Participation and Retention! 2 Reasons For Membership Management Software

Database Membership Management Software for Membership Sites

Is Access or Excel used as your database? If so, here is a little tidbit of insight derived after exploring many solutions. Regardless of Tier level membership database solution you may review, the majority of associations will benefit from using Membership Management Software. In this day and age, a vanilla database just doesn’t cut it if you truly desire help in reaching your mission. In this article, I discuss just two key strategic goals of using a commercial off the shelf membership management software database today, participation and retention.

Participation and Retention Via 

Membership Management Software 

In the last year, two of the key strategic goals expressed by Executive Directors exploring membership management software was to be able to retain their members and then continually delight their members so that they participate more with them. Sure, they strive to make the job of their staff to provide member services easier but at the core a membership system needs to help provide the services you offer better, keep them engaged so that stick, and find value in participating with your organization.

Access and Excel Suck as a Member Database 

On the surface, Excel appears for most to be a logical choice to manage your constituent data. I understand. I must admit like most that the easiest and cheapest is usually my first thought. But, the easiest choice and most inexpensive (at least from a hard price) isn’t always the best course of action when you have strategic goals on your mind such as retention and participation improvement.

It’s obvious every organization has to manage data. And, most small associations I talk to use Microsoft office. So, it’s logical for one to use Microsoft Excel to begin with but over the course of time it’s important to graduate to a more structured database and one designed just for your specific needs.

Besides being cheap, I admit that Microsoft Excel is great with calculating and dealing with numbers. And, in a very rudimentary manner it can track your contacts, categorize them for you in rows and columns. Heck, you can even make a note or record an activity too. However, that’s where it ends.

There are some fundamental flaws to consider. Likely the main challenge, Microsoft Excel and Access both stores information in what’s called a “flat file” database. Translated into down home Texas Talk, this means it’s not designed to handle relationships between data, such as when one record (such as a member, donor, customer) needs to link to several other records (like a dues payment or gifts). Further, Microsoft Excel lacks the basic tenants of a relational database management system which can can track multiple data points which are truly needed to correlate, record, and report participation and retention data.

Retention Of Existing Members via Membership Management Software 

A jingle writer once wrote: “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” That writer was pretty insightful. It takes a lot of time and money to acquire new members, doesn’t it? While most associations need new members to grow, there is a point where goals of membership increases get exponentially harder to achieve. The expectation is that members come in and stay, this is true until they leave because you have no data to understand trends or feedback on why members value your organization.

The theory is that member acquisition cost is less than the member’s lifetime revenue, and the break-even point happens in a year or two. I suppose that this sounds good. However, it is not that easy. The reality is it cost less time and money to retain current members. Retaining members is so critical to the life line of an association today. Using a database alone will not help here. You need the basic tenants of relationship management, communication management, and activity management at a bare minimum in a software tool used by a staff today. With membership management software, I believe that you have a better chance to treat your existing members like gold while you mine for the silver members.

Increasing Participation with Membership Management Software

Your members are there for a reason. Members want to participate for the greater good of their industry or profession, network, get training, advocacy, & access information. The key word here is that they need to participate in pertinent and individual manners.

The right membership management software program can provide your member with the ability to know in real-time about upcoming events, be able to buy early bird tickets, read your blog, and communicate in a member forum.

Participation can be tracked in so many more ways than a tool a database such as Access or Excel could ever be able to do. Today, you members interact, stay informed, and get involved in group activities. Additionally, members can enjoy educational video links, email updates, newsletters, and automatic billing. A relational database is needed to adequately keep track of all these items and be used in a meaningful way by your staff.

From a nonprofit executives point of view, understanding a member’s unique needs and interests is directly tied to tracking their participation level more so than just a title or function which is the only granularity you can obtain in using a flat file database tool. It’s important to go beyond title or function alone to understand the data in a way that is meaningful.

Per a recent article written by Greg Wilson, from CalSAE magazine, The Executive:

The California District Attorneys Association recognized this more than 2 years ago when we embarked on a search for an AMS (Membership Database) that would allow for highly granular individual participation experiences. Our ultimate goal is that each member will experience the association based on an aggregation of their interactions-from classes attended, to contributions made as well as outside information such as what part of the state they live in. The AMS is helping us get there.

Retention and participation are two strategic goals expressed to me when seeking a new membership management software. Excel and Access can’t help here. A happy member will remain with your organization. A happy member is a contributing member. All nonprofits need happy members. In my biased opinion, I believe that membership management software can help you treat your members like gold so that they will become platinum participants.

