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The Complete Guide to Buying Membership Management Software

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A Beginner's Guide to Buying Membership Management Software

Membership Management Software

noun, (sometimes referred to as an Association Management System, or AMS) An application designed to streamline and automate the tasks associated with the administration, organization, and engagement of groups, clubs, communities, and associations.

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:

  1. Why should you consider a membership management software solution?
  2. When do you need membership management software?
  3. How do you choose the right solution for your organization?
  4. What are the features of typical membership management software?

Ready to get started? Or are you feeling unsure? Let's take a placement test to see where you stand…

Chapter 1

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….

  1. Does your organization have at least 50-100 members and continue to grow?
  2. Do you have regular meetings (at least monthly)?
  3. Do you have regular newsletters or mailings (at least monthly)?
  4. Do you have a dedicated person or people to “own” the software?
  5. Do you have established processes in place for membership tracking, donor management, etc…?
  6. Do you have products or materials for sale?
  7. Do you have scheduled events or classes that require registration and payment?
  8. Do you have recurring fees or dues?
  9. Do you run lots of different reports and enter the same information in multiple locations?
  10. Is your member info thorough but you have no idea what to do with it?

Tally up your "yes" answers to determine your readiness score.

Decoding Your Score


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!

Score lower than you thought? Don't worry. You may still be ready for membership management software.

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


Here's what Membership Management Software CAN do

  • Manage members' contact details and profiles, directories, sub-groups, committees, member selfservice and administration.
  • Handle new member applications, processing, approval, and welcome emails.
  • Automate online payment processing, membership dues, registration fees, recurring payments/renewals and donations
  • Coordinate event registration and scheduling, online calendars, event and course management
  • Track status, renewals, automated reminders, and activity reports.
  • Communicate via website, online portal, forums, blog, emails, and social media.

Here's what a Membership Management Software CAN'T do

  • Grow your membership automatically. While a software system can help you save time and help you to smoothly run your organization and your processes in order to aid you in growing your membership, it won't do all the work for you, and simply buying software is not going to fix all of your problems.
  • Eliminate your need for staff. You will still need people there to use the software and keep on top of things— however, it will reduce the number of people you need in the office since one person may be able to take charge of multiple tasks if they're using software. Also, it should enable your administrators to focus more on your organization and your mission.


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.

Association management software: A more specialized form of membership management software typically targeting larger nonprofit organizations and professional associations. Often includes fundraising and legislative functionality.

Event management software: Although managing a successful event includes being able to effectively and efficiently manage the “members,” event management software includes specialized functionality, such as floor planning, vendor communications, and badge printing that is not applicable to most groups. Membership management software often contains limited functionality to manage events.

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.

Why is it that having an up-to-date and functional membership management database and system has such an impact on the whole organization?

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:

  • Keeping track of member information
  • Being able to more easily contact members, and notify them of events or special opportunities
  • Retaining more members through constant updates, audience segmentation, and member engagement tools like surveys
  • Making it easier for members to update their own information, donate money, and volunteer

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.


Chapter 2

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.



Define your requirements and figure out your overall strategy

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.

  1. What information do we need to record about our members? (contact information only, full profiles?)
  2. Do staff members work at the office or remotely?
  3. Do we have any volunteers?
  4. Are there a few primary people who are responsible for the administration and management of the organization or do numerous people have responsibility for many small areas?
  5. Does our personnel regularly go online and know how to use websites and web-based applications?
  6. Do we need to conduct fundraising or collect regular fees?


Come up with use cases

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.

For example: The American Trucking Association currently has 250 members, and they are hoping to double that in the next year. They have an office staff of about 10 people, and right now they all do their respective tasks manually with Excel spreadsheets: accounting, membership tracking, event registration, and donor management. Most people come in and work in the office, but some people occasionally work from home or on the go, so the remote workers will need access to the system from their laptops or smartphones.

They need to have all of the various user permissions and restrict access to certain departments. So only the accountant can access the financials, the office manager can access only his areas of work, and so on. They will also need lower level user permissions for their members and volunteers.


Identify your required features

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:



  • Member database
  • Contact management tools
  • Administration tools
  • Application processing and approvals
  • Email and mailing lists
  • Multiple user access and administrative accounts
  • Payment and event tracking
  • Event registration features
  • Automated renewal reminders
  • Online access and record-keeping


  • Committees and sub-groups
  • Member self-service
  • Prospect management
  • Volunteer management
  • Fundraising and donation management
  • Publishable member directories
  • POS and online payment receipt modules
  • Email and member communication tools


Member Recruitment and Retention: Membership organization staff are particularly interested in current member recruitment strategies. Staff members want to know what benefits really attract members, what tools are best for member outreach, and what best practices to follow in order to retain members. Features that improve member recruitment and retention include online groups, discussion forums, private social networks, and chapter communities.

Administration, Budget and Finances: Special tools for managing financial information are becoming a crucial part of membership organizations as well. Custom reporting, data intelligence, workflow based budgets, and clear audit trails are just a few of the great tools used for managing budget and finances.

Member Engagement: New ways and special features that can be used for member engagement are popular and useful as well. Examples of these features are online forums and listservs, targeted email engines, member-specific content alerts, event calendars, event management platforms, advocacy and idea tracking, contests and gamification, surveys, voting and polls, personalized content, and reporting and analytics.

