5 Key Questions To Ask Before Googling Membership Software

Questions to Ask Before Searching for Membership Database

For most Associations, Membership Software is a vital part of your existence. And, the primary goals of a membership program are storing data, communication, building relationships through focused collaboration, and building value for your members. In order to achieve your mission, nonprofits must have the right membership management software to deliver value and remain a valuable resource. In this article, I dig into some of the key requirements I hear when helping associations select software today along with key questions to ask before embarking on the search.

Key Requirements of Membership Software 

The Need for Automation

During almost all of our projects, association executives express that they want to do better at maximizing staff time and productivity. As a result, time involvement and automation play a big role in deciding on online database software. In order to be efficient, software needs to be as automated as possible. Setting up routine email campaigns is often one of the most common form of automation desires. But, having the system be able to handle the dues remittance process and recurring payments are also expressed as crucial in keeping funds flowing into an organization. Without question, nonprofit software executives, are looking for higher levels of automation in their membership software.

The Necessity For Ease of Use

Over and over again, I hear during a software selection engagement is that the database software needs to be easy to set up and use. Again, this is a matter of time and efficiency. Many member focused organizations do not have the time or the staffing to deal with complicated software set up. Nor, do they want to have their members calling up if they can’t log into the system or register for an event either. Mobility of the solution is also a huge factor in the belief that a tool is easy to use or not. Everyone needs to be able to get on and do their business wherever that may be.

While not directly related to the actual database system, the software companies need to provide great customer service and tutorials to get the attention of association’s executives too. While nonprofit organizations want software that everyone within the organization can use and understand, they also want it to be less complicated. The days of having only one or two people which are able to use it are over. This means the software should be easy enough for the least tech-savvy person within the organization to grasp.

The Basic Right of Database Management

It is important for organizations to be capable of managing their membership database. You must be able to access member information easily. Organizations want the ability to pull statistics and crucial reports from their member database without having to call the software vendor. From my findings with nonprofit executives who are seeking a new management software, executives and board members alike want to know things like when their membership numbers are declining, increasing and why.

It’s all about your members right? They give life to your organization. And, therefore, members too want to get data out of your system too. The ability to manage membership data allows organizations to determine this important information. This is key for most executives today.

5 Key Questions to Consider Before Googling

Ask any nonprofit executive who has tried to do it recently, and I believe they will all agree that trying to find the right membership management software for their nonprofit association is a “mind-googling” experience to say the least. While you may have an idea of what you want or share some of the key requirements above, there are a multitude of membership management software options. They range from nearly free to way beyond the budget of any sane executive.

We keep track of nearly 100 membership software programs. And, the list is growing each and every month it seems with new offerings hitting the market. While I enjoy doing so, most sane people don’t!

Today, even the simple database software platforms offer solutions for dues billing, accounting, and event registration. And, as the systems grow in size, some of them have bells and whistles for marketing automation, education management, social media collaboration communities, & government relations .

As one of my recent clients expressed to me, “Isn’t there one membership management software out there that can fit all the needs of the association?”

With the insights into what most associations are seeking today, here are 5 thought-provoking questions to consider before you call that vendor or venture off to the Google God to begin your search for a membership management software for your association:

  1. Does the staff, members, & the board agree on the goals? In The End of Membership as We Know It, author Sarah Sladek emphasizes that the “era when associations could count on members joining and renewing” has passed. One of the top priorities in any association should be “technology-eased access to content and community”. Your metrics for success will help you make a decision on the right software program. But, unless everyone is on the same page, a decision will be harder to make and likely will produce a poor result. Like your organization, each software vendor is unique too. Matching the harmony between the two’s (nonprofit and vendor) uniqueness will provide the best fit.
  2. What is the difference between CRM, Membership Management Software and Association Management Software (AMS)? Though used interchangeably by vendors, there is a difference in all of the above. What is right for you? CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software alone is different than Membership Software. Membership Software can be used by for profit organizations too sound that actually adds to some confusion who embark on the “Google” route. As for Membership Software vs. AMS Software, both track and store member contact data, dues and interactions; yet AMS’s typically offer a bundled suite that integrates accounting, education, events, committees, benefits, and renewals etc. You can easily get side tracked in your “Google” search if you don’t know what you need. And, searching for membership software alone in various search engines may likely lead you into a rabbit hole to hell if you are not keen on the differences. And to put more salt on the psyche, even if you get the nomenclature right, figuring out which one “fits” your size , budget, etc. can exhaust tons of time and effort by staff.
  3. Will our needs change in the next 3 years?  It is the unfortunate truth that many smaller associations are having trouble staying relevant and being able to offer what their members want. Be sure to look for a software that is able to grow and adapt with your association, just in case there is a merger or new objective which the board pushes your way in your future. I can’t stress this enough, just because you can afford it, doesn’t make it the right fit.
  4. What if you do nothing? I don’t care what anyone tells you, a software technology change of any kind is a drain before the glory of rewards. Therefore, you need to be prepared to know why you are doing this and what you anticipate to gain from the headache of doing the search and ultimately the implementation. Doing nothing is usually not an option but digging into that question can help define the key metrics by which you will gauge success in your project.
  5. Do you need a software advisement firm to assist you in finding the right membership software? The marketing noise pushed out today about the “Best Software” is plentiful. Suffice it to say, there are a number of posts online that talk about their software prowess; but what works for one nonprofit association, may not work for another. Like Thanksgiving, everyone’s plate is unique! With a software adviser, you may be able to more efficiently manage the software selection process and make a smarter decision in the end much faster with greater chance of success. But, like software, it’s not the right choice for everyone.

