Category Archive: Strategic Consulting

Engagement Plan for nonprofits

Avatar photo June 14th, 2022 by

If you’re a nonprofit leader, you know how important it is to keep your constituents engaged. But sometimes, hitting those high-touch point activities with your members and associates is challenging. Or maybe you don’t have a standardized approach to those activities. Either way, an engagement plan can help.

Engagement Plan for nonprofits

What is an Engagement Plan?

Engagement plans are all about organizations working proactively to keep their members involved and invested. At a high level, an Engagement Plan is a set of tasks (literally a series of steps executed at different intervals) that helps you engage with your constituents. This can be done in a number of ways, from offering opportunities for leadership and development to providing pathways for members to give back and make a difference. By thinking ahead and engaging your members on a regular basis, you can keep them involved and invested in your cause.

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Engagement Levels

With Engagement Levels in NPSP, you can assign different tags (let’s call them Levels from here on) to contact records in the system. Levels indicate how these contacts are engaged with your nonprofit. In other words, Levels can be thought of as Ranks you assign to your constituents.

To better understand this feature, let’s look at a few example donors and how they have contributed to your organization:

Let’s say you have a donor, Paul, who has contributed $100, another one, Jennifer, who contributed $500, and the third one, Ryan, who not only contributed $1000 but also has been influencing other prospects to donate money. Ryan also has those prospects assist in various fund-raising activities for your nonprofit.

All these donors require lots of TLC for the remarkable work they are doing for your organization. But some might need more TLC than the others, depending on where they are in their journey with your tremendous efforts to make this world a better place. So, to identify where your contacts are with respect to their level of enthusiasm, efforts, and excitement about your cause, below is a typical progression a new joiner goes through.

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Wouldn’t it be great if all your volunteers grew to be your major donors? Yes, but for that, you must ensure you do your bit by ensuring you are as engaged with your volunteers as they’d like to be with your organization.

And this is where Engagement Plans can add significant value. Once you understand where your volunteers are in their growth with your organization, you can automate creating and assigning certain Salesforce tasks, so everyone on your team has a clear roadmap of what to do and when to do it. Consistent actions bring consistent results.

How to use the Engagement Plans

Before setting up an engagement plan, you should develop a high-level plan for engaging your constituents. Some typical questions you should ask yourself are:

  • Who are these tasks targeting? This is where defining Levels comes in quite handy. Once you define the Level your constituent is at, you assign a set of activities specific to that level.
  • What’s the list of tasks that need to get done? These are the actual tasks that you add to a set of activities associated with your constituent’s Level (more on this in a minute when we define Engagement Levels)
  • Do the tasks need to be completed in a specific order? If yes, what is the correct sequence? These are strategically placed sequences of activities. For example, you want to send a Welcome Email when you have a new constituent come on board, followed by a Thank You Email after their first donation.
  • Who’s responsible for each task? The user who will be performing the tasks. You associate an Engagement Plan with the Engagement Level of a constituent and then assign those tasks in the Engagement Plan to a user in your organization. Simple and Efficient. 


Now that you have a high-level understanding of how you can structure your communication and activities with your constituents let’s start putting together a plan.

The first step is to define the Levels. Let’s continue to form our case above.

Paul contributed $100.

Jennifer contributed $500.

And Ryan contributed $1000 and has been actively involved in other initiatives of your organization.

Looking at these contributions, you decide to use Donation Amount alone as criteria to define the Levels.

Donation Amount from $0 to $100:

Donation Amount from $101 to $500:

Donation Amount more than $500:
Big Donor

We used only one criterion for this example, but you can use as many as you like. For example, you can use a combination of Donation Amount, Events Organized, Events Attended, and the number of people influenced, to come up with your unique measurement of Levels of Engagement. Super! You are one step closer to unlocking the full potential of Engagement Plans.

In the next step, we will look at different activities you can do with someone at the Base level.

Our goal here is to engage the constituents at the Base level further so they can one day (sooner than later) become your Big Donors. And to do this, you strategically decide to do activities specific to the Base level.

On Day 1, once the constituent registers with your organization, you send them a Welcome Email.

On Day 7, to further pique your constituent’s interest in causes your organization is passionate about, you send a newsletter detailing all the incredible work you have been doing to help communities.

On Day 12, you place a Follow Up Phone call offering any help they might need with upcoming events and activities.

Congratulations! You created your first Engagement Plan!

To keep things consistent, follow the same steps to create plans for the other Engagement Levels in your organization.

Create an Engagement Plan Template and assign plans to records

Before assigning tasks to users in your organization, you will first have to create a Template that lists these specific tasks and the order in which you want your users to perform these tasks.

The Template is your first step in building consistency of actions in your organization. Typically, this is how the Template looks like (activities in the photo below are different from the ones mentioned above, but you get the idea):

Once the Template is created, assign the Engagement Plan to the constituent (Contact/Donor record in Salesforce) you want to engage with. Users can see the completed and upcoming tasks in Activity timelines. Flag items, add notes, see due dates—no More Missed Activities.

