’re all of a sudden making all this money is because of the work that associations do. Associations being mission driven, being non-profit, or not for profit. The idea is to make a profit, but to then funnel that back into more education, and products, and services to serve your members better. I’ve worked on staff at, I think, seven different associations throughout my career. I’ve worked with all of the major association management software platforms, so that’s AMS in association speak. I’m also very involved in the association community. I’m friends with a ton of association execs and staffers.
05:57 Maggie McGary: From the association staff point of view, there’s a lot of frustration around… It’s been this way for awhile, but frustration with the shortcomings of those platforms and them being built by people who’ve never run an association. It’s a software platform and a suite of functionality that has been sold for the past 20 or so years in the association space as basically, “If you’re an association, you need this to run your business on.” They’ve continued to add in the bells and whistles and upsell it as, “You want to be all in on this.” It’s sort of like the entire industry is sort of beholden to this technology to the tune of anywhere from hundreds of thousands to several million to $20 million. A lot of money. Especially when you’re talking about the enterprise versions that are customized out and a lot of consultants involved in that. We’ve all bought into it. We’re all beholden to these companies.
06:55 Maggie McGary: Now, it’s great that they’re making this money, but as somebody who’s worked… Last year, I… The memory is still too fresh for me, but I worked for a very small staff association. I was part of migrating from one of these systems to another that happened to be YourMembership was the platform we migrated to. As a staff of seven, charged with basically doing the same things that a staff of 500 would do, it gives you post traumatic stress for the rest of your life. It is extremely… You’re talking about migrating your entire database, of migrating over and making sure the integration with your accounting system, your payment gateway, your… you run your ecommerce platform for both products, your membership renewals, and all the different categories of memberships, a lot of times your website. I had to migrate… I manually had to migrate the entire website into their CMS, rebuild all the templates. It’s an incredible amount of work. For the companies, it’s no skin off their back.
07:56 Maggie McGary: They just are making a bunch of money, and they can hire a bunch of sales people and stock up. The associations, your budget is limited. Your resources are limited. Each one of these changes impacts your bottom line, your staff morale, your ability to do other things, your ability to serve members. It’s really a very significant impact. There’s such a disconnect. They’re two totally different lines of thinking and kind of the goals of the technology vendors versus the goals and daily business practices of people managing and running associations and being dependent on these platforms. It’s just night and day. I’ve talked to a lot of friends kind of offline about this deal. They’re like, “If I have to go back to my board and explain… I just spent two years getting buy in for this system that is a lot of times the expenditure has to be spread out over a five year period. If I have to now go back to them in a year and say that we need to switch again because something happened, I’m going to lose my job.” People’s jobs are on the line.
09:05 Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
09:05 Maggie McGary: People are like, “We just did this. We barely survived it, and I don’t know what I’m going to do if something changes, or they charge more, or change the features, or force you onto the next version, or these things.” People are literally losing sleep over this. It’s not an insignificant thing if you’re an association staff person.
09:28 Patrick O’Keefe: I’m versed in the association space. Never worked in it, but hang around Higher Logic enough and talk to enough people here on this show. We’ve had a number of people from the association space on the show before. I get the sense that, number one, it’s a slow moving group to adapt these sort of technologies. Only a small percentage of associations actually have a known community. When these decisions are made, they’re very long and deliberate. They seem to cost more than other spaces.
09:54 Maggie McGary: Yes.
09:54 Patrick O’Keefe: There seems to be a lot of money in the association space. A lot of times the people are very stretched thin on top of that. The sense I’ve gotten is you don’t have a community manager focusing on the online community very often if at all. You have an association manager, and they’re doing a lot of things. They’re managing all the mailings to members. They’re running events. Oh, yeah. They’re doing the community. Also, they’re doing the yearly conference. There’s just all these things thrown into this one person. Is the association space in a way… You’ve worked in community, so you have a sense of the community industry and what people pay for things. It seems like things cost more in the association space. Do you think the association space is, for some at least, being taken advantage of because of that combination of things where maybe they can charge more?
