The next time you get frustrated by chapter payment or data issues, just think, it could be worse. You could have more than 700 components using all kinds of methods to send you member data and dues payments. Gives you the shivers, doesn’t it?
Welcome to Joe Winterkorn’s world. Joe, the vice president of information technology and services at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), has seen just about everything there is to see in the wild and wooly world of component relations—and he’s the IT guy!
NAHB has a three-in-one membership: members join at the local level and make one payment to their local home builders association (HBA) for their local HBA, state HBA, and NAHB membership dues. At the end of each month, around 700 local associations send the state HBA and NAHB their share of the dues along with the corresponding member data. These local HBAs are not like traditional chapters in other associations. They’re independent associations affiliated with NAHB, but not under the authority of NAHB.
Challenges for NAHB and its members
Some of the local HBAs have a decent-sized professional staff but many are staffed only by a part-time executive officer (EO) or are run completely by volunteers. Their database technology runs the gamut from sophisticated association management systems (AMS) to a bunch of index cards in a box. Seriously.
As you can imagine, NAHB membership rosters don’t always match the local or state rosters. For example, if NAHB pulls a list of members for a specific local, it might show 560 members. But if you ask the local for their list, it might show 590 members.
Dues & Data
Dues and data reconciliation is challenging to say the least. Each month, some local HBAs upload data for new, renewing, and non-renewing members to NAHB through NAHB’s Web Membership System (WMS). They also use WMS to update member data, pull membership reports, and pay NAHB their share of the dues with an electronic check (ACH).
But some locals still receive membership reports from NAHB by mail, make changes to those reports by hand, and mail back the reports and paper checks for NAHB’s share of the dues. And that means, you guessed it, staff at NAHB (and the state HBA) are entering that member data manually into the database.
Local HBAs are paying the credit card and ACH processing fees for the entire dues payment—local, state, and national—and are, therefore, paying more than their fair share of those fees.
Members get short-changed too. Let’s say a member joins the local HBA on November 2 and pays dues that same day. NAHB won’t get those dues until they receive the HBA’s batch or report in early December. The member’s national membership won’t be active until around December 5. If the member wants to access members-only content on the NAHB website in November, they’re out of luck.
Members don’t have the payment flexibility they need and expect. Small businesses and younger professionals can’t always afford to make a high annual dues payment, they would prefer to pay in installments, but that hasn’t been possible. “Many of our local HBAs don’t even offer online payments or payment by credit card or ACH,” said Joe.
Focus on solving member issues
Unsurprisingly, the impetus for change came from NAHB’s membership department. They saw the discrepancies in rosters and member records. They listened to local HBA staff vent about errors and reconciliation problems. They’re the ones who heard complaints from members. They knew only too well how the payment process was negatively impacting the member experience. “We started with the member problem,” said Joe.
“Young members don’t want to pay by check. They want to pay dues on an installment plan, like they do at the gym.”
NAHB limited the project’s scope to finding solutions to the most critical problems for members, such as making it possible for them to:
- Join, renew, and pay dues online.
- Pay dues by credit card or ACH.
- Pay dues annually or in installments (monthly or quarterly).
- Update their profile online.
- Enjoy the benefits of membership immediately (in real-time).
The goal was to find a way to collect dues payments on behalf of local associations via an online platform, and split those payments and processing fees equitably between the local, state, and national association. This solution would give members and the local, state, and national associations what they wanted:
- Better reconciliation and reporting since local, state, and national would share data in one place.
- Receiving funds and data in real-time.
- Better quality of data.
- Reducing barriers to joining and renewing.
How NAHB found a solution
A task force made up of representatives from the membership, finance, executive, and legal departments was formed. IT came in late to the process although they really should have been involved from the beginning.
The finance team spearheaded the project since they’re in charge of dues and dollars. “But, the task force couldn’t find a vendor who had a turnkey solution in place,” said Joe. “So they decided to contract with a development shop to build a solution for them—an expensive scenario.”
Meanwhile, Joe spent a few days out of the office. “I was wandering the aisles at the ASAE Tech Conference and found the solution the task force was looking for but missed,” said Joe. “It even solved the dues-splitting issue.” He found Billhighway and brought his discovery back to the task force who started the vetting process.
According to Joe, here’s what NAHB’s IT department looked for in a vendor:
- A solid backend that provides PCI compliance and data security.
- Integration with local HBA systems/databases.
- The vendor has other clients who will also use any customizations initiated by NAHB—this ensures the customizations will continue being supported by the vendor.
- The product will continue to evolve.
Joe said it’s also critical that you help your IT vendor understand any relevant internal or political issues so they’re prepared for meetings with association decision-makers and stakeholders.
Tips for selling a new process and technology to components
The new solution NAHB created is called DuesHub. Joe said,
“However, we couldn’t mandate the use of DuesHub by the local and state HBAs, We don’t have that authority. We can only encourage adoption.”
The key to encouraging components to adopt a new technology or process is to treat them like partners and get the right people involved from the start.
NAHB created a member-led task force to provide insight. This group of members and EOs from local associations and a few state associations included some skeptics too. They helped NAHB sell DuesHub to the local HBAs later: “36 of your local peers on the task force came up with this idea.”
Joe shared two lessons from this part of the project:
- Lesson One: They should have included more state and local EOs in the mix and communicated more directly with them. NAHB assumed the state and local HBAs would share info with their peers, but not all of them did so some states and locals didn’t know what was going on which made getting their buy-in more difficult.
- Lesson Two: They didn’t engage AMS vendors early enough in the project which caused some integration heartburn later. If they had done more work upfront on that, it could have resulted in better adoption during the early phase of the roll out.
DuesHub started with a pilot program. Joe said, “To find our early adopters, we asked ourselves who has the greatest pain and is also willing to try a new solution?”
NAHB’s early adopters were the local HBAs who didn’t use an AMS and HBAs who used an AMS that didn’t provide an easy upload to the WMS system. These HBAs were more eager to try out a new process and system that would save them time and money.
The Billhighway team helped NAHB promote DuesHub to the local HBAs and get them set up with the new system. NAHB used the success stories and testimonials of the early DuesHub adopters to market the new solution to other HBAs.
An improved member and staff experience all around
Now, members can join and pay dues online using a local HBA-branded membership application. They can also sign up for membership auto-renewal. Members have more payment flexibility. They can pay dues annually, quarterly, or monthly. They can pay by credit card, ACH, or paper check. Payments are automatically split and the appropriate amount is sent to the local, state, and national association.
Local staff no longer have to manually complete or batch monthly membership reports because the new system is fully integrated with NAHB’s system. Membership data is passed along automatically within minutes. Membership is live in real-time. New members no longer have to wait for their national membership to become active.
NAHB, state, and local staff (and volunteers) spend much less time on the membership application, renewal, and payment processes. Local and state staff are no longer dependent on the monthly NAHB membership reports. They can use DuesHub to view and edit live member data.
Data quality is much improved. NAHB discovered members they didn’t know about. Members have consistent anniversary dates. Because it’s easier for members and staff to update member profiles, data is more accurate.
Joe had one more piece of advice about technology. “What I find most valuable at conferences is walking around and checking out the tech vendors you don’t know,” he said. “Find out what they do. It may come in handy someday.” In Joe’s case, it came in handy right away.