ALHFAM Membership Management System and Website
ALHFAM -- the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums -- is an all-volunteer run professional organization that is approaching its 50th anniversary. A smaller cousin of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), ALHFAM focuses on historic trades, agricultural techniques, first person interpretation, and skills training for museum professionals. For its entire history, ALHFAM has maintained its membership roles on paper and, later, in Excel. In the early 2010s, the organization's Board of Directors created the ALHFAM Knowledge Base (A.S.K.), a repository of ALHFAM's written publications, which includes hundreds of "how-to" articles written by leading practitioners in historic trades and agriculture. Access to this database was available through our website and was a benefit of membership. However, because of our rudimentary membership record-keeping, the website was not able differentiate between members and non-members. We were also maintaining multiple membership contact lists: one for website access, one for the email mailing list, one for the print newsletter mailing list, and one for the list serv. This caused frustration for our members and headaches for the volunteers trying to manage the organization.
I was elected to the Board of Directors in 2013, and because of my marketing communications experience, I was appointed the Chair of the Communications Committee. My goal for my three-year term was to implement a new membership management system to help ALHFAM improve member relations and streamline business practices. My first step was to discuss the needs of the organization with the Board of Directors, particularly the current Secretary/Treasurer and Webmaster. I then researched several available solutions that would be affordable for a small non-profit, settled on Wild Apricot, and presented my recommendation to the Board for approval. Upon receiving their ok, I led the communications committee in a revamping of the website's navigation, while committee members set to work rewriting text. Our webmaster set up a free account with Wild Apricot and imported a small portion of our database so we could evaluate its functionality. After a demonstration to receive another approval from the Board, we purchased Wild Apricot, and the webmaster began the real work of importing the membership data from the Excel spreadsheets into the new database and building the website's infrastructure. Meanwhile, I sent RFPs to several web designers and selected Merge Creative to do the graphic design for our new website. The new site launched in the spring of 2016.
Our job was only half-done, however. The new website also included a membership management system that changed both ALHFAM's business practices and the way the membership interacted with the organization. With the communications manager, I developed messaging for the membership to let them know they could now renew their membership through the website, as well as register for events, make donations, access a membership list, and search the A.S.K. database, all with one easy log on and password. On the organizational side, processes became much easier, as all contact information was in one place, and volunteers did not need to process membership renewals manually. Additionally, we could now email the entire membership through the system and have accurate reporting on membership statistics.
Project Manager: Heidi Glatfelter Schlag
Webmaster: Blake Hayes
Communications Manager: Martha Katz-Hyman
Website Design: Merge Creative
It took a solid six months of communications and training, but the membership has embraced the new system. Web traffic is up, as are renewals. Because of the new system, we are able to provide our membership benefits online in a seamless, professional way that has been attracting the interest of potential new members. The A.S.K. database is very popular, as it is the only repository that holds this type of "how-to" information. We have plans to continue to grow this database with video clips over the next few years.
We launched the new website and membership management system in 2016, right as my term of the Board of Directors was wrapping up. Unfortunately, at the same time, our webmaster passed away, and I assumed the webmaster duties. I am still a member of the communications committee, which is always led by a board member, and we are working on increasing our blogging and social media activity. I am also reporting on web usage to the committee and Board to aid them as they make decisions on the future of ALHFAM's web presence and communications/marketing activities.