A Beginner's Guide to Buying Membership Management Software
26% of membership organizations said upgrading their membership management software made the most impact on their business.
When asked which single technology investment would have the most impact on their association, a wide plurality of membership organizations (26%) said upgrading their membership management software, according to a poll by Association Adviser.
Why did this get so many votes? A membership system, for many organizations, is at the heart of the services and benefits they offer to members. Without one, or with the wrong one, you run the risk of losing track of members, losing donations, and losing or mismanaging event and volunteer opportunities.
At Capterra we love to help organizations find the right software. That's why we've created this guide…to help you find the right membership management software for your organization or association. We know you want to spend more time focusing on your members and less time on paperwork, so we've cut the fluff.
Whether you are a first-time buyer or are looking to switch systems, this software guide will answer your questions about membership management software, such as:
Ready to get started? Or are you feeling unsure? Let's take a placement test to see where you stand…
Good or Bad Reasons to Buy Membership Management Software
There are a lot of great reasons to buy membership management software….and a few bad ones. Do you have all of the necessary requirements? Answer “yes” or “no” to these questions to find out if you're ready….
Membership management software may or may not be what you need right now. Let's review some of the basics before you move on.
You're most likely ready for membership management software, but keep looking over the material so that you're completely prepared.
You're at the top of the class! Skip ahead to Chapter 2 and get started!
A lot of organizations and associations don't necessarily have registration for events, an online store, or have a large staff, large number of volunteers, or huge number of members. But that doesn't mean that a small association doesn't need software! Even if you have a small number of members and not many events, you may still be able to benefit from membership management software.
Even if you have few members and don't anticipate much growth any time soon, you could still benefit from membership management software, as many organizations that want to remain small still need an easier way to handle the members that they do have.
However, if you find yourself saying things like “Who is in charge of X,Y, or Z process?” or, “No one here wants to adjust from using paper to using a computer!” … you have other issues to address before purchasing membership management software
Keep in mind that there are several other types of software that have similar functionality to membership management software, but can't take the place of a true membership management solution. Take the time up front to define the type of software that you need.
General database/contact software: Excel, Outlook, and other generic applications are able to manage basic contact details but lack the integrated functionality of a full-featured membership management solution. These general applications typically don't have the ability to handle applications, events, payments, or more robust member communication.
In an Association Adviser poll, only 7% of associations said they didn't use some sort of membership management software system. Many of the most commonly cited reasons for using a membership system include:
Sure, you can perform most of these tasks using Excel spreadsheets and papers that will clutter up your desk. But the time you spend manually tracking member data will work against you in the long run. Ultimately, the more time you have to invest in your members and your mission (as opposed to your paperwork), the smoother – and longer –your organization will run.
Membership Management Plan and Goals
Now that you've taken the membership survey and know that you're ready to buy, it's time to dig deeper and truly identify your membership management needs. With so many membership management software options and features available, you should clearly establish your requirements to ensure that the software you choose really does what you need.
First, to figure out which features you need in a membership management solution, your organization needs to define its management strategy.
By answering the following questions, you'll pave the way for a much more productive conversation with membership management software companies.
Consider the culture of your organization and develop some examples of who will use your membership management system (and how they will do so), how you will track members, and what kind of information you would like to track.
Use the answers to the questions in Step 1 to create all the possible combinations of users, methods of tracking, and follow-up processes, so that when you talk to a membership management software vendor, you can illustrate a clear picture of what you need their system to do for you.
It's possible to find hundreds of “features” in a membership management software solution, but you should focus on the top 10-15 that your organization really needs. Here are some of the most common basic and advanced features of a membership management solution:
Mobile: More membership organizations and associations are adopting mobile technology to reach and engage members. According to an Association Adviser poll, 48% of associations have offered a mobile conference app at one of their large events.
48% of associations say that they've offered a mobile conference application at their annual event.
Here are some pros to each kind:
Web-based: accessible anywhere with an internet connection, can be used on most computers/devices, maintenance and upgrades are handled by the vendor, lower initial investment.
On-premises: greater ability to customize, greater access to data, easier integration with other installed systems, greater flexibility with deployment, potentially lower lifetime investment.
*Based off of Capterra membership software buyers in 2013.
Now that you know what you're looking for, it's time to start shopping around. But be forewarned… if you want to get exactly what you need in a system, you've got some work to do. Your first task is to create a list of possible software solutions for your organization.
The Final Assessment
Capterra's Membership Management Software has over 150 Membership Management solutions listed in one place. Use the filtering tool to check off your must-have features and narrow down the list to a much more manageable size.
The goal is to create a list of 3-5 membership solutions that you'll evaluate more closely. But if your requirements are pretty basic, narrowing your results could still leave you with 15, 20, or even more viable options. Alternatively, your needs could be so specific that after filtering the list down, you're only left with 1 result. That's why in Chapter 2 we said to only focus on your top 5–10 features… hopefully those should leave you with a manageable amount of options to evaluate.
If this process looks overwhelming - or even just annoying - we are happy to help! Just Just use the filter on our directory to narrow down the membership management software options based on your needs.
Now that you have your handful of options, it's time for the fun part—demos! Software demonstrations are the best way to determine which membership management software fits your needs. Some of these demos happen one-on-one with a sales person, while others are webinars with groups of potential buyers. Either way, the demos and conversations you'll have with each software company should answer the following questions about your remaining membership management contenders:
When you're demoing and selecting membership management software, make sure to gather answers to the following questions from each involved party:
There's no simple answer when it comes to Membership Management software pricing. Besides the fact that there are several different pricing models, your specific requirements are also a big factor in how much you'll pay.
Here's a breakdown of how most Membership Management providers charge for their software:
Solutions with This Pricing Model: SharePoint Association Management System, Weblink Connect
You'll probably also find other pricing models, such as a single, one-time charge (ex. Aptify), a flat subscription with unlimited members (ex. YourMembership.com), or free (ex. BigTent).
There are plenty of resources to help you through the membership management software buying process. Keep this guide close as you go through the buying process, and you'll be sure to make the right choice. Asking yourself the right questions and taking the time to examine your organization's specific needs will ensure that you end up with a membership management system you love today and in the years to come.
And don't forget–you're not on your own! Be sure to consult friends or other organizations for help
Now that you're armed with all the tools to make the right software purchasing decision, here is some parting advice to sum it all up:
Capterra believes software makes the world a better place. Founded in 1999, Capterra has helped millions of people find the right software for their business — all kinds of businesses — whether a multinational corporation, a school, a church, a doctor's office, a manufacturing company, or a zoo. Capterra works with thousands of software vendors to understand their products in order to match companies with the best software for their needs. Check out www.capterra.com to find software ratings, reviews, buying guides, and the most comprehensive list of business software products available.