NfP Case Study - Trade Association Forum

Event bookings and subscription renewals are key processes for membership associations. Members need a convenient web-based approach "as easy as Easyjet" and association staff need a system that is streamlined, error-free and makes a positive contribution to data quality.

The Trade Association Forum (TAF) had two membership databases, one being part of their website which includes a bulletin distribution system and the other being office-based.

The Forum runs a significant number of events each year - some quite large - and were looking to streamline the booking process for those events and also for the 300 or so membership renewals that take place once per year. At the same time, they wanted to move towards a single database to cut down on administration and release resources for front-of-house activities.

Like many membership associations, TAF needed a solution that could be delivered rapidly, with minimum disruption and at low cost.

Examining this challenge, we noted that the obvious idea of combining the databases was impractical because their bulletin system is essentially a fixed solution into which the association's full database could not be inserted at a reasonable cost. A complete rebuild would have been desirable in theory but, as we often find, cost-prohibitive in this case.

The chosen solution was therefore to add online event booking and subscription renewal to the association's main database. We would also provide some additional tools for keeping the two databases in sync.

The solution consists of a second website which now holds the main database (moved from the office) and the online shop. This was built using Virtual Technologies' "e-ssociation" toolkit including our recently-developed external database facility. This allows association staff full control of their main database secured by special administrative logins. Very few changes were needed to the database so existing management reports can continue to work.

This was achieved in a little over two months from agreement.

Members may now book events, purchase documents and renew subscriptions online in a very quick and convenient way using their existing member-only logins to recall their contact details and entitlements.

The database itself remains accessible from the office either using the web forms or MS Access, which has been the association's preferred reporting tool. A special mailing tool allows such messages as event reminders to take account of who has signed up and who has not.

Said outgoing TAF Director Stuart Bean "Virtual Technologies have done sterling work for the forum allowing us to deploy an online shop and move to an online database that talks to our existing web site. By using appropriate standards we retain compatibility with our legacy Access system so that transition risks are minimised."

Paul Tanner of Virtual Technologies comments that this toolkit was developed in direct response to research that shows legacy databases to be a top area of concern for membership associations. "We needed a solution for those who need to move forward but are not ready to throw out everything they have. In many cases the disruption would be practically unmanageable. On the other hand, this incremental approach is fast and affordable, generating significant administrative savings."

DB Integration Toolkit


  • To incorporate a legacy database with minimal change
  • To synchronise contacts with external databases

The tools

  • Form builder to create the necessary forms
  • Report builder to create reports ttat can be easily customised
  • Synchronisation tools to automaticaly create or update records that change on an external database


  • Works on VT's LAMP-based framework, initially with MySQL.
  • Uses MS Access export facility
  • Uses REST standards to isolate external database architecture
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