Having thoughtfully answered strategic questions before the search, can help streamline your project and assist you in making the best choice for your needs today and long term. After doing this for years, it’s interesting to me that many organizations usually have a tough time with the reality of what can be accomplished with technology. Further, they tend to avoid asking the hard questions before trying to find the magic pill to fix everything. Googling your way to finding a solution is a bad idea.

It’s critical to take the necessary time to delve into “The Man in the Mirror” so to speak. Certainly, knowing what to expect and what can be accomplished with membership programs before moving forward in a software selection search is paramount.

For a more in-depth assessment on your current technology and future software fit, contact us today to learn more about how we can assist with developing a strategy that is line with your budget and goals to help reach a return on your mission.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Top 10 Checklist for Searching for Membership Software

The Impact of Communication Features in Membership Databases

Membership Database Software: Communication Features

Having the ability to communicate effectively with members is an important characteristic of high-quality membership management software. This need is especially true for nonprofit associations which communicate in many ways to solicit for Events, Fundraising, Dues, and Selling Products etc. In this article, I cover the impact areas of communication features in membership management software for nonprofits.

Communication Features in Member Management Software 

In order to retain members, you must keep them informed and engaged. The top nonprofit membership management software provides user-friendly methods for you to communicate with members via email marketing and standard snail mail. Certainly, it is paramount today to have simple ways to capture (online forms), store (in member’s profile record), and send emails & mail to your entire membership community for a variety of use cases.

Within the communication features of Membership Database you should be able to segment your members into various levels of granularity. For Example, you can divide members into tier-based categories and send different information to those groups. This allows you to send specific messaging to targeted groups. If you can’t, then you may want to investigate a third-party email marketing service provider (a topic for another day).

How does the features of Membership Database Software impact your organization’s ability to communicate with members in various way? Here are several areas that the communication features become so essential in your search for a solid Membership Management software solution.

Association Updates

Members want to be updated on the activities of organizations they support. In order to keep members and donors informed, you need to consistently update them about the accomplishments and goals of your organization. This increases members’ confidence and trust. Further, it allows for  your members to remain engaged and perhaps want to participate with your organization more frequently.

Fundraising Campaigns

Fundraising requires proper communication. As stated above, having the ability to separate members into specific categories gives you the advantage of targeting specific groups. For example, your high-level donors may receive more frequent fundraising communications or they may receive special offers, etc.. Your low-tiered donors may have things to offer other than financial support. Perhaps you want to ask these individuals to volunteer their time rather than money. Whatever the case, targeted communication is a key factor in successful fundraising.

Event Promotions

Events are an essential function of almost all membership based organizations. In most associations, events revenue represents more than half of the revenue for the year. When considering a proper membership database, it’s important to consider the impact on staff time in sending out all your communications for events.

The email communication feature can be used to prospect and educate attendees on the value of the events and training classes being held by your organization. While I realize that most associations may be using a third-party email provider like Constant Contact or MailChimp, having your communication capabilities integrated to the membership software database is absolutely necessary. Uploading lists, Downloading lists, & losing key reporting aspects found in delivery of the email is leaving money on the table. If the membership software does this well, it will save your association time, money, heartache.

The Persona of Your Nonprofit

Your organization’s personality is expressed through communication of all types. This allows members to experience the human side of your Nonprofit. Quality membership management software should assist you in creating and distributing information that portrays your organization’s personal qualities. It provides a platform to connect with members on a human level via your website, email receipts, and even down to membership renewals.

Without standardization of email communication methods with the use of templates or word merge functions found in your membership management solution, it can hurt your brand. And, not knowing what your membership prefer to have sent to them, can impact your persona too. A membership database can and should be able to help you and your staff do a better job with your website, email, and regular mail activities. All communication vehicles which may impact your persona.