For more information on how membership management software can help your nonprofit association, please contact us. Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Free CRM Membership Database Software Guide


Retention: How Can Membership Software Help?

Copy of ecommerce nonprofits

Can your membership management software provide the data you need and the features required to know the who, what, why about membership retention and trends? In this article, I underscore the value of using your membership management system to take a closer look at the value of retention data, the impact of segmentation and an example of aligning features back to goals using modern membership systems.

Membership Software Retention 

Needless to say, I can only postulate that high on the list of topics up at many association nonprofit conferences across the country they will be focused on how to improve member retention—how tos, new approaches, benefits, what works. Recently, Joe Rominiecki, senior editor at Associations Now, made the rounds and summed up the conclusions here. Suffice it to say, an association’s success lives and dies by member retention rates. And, in many associations the membership system lives the data and features  you need to help make sense of membership retention. Let’s start with the importance of data.

The Value of Retention Revealed

So, what is the story that your data reveals about your association’s member retention? You must be able to use your data to know:

  • Who, specifically, is staying on as a long-term member?
  • Who just dips a toe into the water and leaves?
  • Who has stayed on and then suddenly leaves?

Further, can you utilize data to go deeper and ask these other questions of your membership retention trends:

  • Why do retained members stay for three years? Five years?
  • Why does the group that simply samples membership not stay on?
  • What causes members with some longevity to leave suddenly? and,
  • Are there job trends, sub-industry trends, age trends, geographical trends, or other segmented trends which you can point to as related causes?

Can your membership system handle slicing your data more thinly to get a clearer picture of retention numbers and trends? A membership software should house the answers to these questions.

The New Normal: Segmenting Retention Rates and Trends

If not, perhaps you need better segmenting capabilities. Rominiecki’s Association Now article cites experts who make the case that in order to understand how to boost your member retention rate, you first need to ask more of your membership retention data than simply how many members the association retains and loses annually. So, you need to go further than just answering the questions above.

That makes good sense, right? If, for example, you manage a healthcare association and currently have 200 insurers, 50 MDs, and 15 dentists, your ability to identify retention rates and retention trends within each member subset matters to the long-term health of your association. That signals the need and ability to segment and track both retention rates and trends point to more than just member retention—it also provides data you need to bring in new members and even renew past memberships.

Membership Retention Goals 

This article sparked my thoughts about a recent meeting with an association seeking a new online membership software system. And, as outlined above, retention was an important aspect of their success. Here is a summary of their retention strategy expressed to me during our software selection engagement:

GOAL: Expand awareness of member services and carry out membership retention activities to achieve a year-end retention rate of 80%.

To achieve this goal, they concluded that they needed to successfully perform the following:

1. Contact members two months before membership lapses to prompt renewal and, in some cases, help the member renew. (CRM Features). 

2. Send electronic emails along with handwritten welcome notes to each new member. (Email Marketing Features)

3. Call or e-mail new members on a monthly basis and invite them to sit with a Membership Committee member or Board member at the next luncheon. (CRM and Email Marketing Features)

4. Contact lapsed members one month after membership is lapsed. Final follow-up to encourage renewal. (Activity Tracking) 

5. Attend all luncheons. Work with Member Involvement Chair to have Board and Membership Committee members sit at all tables and engage members and guests.(Event Calendar, Activity Management, & Committee Management).

6. Focus on retention of second year introductory members. Reduce drop-off rate after second year of membership by calling these people first. (Dashboards with Data Views)

7. Every six months, invite a new member to join the Membership Committee. (CRM Activity Tracking including To Do’s, Follow up Management) 

This was the plan of attack, and they wanted to obtain a membership management system which managed the data well, and also contained the features which would help them execute it. While a membership system won’t be the only component, it certainly was viewed as a way to help with strengthening their ability to implement their objectives.

Retention Goals Tied To Membership Software Features

After our discussions, we outlined some basic features which were deemed must haves in order to support the membership retention goal. Here are few:

Customer (Membership) Management:

In all of the tasks above, the membership system needed to be able to support the ability to track history activities, notes, demographic information on the members. And, your follow up to get things done.

Membership Specific Dashboard:

The ability to review your members retention rate and view suggestions for improvement, and take a quick look at incoming members for the week, month, and year. Check in on your current campaign’s success, build and knock out that “to-do” list, and access recent reports and accounts within the membership system. And, the ability to have unique dashboards for each department was key too!