Below is what it should look like after the assignment:

That’s it! You are all set!

There are many more superpowers like Engagement Scores, Automation, Tracking and Reporting of Activities, Engagement Plans can give you. But, for now, the above steps should get you started with creating great experiences for your constituents and users alike.

So, you should tailor your engagement plan to fit your group’s specific needs, and it should evolve over time as your membership changes. The best way to create an engagement plan is with input from all levels of your organization. If you’re not sure where to start, our team can help. We have extensive experience developing successful engagement plans for organizations just like yours. Let us show you how we can help!

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Common Issues for Organizations New to Salesforce (And How to Avoid Them)

Himali Shah November 18th, 2021 by

This blog was originally published on June 7, 2018.

So you’re just getting started with Salesforce, a powerful Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform that offers users a great deal of functionality, and unlimited possibilities! Or, maybe you are using Association Management Solutions (AMS) powered by Salesforce, such as Fonteva or Nimble AMS.

What is the best way to hit the ground running with your shiny, new CRM? Our fusionSpan Salesforce team shares a few common issues, and tips on how to avoid them as a new Salesforce user.

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Salesforce Admin = Company Know-All Source

Salesforce Admin

While it is expected that the Salesforce Administrator should be the in-house Salesforce expert, it is also important that they have a complete understanding of all of your company’s business processes. Without a complete understanding of the business processes, a Salesforce admin is more likely to build an overly complicated process. Think of it like asking a baker to make a wedding cake without telling them when or where the wedding will take place.

Ideally, the Salesforce Admin should get business process training in all aspects of the company, so that person or team can then map that business knowledge to Salesforce. This can allow for better data and the correct setup of object structures.

Defining Report Requirements

In most organizations, only a few staff members are tasked with creating reports for everyone else to use. This is especially true for companies who are utilizing Salesforce, as reports can be tricky to build without proper training.

A common issue that arises is when someone requests a custom report to be built. Once it is provided to them, they find that their requirements have not been appropriately met, such as fields not accessible from the report type.

Understanding the report needs before building the report will reduce the likelihood of having to restart from scratch. If you are one of the report builders at your company, it would be helpful for you to follow up on the report request by asking the following questions:

  • Why are they building this report?
  • What is the intended business use for the report?
  • What information does the user need to get from the report (especially ALL fields they want to see)?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can start building the report with confidence that you reach the desired end result.

Utilizing Permission Sets

Sometimes Salesforce Admins will create multiple custom profiles to grant permissions to groups of users. These can include enabling additional abilities to transfer or delete object records when the profile only allows read, write, and create access. We recommend not to have too many profiles, as it can be difficult to manage and cause troubleshooting issues.

Salesforce Permission Sets allow the administrator to grant additional access to certain users within a profile, eliminating the need to numerous profiles with similar abilities.

Password Confusion

If your Salesforce entity has a customer community, staff may not realize that they have two separate user accounts: Staff Portal and the Community Portal. This can cause confusion—and sometimes frustration—if they use the same email address for both their staff and community login, especially when they try to reset the password.

We recommend that the Salesforce Admin append one or both of the user accounts with a standardized indicator of which portal the user account is tied to. For example, you can choose to add “.staff” to the end of the user account for the Salesforce user or “.community” to the end for the Community one:

  • Salesforce Login:
  • Community Login:

It’s up to you and your staff to decide which username should have an indicator (or both, if that makes sense for you).

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50 Questions to Ask AMS Vendors During Product Selection

Avatar photo April 29th, 2021 by
Glasswithborderv2This blog was originally published on September 18, 2013.

Are you ready for a new Association Management System (AMS)? If you just answered ‘YES’ or ‘MAYBE’ then read on…

Finding the right AMS for your organization can be like Prince Charming finding Cinderella. Sure, you have a glass slipper – you know what you want. Now, how do you go about finding it?

Listed below are fifty questions to ask AMS vendors. These questions will help you eliminate the product(s) that are not for you, like Prince Charming placing the glass slipper on. Then you can narrow down your best options to find the perfect fit…your very own Cinderella!


Why Associations Need Tool Owners, Not Tool Experts

justin fusionSpan Team October 31st, 2019 by

Why Associations Need Tool Owners, Not Tool Experts“So what do I need to do in the CRM?”

The question caught me off guard. I was responsible for training new staff on the CRM, but I didn’t write anyone’s job description. How was I supposed to know what they needed to do in the CRM.

“I guess whatever your manager says you need to do.” I responded.

“Yeah, I asked them and they said you would know.” They answered.

I realized in that moment the challenge – managers know high level what they wanted to accomplish, but none of the managers were experts in technology. Most had a background in education, and little experience with a CRM. I realized that in order to be successful, being the system expert wasn’t enough – I needed to be the system owner who could connect the technology with the work of the association.

While the difference between expert and owner may seem small, for associations having that designation difference is important. Here are five things that make up a system owner.