10:36 Maggie McGary: Absolutely. Again, I’ve said I’ve worked for a number of associations. I’ve worked for an association with $150 million dollar budget down to an association with a $1.5 million dollar budget. What amazed me was, pretty much, it doesn’t matter how big your association is. Pretty much the heart of almost every association is some version of this association management software.
11:00 Maggie McGary: Over the past, I’d say, five years or so… About five years ago, online community and associations was basically listservs. Higher Logic was, I think, the main player in that association space that was a dedicated community platform. That was kind of the first wave of that in the association world. I know I spent three and half years internally getting buy-in for why that would be beneficial to our members and better than the system we had which was… It was listservs, and then there was discussion forum, and then we had a LinkedIn group. It was basically the same conversations happening in all these different places. The things that have struck me is I’ve been managing community in the association world for about a decade. At the time, I was one of a handful. Over that time, it’s matured in terms of associations buying the software and implementing.
11:59 Maggie McGary: In terms of hiring dedicated community managers, it’s hardly moved at all. The level at which they are hired, if at all, is very low on the totem poll. There’s certainly no executive level kind of seats. There are no senior community roles. If an association has a dedicated community manager, that’s huge. Usually, like you said, if does fall on somebody who’s doing membership, or doing events, or doing something else. You’re wearing a lot of hats. Not only are you wearing a lot of hats, but there’s also no budget for professional development that is specific to community management because association execs don’t even know that that is a discipline. For instance, Community Roundtable, I’ve been working with them. I was one of single digit number of association community managers because associations are not willing to spend really any money, if at all, of professional development budget to that scale. As association like ASAE, which is the association for association people basically.
13:06 Patrick O’Keefe: Yup.
13:06 Maggie McGary: Their dues, I think, are about $200, $250 a year. Their events are pretty expensive. They’re about $1,000. Something we’re looking at, a $1,000 a year thing for lower level staff person, that funding doesn’t exist. There are no resources specific to association community managers other than, now, the different vendors. Some of them have developed their own either in house capability that they sell as a service or some resources. In terms of specific training, there’s not even awareness of it as a discipline.
13:44 Patrick O’Keefe: The reason that change is such a big deal is, I imagine, because when you have this one person who’s tasked with all these things, there’s certainly little to no dev resources. Every time there’s a change, I assume that money is either going to the software company or to a consultant. Right?
13:57 Maggie McGary: Exactly. Sorry, I went off track.
13:59 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, no problem.
13:59 Maggie McGary: Your original question was about the money that’s available. Even if you’re a tiny staff association, you’re talking even for an AMS that is geared toward a small budget association, is probably $10,000 a year. When they sell that, they’ll sell it as, “Okay, this is a comprehensive. It’ll do everything. It connects with QuickBooks. You process payments through it.” You get approval from your board. Which in the association world, it’s not like selling to a for profit business, that sales cycle is super long because it’s not just someone can sign off on it. It can take a year…
14:36 Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
14:36 Maggie McGary: … to go through the internal thing. You’re talking $10,000 for this, $10,000 for this, $10,000 for this. Then the technology consultants, if you’re spending for that, that can be tens of thousands of dollars just for a migration upgrade to a new version. It’s very expensive. It’s the biggest expense other than staff and space. Yeah, it is very costly. It’s just like you’re captive to those vendors.
15:08 Patrick O’Keefe: When you see these consultants in community focus, kind of, on associations, we know why. Because there’s a lot of money there.
15:15 Maggie McGary: Yeah. It’s interesting. Especially for consultants in the association space, it’s kind of a slam dunk because associations generally don’t have a staff. They’d rather pay… The consultant can charge ten thousand bucks for an implementation or something like that. An association is not going to… If they want to hire a full time person to run community and also be doing a bunch of other stuff, if they even get funding, those salaries tend to be pretty entry level salaries. It’s this weird dichotomy where consultants in the association space can command and get pretty decent rates. Whereas, association staff people, if you’re not at the C-level, you’re not really paid that much.
16:03 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah.
16:03 Maggie McGary: It’s this very weird imbalance.
