Show them the Money: Selling Your Board on a New Technology
Associations are naturally cautious when it comes to investing in new technology. They have to be—they’re allocating community money, so they need to make sure they’re always acting in the best interests of the membership.
That kind of accountability is something to be proud of, but it can sometimes hold associations back. You may have experienced this already. You see an exciting opportunity to grow, to engage, or to provide a better member experience, but the board simply won’t commit the funds required.
So, how do you get a 'Yes' from your board every time? It comes down to aligning what you want with the board’s goals. Here’s how.
What you want
When you’re looking at making changes to your current smartech stack, you’re probably thinking of one of three reasons:
- Something needs to be fixed: Some components of the stack might be unreliable, especially if you’re dealing with older technology. These issues are immediate priorities, especially if they impact the member experience or hurt your marketing plans.
- Something could be improved: You’ve identified ways in which you can improve efficiency, gather more data, or use analytics to deliver results. Issues like this are high-priority, as addressing them will help achieve your short-term goals.
- Something is coming down the line: You may have anticipated an emerging requirement, such as having the ability to engage Gen Z on social media channels. This investment might not be a priority, but it will only become more urgent the longer you wait.
Your plans might fall under more than one category. For example, if you’re launching a full digital transformation program, you’re probably trying to solve immediate problems while also thinking about your needs a few years down the line.
What your Board wants
It's likely that the Board probably doesn’t know much—if anything—about marketing technology. All they really want to know about is how your smartech plans deliver in terms of:
- Growth: The Board wants to see net new members. This is usually the most important consideration in any investment decision—will this technology help us recruit and grow?
- Conversions: The Board also wants to see results from your efforts, whether that’s new sign-ups, event attendance, or sales of premium programming. How are your smartech plans going to help improve your conversion rates?
- Return on Investment: The Board, justifiably, won’t invest money unless they can see a path to a tangible return. They will refuse a request to spend $100,000 if it’s only going to generate $50,000. But if your plans will generate $500,000, they’ll give the green light.
Ideally, the Board wants solutions that are fast, good, and cheap. Of course, you can only have two of those things at most. If they don’t choose to invest in a solution that’s fast and good, you’ll end up with something that’s either really slow or really lousy.
How to bridge the divide
In theory, these conversations should be straightforward. You and the Board are both working in the best interests of the association, so you should be able to agree on major decisions.
In practice, however, you might often come away from these discussions empty-handed. Board members make decisions based on the evidence before them. Your job is to convince them that your idea is the best path forward.
- What association case studies map to your needs?
- What statistics map directly to your story?
- How does it directly correlate to your objectives?
- What’s your expected ROI?
- What’s the timeline?
The more detail, the better. For example, if you’re planning to invest in marketing automation, you can construct a business case around using this technology to attract net new members. Your case is stronger if you can tie this to specific examples, like using marketing automation to connect with recent graduates across social channels.
Some questions to prepare for include:
- Why does it cost this much?
- What will the integration really do?
- How is marketing automation priced?
- How is email automation priced?
- What changes will we, as an organization, have to make?
Have your answers ready before you go into the room. Be prepared to back everything up with data.
They don’t care about personas, about forms, about segmentation, or about system integration. They care about measurable outcomes that will help them judge the wisdom of any potential investment. So, you don’t need to dumb it down, but you need to frame your conversation in terms of:
- Return on investment
- Reduction of expenditure
- Net new members
- Conversion rates
- Marketing qualified leads
- Sales qualified leads
- Member lifetime value (or customer lifetime value)
- Email open and click-through rates
For example, you may need email automation to help segment and focus your outbound campaigns. The Board will be more interested in this if you leave out the marketing jargon. Instead, focus on how email automation will reduce your email marketing costs while increasing member engagement.
To do this, you’ll need to merge your visions:
- Start by looking at your association’s 3-to-5-year strategic plan. Make note of the main aspirations—these are the metrics of success that the board uses for all projects.
- Make a high-level list of today’s main opportunities and challenges. Where is the association struggling? Where's the potential for growth? These are the things that your board is discussing at every meeting.
- Build an achievable, digestible roadmap that reflects your vision. Align your roadmap with the association’s strategic plan. Make it clear that you’re all heading in the same direction.
- Focus less on efficiency and cost savings, and more on effectiveness. Cost savings are important, but they tend to be short-term gains. For a long-term strategy, you need to show how your proposal will make the association more agile, more responsive, and better equipped to thrive in the future.
The Board is always trying to find ways to meet their goals. If you put the association’s strategy at the heart of your plans, the Board will be glad to hear your ideas.
That’s why the Board has to know what you’re going to deliver and when you’re going to deliver it. When you’re pitching to them, you might offer a clear roadmap, like:
- First 45 days: Increased automation; less focus on deliverability and more emphasis on engagement.
- 45-90 days: Start leveraging centralized data and building audience matrix
- First 12 months: Build sophisticated member journeys and collect data insights
- 1-2 years: Round out audiences; yield beyond-the-click metrics; garner and track conversions
- 2+ years: Accurate conversion forecasting; Report on true ROI
It’s sometimes tempting to fudge the roadmap a little and start promising ROI in the first six months. While this might incentivize the Board in the short-term, it will put you under pressure to deliver what you promised.
So it’s better to lay out a realistic plan right from the outset. Be honest about what you expect to deliver and, crucially, when you’re going to deliver it. This will be the basis for open and constructive dialogue going forward.
Bear in mind, however, that most consultants only have experience in the for-profit space. You’ll see better results all around if you choose a partner who knows the association space and understands how board members think. The HighRoad Solutions' team have all worked extensively with associations, and we know how to pitch to Boards. If you need help, get in touch.
Dealing with the Board can be a little frustrating at times. But, ultimately, it’s good that they’re so diligent. Instead of rushing after shiny new technology, associations make careful, considered decisions that benefit members.
The key to securing leadership buy-in is to think like a Board member. Ask the tough questions, like whether an investment is really going to offer a return. If you’re sure that your plan is the best option, you’re ready to take it to the Board.
About Larissa Bateman
Larissa Thurston Bateman has a passion for helping her clients understand the most effective ways to use new technologies to advance their business. Her varied professional background in digital marketing, education, technology, and the arts, combined with her genuine interest in people, uniquely equips her to work alongside clients as they strategize for the future. She brings curiosity, confidence, and an eye for problem solving to every business relationship.