Online membership management services can satisfy specific data management needs that clubs and associations may have. These cloud-based services offer ways for clubs and associations to track basic membership information, collect donations and fees, communicate with members and prospects, and plan events. These platforms marry content management systems (CMSes) with contact managers, with some bits of accounting software thrown in.
Back in the mid-1980s, I was the president of a local chapter of a national computer consultants association. As chapter president, I relied on our treasurer to maintain the membership rolls, which he accomplished by using a fairly primitive spreadsheet. Key pieces of information we had to track included the obvious such as name, address, phone number, and email address.
Where we got bogged down was in the billing date for each member’s annual dues and determining when we had to drop a member for non-payment. Though we wrote a number of spreadsheet macros to help with this task, ultimately our treasurer had to resort to reading through the entire database—line by line—to make sure nobody had been missed. Once per year, we printed (yes, printed, on paper!) our membership database so we could find one another—assuming one could find the directory booklet itself. Today, several of the cloud-based membership management software services available would have made this task a snap.
The 10 Contenders
Here, we take a look at 10 membership management services—360Alumni, Active Network, aMember Pro, ChamberMaster, ClubExpress, MemberPlanet, NationBuilder, StarChapter, Wild Apricot, and Zen Planner—and introduce concepts that are key to the buying decision. But, before you decide which one will work best for your club, organization, athletic facility, or camp, you’ll need to prioritize the tasks you want completed and define a budget.
Your first step is to figure out what is causing your association the most trouble given your current management system (which may be a spreadsheet, a box of index cards, or a huge, unwieldly pile of papers). What answers do you need that your current system doesn’t provide enough of? Identify those major pain points and find the solution that eases those first. The remaining features, including the price you’ll pay, will fall into line.
Like most cloud-based software services, you’ll pay a monthly fee based on the number of people who will log in as well as those who will serve as administrators. Most of these services also have a limit to the number of members your association can carry based on the price level. There are some add-on costs to most systems such as transaction fees when members pay their dues or fees to send an email blast. Get those spelled out before you buy.
While considering budgets and features, take a look at the software you’re using now for tasks such as accounting and customer management, and see whether the available packages can be linked to them. Most vendors have application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow the passing of data back and forth, but some would prefer that you convert everything you’re doing to their system.
Cost of Customizing
There’s a trade-off you’ll have to consider between the functionality of the software in its generic state and the costs of customizing it to your organization’s capabilities. Many smaller associations, especially new ones that don’t yet have their processes set, might be happy with off-the-shelf (or web-based) software. Larger organizations that have been around for years, and which have specific ways of doing business, might be better off ponying up the additional funds for customizing the platform. Customization does come at a cost, though.
For instance, Active Network provides marketing services for organizers of races and fun runs, and can configure a customized solution as well. It will take several conversations with their salespeople to get a complete picture of your possible bill.
Most of these systems offer add-on features such as payment processing, event ticketing, and email marketing—some are available for free while others come at an additional cost. There are also e-commerce packages that allow you to sell your organization’s t-shirts or accept donations online.
As soon as you add money to the system, though, you have to also choose a payment processor. These companies act as intermediaries between your website and your members’ banks and credit cards, securely processing the payments. They do take a percentage out of each transaction, though, averaging about 2.5 percent. Many incur per-transaction fees of 20 to 50 cents as well. Check into the payment processing features and charges before you link one up to your membership management platform, especially if your fees are low or if you accept installment payments. Those per-transaction fees will take a big bite out of small payments.
The membership management platforms we look at here serve a number of different—and specific—audiences. From gyms and summer camps to professional associations and career education. These ten platforms support different needs; a gym wouldn’t need features for candidates for public office, for instance. Wild Apricot covers a variety of club and association types, including non-profit associations and clubs that need to keep tabs on their members and bill them for dues and events. MemberPlanet supports managing memberships in smaller organizations such as non-profit associations, religious groups, schools, boosters, PTAs, and Greek and alumni groups, the latter of which is the main audience of 360Alumni. ChamberMaster services local Chambers of Commerce, while StarChapter is geared toward local chapters, non-profits, and associations. ClubExpress is a platform for all manner of clubs and associations, while aMember Pro’s software is suited specifically to online e-commerce and online membership sites. NationBuilder is geared towards non-profit associations, political campaigns, musicians, artists, restaurants—virtually anyone trying to generate an online following. We tried to review YourMembership.com, which supports large groups with multiple locations, but they did not have a demo or trial period available.
We give our current Editors’ Choice nods to ClubExpress, an all-in-one membership, events, e-commerce, and website management platform for local clubs and associations; and Zen Planner, which offers gyms and workout studios an easy-to-use system that doesn’t look like a CMS from the last decade. We found that the other membership management services reviewed will all get the job done adequately, but none quite equal ClubExpress and Zen Planner in design or breadth of features.
FEATURED IN THIS ROUNDUP
ClubExpress is a fully fledged membership management platform for clubs and associations that do it all. From people and website management to communication, content, financials, and support, the software gives admins complete control over an intuitively designed user experience (UX) with all the bells and whistles. Read the full review ››
Zen Planner is a nicely priced, flexible and very customizable membership management solution specializing in gyms and exercise studios. Its impressive email marketing and flexible payment processing along with a well-designed interface make it an Editors’ Choice. Read the full review ››
360Alumni offers a responsively designed and intuitively simple membership management, events, and donations platform for all types of alumni organizations. If you can handle a high annual subscription and setup fee, it’s a great hub for all alumni-related activity. Read the full review ››
ChamberMaster is an excellent membership management platform for Chambers of Commerce. Its billing and e-commerce storefront features are unmatched and, if you’re willing to invest in its higher priced tiers, the platform pays dividends with a wealth of premium features. Read the full review ››
aMember Pro is a suitable one-time purchase for online member-based blogs, forums, or retail websites looking for basic member management and a good e-commerce engine. Traditional, local associations and nonprofits should look elsewhere for their membership management needs. Read the full review ››