Has the AE-developed association management system delivered on its promises?
Rob Authier, CEO of the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®, was one of the 10 REALTOR® association executives who, six years ago, devised the creation of a flexible and cost-effective association membership management system just for REALTOR® associations and MLSs. He says he’s thrilled with RAMCO’s progress to date.
“We are proud of the progress RAMCO has made so far and are excited about the things it can do,” says Authier. “What we envisioned as one system for all associations, and what once seemed so far out of reach, is now a reality. It’s a system that’s changing the way AEs and MLSs do their business, and changing it for the better.”
Deployed by 73 REALTOR® associations nationwide, with another 20 undergoing installation and training, the cloud-based RAMCO platform continues to innovate.
“When we first started this,” recalls Belton Jennings, AE of the Virgin Islands Association of REALTORS® and RAMCO marketing director, “we said, ‘In our wildest dreams, what should this system do for us?’ We made a list of 95 features that we knew we had to have, and now we have that and so much more.”
RAMCO’s development partner Cobalt has partnered with Sitefinity, a website creation and content management system, to offer RAMCO’s associations scalable and mobile-ready association website templates that include discussion boards, blogging, and membership surveys. Sitefinity websites sync instantly with the RAMCO content engine to make updating web content much faster, says Authier, whose association website (www.marealtor.com) relaunched with Sitefinity in March.
The Missouri Association of REALTORS® was one of the early adopters of the platform and is still a testing ground for new features. “We wanted to take RAMCO out for a spin and see what it could do,” says Russ Cofano, CEO of the Missouri Association of REALTORS®. “We wanted a front-end system that could help us capture vital information from REALTORS® to give us a 360-degree view of our membership.”
By connecting RAMCO to what Cofano calls his social relationship management system—a sort of Facebook-like, members-only community launched last fall—the Missouri association is able to better target member communications and services because it has a better understanding of members’ interests.
Although RAMCO has sophisticated technology behind it enabling the most tech-savvy associations to build in a limitless array of functions, the platform is also popular with very small associations. In fact, Jennings says 54 percent of RAMCO associations were NRDS-only conversions, which means they had no previous membership management system.
On a basic level, RAMCO is a platform that syncs with NRDS and can merge member data into Microsoft Word templates to do things like print mailing labels or event tickets.
It integrates with NAR’s e-commerce gateway, making it simple to process the payment of dues, register for events and courses, and make purchases or take care of other payments. RAMCO can also help association and MLS staff conduct polls and surveys to gather feedback from members; track mediation and arbitration processes, complaints from the public, and MLS citations; create and manage committee memberships; track and manage REALTOR® Political Action Committee donations; manage relationships with vendors; and generate orders and invoices for products and services.
“The things RAMCO can do make my job so much easier,” says Dave Conroy, director of information technology at the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®. “Things that used to take me hours now take me just a few minutes. For example, if someone on the association board asked me [when we were using our old system] to run a report about which of our members were in their 50s, which were in their 40s, and which were in their 30s, it would have been exhaustive and time-consuming, but now? I can run that report in a snap. It has cut down on time spent on administrative stuff and allowed us to really focus on better quality for our membership.”
Of course, no custom-built software is perfect, and RAMCO took a pause in 2012 to retool and fix bugs that AEs found along the implementation route.
“RAMCO is a collaborative and cooperative initiative, and because we are our own customers, we are committed to making sure the system does what we need for our associations,” says Jennings. “So, we listened to those early adopters and decided to pause to let our developers make the fixes and enhancements we needed for RAMCO to become the stable platform it is today.” RAMCO’s leadership team is composed of state and local association and MLS executives who are either using RAMCO or in the conversion process.
RAMCO is currently funded by its subscriber associations with a subsidy from NAR, yet Authier expects it to become the self-sufficient, autonomous AE-owned and operated non-profit cooperative that it was always intended to be by 2016.