Membership systems

The aim of this article is to help you evaluate the needs and constraints of your club, help you select a system based on that evaluation, and give suggestions for tools and systems which have worked for other clubs.

There’s probably as many ways of running your membership system as there are recipes for scroggin. There is no one perfect option unfortunately, and the number of possible options can be daunting. We only had a few responses from our appeal for information; if your club has a system that we haven’t discussed, then please get in touch so we can share your experience here.

Membership management system is just one part of the systems of a club or group which allow it to function effectively. Before embarking on the process of selecting a membership system, it’s worth having a good think about what sort of club you are, and considering the amount of time and effort you need to put into this selection/review process. Essentially there is a continuum of solutions, so it’s good to quickly think up front where you think your club will sit;

Are you likely to be going for a cheap (or free), ad hoc system with little integration, for small clubs, or those with simple club systems for membership, payment and communication?

Of are you looking for the a full-blown Association Management System, designed for big clubs, or those with complex systems. These have a high degree of automation and integration into existing accounting, communication and payment systems. There’s usually an ongoing cost involved with these.

During our research, we came across an article that was written by the company that offers the popular “Wild Apricot” system. The article was slightly angled towards that endorsing that particular system, but it does guide you through a pretty comprehensive process for selecting a membership management system. Here are the links to various parts of that article; I’m going to write additional considerations for the various steps in the remainder of this resource page.

Part 1) Identifying Your Database Requirements

Part 2) Understanding Your Database System Options

Part 3) Making Your Database Selection

Extra considerations for Kiwi outdoors clubs

Part 1, step 2 Reviewing your current situation

The first key point they’ve missed is that a membership management system is just one part of the systems of a club or group which allow it to function effectively. When considering your member management system you also need to consider;

Communications

How do you normally communicate with your members?

  • Normal email
  • Bulk email services (like MailChimp for example)
  • Social media (Facebook groups or pages, meetups etc)
  • Post (ie, will the system print labels for you?)

This will determine whether you need (or want) the membership system to be able to fully or partially assist with club communications for you. For example, if you only use facebook, then you don’t need to worry about integration with the membership system. On the other hand, if you’re a medium to large club, and email is your standard method, you’ll probably be wanting to ensure your membership system makes it easy to send out bulk emails to the right people.

Website Integration

The degree of integration your membership system will need depends on the sort of website you have (or would like to have).

  • A simple site with information and a few links – little or no integration
  • A complex site, where members can log in, sign up for trips, upload things, edit their membership details, renew memberships – complete integration.

Club financial systems

The degree of complexity will determine how much automation you’ll need or want;

  • How complex are your financial systems?  
  • How does your club accept payments?
  • What accounting methods/systems does it use?
  • Do you need a payment gateway to accept lots of credit card payments?

Membership rules and processes

The same goes for your membership rules;

  • Do you have multiple types of membership?
  • Are memberships renewed at a certain time of year, or after 12 months of the first payment?

Skills and time of the club members and membership officer

This is a big consideration.  There’s little point having a powerful system, if it is too complex and powerful for your membership officer (and members) to use effectively.  Conversely, if you do have a highly capable membership officer, then channelling that talent into setting up a complex system can have great long term benefits; once things are set up nicely, they are likely to have the highest degree of automation and therefore save a lot of time.

The cost

How much are you willing to pay for something for the club? This is essentially putting a value on the volunteer time of your membership officer.. Paying for a more expensive system should reduce the time needed to maintain it in the long run. But if you have people who are happy to spend the time needed for a less automated system, then you can save the money.

Part 2) What are your membership system options?

We’ve found a few sites which compare and contrast the huge number of options, this one by Capterra seems to be the most useful. In our Outdoor Community blog post, we published stories from a few clubs about the systems they used. View all the blog posts with the ‘membership systems’ tag.

Here’s the summary of those stories, plus the pro’s and cons the authors identified with their systems.

 

Wild Apricot – a full spec membership management system

Wellington MTB Club has 400 members, with more than 1000 contacts, running lots of mountain biking events around Wellington.

Pros’

  • Free for clubs under 50 members
  • Automatically manages the membership renewal process
  • Easy for new members to join with little extra administration
  • Lots of good online help for the software
  • Works really well if you invest the time into setting it up well.
  • Good for managing events, with a good mobile interface.

Cons

  • Cost based on the number of active members
  • Very powerful, with lots of options. It takes a little bit of time to get it set up right.
  • Doesn’t integrate with Xero or MYOB, takes more manual effort for the treasurer.

 

Membership Database Pro – a stand alone, offline system.

Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club – A club of 230 members, which has transitioned from a paper and excel spreadsheet system.

Pros

  • One off, affordable fee for the program (ranging from approximately 50 for 50 members through to about $500 for 2000 members)
  • Caters for a range of membership categories
  • Worked well for organising the club reunion.

Cons

  • Not cloud based. Nearly lost all the data due to a hardware crash
  • A cost involved in transfering existing records into this system
  • Manual input of information by membership officer
  • Requires lots of work when subs are due each year
  • No integration with accounting, payment or website systems.

 

Google Forms and Sheets – Free and simple.

Canterbury University Tramping club. About 550 members, most who only sign up for 6 months at a time.

Pros

  • Free
  • Simple to use for new membership officers
  • Populates a membership spreadsheet automatically
  • Cloud based, so multiple people can work on it simultaneously

Cons

  • Not integrated with any payment or accounting functions
  • Requires manual curation of the list, as people leave.
  • Requires manual mail merging for club communications.

 

Last updated: 12 April 2018

Wilderlife