Owners can make decisions

Having a person who knows the tool is good, but too often an expert can only lead staff to water, she cannot tell staff how much water to drink. Owners get to set the standards around the use of tools at an organization. They need to play both business analysts as well as technical expert. That way staff can come to the owner with a problem and trust the owner to identify a solution.

Owners don’t need a technical background

For many tools today the technical training required to be an owner doesn’t necessarily require a computer science degree or experience as a developer. In most organizations, there likely already exists an informal owner for many of the tools. Designating an owner can be just about formalizing a role someone has already been playing. Often her expertise has been earned through hard work with the tool, and can likely serve your association just as well as bringing in a technical expert who doesn’t know your organization.

Owners create all tool documentation

Most associations lack documentation of how their organization leverages a tool. Many instead rely on generic documentation for the tool, which lacks an explanation of why the association leverages the tool the way it does. With an expert helping a department within the association, responsibility for documentation is unclear between the two parties. By designating an owner, responsibility becomes clear. Maybe that’s why they often call it an “Owner’s Manual”.

Owners ensure best practices are followed

Since the owner has created documentation, they can be expected to monitor system use to ensure staff are following best practices. An expert might point out that, “Hey, that’s not really the best way to create new records,” but an owner can take it a step further and say, “And this is how you should enter records.” That empowerment enables the owner to foster best practices as well as correct bad habits when they are identified.

Owners shouldn’t do everything

While staff should rely on the tool owner to support their needs, a good owner is also a good shepherd of the system. She will empower staff to take initiative and be able to perform basic tasks on their own. Ideally, the owner will also foster a power users group that can grow the use of the tool internally. The power users would ideally comprise of staff from every department within the organization, that way each department will have someone who can do the necessary functions needed within that department. This both ensures the owner does not become a bottleneck within the organization, while still supporting all areas of the organization.


Associations invest so much capital into new technology – now they need to invest equal amounts of capital into ensuring the long term success of that technology. By clearly identifying an individual to own a tool, she will feel a sense of empowerment to step up in challenging situations, or to speak up when an opportunity to better leverage a tool is being overlooked. This also requires leadership to be comfortable with giving up authority – but given the ever evolving nature of technology, giving up a piece of control in exchange for greater performance is probably the only way organizations can remain agile.

Why Your CRM is Like Your Fridge

justin fusionSpan Team May 2nd, 2017 by

“OMG – what is that smell?” Nothing seems to bring a company to its knees like a terrible smell in the office refrigerator. Within minutes the company wide chat/email gets flooded with demands for people to take personal responsibility, denial of any wrongdoing, and a full-on investigation that makes the Spanish Inquisition seem tame. Threats of everything be emptied into the trash are tossed about, causing others to plead for a salad dressing pardon.

In all the chaos, one observer remains unscathed – the fridge. No one accuses the fridge of causing the smell. So why do people accuse their customer relationship management (CRM) system of having bad data? Just as a fridge is only intended to store food, a CRM is only intended to store data. The quality of the contents of either depends entirely on the people putting in those contents. So, the next time someone says, “Our CRM is broken, all the data stinks!” Consider taking a few steps you might take with the office fridge when it starts smelling.


Bridging the Education to Employment Gap

justin fusionSpan Team September 29th, 2016 by

newedparadigmWith many millennials having challenges finding the right work opportunities, associations are uniquely positioned to support them by offering education opportunities. By offering industry specific education opportunities, associations are able to address the workforce needs of their current members while also providing the knowledge to their newest potential members. A recent white paper by Shelly Alcorn, CAE, Principal, Alcorn Associates Management Consulting, and Elizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE, CEO & Chief Strategist, Spark Consulting LLC called, “The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm,” addresses this issue, and they were kind enough to answer a few questions.

What are the two main takeaways of the white paper (in your opinion)?

Shelly Alcorn
Shelly Alcorn

Shelly: First, the educational system as we know it is a system that evolved to meet the social and economic needs of the time in which it was designed. It was initially a creative act. Now that times have changed again, we can give ourselves permission to engage in a process of reinvention. Not only can we put our heads together and reimagine a better educational system for children and adults alike, but I believe we have an ethical imperative to do so.

Second, the problems are real. We took an evidence-based approach and the data seems clear – we are in a time of major transition. There are scores of knowledgeable, talented educators working every day to retool these systems but it is going to require an “all hands on deck approach.” Associations can help and we have the opportunity to expand our efforts to solve problems in the ways only we can.

What should associations be thinking about with regard to their education offerings?

Shelly: We have been lost in a morass of self-doubt for entirely too long. Our value is timeless – we have the capacity to provide every individual in every industry and profession with a platform to develop specific skills and competencies designed to advance their careers, discuss important issues, solve critical problems and meet the people they need to meet. We have a responsibility to engage and an opportunity to establish a strong foothold in a trillion-dollar learning market. We have spent 150 years building these muscles and we are ready. It’s time to believe in ourselves and make great things happen.

