Association des Biologistes du Québec: Using digital tools to offer more to members, for less

Published August 21, 2017
Since the 1970s, the Association des Biologistes du Québec has worked to support the profession of biologists and to increase its visibility among the general public.
Among the actions it’s taken to fulfil this mission, the NGO has worked from the start to establish and uphold a professional order, a goal that it continues to pursue today.
This situation strongly influences its membership: In periods where the professional community thinks that the organization is about to obtain professional recognition, the number of members rapidly increases. But when expectations are low, some members decide not to renew. The ABQ is therefore in a situation where it must boost its service offer to convince the professionals who don't register for the long term to stay, and with an NGO's limited human and financial resources

A strategy to strengthen its offer: diverse and personalised services 

To find out how to strengthen its offer, the professional organization quickly established a plan and it regularly evaluates its service offer during its strategic planning periods. The first step involves sending surveys to members to gauge their satisfaction and to determine future initiatives. However, the ABQ doesn't limit itself to its members’ opinions; it also periodically sends surveys to members who've left the organization, as well as to individuals who never became members. The organization is then able to identify sources of dissatisfaction and understand how the organization is perceived.

This feedback then helps it to tweak its service offer. In addition to increasing the number of member services, it allows them to segment their offer, personalize it and better serve each member type. For example, to increase its number of trainings and to diversify the themes and sectors covered, the ABQ uses a decentralized system that allows members to give trainings.

In addition to reflecting on the specific services it offers, the organization continuously works to increase its accessibility. For example, a paper publication is offered in an electronic version, which is more practical for members. Some trainings are also available on video and can be accessed by all professionals throughout Quebec, at any time.

Digital tools: taking strategic action, at lower cost and more effectively

Diversifying its services and improving their accessibility allowed the ABQ to increase its membership as well as its revenues. It was its digitalization process that allowed the NGO to make these changes possible. By using digital tools, the NGO can effectively personalize its services at a lower cost. For example, switching from a paper publication to an electronic version clearly costs less. The ABQ also strengthened its information services by adding a newsletter covering different topics of interest in the field of biology, which allows it to easily segment information according to members’ interests. As a result, the ABQ sends out two weekly newsletters that cover different themes (such as job opportunities and biology news) and lets members subscribe to the newsletter of their choice. Based on the high open rate for its newsletters, members are very satisfied with this system.

For an organization that covers such a large territory and which serves professionals, improving accessibility to services would be a considerable challenge without digital options. All of ABQ’s services are now offered online. In addition to newsletters and video trainings, members can register and modify their information online. They also receive automatic reminders when their membership is about to expire. Their programs, details and registrations for events and conferences are also online, with electronic payments.

But that’s not all: In terms of communication and collaboration, the technology has allowed the ABQ to step it up a gear. A Facebook group was created to encourage discussion between the ABQ and its members, as well as between members. In addition to being less expensive than physical communications, it's also a more efficient system because it makes discussions almost instantaneous. In return, it allows the ABQ to make decisions faster. For example, when it comes to making decisions about public positions, members can debate and share their opinions more easily.

Successfully transitioning to new technologies

To implement all of these changes and to take advantage of the opportunities offered by digital solutions, the ABQ had to make the shift to innovative technologies. The process was a true investment (in both time and money) which required a willingness to learn as well as the patience to explore the solutions that would have the greatest impact. But in the case of the ABQ, the wager paid off.

The first step for the ABQ was to determine its needs and to find the solution that responded to them.

At this stage, the ABQ could have turned to an existing solution or have a customized solution developed. For most NGOs, the final decision often comes down to a choice between the effectiveness of a tool in relation to its price. memboGo, the online solution that ABQ opted for, allowed the NGO to avoid having to choose since the platform adapts to all types of NGOs and management issues while being less expensive and reducing costs. As a result, the ABQ was able to automate and simplify its administrative tasks, such as the tasks related to the online services mentioned above, and therefore save many hours of work.

The second step was to choose how to make the transition to a digital solution.

The NGO had the option to manage the process itself with the help of a volunteer or board member, to call on an external partner (such as an agency) or to work directly with memboGo, which offers an NGO onboarding program.
The first option, although less expensive, was ruled out because it wasn't sustainable: When volunteers leave, all of the knowledge associated with the platform disappears.

In the end, the ABQ chose to work directly with memboGo. In addition to being less expensive than working with an agency, the option to collaborate with memboGo put the ABQ directly in contact with the software's specialists, allowing the organization to optimize its use of the platform. Furthermore, our specialists ensure that the platform is always stable and secure, for the long term. Lastly, there is the fact that the software is flexible. Like all NGOs, the ABQ changes along with its members’ expectations, and the management tool that's used must evolve along with it. Being connected to the memboGo team allows the ABQ to ensure that its management platform remains relevant, even in the context of changing needs and issues.

The third and and last step for the ABQ was to build a relationship with memboGo's team

NGO managers don't always have time to seek out new technologies and to look into how they could help their organization. The memboGo team laid the groundwork for the ABQ, all with the goal of extending the organization’s reach.

 

A tip from Chantal d’Auteuil, executive director of the ABQ

“Simplify your mission with realistic objectives so that you can choose and prioritize your initiatives. Always think in terms of the impact and scope of the initiatives.”

 
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