16:06 Patrick O’Keefe: Some association software companies are moving to more generic community software platforms. That makes me wonder, do you think that for the small percentage of associations who actually have some form of online community, that they’re almost too tunnel vision on things branded association software? For example, there are many platforms out there for community building that don’t call themselves association software, and yet function similarly, possibly better, possibly cheaper, possibly scaling better. Do you think it would be beneficial for association professionals to look at not only association software, but also to look at community software, price it all out, figure out the features long term money wise? Because competition is good. It might be beneficial to kind of open up the net a little bit.
16:50 Maggie McGary: Yeah, it definitely would. I do know when I’ve been in on that selection process… At one organization we did the requirements analysis and then spec’d out the vendors without regard to whether or not they were in the association space.
17:04 Maggie McGary: I will say that in some cases, I do think that associations are so niche. They’re all different. They all represent a different profession, but it’s kind of Groundhog Day if you’re… I’ve worked at so many, and there’s so many similarities. Especially in just kind of the fact that there is different membership tiers, or that membership is either monthly. Like every month, there’s invoices coming to you because that crop of members are expiring, or some do a calendar year. There’s some that have institutional members, and some that only have individual. There’s enough nuance, and there’s enough things that are unique to associations that, in some ways, there is some benefit to having a platform that’s built out specifically to meet those needs.
17:57 Maggie McGary: At the same time, could you customize out or just… If you had somebody who knew what they were doing just kind of set up the community in that way. You absolutely could. The problem is that association execs who are the ones who are in charge of the platform selection, it’s usually either lead by IT or it’s lead by C-level. It’s pretty much never ever not only lead by, it’s usually not even informed by anybody who understands what an online community is, how it functions, what functionality you need to have. The people who are signing the checks and making these selections, they don’t know the difference. A lot of times it’s kind of this slam dunk, that’s where this kind of AMS vendor thing comes in. There used to be stand alone, and nobody believed in this private online community. Then there was a glut of each of the major and even minor association management platforms kind of adopted their own.
19:00 Maggie McGary: They either acquired a white label platform that was kind of in that association space and tacked it onto theirs or built out their own. That was all of the sudden kind of a function of this. Then, because nobody had a community manager, so shocker, it was a failure because they paid for it, but nobody used it. Then the execs look at it, and they’re like, “Well, nobody used that thing, so we may as well not be paying for it.” Then it kind of… A lot… There were all those consolidations. I think AMSs didn’t see the value in building out their own except for there are a couple who still have built out their own functionality. That’s the problem. At least in the for-profit world, whether it’s a user community, whether it’s a brand community, there are enough people… There’s people in marketing. There’s people in customer service. There’s people at a high enough level who are at that table, so if the company is considering investing in a software platform for that, obviously, they want to go to the internal expert who understands what you’re trying to gain from this.
20:04 Maggie McGary: In the association world, you don’t have that at all. It’s a software purchase that then is sold as kind of, “You just buy this, and it’s magic. It’s member engagement, and you don’t need anybody. You just buy the software and community!” Then try coming in as the person who starts two years later after IT purchased a platform because they were at a conference, and the vendor sold it to them, or it sounded good. They implemented it without involving communications, without involving membership, without involving anyone. It sat there. Then they’re like, “Yeah, we tried that once. It didn’t work.” It’s very hard once they failed one time to point out, “Okay, it wasn’t because it’s the concept wouldn’t be valuable or that it couldn’t be done correctly.”
20:55 Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
20:55 Maggie McGary: It was the way that it was done. It sort of burnt once, and you’re done, even if it was not a legit attempt, which is unfortunate.
21:06 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. The idea of community is bad because we bought software and didn’t do anything with it.
21:11 Maggie McGary: Exactly.
21:11 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a fun thing.
21:13 Maggie McGary: Yeah.
