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TechnologyAdvice Buyer's Guide to Membership Management SoftwareUpdated: Jan. 21st, 2019
What is Membership Management Software?
Membership management software is a vital technology resource for nonprofit and membership-based associations that rely on member donations and events as their primary fundraising and marketing sources. These software solutions are also helpful for organizations that provide thank-you gifts, certifications, or information in return for membership dues.
The best membership management software is designed to handle membership levels and benefits, the collection of dues, and event schedules. Top membership management software options may also include website and landing page builders, as well as native connections to social media. You can expect to see membership management software take many forms, including a custom on-premise database, off-the-shelf cloud-based options, or vendors that build custom feature for or an existing system.
This guide will provide an overview of the most common features and forms that membership management software takes. It will also cover major purchase and implementation considerations buyers should keep in mind as they begin the research process.
Benefits of Membership Management Software
Membership management software has grown in popularity with nonprofit organizations and member-dependent associations over the last decade, thanks to the rise of cloud-based software choices and the growing technical experience of buyers.
Membership management software lets organizations manage members, fundraising, marketing, and events from a single solution. This gives all users access to up-to-date member data, and most systems include helpful reporting features to ease monthly, quarterly, and yearly reports to stakeholders and regulatory agencies. Automated tools save administrative users time and bandwidth they would otherwise spend nurturing donors and completing repetitive and redundant tasks.
Fundraising features help you keep track of member donations and dues and send email/direct mail reminders when important dates. Some systems have more advanced accounting features that let you set membership rates and collect automatic payments from members online.
Whether it’s to increase membership fundraising efforts or to keep the whole organization apprised of recent happenings, email integration helps associations build and send well-designed email notifications to their members and staff. Look for design tools, in-app list segmentation, and subscription help. Some platforms also include SMS and direct mail options to round out your communication efforts. As running a website is integral to the success of most organizations, you may also find website building and content management system (CMS) tools bundled into a larger membership management platform. The best membership management software will also include some form of email marketing and/or marketing automation to help ease the burden of onboarding new members and nurture potential member leads.
Member-based associations handle many types of social and organizational meetings, from member appreciation meetings and fundraising events to large-scale association conferences. Membership management software can help your team build an event calendar and itinerary, as well as market the event on social media. Your members can receive automatic invitations based on segmented email lists, or you can pull member data to mail paper invitations.
Depending on the platform, these features may include job and event boards, community forums, and message boards. Often lumped in with a content management system, community message boards let your members spread organizational news and advice. These message boards and forums can include administrative oversight to reduce abuse and spam, or can be kept behind login screens to limit their use to members.
Nonprofits and member associations need to keep careful records of membership numbers and dues payments and eventually report those to stakeholders. Internal audit and reporting features help nonprofits stay compliant with federal regulations and make tax time less of a burden. Robust reporting features that allow year-over-year views as well as connections to outside accounting and analytics tools are vital in this space.
Tips for Comparing Solutions
Membership management software comes in two strains: a basic membership solution, or the more feature-rich association management software. Association management software handles a lot of the functions integral to running a large membership-based association. These functions can include but are not limited to organizing insurance benefits, event planning and networking organization, planning conferences, tracking accreditations and certifications. These functions are in addition to member tracking and dues management. Association management software comes packaged as a variety of tools bundled into a broad suite.
Basic membership management software, on the other hand, gives organizations a set of simple tools for tracking members, fundraising, and events.
When you compare membership management solutions, consider your current systems and IT resources. You don’t want to get stuck paying for redundant or unnecessary tools — or worse, tools you don’t know how to use. Many options can port data over from existing systems as part of the implementation process.
As you make your way through the variety of membership management solutions, consider the following factors:
- Native CRM: How do you currently manage your member lists? Many membership management software choices with built-in customer relationship management (CRM) tools let you import Excel spreadsheets easily into your new system. You could also keep your current CRM and connect via API, if available. This can increase the power of both your membership management tool and the connected CRM.
- Website Help: Lots of membership management tools help you build, maintain, and market your organization’s website through a content management system. These tools facilitate the marketing and branding of your site, as well as fundraising through e-commerce and autopay features.
- Accounting Capabilities: Built-in accounting capabilities give users more direct access to fundraising data, financial goals, and membership dues. These tools may come as part of the membership management toolset or integrate through an API.
- Cloud or On-Premise Membership management software follows suit with the wider transition to cloud-based solutions, although you’ll find some speciality and on-premise options among the higher pricing tiers. Cloud-based tools rely on monthly or annual subscriptions based on the total number of users or members. Despite their recurring expense, cloud solutions offer the convenience of automatic updates and dedicated customer service. Dedicated on-premise systems carry added security benefits but require dedicated IT resources for maintenance and updates.
Membership Management Software Case Study
Company: The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a nonprofit organization run primarily by volunteers in over 125 locations across the United States. The organization is dedicated to workplace learning and training professionals. Local chapters collect dues and run events in their specified area and in accordance with national standards.
Challenge: ATD needed a unified, organization-wide program that gave individual chapters power to maintain control over dues, events, membership lists, and website updates.1 Previous systems required local chapters to send website updates to the national office before publication and did not allow for event planning.
Solution: Wild Apricot Multi-Chapter Membership Management Software
Results: ATD switched over 60 local chapters to the Wild Apricot membership management software between December 2010 and February 2011. These organizations gained individual control over their membership lists, facilitating event scheduling and dues collection. The Wild Apricot CMS also gave local control of building new website pages and uploading announcements. Previous website solutions required technical knowledge that posed a significant barrier to updating the website.
Wild Apricot eased the CMS and membership workflow for ATD, and it’s one of many such software choices that can fulfill this need. Our list of top vendors will help you get started researching membership management solutions.
Other Leading Vendors
Choosing the Best Membership Management Software
There are lots of features to choose from when comparing membership management software for your organization. Once you take stock of the types of features helpful for your situation, you can quickly narrow down your choices.
Our Product Selection Tool can provide you with the top membership management software that matches your organization’s needs and required features. Have questions? Contact one of our unbiased Technology Advisors for a free, five-minute consultation. They’ll help you make sense of your organization’s needs and offer some software suggestions to get you started.