Membership management software is an all-in-one solution that can be used to store, organize and use your membership data to its fullest potential. It is also called Association Management Software (AMS), Community Management Software, Club Membership Software, Software for Nonprofits, etc.
Such systems are often available as Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions under subscription fees. All of them promise to remove administrative tasks such as tracking membership dues, sending out emails, monitoring event registrations, reporting, automating the tasks that take up time and resources, and much more.
Sounds promising, but are they really so all-embracing and powerful as they claim?
In this article we will answer three main “what” questions that are likely bothering you:
- what you can expect from an average “out-of-the-box” membership software;
- what limitations you may face and why; and
- what to do if you need more than software vendors can offer.
Let us get all this straightened out.
What to expect from off-the-shelf Membership Management Software
There are dozens of online membership management systems in almost every industry you can imagine, like healthcare, wellness and beauty, charity, education, sports, and more, so you can definitely find the one for your business niche.
Although some are more powerful or niche than others, almost all of the solutions possess a common, standard functionality.
We have analyzed a good deal of ready-made membership CRM’s and singled out a typical set of features you should expect out-of-the-box to run an effective business:
- Member profiles and membership. No matter what kind of membership program you are working with, you need comprehensive member profiles and automatic member renewals. You will be able to archive all kinds of member data, from name and date of birth to personal preferences. This provides an accurate list of current active members in your association and allows you to drill down and categorize members into respective groups. Later on, it provides a secure payment system to process membership dues and other association fees.
- Email campaigns. Email marketing as a part of member engagement is mission-critical as it is a direct way to keep your members in the loop. An AMS should give you the possibility to schedule, automate and personalize emails. In case it is not a part of an association membership software, then it’s better to keep on searching for another system.
- Event management. Similar to email campaigns, events are a great way to get members involved, attract new members, and prove yourself as an industry leader. So, if you still don’t take advantage of event management, you should definitely try it out with a membership management platform. The system should allow you to send out event invitations, manage event registrations, and payments. It is quite a challenge to integrate event management with your current association database, so check whether this feature is available.
- Invoicing and payment processing. Membership software without built-in finance features is not as effective as it could be, especially for organizations that work with membership fees and tickets. Having no payment gateways leads to members “suffering” from manually paying, and you – from manual processing. It’s very time-consuming and prevents your company from growing. So, take the manual responsibility out of the member’s hands, while assuring better ROI and scalability. Sure, you can process payments separately from the system, but it leads to additional challenges with data exchange and integrations.
- Analytics and reporting. Comprehensive 360-degree analytics is a significant tool for an association’s long-term planning. There’s no way to know what actions you should take if you don’t know what worked well and what didn’t. That’s why your membership system should enable custom reports for various departments, easy exporting, illustrative dashboards, etc. With this functionality, every aspect of your strategy will yield meaningful results.
- Workflows automation. This allows you to reduce repetitive tasks and free up valuable resources. So, carefully check out which processes the system allows you to automate. At the least, your new platform should enable financial tasks like verifying accounts, sending invoices, and reminders.
Additionally, you have to determine a set of features necessary for your business niche.
The membership management system should meet your current needs and be scalable enough to cover the future growth of your organization.
This way, you can minimize future system alterations or customizations.
The canned community association management solution is a good option to try in case you:
- have straightforward typical workflows, like applications, annual dues, access to member-only content, etc.;
- are okay with some manual work to do due to a few resources and a small membership to support;
- are flexible enough to adjust your workflows or you have no processes yet and need to make a move;
- have a lean budget and cannot afford to develop a platform from the ground up; and/or
- need a system straight away.
When looking for a membership management system, you need to ensure it solves your current organizational issues to justify the price of software. Once you have a list of features or problems you want to address, compare different systems to find the one that checks every box on that list.
The point of software is to streamline your organization’s processes, not create new challenges you need to overcome.
Although all-in-one box solutions are rather powerful and feature-rich, there are some potential issues you should know about beforehand.
Hidden dangers of ready-made association management systems
#1. Generic nature
In most cases, management system providers are trying to attract as many clients as possible. In order to satisfy the full range of user needs, they stuff their systems with a great number of extra features.
While it may seem that almost all associations have much in common, in reality, they are quite unique. As a result, you risk paying for an over-complicated system with a large percentage of functionality that is absolutely useless for your specific organization. It can also make your system harder to navigate and less usable for the members of your organization.