21:13 Patrick O’Keefe: That disparity of actual community or association membership management knowledge in that decision ties into something that I’ve talked about before which is how when I go and look at community software companies – and this is not just association software. This is all community software companies in all different verticals – I often don’t find many or even any community veterans who understand the work really well. Something you said in your piece was, “Hire some actual association people to build out this next level feature AMS, so that people who have experience using the platforms have a hand in feature development and functionality. Invest in support, in training staff, not just sales staff. For example, update your documentation so that the same people already having to do double work learning and implementing changes – the same people you just sort of talked about – don’t have to do triple work by also creating how to documentation for members.”
22:01 Maggie McGary: Exactly.
22:02 Patrick O’Keefe: “For instance,” you mention, “JobTarget was acquired by YourMembership three years ago. The documentation is still branded JobTarget and has never been updated. I know this because just a few weeks ago,” this is you, “I had to spend a bunch of time Googling answers to wrong information presented in that very documentation.” The point there is that it’s just, whether it’s association or other communities, when I see these companies where it’s very top level, there’s some executives, they got some funding, they might have one really good community mind if at all. It’s frustrating when I talk to these companies, and they’re like 33% sales staff and 0 to 2% community professional.
22:34 Maggie McGary: That’s always been my thing is… It’s like now in the startup world, community is a lot of times the first hire. I’ve written about this before, too. To me, how can you be a community software vendor without having a community manager? It’s the same thing with association management software.
22:56 Maggie McGary: It’s people who’ve never worked in the association world and don’t understand that. That would be like me trying to build a tractor management company. Yeah, I guess I could just MacGyver it and throw money at it, and envision what I would think they would need. A lot of times what happens, especially with the bigger vendors, is they develop this sort of advisory board. If you have recommendations, we’re going to listen to you. I’ve been on those. My husband has been on them. I have friends who’ve been on them. It’s that sort of a pat on the head like, “Of course we care. We’re going to put you on our super top level VIP advisory thing, and you’re going… You tell us what to do. We’re going to fix it.” Nothing ever happens. Meanwhile, if their platform is down… Now especially that SaaS is the thing. It used to be a lot of these platforms were, and many still are. If it’s down for the day, and that’s written in the contract that as long as it’s 80% uptime or a certain percentage of uptime, you still have to pay.
24:01 Maggie McGary: That can cost your association tens of thousands of dollars in not only just lost productivity, but literally lost product. Especially when dues, or event registrations, or publications are processed through that ecommerce portal. I’ve heard association friends talk about how when their vendor did an upgrade, instead of charging you for everything in your thing, it gave you a credit for that entire amount of your purchase for 24 hours. These are huge things. If you’re a huge software company who now has $150 million dollar investment, and you’re just celebrating and excited, there’s an association exec trying to manage thousands of members who have a certain expectation and are very demanding of you. You got your couple staff people who are already overworked, a lot of times, wearing multiple hats already.
25:00 Maggie McGary: Something like that, you don’t have the capability to deal with that. It’s just that feeling of… This dichotomy of knowing what it’s like to be that staff person picking up the phone and having to deal with members yelling you. It’s not like it’s Amazon where you have the authority to be like, “I’m very sorry.” That money is… Each one of those interactions, each one of those members, each one of those little glitches that was like, “Whatever. We didn’t upgrade, and it glitched everybody’s thing out.” There’s a real person cost to that.
25:33 Patrick O’Keefe: Yup.
25:33 Maggie McGary: To me, that disparity… If you haven’t sweated that out and been on staff at that association when that happened, and worried about what you’re going to do… Annual meeting is coming up next week, and you’ve got to pull that off. Your magazines supposed to go to print, and you’re in galleys. Whatever it is, it’s huge to you. The fact that it’s just no big deal to them, it’s just such a disconnect to me.
26:00 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. A recent conversation on this show we had was about what percentage of moderation decisions can you mess up as some large scale. The thing is that, let’s say, you think 90% is great. That means one out of every ten people gets a wrong decision. Ten out of every hundred. A undred out of every thousand. While that 90%, those people might be whatever, happy or not. That ten percent is not happy.
26:21 Maggie McGary: That’s the thing.