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.

Another membership management “feature” to seriously consider is its platform. Do you want a web-based or an on-premises solution? There are pros and cons to both, so ask the software companies detailed questions about security, backup/recovery, and data ownership.

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.


The 5 Most Commonly Requested Membership Management Features

  1. Membership Account Access
  2. Payment Processing
  3. Mailing List Management
  4. Event Management
  5. Member Directory

*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.


  1. Which of these options is smarter?


    Spend days researching membership management solutions and enter your findings into a complicated spreadsheet


    Use an online tool that does all of this for you

  2. Do you need to demo every membership management solution you're considering?


    No. Demos are time consuming and are basically just sales pitches.


    Yes. You wouldn't buy a car without test driving it, would you?

  3. Who should be involved in a membership management demo?


    Your office administrators (secretary, accountant, etc.)


    Your boss


    Any volunteers/interns

  4. How much does membership management software cost?




    $1 million


#1: If you want to save time better spent on your members, the answer is B.
#2: B. Demos allow you to go beyond the sales jargon and actually see what the software looks like and does.
#3: B. Demos allow you to go beyond the sales jargon and actually see what the software looks like and does.
#4: Neither. Membership management pricing can vary, but we'll break it down for you so that you can compare different products easily.

Chapter 3

The Final Assessment


Create a short list

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.


Demo your options

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:

  1. Does the solution satisfy your most important requirements?
  2. Does the vendor offer excellent support and speedy service?
  3. How user-friendly is the solution?
  4. How compelling are the vendor's testimonials/reviews?
  5. How easy is the implementation?
  6. Does the solution require changes to your business processes?
  7. Does the vendor have customers similar to you?
  8. How customizable is the solution?
  9. How innovative is the solution compared to others on the market?
  10. Does the solution satisfy some of your less important, "nice to have" requirements?

Helpful Tip

In order to compare products, you may want to quantify your answers to the questions so that 1 is "not at all" and 5 is "absolutely."


Demo Advice

Live, one-on-one demos are best because you can control the conversation and ensure that your specific questions are answered.


Get buy-in

When you're demoing and selecting membership management software, make sure to gather answers to the following questions from each involved party:

ADMINISTRATORS (Office secretary/Accountant/General Staff)

  1. How easy is the system to use?
  2. How flexible and configurable is the system?
  3. How much access is there to data and reporting, and what does it look like?
  4. How will the system integrate with other systems and content?
  5. How do I track members and contacts?
  6. How do I manage volunteers?
  7. How do I take membership payments?

MEMBERS (Including volunteers))

  1. How easy is the system to use?
  2. How easily can I search for and access member profiles and directories?
  3. How can I login and update my own profile?
  4. How can I filter members and groups based on certain criteria?
  5. How easy is it to access the eGiving portal and donate online?
  6. How do I learn about or RSVP to events?

IT DEPARTMENTS (If you have one)

  1. Will the LMS solution be web-based or on-premises? Can we handle one better than the other?
  2. How much customization is needed?
  3. How do we rollover from our previous management system?
  4. How much maintenance and ongoing administration will be necessary?
  5. Will it integrate with our existing website and if so, how?


Compare Pricing

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:


This is the most likely pricing model you'll encounter. With this model you are charged monthly (or occasionally annually) based on the number of members or individuals you add to the database. You may also run into extra fees for implementation in some systems.

Price Range: Pricing in this model ranges from $0.25–$0.50/member/month. Occasionally you'll find a solution with a free option if you have a very low number of members (typically fewer than 60).

Solutions with This Pricing Model: Wild Apricot, Tendenci, MemberClicks


With this model you're charged by the number of users you have who can get into the software. Usually this is a per month charge.

Price Range: You'll see prices of around $50– $100/admin/month. Occasionally there's also an implementation charge in the $500–$2,000 range.

Solutions with This Pricing Model: i4a AMS, Regpack, netFORUM


Here, costs increase the more functionality you add on. You'll find typically that solutions using this model break down offerings into different levels of functionality. While higher levels cost more, usually there's no limit on member or admin numbers across all levels.

Price Range: Expect to pay around $200–$600/ month, or anywhere from $1,000–$5,000/level.

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., 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


Let us be your mentor. We've helped many organizations with this and can help you choose the right software too. Select the features you need, and we'll give you the options that match.

Closing Words

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:

  1. Consider the specific needs of your organization. Not all membership management software is made the same; you'll need to find the right application for your group. Before you start your software search, take into account your group's size, the frequency and complexity of your events, as well as other applications you currently use that will need to integrate or access the data within your membership management software. It's easiest to identify the best solution if you know in advance exactly what makes you unique and which features are most important to your organization.
  2. Don't waste money or effort on customization. Although it may be tempting to design exactly the software you want, you can save time, money, and frustration by finding something that will work right for you straight out of the box. You'll also have less trouble integrating with your existing systems.
  3. Choose a system with room to grow. You're planning to expand your membership, so choose an application that can handle the growth you can reasonably expect—and then some. Also consider the future needs of your members, and ask software providers for details on their development schedule and if they have any upcoming features they plan on adding to their system

Getting Started

Capterra provides lots of free resources to help you get started in your search for Membership Management software.


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