Elizabeth Weaver Engel
Elizabeth Weaver Engel

How do associations that do not currently offer education build that into their offerings? What role does technology play?

Elizabeth: If you’re not currently offering education or professional development, the place to start is to learn what the needs are in your profession or industry. Talk to employers and find out what new professionals coming into the field lack (whether they are new graduates or people changing careers). Talk to new professionals and find out where they’re struggling in their new careers. Look ahead to the next five or ten years and see where your profession or industry is going. Are you going to be impacted by AI and automation? Globalization? Other major socioeconomic factors?  Find out what’s missing from current professional development and training, and make plans to fill those gaps.

When considering the role of technology, I would strongly advise associations to read the 2015 Association Learning+Technology Report we reference in the white paper. It provides an outstanding overview of the technologies available to associations and how associations are currently using them to provide critical learning to their audiences.

Several of the examples talk about education around soft skills – can that be done in an online learning environment?

 Elizabeth: Absolutely. In fact, that’s the model one of our case studies, the Maryland Association of CPAs, uses for their Business Learning Institute and their Student Leadership Academy.  Although the do offer in-person events, much of their professional development takes place online through webcasts, webinars, and even on-demand courses. While some of that training is technical, much of it is in that “soft skill” category: business writing, effective communication, leadership and management, how to coach staff, etc.

If I’m a millennial reading this report, what would you want me to know?

Shelly: You have personal power and more options than you have ever had. You are just at the beginning of an exciting and accelerating lifelong learning process. Focus on developing competencies required by a new employment sphere. (See IFTF Future Work Skills 2020) Mix and match educational opportunities. Maybe a formal degree will give you the competencies you desire, maybe not. Maybe a certification can get you working while you pursue other educational avenues. Try MOOCs or coding camps. Try it all. The most important thing is to find and maintain a balance between education broad-based enough to help you build the transdisciplinary muscle you need to understand the interplay between systems, and education designed to help you develop a deep expertise in an area you find compelling or personally rewarding.

For a free copy of the whitepaper – no strings attached – go to

Summer Cleaning Series: Database

Avatar photo June 16th, 2016 by

150px-Summer_time.svg Where has the time gone?! This year has flown by, and today marks the first day of summer! If you’re like me, you have left a lot of opportunities for spring cleaning untouched so here is our chance to redeem ourselves. Spring cleaning applies to your home but I am introducing Summer Cleaning, that applies to work and goes beyond cleaning out the piles of paper in your drawers.

There are three areas that we can focus on at work (database, website and network systems). In this post we talk all about cleaning your database. We know you are super busy with your everyday tasks but once a year it is good to take a step back and think about the bigger picture.

Here’s what you should ask yourself:


  1. How am I entering data? Is this the most efficient way?
  2. Am I replicating any steps or doing double entry at any point?
  3. How am I using the data I put in? Are there parts that I don’t use?
  4. How long does it take to get the data I want out of my database?

There are two approaches to fixing or improving these four areas of your database. The deep clean and the touch-up method vary quite a bit but I must reiterate that doing something is better than doing nothing!

Summer Cleaning

The Deep Cleantouchup 2

1. Integrations: Does your answer to #1 include manually entering data from another source, like a CMS, event registration system or online form? This can be a huge time drain. Most AMS (Association Management System) have a way to integrate with other systems and pull data out of the AMS and then put information back in. You could leverage SSO (single sign on) between your different systems. Having them talk to each other will allow information to be updated in your AMS seamlessly.

2. Process Review: Are you manually creating accounts but could be using your AMS’s import tool instead? You may not know your AMS has an import tool so I would recommend asking your account rep. Importing and updating records from an Excel could save you lots of time.

3. Data: Are you collecting information that you do not use or have never used? For instance, how important is it to collect a member’s favorite ice cream flavor if you have no use for this data? Maybe it doesn’t require you much effort since this field is already in your system and users fill in the answers themselves, but useless information clogging up your data will not help in the long run. Later down the line, someone will, no doubt, be tasked to clean your data and may spend time trying to figure out if the data is useful or not. Another part of cleaning data is making sure the information you currently have is consistent. Do all your addresses have the same format (Street vs St.)?

4. Reports: Are the reports you use efficient and helpful or are you running reports and manually updating or filtering the data in a spreadsheet before you can use it? If it is the latter, then you need to re-evaluate the reports you use. Can you create a report that gives you the data already filtered, with the search results you want?

touchup 1Touch-ups

1. Could your time be better used elsewhere besides updating user profiles? If you have surges when profile updates are heavy, such as renewal time, then it may be worth it to get a temp to help update addresses from returned mail or update profiles based on member requests.

2. If integrating your various systems seems like too big of a project for right now, find out if you can do mass imports into your database so you can cut down on data entry. Updating a spreadsheet and having that imported will save you some time.

3. Data: If you do not have time to mass clean your data, you can create rules for your data and disperse to your staff. Let them know if they see a wrong address, department name, contact information, etc, to let you know or they can fix it themselves according to the rules you create (Street vs St.). You can’t fix everything, but you can fix what you do find/see.

