Club systems  Membership management

Find out what works (and doesn’t work) for clubs big and small.

As part of our Outdoor Community project, we asked on Facebook “What methods/tools/software do you use to manage your club member information and membership fees?” A bunch of folks got back to us, below are a few stories of the club experiences with the various software out there. We wish we could say there’s a perfect solution, but sadly, such a thing doesn’t exist!

In the Outdoor Community section of this site, we’ve collated a resource for membership systems that aims to help you identify your club’s system needs and help select a suitable option.

Wellington MTB Club – Wild Apricot 

By Russel Garlic, Trail fund NZ Chairperson and Trail Crew Coordinator

When we started using Wild Apricot for the Wellington MTB Club, we had 40 members, that was 7 years ago, now we have 400, with 1000 contacts (casuals who participate in our races).  Revolve Cycling Club has between 150-250 members, and Makara Peak Supporters Club is about the same, I am not sure what their current membership is at, but I know a few years ago it was about 300.

Annual membership fee for the Wellington MTB Cub was and still is $30 per year.

Anyone who has a record is considered a contact, member or not, active or not, so you can manage your spend by grooming your contact list and archiving contacts. We used to do that a bit when we were hovering near a pricing level. [The cost of Wild Apricot depends on the number of contacts in your club] For less that 50 members, Wild Apricot is free. So maybe that is a consideration for smaller clubs.

Mountain Bikers enjoying a sunny capital day. Photo/Ashley Burgess

Before Wild Apricot, everything for Welly MTB Club was paper based. It was a big job for someone to manually process, and we’d lose members who weren’t reminded to renew.

My day job is for a large IT company, and we work with NGO’s and Not for Profits who often want us to build something for them. Based on my experience with Wild Apricot and in my day job, I am not sure there are many other solutions that are as cost effective. It has some foibles, but the positives out weigh the negatives.

For the MTB club we were like, “what is more important to us, time or money? Can we find someone to do all the work and effort of manually managing membership?” The answer was no, so we thought bugger it, outsource that problem. I have to say, having this solution is part of the reason we were able to increase our membership 10 fold. There were some other factors, but just the fact that renewing a membership requires pretty much zero interaction from a human (other than posting out a sticker) has been huge.

In terms of ease of use, it is pretty straight forward. I would say anyone who can set up a Facebook page, and add events to that could set up Wild Apricot. They have a really extensive help library https://gethelp.wildapricot.com and as I say, if you have questions, you can always email someone and they will help you out.

I guess the main thing drawback is that it has a lot of features.  So as with anything with a lot of options, it can be a little overwhelming to figure out how to set things up nice and simple. The system rewards being through with your set up. There are plenty of docs, so it is worth it to go through and read as many as possible and if needed, use the chat feature to ask for help.

It is more like Microsoft Word than Google Docs in terms of functionality. There is heaps there, and a lot you wont use, so it can be a little confusing at first. It really does reward repeat usage.  The flip side is that there is quite a lot of flexibility (you can set up lots of different membership types, different alerting for renwals, automatic renewals etc).

If you do a lot of events, then the system is perfect for that. You can check people in etc. The mobile user interface for this is good.

One thing that can be time consuming is balancing accounts. The system hooks into credit card processors like PayPal and Stripe, which makes accepting payments easy and is attractive for your members, however reconciliation on the back end can take time. As yet there is no integration with Xero or MYOB. You can export data in Quickbooks format and Excel for accounting purposes. So it depends on your accounting requirements. You may make it way easier for your members, but end up creating work for your Treasurer.

 

New Zealand Alpine Club – Wild Apricot and CiviCRMImage result for NZAC logo

By Margaret McMahon, NZAC National Administrator

The NZAC has quite complex requirements for its membership databases and neither CiviCRM or Wild Apricot have been able to meet our expectations or requirements. As at today, we are showing 4034 members. Below are just some of the issues we’ve experienced.