26:23 Patrick O’Keefe: You probably lose most of that ten percent. They leave. That’s why it’s not good. So know your SLAs, know how much downtime you can have. Because at 99% up time, you can be down three and half days out of the year. If you go even father down that number then you’re going to be down. When you’re down, people notice. People email you, and they don’t necessarily care that the software company is there.
26:43 Maggie McGary: Yeah. If you’re down during the day that early bird registration ends and that’s when 70% of your attendees are going to register, that’s a huge deal. If you’re the vendor, it’s like, “Oh, well that’s just a tiny percentage. That’s nothing.”
26:57 Maggie McGary: When you’re the actual person crying because you’re having to literally figure out a way to do this because you’re otherwise not going to make budget for the year, and your job is potentially on the line, and/or your whole funding for these programs that you’re providing, it’s a huge deal. It’s a make it or break it thing.
27:20 Patrick O’Keefe: One other thing you said that I wanted to draw out was you pointed out how some of these vendors – the vendors especially in the Community Brands merger – have been selling associations on the idea that the association management software is a one stop shop for managing an association; member database, ecommerce, payment processing, CMS, job board, etcetera. Only, “To now have technology consultants and Community Brands president, JP Guilbault, talk about how actually that model isn’t right after all. Now associations should actually be looking to not have the AMS as their core technology platform and not put all their eggs in one basket.” Talk about that a little bit. The idea… Again, that software space to me, I haven’t really played a ton in that space. That they’ve been pushing people towards sort of an all in one. Now are they sort of going the other way?
28:05 Maggie McGary: Yeah. Well, that’s the thing. Again, nothing against JP personally. I met him.
28:10 Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
28:10 Maggie McGary: I have nothing against him personally, but just I can speak personally to YourMembership. It’s not only that, they all… All those vendors are similar. Having gone through the sales cycle with that, implementing it, and then being upsold over the course of the year. Also, being a veteran of a million association conferences that are all sponsored by these technology vendors. That’s the whole exhibit hall. They’re the cornerstones of those events. There’s a lot of it, and the sales process is a big kind of part of that association and especially that ASAE dynamic because it’s an association where it’s just this thing where you have association staffers, and then association consultants, and association vendors. You’re all in that same space.
28:58 Maggie McGary: Obviously, the value of membership, if you are running an association, is one thing. The value to belonging if you’re a consultant or a vendor is the leads and generating that business. Obviously, I understand how it works. It’s been a long time of being in those exhibit halls, going through those sales pitches, talking to those people at every event because they sponsor every event. That is the pitch, “Okay, well it’s your membership database. You run your products through it. You do your invoicing through it. You do your dues through it. You run your website on it.” The last organization I was on, it was the database. It was the payment processing portal. Again, you’re limited. It’s the payment processing portal where you may have had that through somebody else before, but they only have two approved vendors, so you have to pick one of theirs. If it’s a percent point or two higher, you just have to eat that. That’s like a hidden cost that you didn’t know about which can equal a thousand or more dollars a month.
29:59 Maggie McGary: Then you can run your website through it. All of a sudden, it’s a CMS, too. You can only do email marketing through it, so it’s that. Then it’s also a forum and an online community. They very much do sell it as you can do everything on this. A bigger association, it’s not as big of an issue because they have enough money and enough of a dedicated IT team where they can… Generally, when I worked for bigger associations, you have an enterprise content management system for the website you have. The AMS may be managing dues, and invoicing, and the email list. Then you might also have a different email marketing platform. For a small staff association, we were all in. It’s like a base model car. Like you can get all this, and it’s going to cost however much. Five thousand dollars, ten thousand dollars a year. Then you find out, okay, well just to now process the same payments…
30:57 Maggie McGary: I’m not charging anything extra, but just to do the same business I was doing, that’s going to cost a thousand dollars more a month. Then, well, the website, it is responsive. You have a choice of two templates, but it’s not standard. You can’t have a secondary nav. You can’t have this, that, or the other. This doesn’t work.
31:15 Patrick O’Keefe: You’re buying the car. You’re upgrading the GPS.
31:18 Maggie McGary: Yeah.