4. Reports: If you do not have the resources to dedicate to redoing your reports, then brush up on your Excel skills so you can edit the report results more efficiently. You are not limited to copy and paste functions. Excel has so many tricks that you may not know about. Follow our Excel Series to find out more.

mop-1075442_960_720-1 Subscribe to our blog to get notified when the other parts of this series on website and network systems cleaning are released!

Excel Series: How to Check and Remove Duplicates

Mary Glavin June 1st, 2016 by

Best seat in the houseHappy Wednesday all! We’ve survived the long weekend and are back in the swing of things at work. As you’re buzzing by in the productivity lane today, take just a small detour and evaluate how you get your work done most days. If you caught a glimpse of the image with a white X in a green workbook and suddenly feel anxious and frustrated, get ready to turn that frown into a sly grin.

Now take a peak at the image below on the right, Zach Brown Band fans click here, this is how relaxed you will be in Excel after following our Excel series. Prepare facial muscles for sly grin. Comfort level= toes in the sand. 

Microsoft_Excel_2013_logo.svg Most of us know excel has the capabilities to be a lifesaver, but before it proves helpful it can be daunting and stressful. (Keep the music playing)

Sometimes when navigating Excel, it seems the application is set in its ways; the small gridlines on your screen make you feel like a prisoner as your project remains blank and your patience plummet. But Excel can be nothing short of a pot of gold or expansive beach when you realize there is a work around for nearly anything you might want to accomplish.

Getting the inside scoop on excel tips and tricks can make getting your work done infinitely faster and void of errors.Thus this tool deserves its praises from the paragraph above. Cue rainbow.



Here at fusionSpan, Excel is invaluable to our work and we want to share the gold. This series is going the old school route and episodes will be released periodically. 

Season 1, Episode 1: The Pilot: Checking for Duplicates 

Checking for duplicates is a tool that is simple yet timeless, like grilling in the summer or a rubber duck in the bathtub.

fusionSpan Excel wizard, Jess Sansaet details how to check for duplicates and then remove them in Excel 2016 below. Be sure to check out her bio following the post.  Click on any of the instructional images below for larger view of documentation steps. They will open in a new window.  









Once you’ve populated your information:

  1. Click home
  2. Highlight the data you want to check for
  3. Select Conditional Formatting

Copy of FindDups1





Once in conditional formating

  1. Select Highlight Cells Rules
  2. Select Duplicates








Once you click duplicate values the data you highlighted will designate duplicates by highlighting them as red. From here you can either manually get rid of duplicates or










6. Click data at the top of the page

7. Highlight the section again

8. Select remove duplicates






9. Remove duplicates section will pop up and you can select which columns need attending.









This is a fairly simple task but one that can save hours pouring over data. Stay tuned for the next installment by subscribing to the blog. Do you have any excel processes you’d like to see featured? Have a clever name for the series? Comment below! We’ll tag top entries in episode 2.

About Jess


Jessica (Jess) is an IT Analyst at fusionSpan, where she provides support to small staff associations for their technology and registrar needs. She assists with implementing, maintaining and updating websites, membership databases, and event management software.

VIDEO BLOG: Association Engagement – returning the focus to members

justin fusionSpan Team July 15th, 2015 by

Associations often focus on increasing attendance at their events, people signed up for their listservs, and overall membership numbers – but is that always in the best interest of members? fusionSpan spoke with Elizabeth Engel and Anna Caraveli about their recent white paper: Leading Engagement from the Outside In: Become an Indispensable Partner in Your Members’ Success.

Part 1 of our conversation focuses on common mistakes associations make around engagement. Make sure to sign up to receive email notifications from the Microstaff blog to make sure you’re notified about Part 2 of our conversation as well as all our other great content.

Ms. Engel is CEO and Chief Strategist at Spark Consulting. Dr. Caraveli is a managing partner at the Demand Networks, and author of a recently published a book called The Demand Perspective: Leading From the Outside.

Your association is using Twitter wrong – and that’s okay

justin fusionSpan Team June 22nd, 2015 by
Twitter LogoScanning a list of the top 100 Twitter account and you’ll find a lot of singers, actors, athletes and other celebrities. Only a handful of accounts are branded as organization accounts. Organizations that do break into the top 100 represent social media companies, news organizations, and sporting groups (while an association does come in at #60, there model isn’t something most associations could hope to replicate). Yet organizations generally spend much more time and money trying to create an engaging twitter presence. So what’s going on? Here are a few key issues most associations struggle with:


Backup and Disaster Recovery for a Small Office

Avatar photo June 12th, 2015 by
A little while back we were looking for a backup solution for our office. We have a small network of about 10 computers and it’s a mix of Mac OS X and Windows 7/8 workstations and a couple of Linux servers. Our main criteria for finding a good solution were ease of use and cost.

