The Ultimate Guide to Membership Management Software

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Membership Management Software, often referred to as an Association Management System (AMS), is a collection of software products designed to manage the relationship between a nonprofit organization (association or Chamber of Commerce) and its members. Said more succinctly, it is the technology that allows your staff to communicate with your members. That communication can come in the form of the website, event registrations, join/renewal reminders, email communications, newsletters, social media engagement, etc. Without a good, cohesive system, associations are left trying to manage relationships through a dizzying combination of spreadsheets, hand-written notes, accounting files, and email distribution lists. An effective system ties all of these pieces into one allows staff to work more efficiently and invest more time in programs and services for the membership.

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What types of organizations need membership management software?

If companies and/or individuals can join your organization, there is a system that can help manage your data. With all things, there are myriad options that are designed to fit a wide array of sizes, structures, needs, and wants. A small homeowner’s association has a different set of needs than a global medical society. In this article, we’re discussing the systems to be used by nonprofit professional associations and chambers of commerce. Even within that narrower scope, the needs and wants can vary greatly from one group to the next. The key is to identify those features that are needed, wanted, and nice-to-have for each group. No two groups will have identical wish lists.


What are the benefits of membership software?

At its very core, membership management software should make the work of staff easier. Software is designed to automate formerly manual processes, allowing the team members to focus on more important issues. Problems can creep in when using a system that is either not a good fit or was not configured properly in the beginning. Staff then has to do additional work, just to make the software work! This is what we call a ‘workaround’ – this does not allow staff to work at peak efficiency. A highly functioning system is one that becomes like an additional staff member … one that never takes vacation or calls in sick! Almost all job responsibilities can be 100% manual or can be highly automated by the right system.


What features does membership management software include?

Again, software for managing memberships can incorporate a very wide array of features. Some features are considered core to the function of almost all organizations, while some others may only be important for a smaller subset. Here are some of the main features that will likely be available in any membership software:

  • Joining/ renewing membership – in modern times, most potential members expect to be able to join and renew online, rather than through paper forms.
  • Event management/ registration – central to all membership-based groups is the need to assemble. Registering for these events should be an easy and seamless process.
  • Targeted email communications – gone are the days when a mass email to everyone would suffice. With today’s technology, associations should target their communications to focused, smaller groups; and a good membership management software should help segment the membership.
  • Website management – the front-end website presence is the first thing most members will see. Integrating this with the database provides the best route to maintaining fresh content and member-specific content driven from the database.
  • Member e-newsletters – some members may proactively seek the most current information and news about an organization while others rely on the content being delivered to them. The ability to create news articles and deliver e-newsletters is very important for many groups.
  • Job board/ career center – the network created by associations and chambers is a major driver of membership loyalty. A major factor in that is the ability to connect open positions with qualified applicants.
  • Creation of non-dues revenue – current best practice states that membership-based organizations should not rely heavily on membership dues. It is best to divest the revenue portfolio. One way to accomplish this is through monetization of the website through advertising, featured directory listings, and other creative applications.

What integrations does membership management software need?

While some providers prefer to try to build anything and everything that any organization could ever possibly need, others focus on the core of the business, using integrations with best-in-class providers to complement the work of the core system. Regardless of the situation, one central concept remains key to maintaining clean and consistent data – the single source of truth.

Data integrity is key to maintaining a quality relationship with your members. If you misplace a payment, forget that someone renewed, send them an email after they opt out, and countless other ‘misses’, you alienate your connection with that member, and you make it less likely that they will engage with the organization. Even worse than that, it’s less likely that they renew.

Hosting varied and disparate systems is a sure-fire way to misplace information, lose track of vital member records, confuse staff, and frustrate members. The easiest way to avoid this unfortunate situation is through integration. Integration, managed through three magical letters – API – is the process by which different software programs ‘speak’ to each other. Examples of integrations that help maintain clean data:

  • Sync with accounting software
  • Single sign on with trade show mapping software
  • Credit card processor reconciles directly back into accounting
  • Database manages targeted lists of members and syncs with email software

If multiple systems are touching or modifying member data, it is vital that they communicate with your single source of truth, the membership management system. Any other process will create workarounds and office inefficiencies.


The Buying Process: How to Choose Membership Software

The process to find a new system can be a very daunting one. There are dozens of companies out there, each ready to tell you how they can best meet your needs. Here is a step-by-step guide to finding the best solution for your specific situation.

Step 1: Who are you?  

Before looking outward at providers, it’s very important to look inward. What are the main functions you need from a system? What inefficiencies exist in your current processes? What do you love/ hate/ tolerate about the existing system? What is missing – i.e. what would you like to see in a new system?

Step 2a: Determine wants and needs.

Yes – every association wants everything; and yet most are not willing to invest in the all-encompassing solution. This is an opportunity to list out every feature that is needed in a new system. ‘Need’ means that any system that cannot deliver this function is off the list – these are complete deal-breakers. After this list come the wants. These are features that are highly desired but are not deemed vital.

Step 2b: Consider the whole system.

A ‘system’ is not just one product; it is the entire collection of products that work together to accomplish tasks and goals. When going through this process, consider all of the software products, not just the database management tool. Are you beholden to your accounting software? Would you consider a new email management product if it synced better with a new system? Consider the whole package – not just one product.

Step 3: Take a deep breath.

There is now a long list of wants and needs, and it can seem insurmountable. One of the most important considerations when shopping for a new membership management software is the realization that no system will meet 100% of the needs and wants. It doesn’t exist. Find a system that meets of the deal-breaker needs and then 80% of the wants. Any system that can accomplish that is worth considering!

Step 4: Research.

Do some homework of your own online. Find products that sound as though they have good potential. Check out their pricing online to see if they’re in the right range. Go to review sites like ReviewMyAMS to see how well they rank with your peers.

Step 5: Demo.

It’s time to contact the providers and let them take you through the sales process. Other than the obvious step of learning about the system, pay particular attention to the teams you meet. Do they seem interested in selling a product or understanding your situation first?

Step 6: Referrals.

Reach out to existing customers. Find out directly from them what their experience has been.

Step 7: Choose. Transition!

Allow yourself 3-4 months for the transition time. And don’t second guess the decision. There has been a lot of work to get to this point. Trust the decision and move forward. 


Our Top Membership Management Software: Novi AMS

Novi AMS was designed by you ... by people who manage and run associations and chambers of commerce. It can likely address all of your needs and most of your wants. Novi is the only true association management software listed in the QuickBooks apps.com store and features the industry’s best sync with QuickBooks Online. The customer service team provides extremely quick response times, ensuring that questions are answered, and your work can continue. From a beautiful mobile-friendly & responsive website to the integrated database, Novi provides a platform that is not only very user-friendly for you, but also for your members.

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