Identify your needs and plan your requirements

It’s vitally important that requirements are very thoroughly mapped out prior to approaching an expert in databases and integration to do the implementation/development.

  • Knowing what you absolutely need from start to finish of a membership process requires the input of those who work within a current database (if you have one) as there are many aspects that non-users are unaware of. So you need to fully map out all your requirements utilising their existing knowledge and allow that person to be in direct contact with the developer throughout the process.
  • Don’t forget to look at the expectations from the end user point of view, e.g. ease of use, security, reliability.
  • Realise that the more you expect a system to do, the more bespoke it will become (and the more expensive and possibly unreliable).
  • The reverse of a bespoke system may be an off-the-shelf programme that may not be able to expand to meet future needs, be upgraded over time, or have ongoing support.
  • Accept and plan for the fact you are going to need ongoing IT support no matter how simple a system you get that may be beyond the level of staff capabilities. Some database providers will supply this, but it will be at an ongoing cost.
  • However, if you run a separate website then integration with your chosen database will require your Website IT professional to be able to work with the database provider to ensure the integration remains stable through updates, etc. They will have to work together and the two systems will have to be compatible.
  • The professional help sought to implement your database needs to be carefully scrutinised to ensure they can meet the supply requirements. Many people and companies think they have the expertise, but often underestimate requirements and overestimate their ability.
  • Don’t go live with your database online until all aspects have been thoroughly tested and the bulk of any issues are resolved. Some may not be apparent until a system is live, but if the testing is thorough then hopefully issues can be kept to a minimum.
  • In saying that, don’t put an unrealistic deadline in place to make a system live before it is ready. The backlash of going live with an inferior product will be far worse than exercising patience and continuing to work on it in the background until the bugs are ironed out.
Image result for NZAC course

Canterbury Westland Section – Beginners Snowcraft Photo/NZAC website

CiviCRM – reasons for replacement

A lot of staff time had to be utilised to complete the set-up of this system, over a long period of time. This was due to it having to be developed as a bespoke system to fit complex NZAC requirements and the developer not having been given those requirements at the outset. A decision was made that no more time/expense was to be put into development and issue resolution.
Issues around ongoing integration capability with a Drupal website were given as a reason not to continue with this database. To prevent the bridge between systems breaking down, both system providers had to work together during upgrades.

There were some very good features to CiviCRM such as:

  • Great search capabilities, including a search builder that allowed you to work with nearly any field to customise more complex searches. This was very handy given the need for us to find groups of members by varied criteria – age, length of service, date ranges, etc.
  • Internal ability to produce templated documents and mailing labels directly from the system without the need to export and work through external programmes (apart from membership card labels which had to go into Drupal for printing out).
  • NZ based development company with worldwide community developers as a back-up possible. Quick resolution to immediate issues as just a call away by phone/skype due to being in NZ. Tech support during office hours and so not a messaging service, or delay with overseas communication.
  • Flexibility to add other components as funds permitted, e.g. Events (we didn’t get this far)
  • Tagging and grouping facility – meant we could give members options although we never completed the full external user side of the set up through our Drupal website before dropping this database. So mostly this was just used in the backend to allow members to be added manually to various notification groups – e.g. selection of newsletters; committee groups, competition winners, etc

Wild Apricot – reasons for replacement

To make this work we had to reorganise our membership levels and also had to find many workarounds to get through the membership processes, including changes to payment processes that affected other areas of Club business and so staff workload.