Backup and Disaster Recovery
Backup and Disaster Recovery
  • Ease of Use: Is important otherwise people go back to manually copying important files and not using a backup when its needed.
  • Versioning: We also wanted something that would backup individual files and keep versions of them. So for example, that important Powerpoint presentation that was in perfect shape last week, but somehow is not looking as good any more, could be reverted back to a previous version.
  • Speed: Backups should be quick, transparent, and quick to restore. Backups should happen in the background while you are working and be just as easy to restore.
  • Heterogenous: Should work with all different operating systems. We have Windows, Mac OS X and Linux users.


Syncing your sites – is it worth the cost?

justin fusionSpan Team May 13th, 2015 by
Taj Mahal Reflection
Is it worth paying to have your systems reflect the data being stored in your database?

With technology today almost anything can be automated. Yet so many organization are unwilling to invest capital to automate mundane tasks in order to save their employee’s time – updating multiple contact lists with the same information, generating website content after entering the same information in their database, etc. Why? For many organizations they view employee salaries as a sunk cost, something they were going to spend money on regardless, where as investing $7,500 in technology development is a very clear cost cutting into the bottom line. The problem with this thinking is it doesn’t take into account the opportunity cost – what could that employee have done with that time otherwise?


On-Site Registration with ExpoLogic

Jessica Sansaet May 7th, 2015 by
I recently worked an on-site registration for a conference for the first time. I had heard many “horror” stories about the on-site registration desk and before I left, I was informed that I would be absolutely exhausted by the end of the week. However, this was no horror story for me. If anything, it was like one of those great dreams from which you expect to be abruptly woken up. There was little to no confusion with customers, and, to be honest, I didn’t have much to do.

You may be thinking to yourself now, “well, it was probably a very small conference,” or “I must be reading that incorrectly.” I promise, you did not read it wrong – and we had approximately 1,000 attendees. How could it go so smoothly? We used Expo Logic ExpressPass™ Check-in for registrant check-in! ExpressPass™ integrates with your existing registration system (there are over a dozen that are compatible) to allow attendees to experience a quick and painless self-check-in process.  (more…)

Google’s “Mobile-Friendly” Update – What Does It Mean To Your Association?

Avatar photo April 22nd, 2015 by
Yesterday, April 21, 2015, Google went live with the search algorithm that will boost the rankings of mobile-friendly pages. Let’s take a look at what this means to your Association:

When was this first announced?
Google released that they are experimenting with a new mobile friendly ranking algorithm in December 2014 and announced it officially in February 2015.

What is this algorithmic update and whom will it impact?
This update will only impact mobile searches and will give a ranking boost to mobile-friendly pages in Google’s mobile search results only.  While search results on tablets and desktops are not affected by this change, as more and more people are starting to use Mobile devices for browsing the web, this could have a big impact on your associations web presence. (more…)

Connecting with Users

justin fusionSpan Team March 12th, 2015 by
JBurniske_AUDCI recently had the opportunity to present at AUDC in Austin, TX during their Ignite session. The Ignite session requires individuals to present 20 slides, each slide appearing for only 15 seconds, resulting in a five minute presentation. Given the speed of the slides, presenters were encouraged to use more pictures and fewer words so I used my favorite subject – photos of my 22-month-old son – to illustrate how to best connect with your users. (more…)

Dear Betty: Lessons from the Ice Bucket Challenge

January 14th, 2015 by

Dear Betty: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has raised over $100 MILLION to date for the ALS Association. Why didn’t we think of that?!? I know we can’t just copy it outright, but is there anything associations can learn from the phenomenal success of this viral campaign?

Gentle Reader:

Ah yes, I think the entire nonprofit industry (both associations and fundraising organizations) is being bit by the little green-eyed monster of envy at the moment. Why DIDN’T we think of that?

Of course, even the great success of the Ice Bucket Challenge has not been completely without controversy, with some debating the wisdom of donating to disease specific charities, some people protesting being called out publicly, and a potential PR disaster when the ALS Association flirted briefly with trying to trademark the challenge. Not to mention the difficulties posed by a $100 million windfall to an organization with a typical annual revenue of around $19 million (not that that isn’t a problem we’d all like to have).

All that aside, of course, it was highly effective.

What can associations take away from this?

First, despite what some people might try to sell you, there is no guaranteed way to create a viral campaign. In fact, there is no such thing as creating a viral campaign – you can only create a campaign and hope it goes viral. There are some good practices you should follow that can help, but there’s never a guarantee. And viral doesn’t happen overnight or necessarily on the first try, so you have to be patient.

What else can we learn?

The Ice Bucket Challenge was fun. Take away: stop being so damn serious all the time! These people are trying to cure Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is, to coin a phrase, “as serious as a heart attack.” Trust me, your association can get away with being a little more loose and actually communicating like a human being, too.

