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


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

What the heck is Association Membership Software?

We discuss what an AMS or Membership Software for nonprofits is all about here.

Quite frankly, we all fall victim of “assuming” that everyone in our particular universe knows the acronyms which we use. As a result, in this article I wanted to take a step back and simply provide an outline of the who, what, where, why and when of Association Membership Software for those “new” to the terminology.

Association Membership Software

To put it simply, an AMS stands for Association Management Software. An AMS is a software program designed to help membership nonprofit organizations keep track of items such as members, donors, memberships, collect dues, and register members for events. It’s a record management and engagement system for nonprofit membership organizations. These programs often come with additional features such as: dedicated association websites, government relations advocacy, Social communities, e-commerce, Financials, & payment processing.

Who needs AMS software?

Organizations both big and small make use of Association Membership Systems. Often, these associations start out by managing their member information and other statistics manually, either on a spreadsheet or using another offline database program such as MS Access or Excel. In time, associations grow and expand, gaining new members, adding more tasks, collecting dues, planning more events, and forming larger and more complex leadership structures. Of course, this growth means the necessity for organization becomes more urgent than ever to keep everything running smoothly. Add in a few more items such as recruitment and e-mail newsletters, and the processes that once were relatively quick and simple for association executives to handle manually have become a tremendous undertaking, consuming vast amounts of time. This is the reason Association Membership Systems software was created.

What basic functions do most offer?

AMS software can vary widely depending on what specific needs they were created to handle. Here are three examples of the most commonly seen functions from AMS providers:

Membership Relationship Management –

Membership management is a way to keep the organization’s members organized. It aids them by keeping their member information and membership status filed in the appropriate areas. Using this function, your members can automatically update their profile information, pay membership dues, and update their current membership status without requiring the hassle of someone picking out the individual file and changing it manually when these things need to be edited or updated. What is unique here is that membership management is loosely used to describe all aspects of basic demographic management to the financial accounting needed to handle all that is unique about an Association.

e Commerce with Integrated Website Management –

An AMS can host many online e Commerce functions including event registration to streamline the process for your members, in turn increasing revenue. If you have ever purchased event tickets online, you know how much easier online hosted registration is compared to manually filling out a form and mailing in a check. Additionally, there is an integrated payment system which will allow members to easily pay their dues or buy products online via credit card. The seamless integration here is important, because at any given time you will potentially be juggling separate vendors (the AMS software,  Payment processors, & Website) Having them work together effortlessly will save you a lot of stress and headaches.

Engagement, Participation, and Community-

At the core of an Association is community. Besides being a record keeping system, an AMS systems needs to help foster participation. Most AMS software will often give members-only access to a forum dedicated to photo sharing, discussions, and other topics related to the association. Just imagine how easy it would be for a planning committee to organize an event if they were able to share files and notes over one centralized system. AMS solutions can also safeguard private or sensitive information on the organization’s website with the use of a secure login. You will be in control of the visibility permissions and can easily alter them at any time.

Of course, each AMS is unique in what features they offer, but these areas are key tenants of what most AMS solution providers offer. You will need to decide what you require from an integrated AMS. Now, let’s dig into other areas.

Where Can I Purchase The Software?

Like many things, the process to purchase the software can start with a simple internet search. However, I believe that this may be a futile approach for many new to this industry. You may find value in speaking with a sales representative at an appropriate trade show or event. But, ultimately you will purchase (rent the software) from either a value added reseller or the software provider directly.

When will I know an AMS is needed?

In my opinion, Nonprofit membership based organizations in all stages of function can benefit from AMS software. That being said, most don’t realize they need it until the sheer amount of information needing to be processed becomes overwhelming. They have outgrown the current database.

What will Membership Software for nonprofits cost?

Membership systems costs vary widely depending on what solution your organization plans to implement. There can often be start-up costs, monthly fees, and other such payments. We provide many specifics of costs in the various software product reports we provide.

Why Do I Need Association Membership Manager Software?

Those in charge of keeping their association or organization running smoothly have enough on their plates. Trying manually to juggle member and event information with outdated systems will inevitably become too much to handle by one’s self. You should consider saving yourself time, money, and sanity by implementing an AMS before it gets to that point, it will just make things that much easier further down the road.

There are vast numbers of choices of AMS software available, but luckily you don’t have to wade through them alone. At SmartThoughts, we can help you decide on the software that will be just the right fit for your unique situation.

Additionally, feel free to contact us directly with any questions you may have.

Association Membership Manager Software  defined and explained in this article.