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What should you expect of Membership Management Software today?

Expectations in nonprofit software and membership software selection

When is Good, Good Enough? What to Expect in Membership Management Systems

For most member based nonprofits, the association management software selected to help run the organization is likely the most important decision which an Association Executive will make. Suffice it to say, it is important that you select the right membership solution to fit with your specific business requirements. In the midst of the plethora of membership solutions in the marketplace today, we often get asked what one should expect from the software available to them. In this article, we wanted to explore that question.

What makes each different?

Well, that’s a tough question. To make a long explanation shorter, it is usually the software features, background of each vendor (in terms of development history) and references (who they typically work with). To that end, we wanted to underscore some of the general features that comprise many Membership Software Systems today below.

Integrated Communication Channels

In order to meet the needs of a busy membership organisation and connect with your members you need to ensure you manage your member data efficiently by ensuring all communication is maintained, targeted and relevant.

Being able to communicate with your members through both traditional and online methods are essential for any membership organization today. Many systems today enable you to communicate via: 

  1. Mail merge – Direct mail campaigns

  2. Email Marketing – Powerful, integrated and fully functional email marketing tool

  3. E-Surveys – Integrated and automated feedback management tool

  4. Social networking – Public and Private

Self-Service Membership Web Portal

This is fundamental for any membership management database today. A membership management solution that offers you a fully web-based portal will allow your members access to their personal information at any time and from any location. Your members should be able to simply log in using their unique username and password and update/amend/edit their personal information. A comprehensive membership software solution will ensure relevant information is captured for each individual member account. A comprehensive member web portal should offer a number of modules which include online capabilities such as:

  1. Contact Management

  2. Event Registration Management

  3. Billing (Paying Dues Online)

  4. Orders Management (Allowing a member to buy something)

  5. Social Networking: Forum interaction, Blogs, wikis, etc

  6. Survey Management

  7. News and content aggregation

  8. Member to member communication

  9. Web Content Management (Either integrated or Single Sign-On)

Reporting: Using Big Data for Making Smarter Business Decisions

Improving the service you offer your membership base can really only be achieved through the measurement and analysis of the feedback you get from your members. Many membership systems across the spectrum offer standard reports, onscreen views of data, and even dashboards of Key Performance Indicators.

In selecting the right membership solution, the reporting functionality within the membership software will make it easy for membership managers to create off the cuff reports and new reports on demand. The sophistication of the reports and how much you need to create more reports can be an indication of moving to one solution or the other.


Most membership management systems have taken the “Best of Breed” approach in the area of financials. In other words, they act as a subsidiary accounting system and only handle accounts receivable functionality. Membership systems will handle dues billing, sending out invoices, and collecting cash payments. From there, they allow for an export/import routine to the General Ledger of their choice such as Quickbooks. There are a few systems which provide an “All in One” financial experience where everything is handled (GL, AP, AR, etc.) but for most membership systems this isn’t the case today.

Ease of Use:

It’s tough to discern general practices which make one system easier to use over another. The General User Interface can be viewed as easy by one audience and difficult by another. In light of that, membership systems today should be accessible from anywhere on any device today by your staff and members. The system should be Responsive. Responsive web design (RWD) is a web design approach aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from mobile phones to desktop computer monitors).

Integration and Open API’s

Selecting a membership software solution that integrates into your business makes for a more resourceful, efficient and complete internal business solution. In most cases, the less you pay, the less sophisticated the integration capabilities of the membership system. Technically advanced membership software solutions will have the flexible architecture (Open API’s) which will allow integration with all other business systems whether it is now or in the future. For example, a Learning Management System, Financial Management System, Event Management System, or Government Relations offering can work in concert with the main membership system.

So, there you have it. This is a quick list of general areas which you should expect today in a Membership Management System. In the coming weeks, we will be taking a look at many leading Membership Database Management software options on the market so hopefully you will stay tuned. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

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