31:18 Patrick O’Keefe: Then it sounds like they stop updating the map in a year or two.
31:22 Maggie McGary: Mm-hmm.
31:22 Patrick O’Keefe: So you’re going around to old roads that don’t exist anymore.
31:25 Maggie McGary: Yeah. What they also do is when they sell it to you, they say, “Oh, and what you get for ten thousand dollars, we have this online community platform thing. We have this email marketing platform, so you won’t… You save this much because you won’t need that.” Then, all of a sudden, two months in, they announce a partnership with an email marketing platform. It’s integrated, and it’s great, and it’s this, and it’s that, and it’s better. It turns out that what they had wasn’t really working, so, “Okay, we’ll do that.” Then that’s $14,000.
31:55 Maggie McGary: Then the online community platform that really just didn’t do anything, and they were telling you, “When you’re buying this, this comes with it. We’re enhancing it right now, so soon it’s going to be really good.” Then they announce, “Okay. Well, actually, now that’s an up-sale.” If you want that, it’s going to be another $10,000. All the sudden, it’s like even the things that you were originally sold as part of the package get pieced off and sold to you again. So you’re paying, and then you’re paying again, and then you’re paying again, and you’re paying again and for functionality that is lesser than what you would get piecing the things together. The thing is they kind of… It’s almost like the small guy loses because if you only have four people on staff, you need that efficiency. If there’s something you can do that’s all in one, they kind of have you because you don’t have the time to go spec out other stuff or build that integration yourself. Stuff that if you had the people resources, that wouldn’t be that big a deal. You don’t need that, so it’s almost like the smaller people are more vulnerable to being sucked into that do it all kind of thing. Which is unfortunate because then it ends up…
33:09 Patrick O’Keefe: They’re the ones with the most to lose.
33:10 Maggie McGary: Yeah, they’re the ones with the most to lose. They’re the ones all of the sudden spending the most for functionality that’s either way more than they even have the capability to use or for platforms that just, frankly, don’t work.
33:22 Patrick O’Keefe: When these companies launch these features, and they could say, probably, “Well, only ten percent of people were using this, so we’re going to sunset it. We’re going to get rid of it.” That doesn’t stop the fact that these smaller organizations were using it, had already paid for it. They’re not getting their money back. They’re not getting anything for the time they’ve invested. They’re just left with an outdated feature, vulnerable code, or just a hole in their website where that thing used to be. Now, people were using it. For them, they were one of the ten percent.
33:48 Maggie McGary: Yeah.
33:48 Patrick O’Keefe: Now they need to find some way to sub that in. That takes money and time that they now don’t have.
33:54 Maggie McGary: Yeah, exactly, or that you spent a staff person’s six months migrating the web content over only to realize,“Okay, actually, this content management system… We can’t run our website like this. Okay, so now we’ve got to either hire someone to migrate it again, build out a whole new website on another platform.” It’s that work being done over and over again just because you kind of… You’re running so thin already that you just need it to be done. You’re trusting what’s being sold to you because, as you mentioned, they invest a lot in sales staff. But when it comes to support or training resources, that kind of thing, that’s what gets left off. You do have it, that it’s three years down the line, and the documentation hasn’t been updated in three years. They’ve added a billion sales people, but all the marketing materials that were also sold as part of the thing is you get this whole marketing package that’s done for you, all the sudden that was two brands ago. It doesn’t work. Now what?
34:53 Patrick O’Keefe: Okay, so let’s end this with some positive suggestion point. Okay, so you say in the piece, “While it’s awesome, you’re all millionaires now, please, please, do more than pay lip service to helping the associations who helped you get there.” What should they be doing to ensure associations, especially small staff associations, aren’t left holding the bag here?
35:12 Maggie McGary: I think, speaking from the small staff association perspective… Which, to me, those are the ones that need the most help because they have the smallest budgets, they have the most limited resources.
35:23 Patrick O’Keefe: The vast majority of associations, I assume.
35:25 Maggie McGary: Yeah, exactly.
35:26 Patrick O’Keefe: Yup.