 Video was integral to the Ice Bucket Challenge, which made it highly share-able as a result. The keys to using social media in any campaign is that your efforts need to be share-able, as well as having the ability to reach your audience quickly and across large distances. The best way to do that is by sharing video and compelling images. This also gets people involved, especially when they see one of their favorite celebrities. Now I ask you this reader, what is your association’s plan to use video? It shouldn’t be, “we don’t have one.” Nor should it be, “we have a YouTube channel full of long, boring, talking head videos.” Videos are a great way to get your members and audiences to interact with you and especially one another to help spread the word of what you are trying to achieve.

The Ice Bucket Challenge gave people options. While most who were challenged dumped a bucket of ice water over their heads AND donated, the Challenge was specifically constructed to require participants to do only one. So you could give if you had the means. And if you didn’t, you could still help spread the word about the issue. Does your association provide a variety of ways for people to be involved, or do you have to volunteer only in certain ways? Do you have to donate only in certain ways? Do you have to be a paying member to participate?

The Ice Bucket Challenge didn’t originate from a brainstorming session or strategic planning retreat at the ALS Association. Although the full history is a bit more complicated than the heartwarming story we’ve all heard featuring Pete Frates, it wasn’t an association-generated program. What is your association doing to solicit unique, creative, and interesting ideas from your members and other audiences? Your staff and volunteer leaders don’t have a monopoly on good ideas, and you don’t own the association – your members and other audiences do. Create a way for your members and audiences to be heard, and the best place to start is reaching out on social media!

What about you, Gentle Readers? Has your association changed anything about the way you operate based on the overwhelming success of another organization’s great idea? Share your experiences in the comments.

BucketDear Betty: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has raised over $100 MILLION to date for the ALS Association. Why didn’t we think of that?!? I know we can’t just copy it outright, but is there anything associations can learn from the phenomenal success of this viral campaign?


Gentle Reader:

Ah yes, I think the entire nonprofit industry (both associations and fundraising organizations) is being bit by the little green-eyed monster of envy at the moment. Why DIDN’T we think of that?


Dear Betty: Back to School!

September 19th, 2014 by
backpack Dear Betty: Fall always makes me think of back to school, school supplies, and learning new things. What do I need to add to my marketing backpack for success this fall?

Gentle Reader:

There’s nothing like that first hint of coolness in the breeze, that first crisp night, and those first few falling leaves to put one in mind of new Trapper Keepers, knee socks, and cutting up paper bags to cover one’s books, is there? (more…)

Summer Interns for Your Small Staff Association

Avatar photo May 16th, 2014 by

Blog summer

Summer break is quickly approaching and it is a great time to consider hiring an intern. Let’s face it, your small staff association can use all the help it can get, but let’s make sure we do it right.

Why hire interns?

It is a mutually beneficial relationship – at least it should be if you’re doing it right. Students gain valuable experience to put on their resumes. Sometimes they get school credit for internships. Some schools/programs even require students to take on an internship.

Your organization benefits because your small staff gets a boost (think of it as a shot of adrenaline) from having another person join the team, even if it isn’t permanent. They can do things your staff cannot (young people are good with social media for eg.), do not want to do (I’m sure there’s plenty of administrative tasks that can be delegated), or simply do not have the time to do.

Where to look?

My organization and many of our clients have already begun the process to find summer interns. Local colleges are a good place to start. Most if not all of them have dedicated career centers to help their students find jobs.

If the work doesn’t require as much expertise, you can even go to high schools – just make sure the proper paperwork is filed if they are under 18, depending on your region.

There are countless job boards, but you can use free resources such as Craiglist, LinkedIn, and your organization’s social media pages. As always your organization’s website is also a very good place to advertise an internship position. Make sure you are clear with your posting and definitely say “intern” and if it’s “part-time” in the post.


If there is a project that is time consuming that your staff cannot give the proper attention to during the year and it can wait until the summer, assign it to the intern. They can see it from beginning to end and gain good project management experience.

Don’t just delegate menial tasks to the intern. You should try and make this a learning experience for them. There may be some tedious tasks but there should be a good balance so the intern will want to come back and join your organization full time when they graduate.

Pay them. This is important. There’s been a lot of debate about whether or not to pay an intern. Having some experience in the workforce development world, my stance is that you should pay them for the effort they put in, because they are doing valuable work for you. If you don’t want to pay an hourly wage, a fixed stipend also works. Otherwise, this position isn’t an internship, it is a volunteer position.

Keep in mind…

An intern will need supervision. Chances are you will need to train them and then manage their work so make sure your staff can take on this responsibility and that someone is assigned to it.

Here are some resources to help you get started

1) The 6 Best Job Sites to Find Interns from Smart Recruiters
2) 6 steps to hire an intern/co-op student from Walton College
3) Hiring Interns: Do’s and Don’ts from Mashable
4) 5 Tips for Hiring and Managing a Summer Intern from
5) Hiring Interns, The Legal Way from The JUSTWORKS Blog

Canvas LMS Third Party Authentication with SAML

Avatar photo March 12th, 2014 by
We are using Canvas LMS but want to use our own existing authentication, so our users don’t need a second set of credentials to login to Canvas. I struggled a little bit with this so thought of posting this for reference. To get Canvas LMS working with third party authentication, you really have two options

  1. Host canvas LMS yourself and just plug-in a custom authentication module. Canvas is an open source LMS solution so this should work just fine.
  2. Setup a SAML identity provider (idp) and setup your account in Canvas with SAML authentication

We chose option #2 because we were using a hosted version of Canvas. There is some documentation here on setting up various authentication profiles in Canvas.


