OPINION: What I’ve learned during the past 60 days

The following is an opinion piece from the EVP of Membership Solutions at Community Brands, Dan Gaertner. At AMS Fest (June 7-8, 2017 in Chicago) Dan will appear on a panel discussion about the M&A and investment activity in the NFP technology sector.

Since the inception of Community Brands and having met many Abila customers at the Abila User and Developer Conference (AUDC) in early April 2017, and rubbed elbows with hundreds of YourMembership (YM) customers at the Xperience annual user conference later the same month, it’s been validated for me that technology providers serving associations and associations partnering with technology providers need a boost to help the industry grow and better meet missions.

The past 60 days has authenticated for me one of the primary reasons a company like Community Brands is needed for both the association and nonprofit markets. And, it confirms why we’ve started to bring technology-leading companies together in this space.

In my past role as chief product officer at YourMembership and new role as executive vice president of membership solutions at Community Brands, I’ve spent much of the past couple of months traveling around the country getting to know the people, the challenges, the opportunities and the strategy behind each organization. And now we are bringing that collective wisdom together of Abila, Aptify, NimbleUser and YourMembership at Community Brands.

What have I learned?

  1. We all have similar challenges.
  2. We have a massive amount of combined experience and industry knowledge.
  3. We are all dedicated to serving an inspiring market.

Different companies, same challenges.

To no one’s surprise, we are saddled with similar challenges. We’re all trying to serve a customer base and market each brand has identified. And, while point solutions exist in the market, by combining these organizations, we’re creating a broad suite of products which can truly serve the market end-to-end.

Each brand has its challenges evolving their AMS product. The unique needs, change in staff, complex configurations and the customizations which come with large and small associations introduce unforeseen defects and make upgrades more challenging.

We now have an opportunity to come together to share best practices and perhaps educate both sides (the customer and Community Brands) about how to innovate and standardize in our market. We need to focus less on the technology and more on the strategy of how to increase membership and make content easier for members to consume.

It’s impossible to innovate without knowledge and skill.

By joining together these groups, it also allows us to bring innovation in a way we can’t do as well as individual companies. There’s no doubt there are some talented industry business leaders, thought leaders and engineers throughout these organizations. It’s a powerful balance when you combine long-time industry leaders, former association executives and outside technologists.

When I joined YM as chief product officer nearly two-and-a-half years ago, I had no previous experience in the association space. You ask: How could they bring in a guy with no experience with associations to lead the product strategy for one of the largest SaaS solutions in the industry? The answer is simple for me. Fresh eyes, different perspective collaborating with industry experts can make for a powerful combination.

A lot of the businesses, associations and products we’ve brought together have been doing the same things for years and innovation hasn’t kept up with challenges facing the industry. We’re now leading innovation with a lot of smart people who have fresh eyes and distinct perspectives, and I think this gives us an exceptional opportunity to build and evolve association management software products and technology solutions into something to better serve the association market.

Associations and nonprofits inspire us.

Before I arrived at YM, I had never seen a company—from top to bottom—work as hard as the employees at YourMembership. It’s amazing how much is accomplished with so little. I thought to myself: “This isn’t normal.” Well, now I’ve learned it’s normal throughout this industry, because the same approach is happening at Abila, Aptify and NimbleUser.

Employees care about the causes of their customers and believe in the value and impact we each bring to the industry. And, it’s easy to be inspired when, for example, we’re seeing associations and nonprofits use technology to provide a better life for underprivileged children and to help families cope and deal with terminal illnesses.

We believe we can serve the association and nonprofit markets by bringing together smart people who can help build better integrated products and help those markets achieve greater success. And, that’s what our customers are betting on.

Author: Ben Martin, CAE

Chief Engagement Officer at Online Community Results, and Founder of theNIRD.org.

2 thoughts on “OPINION: What I’ve learned during the past 60 days”

  1. “[W]e’re creating a broad suite of products which can truly serve the market end-to-end…”

    I am going out on a limb here but this “opinion” piece seems more like a PR piece for Community Brands than a position piece on why these acquisitions make sense for the industry. While I think we all welcome more financial muscle behind these companies, it’s hard to see–without further substantive and direct candor–how the quotation above adequately describes what is happening. What one has here, without any articulation of the future vision to the contrary, is several products offering the same or similar suite of products on different platforms. That is a bit different than a broad suite of products that give clear feature set options on a sound, technically modern platform, end-to-end. I believe that is generally what is understood by “broad suite”. Right now this is a disconnected set of products with a history of vastly different philosophies, technologies and challenges. Given this, here are some questions it would be great to get some answers to or at least a preliminary POV:

    1. Will there be platform deprecation in the future?

    2. Will there likely be a convergence of AMS feature sets on a modern, sophisticated technology such as Salesforce (which one of your acquisitions is based on)?

    3. Leveraging a sophisticated platform (e.g. Salesforce) backed by significantly superior investment, modern APIs and a large ecosystems of secondary applications and third-party support and integration partners might be a boon. What’s your perspective on this?

    4. What’s the near-term future of customer support and problem resolution at these companies? How will this be improved? This is one of the most serious issues confronting some of these platforms (including the one we currently use).

    Unfortunately I cannot be at AMSFest in Chicago this week but perhaps some discussion can be had in that forum that will give some insight to these and other related questions.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Ric Camacho
    Chief Technology & Digital Officer
    Specialty Food Association

  2. Hi Ric,
    Great questions. And many we’ve already raised internally and are working through as well. I certainly agree with your assessment that – currently — Abila, Aptify, NimbleUser and YourMembership are different products on different platforms with different philosophies. I’m not sure anyone would contradict that point. However, as stated in the article, we are building toward a broad suite of products that will serve the market end-to-end. Is that going to happen tomorrow? Absolutely not. We realize this is a vision that will take time and investment to realize. Will Salesforce be a part of that strategy? Absolutely and evident by the investment in NimbleUser. We know there is a demand in the market for a Salesforce product. We know that one solution wont fit all. The priority for us at the moment – and the promise we made – is to provide as little disruption as possible to each of our respective customers while we continue to assess and develop the best technology strategy going forward – which will involve conversation with our customers and input similar to what you have given below. We’re not going to change things for the sake of change or make decisions without taking many factors into consideration.

    From a support standpoint, we are always looking to improve. Your concern was echoed at the user conference I attended. It’s been our number one focus and one of the areas I feel we can leverage best practices across the companies. We would love any specific suggestions you might have that would improve your support experience. I suspect if it’s helpful to you, it will be helpful to others as well.

    Would love to catch up in person or on the phone to discuss more.

    Dan Gaertner
    EVP Membership Solutions
    Community Brands

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