Tools, Technologies and the Missing Link

For any nonprofit group — whether it’s an alumni association, a standards body, or anything in between — the internet and its associated technologies are likely to play a significant role in how members interact with the organization and each other. Although full of promise, these tools can all too easily limit member engagement and restrict progress toward goals. The reason: many users do not know how to use them.

As a technologist, I usually do pretty well when it comes to figuring out an application’s user interface, and I’m not afraid to look through the documentation, help files, tutorials, and any other useful bits of information that may be provided. Not only do I enjoy such investigation; it’s part of my job to evaluate tools and technologies that can help an associations accomplish their goals. But the vast majority of end users (i.e., the members of an association) have other priorities. While they can likely figure out the basics — such as how to accomplish a particular task at hand — chances are there are myriad other features or functions that could prove extremely valuable to them if they only knew they existed. And unless the end user is quite familiar with a similar application, they won’t even think to ask.

To solve this problem, I strongly recommend that every association create training materials that teach its members the fundamentals of the group’s intenet-based tools. To accomplish this, it means it should be someone’s job in every association to:

  1. evaluate each application’s feature set,
  2. determine how it might best be used by the particular group, and
  3. create (or hire someone to create) some training material.

While you might be able to find an expert in the application, it’s also important that they have a solid understanding of the association’s rules, processes and procedures, as well as the typical member profiles to ensure that your members are getting everything that they need — no more, and no less. No sense wasting a member’s time teaching them about a feature they’re never going to use. If you’re hiring someone who isn’t familiar with your organization you’ll want to make sure they work hand-in-hand with knowledgeable staff as well as members.

Think you can’t afford to develop training for your members? I would suggest you can’t afford not to. It’s among the most critical ways an organization can gaurantee success and engage its members. Whether you’re creating  multi-hour training sessions for new members or task-based tutorials, there’s low- to no-cost tools available that make creating training modules easy.

Note: I’ll be writing about a few of these in future posts, but feel free to contact me for some recommendations.

And remember, creating the training is only the first step. Once training has been developed, it’s equally important to inform your members how to take advantage of it! Include training calendars and links in your newsletters, your email signature lines, and on your website. Ask for feedback and suggestions. It might sound like a lot of work, but believe me, the results will be worth it.

Categorized / Operations, Technology
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  • avatar
    Terry Coatta / August 2

    Since I work at a company that produces social networking software specifically for associations, I think one thing you should consider is enlisting the help of your vendor. Any training produced for one association has the potential to be valuable for many others and should be something that any vendor would be willing to partner on.

    On a slightly different note, while I agree that the best universe is one in which software is intuitive enough to use that you don’t need to read a manual, the reality is that there is always a value vs effort trade-off that any user makes — which is to say, don’t throw away or ignore some feature just because it isn’t straightforward. Users will tolerate fairly poor UI if they perceive that the value they receive exceeds the effort they need to make. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t harass the vendor to make it better, just that you shouldn’t ignore features that might not be perfect at the moment.

  • avatar
    Mary McRae / August 8

    Thanks for your comment, Terry.

    While vendors are quick to offer their standard training, this doesn’t ‘stick’ nearly as well as something that’s targeted to the specific user type and incorporates the rules and standard operating procedures of the particular group. The good news is that this is no longer costly and/or difficult to produce.

    And I agree wholeheartedly with your comment about useful features; it’s just that most software tends to have features that are more/less important for any particular target audience. Just-in-time training sticks; wasting people’s time teaching them a feature that they’re not going to use immediately is just that.

  • avatar
    Terry Coatta / August 10

    Absolutely agree… if you have the time and resources to create targeted training it will be the most effective. But, if you’re strapped for time/money, it may be something that the vendor is interested in (I know that we would certainly alter our internal priorities with respect to generating training material based on feedback from customers).

    Its also very true that most organizations will only end up using a subset of any given applications features — which is another opportunity, as you note, for specialized training materials.

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    [...] the less likely they’ll embrace any of them. And finally, once you’ve made your choice, don’t forget training. No matter how good the spreadsheet or system, it’s useless if the members don’t [...]

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