Participation Information:

With a membership system, you should be able to get an at-a-glance view of an individual constituent’s participation level, as well as their engagement level – which is based on past interactions. Member engagement could be measured in “cold,” “warm,” “hot,” and “on fire!”

Email Design & Distribution:

Build and deploy emails using templates and get rich analytics on their performance throughout your retention campaigns.

Letters & Mailings:

A membership system could help the above retention campaign by helping with the design and printing of direct mail pieces like letters, gift acknowledgements and other solicitations all from the membership application.

Social Networking:

One exciting feature of membership systems today is the powerful website integration features which includes social networking.  With a membership system be able to connect your organization’s social media such as Twitter account for powerful social media monitoring. In some instances, you can even match tweets to constituents in your database, or add new constituents who are tweeting about you.

Committee Management: 

In order to select and notify committee members about upcoming events, they needed to have an integrated solution for handling this. With membership systems today, you can now have a place to store your committee lists, including sub-committees. All members, chairs and secretaries can be identified and listed, and have their own directory listing. So, you can place people strategically with those you desire and work them to advise them on upcoming events.

Further, with a built in email message center, there’s no need to worry that your message will be sent to the incorrect audience. For the committee that you wish to correspond with, in membership systems you can simply select that committee and you will only have the option to email all or some of the members who belong to that group. No problemo amigo!

When member retention rates are higher, less effort and fewer marketing dollars are spent in members acquisition, and greater focus can be placed on upgrading existing members. Members who are contained longer tend to participate more and contribute more. Your long-term members tend to recruit new members at a faster pace, especially those who move up the engagement ladder over time.

So does your member management CRM reinforce best practices in member retention? If not, you might not see those retention campaigns bear fruit.

Please consider contacting us to start your search for a membership management software to boost retention. Until next time, Keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Online Membership Software

The Value of Event Planning With Membership Management Software

The Value of Membership Management Software on Events Management in Nonprofits

Nonprofits have the best of both worlds, according to TheMuse, They’re changing the world in bold, interesting, and inspiring ways, and they’re also amazing places to work, full of passion, smart people, and even cool perks.” Even so, non-profits need good business tools to do these bold, interesting and amazing things, especially in the area of event planning. In this article, I discuss how membership management software can make a difference in how your nonprofit manages events.

How Membership Management Software can Enhance Event Management

Non-profit events, which can range from fundraising, seminars, trade shows to membership drives, are about building relationships with your non-profit and its cause. More important than the money raised or the number of people involved is the fact that well-planned and successful events can lead to long-term awareness and loyalty to your non-profit. While major events can raise significant revenue and recognition for non-profit organizations, these events require careful planning and preparation.

The Task of Events Required in Membership Management Software 

The actual event is the tip of the proverbial iceberg, meetings involve calendaring, to-do lists entail creation, assignment, and dissemination, registration information requires capturing, confirmations necessitate sending and follow-up surveys need reviewing.   Using membership management software, automating your event from beginning idea, through last-minute changes and future event timelines, allows everyone involved to stay on top of the important events that keep your non-profit in business and working smoothly.  An event management module in your non-profit membership management software is advantageous in more ways than one.

The Benefits of Events Management Within Your AMS 

  • Guest Registration and Data – manual registrations require staff time that might be better used elsewhere. Guest lists are complete and names are not duplicated, payments are processed securely and accounted for, rosters and name badges are easily drawn up, the list goes on and on, plus the data is all at your fingertips, not on several spreadsheets.
  • Manage Volunteers and Employees – collaboration is paramount in successful event planning. You need to be able to take advantage of people’s strengths, disseminate to-do lists and calendar timelines, making sure that everyone has access to the information they need and in a timely manner.
  • Track Vendors, Meeting Space, and Requirements – Do you need a projector in the room? How many chairs and microphones are required? Are there several exhibitors that need space? All the data regarding these requirements can be easily accessed with an events module of your non-profit membership management software.

At SmartThoughts, we realize that one size does not fit all. And, while not every nonprofit is the same, many require the need to manage events. The question seems to be, “Can we satisfy our needs with just Membership Management Software“? Or, “Do we need a best of breed Event Management Software solution”?

And, the answer is,”It Depends”. However, with a little time we can advise you about the benefits of each approach and help find the software best suited to your non-profit needs. “Software should not be like buying a box of chocolates,”  so if you are overwhelmed with the choices available or simply need an objective opinion, contact us. We are here to help you find the exact software for your exact situation.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Free CRM Membership Database Software Guide