#2. Lack of integrations
This one is definitely worth considering from the start because not all systems allow integrations. Your management system should be compatible with other systems you are using to run a business, otherwise, you risk ending up with an environment where data is stored in different places and is difficult to use and analyze.
Please be aware that some vendors charge for integrations or lock them behind paywalls and more expensive packages. For example, Hubspot lists hundreds of apps on its integration marketplace, but a good deal of them are paid.
#3. Customization limits
Many off-the-shelf systems possess a lot of plugins and tools used to cover a wide range of workflows, but they often come with limitations, especially when you need additional features because of unique business workflows or company growth.
While it may seem early to take this into account, you need to consider the future of your business. Most owners anticipate that memberships will increase and you likely have the same expectation. The problem you may face in the future is that most ready-made systems allow either very little or no customization.
This way you risk investing your time, money, and data in the system that cannot support your changing business needs or company growth.
So what to do when you need more than today’s market can offer?
Read next – Top 7 business pain points solved by custom CRM
Building a custom membership software that pays its way
Choosing between custom and ready-made platforms is quite a complicated decision that determines the future of your organization. With a box solution, you are hog-tied in your needs to customize the system. So if an adjustment is a must-have for your business, building a tailor-made membership solution is most likely a win.
As a software development provider, we know why businesses opt for building a platform from scratch. And one of the main reasons is that there’s no solution ready/available to satisfy the company’s specific needs.
One of our clients who works with many Norwegian associations failed to find an out-of-the-box system that could cover their requirements and decided to build a custom solution. Together, we made a powerful SaaS platform aligned with local nuances that can be customized to the needs of each individual association.
In addition to customization, you should consider other mission-critical reasons to build your own system:
- complex business processes you can’t change – you may wonder how to find out if your workflows are complex enough? In most cases, complicated processes will make you implement workarounds for your vendor’s management system. A custom solution instead, will follow every step of your workflows. In such a way, you speed up the processes while improving business efficiency and productivity.
- control over integrations – there are companies that have already invested in a set of tools like training, licenses, finance, etc. If you are one of them, then you know that there is almost zero chance to find ready-made systems that can integrate every tool you need the way you need it. With a tailor-made system, you plan what integrations your platform should have and how they should work to provide the maximum value for your organization and members.
- automating as much as possible – it’s nearly impossible to find a vendor’s solution that can automate the better part of your processes. A custom tool can make the tasks and workflows easier by automating or removing them altogether.
- need for competitive advantage – you’ll never have an edge over your rivals if you all depend on the same software. The solution that differs has higher chances to stand out from the crowd and attract more users. Sure, this advantage grows as you invest more in your customized system.
- better user experience – with a custom solution you are the one who makes improvements as required. All this affects the higher satisfaction level of your members and staff and keeps your operations running smoothly.
- total independence – with a custom system, there is no necessity to invest thousands of dollars in a solution that you don’t own. You aren’t tied hand and foot, the only limits being your imagination and budget. With a tailor-made management system, you have the right to decide how much money to invest in your solution, which features are critical, which tools to integrate, etc.
- complete control over your data – you need to store personal information of hundreds or thousands of members, from credit card to home addresses. In the case of a readymade system, the vendor has access and control over all of your member data. You need to ensure that the vendor has everything needed to protect your data from leakage. With custom solutions, you are aware that the data is under lock and key and can sleep soundly.
- long-term scalability – investing in a custom platform means your system will scale and grow when needed. You can estimate changes you may need in the future and plan for them within your annual budget. This way, you will enhance your solution step by step, rolling out features that suit your strategic vision. Unfortunately, you cannot do this with a ready-made membership management system.
Read next – How to make your project a success when working with IT services companies
Ready to give your company a head start with a membership management system?
Membership solutions are powerful tools, but they are even more powerful when optimized to your organization’s requirements. Now the ball is in your court. Take a good look at the needs of your organization and decide whether you need to buy or build your own system.
MindK has huge experience in developing custom solutions for business associations, political parties, support groups, and nonprofits. We don’t just act as software providers for our clients, but work together as partners. In such a way, you’ll get to work with a team of experts focused on your success. You are not one of the thousands of users who signed up to a platform, but an owner of the product and our business partner.
Together, we can meet your company’s needs with a one-of-a-kind membership management system, as well as adapt to the changing business landscape.
Member management software of your dream is just one contact form away – just drop us a line.