Very Connect - An Introduction

We are in the process of switching to a new database management system called Very Connect. Members will receive an email explaining the pertinent points but here we bring you fuller information on why we need a new system, and what it means for you.

The current set up and why it needs to be upgraded

Until now we have been operating with a number of different systems, none of which are interlinked.

  1. Excel spreadsheets for the core membership data
  2. Mailchimp for sending the regular update and ballot emails,
  3. Election Runner for the director elections and £2 Spend ballots
  4. Eventbrite for registrations for things like Manager Q&A nights
  5. and of course Gocardless where members initially set up their direct debits

Each of these apart from Eventbrite have separate member email address lists which need to be individually updated for all changes to member data and status, and then reconciled frequently to ensure consistency.

All this background administration is a considerable workload for the SMISA committee. Removing the need for much of this work would free up committee time to help move SMiSA forward in other ways.

Although we take regular backups of files, the data could still be vulnerable to things like hardware failure or file corruption on individual computers or other devices.

Also in these days of strict data privacy and GDPR regulations a stand-alone spreadsheet based system does not deliver the required standard of security for member data.

The use of Excel, Mailchimp and Eventbrite are free to SMISA at present, although that may not always be the case in future. Eventbrite incurs costs of c £100 per ballot.

What will replace the current set up?

A list of core requirements for any new system was drawn up, and considerable research and trials undertaken of available off-the-shelf solutions. We eventually decided to go with a Glasgow-based platform called VeryConnect, which provides a membership database platform which can be customised and comes with built-in integration to Mailchimp and Gocardless.

The system will deliver the following benefits for member administration:

  • one central database of member data
  • built-in email and balloting functions
  • no need to maintain separate mailing lists in Election Runner and Mailchimp
  • Internet cloud based so can be accessed by all authorised committee members without the need to copy or download and distribute information for specific purposes.
  • Secure service provider platform with frequent backups.
  • Fully compliant with GDPR laws
  • The link with GoCardless ensures member data is captured as part of the joining up process.

The new portal also allows members to register and log in, enabling them to check and update their own personal and contact details, avoiding the need to contact SMiSA by email to request changes.

There are many other standard features which could be made available in future, including blogs, interest groups event calendar and the chance to read SMISA documents stored in the system.  These will be introduced gradually as and when appropriate.

All of this will let us provide a much improved service to members.

Costs  

But as you’d expect, professional systems like this don’t come for free. There is a one-off set-up cost (£4,200), and like most software services these days, an ongoing monthly subscription (£300).

If we use the inbuilt polling function in place of Election Runner this will save about £400 per annum.

We believe the net cost represents good value for the degree of functionality and customisation Very Connect will offer us, compared to many of the other possible solutions we looked into, many of which cost a lot more but with limited customisation options.

Whilst we always strive not to spend funds on operating costs if we can avoid it, we can’t go on forever as an organisation with a six-figure annual income and more than a thousand members if that operation is being run from an Excel spreadsheet on someone’s personal PC.

Also, if we’re not able to streamline the workload involved here, we may have needed to employ a part-time administrator to look after this for us, which other trusts (such as The Well Society and Foundation of Hearts) already do. This system will set us up for the foreseeable future as regards membership records and all that they involve.

Next Steps

All of our membership data has now been uploaded from the spreadsheets into the new system and we are currently working with Very Connect on the final set-up of the live system and running our final checks and reconciliations of the data.

Not all functionality will be activated on initial roll out of the portal, as we want to ensure that the core membership functions are in good order first.

Members will soon be invited to log in and register. We will require everyone to do this to check their address and contact details, and update them if required. You will also be able to set your preferences for contacts from SMiSA and to add optional information to your Profile page.