Process Documentation… Why do I need that?

Avatar photo October 25th, 2013 by

WritingAs association IT staff, we are involved in a number of un-ideal tasks: running the graveyard shift, adopting last-minute design and functional changes to applications, dealing with what we view as unreasonable requests from members and other staff, to name a few. However these annoyances pale in comparison, to process documentation, a task the mention of which we all cringe.

“What??? We just spent a year evaluating, planning, testing, and implementing this process. Now we have to document it as well?”

This reluctance is understandable. You understand the technology and how to use it but you don’t have time to write it all down. Writing is just not your strong suit. This is not part of your job function. You do not understand the value of documentation.

So why is it important?

The most important reason for process documentation is to eliminate confusion and ambiguity. The next time there is a meeting or question regarding who is supposed to do what or what are the best practices, the answer will be right at your fingertips. The documentation also serves as a historical document that tracks the evolution of your association along with the change in processes (provided you move forward with version control of your documentation).

Use it!

How many times have been faced with a situation where there has been a new hire and you have an important event right around the corner? I personally have been in this situation more than a couple of times. I wished I had more time… but alas! Some documentation will help new resources learn faster by acting as a training manual.

When changes in your organization’s processes are documented in a detail, they are available for analysis to sales and marketing. These teams can better understand the association capabilities and leverage the information to target their audience. Management can also use this to develop best practices and standards for your association. If the documentation is comprehensive, it also eliminates the need for costly requirements gathering by consultants when you embark on a new project.

So the question is… Does your organization have your business processes documented? Take the first steps …

5 Ways to Zap Small Staff Association Stress RIGHT NOW

Avatar photo October 17th, 2013 by

Hello Small Staff Associations!

We found this great article by Sarah Hill of MemberClicks directed towards and written especially for you. Times are tough…and if they’re not tough, they’re always busy.

In addition to the stresses Sarah talks about, the government shutdown caused some un-needed stress. Even if you aren’t directly employed by the government, they are your members, volunteers, speakers, etc. They may not be attending your event or renewing their membership because they have to save up money. Many of you are located in DC and could be losing business.

Sarah comes to the rescue with five tips to decrease your stress. It is a helpful and necessary reminder that you need to put yourself first and take care of yourself. Use the tools that are available to you in order to limit the effort and time to do tasks…and remember, if it doesn’t get done today, the world will not end!

Ease Your AMS Worries with the Use of a Good Consultant

Avatar photo September 26th, 2013 by

Have you considered hiring a consultant to help you identify the ideal system for your association and help with the data conversion?

If your nonprofit has a small staff, little technical expertise or limited time, a consultant may be just what you need. You’ll want to make sure the consultant you choose has relevant association experience to understand your organization’s needs. For instance, just because someone has database experience, does not necessarily mean they will know how to apply your association’s membership and accounting structure within an AMS.

Assess the consultant’s knowledge by speaking with at least three clients/references to find out which system they chose and why. In this amazing new world where social media is everywhere, reviewing LinkedIn profiles can provide great insight to a consultant’s background and capabilities.

Consulting services can be beneficial for organizations that need ongoing assistance from a local expert. Not only can a consultant provide advice during the product search, but they can often assist with implementation of your new system. Having a third party who is familiar with both your association and your product can facilitate communication and save you lots of time. They can also expedite service and support.

It is possible that you’re already working with an expert who can serve in this capacity — just remember to include these fees in your budget. If you can’t afford a consultant for both the selection and implementation phases, consider hiring one for part of the process. Ask yourself: Is it more important for you to have an impartial consultant head up your product search, or would your money be better spent on hiring an expert to assist with the implementation of your new system? Each organization is different and the answer to this question will be based on your staff’s abilities and availabilities.

Check out Sarah Hill’s recent post for the MemberClicks blog:

5 Ways to Work Well with Consultants

  1. Be transparent about your need
  2. Find a good one
  3. Be super clear (even if it seems like overkill)
  4. Have short employment periods with frequent reviews
  5. Ask for feedback

Not sure if a consultant is for you? Ask us a question!

Prioritization: Part 1

Avatar photo September 9th, 2013 by

When you take into consideration the limited resources you have with a small staff association, it is more important than ever to prioritize. It is easy to go through the motions of your day and not think about prioritizing but by allotting time to this task, you can maximize your staff’s time and resources by deleting obsolete tasks and replacing them with ones that will have a bigger impact.

Follow these guidelines to arrange your tasks, projects, tools and new ideas. The results may surprise you! (more…)