35:27 Maggie McGary: For right now, nothing is changing. Obviously, this whole investment didn’t happen so that the whole thing could be stagnant. Obviously, there are going to be changes. As those things happen, instead of like, “We’re rolling out this change, and it requires that you’re going to have to do X, Y, Z, or figure it out.” There’s going to be some kind of change. Traditionally, that falls on the association to either sort that out among the staff or hire a consultant. Instead of doing that, having that as some kind of consulting credit.
35:58 Maggie McGary: There are technology consultants specifically in the association space. What about establishing some kind of fund where we have partnered with X, Y, and Z technology consultants? Yes, we are upgrading this. There are going to be changes, but instead of you having to invest ten, or twenty, or fifty thousand dollars in consulting fees, we’ve already taken care of that. You can pick the consultant. Or, “Here’s one’s we’re partnering with. We’re providing you X number of hours of technical support so that it’s not going to cost you anything in terms of staff downtime or knowledge that you don’t have.” The fact that money is a resource that the associations don’t have that these technology vendors now do have in spades, wouldn’t be a hugely expensive thing, but it would be hugely appreciated by those small staff associations and make such a huge difference. That is something that wouldn’t be that expensive. It would breed a lot of goodwill.
37:00 Maggie McGary: There’s a lot of smart consultants. To me, that’s kind of a win/win for everybody. Something like that. Something in that space. The vendors tend to have their user conferences, and that’s when, generally, they’d have to send two or three staff people to those. You’re not only paying for your platform, but you also are paying attendance. There’s registration for multiple staff, plus travel, plus hotel. What if there’s no registration fee? You might have to cover your own travel, but you don’t have to 500 bucks a pop, or 250 bucks a pop, or whatever it is. What if the whole thing is underwritten? There are technology vendors who do that for their clients. They have a once a year user meeting, and they fly everybody into wherever city. It’s sort of the face time, but, also, here’s what’s new. Here’s the latest. Rather than charging clients to learn what’s new with your platform, providing that to them.
37:58 Maggie McGary: It wouldn’t necessarily have to be in person. It could be video. It could be on a local… A lot of associations are… They’re heavy in Chicago, DC. You could kind of do them in those major areas, or have a local person. They’re certainly willing to send a sales rep wherever. What if you deploy your support team to provide that training on site in those areas? Putting that cost burden, taking that off the association. Rather than you having to pay me for my platform, and then also pay registration to come to my thing. Then that also has sponsors. Then also pay your travel. Then also pay… How many times can you pay? I think that would be helpful. Again, none of those are super expensive things. That wouldn’t cost that much. Certainly, when you’re talking these tens, two-hundreds of millions of dollars, there could be a piece of that that is set aside.
38:57 Maggie McGary: I’ve had some good conversations with some people in that space, and I do think that, hopefully, some are listening. I’ve heard a little bit of chatter about some off shoots being formed specifically to kind of address this. I’m hoping that that does come to fruition because it wouldn’t cost that much, and it would make such a big difference. I do also think what about hiring some association people. All the sudden, there’s all these millions of dollars of investment to take it to the next level, and build out these platform to support associations as they evaluate what has or hasn’t worked for the past ten, twenty years and what’s needed going into the future. How about pulling from that pool of people who have that expertise and have that knowledge, and involving them in that process of what does that look like?
39:54 Maggie McGary: What are the capabilities this should have as we build out this next generation product? Rather than just hiring developers who’ve never worked in associations, what about starting to invest in that and get those people at the drawing board? I think that could also be really beneficial.
40:14 Patrick O’Keefe: Maggie, thank you so much for coming on the program. This has been a really great, refreshing conversation that I’ve really enjoyed. Thank you.
40:21Maggie McGary: Thank you so much. Thanks for having. I appreciate it.
40:24 Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Maggie McGary, social media manager for the American Psychological Association. Read her blog at mizzinformation.com. That’s M I Z Z information.com. Find her on Twitter @maggielmcg and on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/n/maggiemcgary.
41:00 For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad. Until next time.
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