How a Diabetes Support Organization Built a Better Member Benefit

The American Association of Diabetes Educators built its new online tool in a hurry, thanks to a few broken silos and regular reminders to staff about the tool’s value.

Earlier this month, the American Association of Diabetes Educators launched a new online resource designed to be a one-stop shop for members looking for product reviews, education, and community discussions. The tool, called Diabetes Network Advanced Access (DANA), put some healthy demands on AADE in terms of resources. But according to the association, the intensity of the need for the tool, as well as strong board support, helped push it from concept to product in a year.

AADE chief operating officer Gina McClure said that in the past five years, as the number of diabetes-related devices on the market has expanded, members told the association in surveys and focus groups that they needed a way to better manage product information. AADE’s board had already made a strong commitment to improving data and technology for members as part of its strategic plan, so the prototype for DANA was approved quickly last summer.

We need to position this as a project that’s everyone’s job.

The challenge for AADE, said McClure, was ensuring that every part of the association’s 50-person staff felt ownership of the project.

“When you’re talking about a website, it’s really easy for people in an organization say, ‘Well, that’s IT, let’s just leave it to them.’ But our CEO put it on staff to say, ‘Our board believes in us. We need to position this as a project that is everyone’s job.’”

To do that, AADE held weekly cross-functional meetings, led by its chief technology and innovation officer and attended by senior staff members in marketing, education, corporate development, finance, and more. Other staffers were kept in the loop via AADE’s intranet and its weekly all-staff meetings.

“They knew this was a priority, and they could see that senior staff was really invested in the project,” McClure said. “I think that helps staff feel the importance of what they’re doing. Some of the work and the tiredness gives way to enthusiasm when you see this thing that was just on paper actually be born.”

That’s important, because one of the selling points for DANA is that it will be a regularly updated clearinghouse for data. Third-party vendors will provide technological support, but the data-curation side will largely reside with staff and volunteers, and AADE is assigning a full-time project manager who will need to coordinate with a variety of people. “That person really needs to see themselves as the center of a hub with spokes going into every department,” McClure said.

In its first month, DANA attracted 5,000 active members, or about a third of AADE membership, which aligns with its goals for the site, McClure said. For now, DANA is a free benefit for members, thanks to the support of the board and a recent $2.6 million grant from the Helmsley Foundation. But AADE will look for ways to make DANA a revenue driver.

“We are able to act as if we don’t need to be thinking so much about the revenue model right now because we can focus on building the tool,” she said. “That being said, there are definitely revenue streams that we hope to bring into something like this.”

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Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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