  • This system has also led to a lot more work and time being required of staff for basic requirements, such as having to export lists, create formulated Excel docs and use mail merge documents, or export to a different programme to print cards on a specialised printer, for example.
  • We are missing required features, such as membership types as we would have to pay for further IT work to be done beyond staff scope/ability to implement.
  • Although more stable now, we had a long period of intermittently losing connection to our database and it had a very slow response due to the internet connection the developer was using. They were based in Canada (now based in the USA). They have now changed their internet service, but we are reliant on the host company to resolve issues. They are prompt with support, but there is no wider IT community support should the company go under.
  • There are ongoing issues with integration with our new WordPress/WooCommerce internet and payment facilities that cause a lot of frustration for both users unable to access and pay for memberships, and for staff handling the resulting complaints.
  • Ongoing costs and damage to reputation due to unresolved integration issues.
  • Positives: Can’t think of any, but this may not be a fault of the database itself, but rather that NZAC requirements exceeded what this particular database was designed to provide. A small club/business using the Wild Apricot template website (rather than their own) might not have the same difficulties as we have experienced. It appears though that the developers are taking on user requests and are implementing new features over time. However, this is on a proposal and then voting basis, so unless a lot of users want the same feature, what you require may stay at the bottom of the list.

 

Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club – Membership Database ProImage result for OTMC

By Richard Forbes, OTMC President

I was Membership Secretary for the OTMC for about 7 years from 2010

Prior to that we had a paper based system in ring binders and a very crude excel spreadsheet. At committee meetings we never really knew what our membership was and how many in each category, but we got by

The OTMC President of the time Antony Pettinger recommended the Windows based program Membership Database Pro developed for clubs and based here in NZ. I agreed something needed to be better so tried out a free demo. There is a just a one-off cost depending on the number of members needed [ranging from approximately 50 for 50 members through to about $500 for 2000 members] and no monthly costs.

I am not the most computer savy but with the help of my wife we checked it out and it looked great. We purchased the full program and it took a while to enter all the members into the system as there was about 180. As each new members arrives you enter them at the time so needs to be kept up to date and current. A busy time when subs are due and paid to keep it current. Our current membership is now over 230

OTMC Bushcraft 2018. Photo/www.otmc.co.nz

The club has a number of club options of membership and this program catered for this easily and managed their subscription accordingly. Can be tricky to get the hang of the program but the more you use it it’s a breeze. Easy to generate reports and even printing posting labels and sub receipts.

Came in handy when we cerebrated our 90th Anniversary to manage all the attendees and what they were going to and their payments.

Being NZ based the developer is very easy to get hold of with any help needed and he issues regular updates

Could use it for more even detailed reports if more info on members is collected such as date of birth and occupation (which we don’t collect but it would be useful to know especially if we are indeed an ageing club)

Would be good if it was a cloud based system as did have a drama of a computer meltdown but luckily always had it backed up with another club member, or for other committee members to access. Only other problem is that it can take a while to get the hang of so if something were to happen to the Membership Secretary another person would need to learn quickly.

 

Otago University Tramping Club – Google Forms and Google Sheets

Image result for OUTC

By Joe Basire, OUTC Membership officer.  

We sign new members up on ‘clubs and socs day’ at the start of the year and half way through the year. We use an online google form that’s linked to a google sheet. It’s great as it’s free, online access and fairly simple to use, so new and inexperienced membership officers like myself can come in and pick it up quickly. We can have multiple laptops going, allowing us to get people through the forms faster. But with 30+ people standing around it’s still slow and frustrating for some. Being on google sheets does mean it’s easy for me to copy all the emails afterwards and add them to our mass email list.

We only take cash sign ups at the moment although we are currently in the process of setting up an online payment system that should hopefully be up and running for next semester. As a result we have to write everyone a receipt and get them to put down their receipt number on the sign up form. Downside is the time it takes to write everyone a receipt. Makes it difficult to keep track of who’s paid, especially when we have 300+ people signing up on the same day. Also means we have to have change because hardly anyone has the correct cash.

Image result for OUTC

Plenty of club spirit! Photo/OUTC website

We have both single semester ($15) and full year membership ($20) options. Makes it difficult when dealing with cash who is paying for what option and separating them in the google sheet afterwards. But the 6 month sign up option is very appealing for international students only here for half the year.

We currently have around 550 members, most of them being international students.

During the year I have to maintain the email list as new members sign up at our weekly club meetings. It’s pretty easy, just remove anyone who wants to unsubscribe or add new members.

Wilderlife