Understanding the significance of communication features in your software selection priority list should not be understated. The right membership software for your nonprofit will be found in matching your priorities with the software vendors strengths. And, communication features of the platform could be a factor in defining  success in your membership database. Take time to evaluate your communication needs and ensure the software you choose provides adequate features which helps all facets of your membership organization ability to communicate well.

If you need a little help in getting started in your search or finishing it up, Contact us for more information and assistance. Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Free CRM Membership Database Software Guide

AMS Software Review of Altai Systems

A SmartThought AMS product review of Altai Membership Database Systems for free download


In our “Search of a Membership Software Series”, we have prepared a quick look at Altai Membership Software System in this article.

Please note that this summary is not intended to provide our full report but rather should serve as a quick overview of the Altai software system. For those interested in learning more, we have prepared a detailed “Smart Report” for Association Executives who would like the full view.

The full report available upon request from Association Executives provides detailed information about the product in an easy to read question and answer format.

Altai Customer Relationship Software for Associations

Brief Summary of Altai AMS: 

Altai Membership is a flexible enterprise level Customer Relationship Management software solution based on the foundation of the Microsoft CRM platform.

Per Altai Systems, Altai Membership is a solution that can be implemented to work the way you do, to support and ensure your business processes are both followed and automated where possible. It is a flexible application for Associations looking for a solution that can be tailored to their needs.

Altai Membership is a scalable solution that will grow with you. Altai is led by a team of seasoned developers and implementers of Microsoft Technologies including Microsoft CRM, Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Project Server and many other Microsoft tools which understand the Association market place.

They have an extensive network of CRM consulting providers and software technologies which they provide in order to provide solutions for their association clients.

What features does Altai Systems include? The highlights below:

  • Membership management for both companies and individuals
  • Configurable membership list management – chapters, subscriptions, local, national, committees, etc… You can create and manage any lists and groups as you need.
  • Configurable dues billing
  • Quote, Sales Order and Invoice Processing
  • Receipts processing
  • Events and program management
  • Awards and nomination management
  • Certification and CEU Management
  • Relationship tracking – who knows who?
  • Fundraising and donor management
  • Legislative and Lobbying management
  • Diverse campaign management capabilities (i.e. dues bill reminders, event invites, fundraising, etc…)
  • Project Management
  • Workflow automation and management
  • Website integration
  • Powerful querying capabilities across modules
  • Flexible and extensive reporting capabilities

Where does Altai Systems likely Fit?

  • Mid-Size to Large membership organizations.
  • Organization looking for traditional customer relationship management functionality rather than historical AMS architecture.
  • Organizations looking for Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Microsoft Office Shop – Outlook, Excel, Word, Exchange, Sharepoint etc.
  • Altai’s School Board Association Solution(SBA) makes it a nice fit for respective organizations.
  • Back office accounting applications – Dynamics GP & SL, QuickBooks and more.
  • Social Listening features to see just how hard your social media efforts are actually working for your association.
  • Those wanting a choice of service options through a vast network of Microsoft partners and development partners.

Key Strengths of Altai Systems?

  • Customer Relationship Management foundation
  • Fair pricing due to low overhead
  • A philosophy of simplicity over complexity
  • A tight focus on usability
  • Users can maintain, configure and upgrade without programming
  • Deep experience with CRM and Association Management Software development
  • Appropriately sized solutions
  • Excellent client relationships
  • Altai’s School Board Association Solution(SBA)

A Quick look at Altai Systems: 


Is Altai CRM the Best Membership Software for Your Association?

We don’t espouse to the belief that there is “one best AMS” for everyone. But, Altai AMS may very well be your best fit.

However, to answer this question with certainty, we need to know more about what makes you unique. And, discuss other insights about this platform which we have curated, clients interviewed, and discuss more detailed information beyond just this summary.

Please know that our detailed analysis and expertise is available upon request. To be sure, our software analysis is not a “pretty brochure”, “marketing noise.” or a “sales pitch.”

Rather, we provide a free objective dialogue and insights designed to help nonprofit executives make a smarter software business decision.

If you are interested in some help with reviewing your options and comparisons, please check out our “vendor matching” services here.

Want More AMS Membership Software Reviews?

Please stay tuned to our ongoing “Searching for A Smart AMS Software” where we will continue to provide further insights into membership database software options designed for our 501(c) 6 membership focused organizations.

For the most recent published reviews, please click below:

And, to obtain a sample list of the database software reviews we have, you may follow the link here 

If you work for an AMS database software system and you would like us to include your firm in our software review process, please contact us.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind. Happy Software Buying!

Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.