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Amateur vs. Professional Membership Management: Which Software is Best for You?

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Update 11/13/2015: This post has been updated since its initial publish date with new pricing information for several of the solutions.

Imagine you’re going on a long journey and you need a guide. You can either:

  1. Hire someone who is trained and able to take you on an extensive tour with in depth explanations, lots of help, and efficient routes, or
  2. Have a friend show you the way for free, who knows the way well enough and will get you to where you need to be, but won’t be able to provide extra assistance or show you the most efficient routes.

amateur vs professional membership org

You will encounter the same dilemma when looking for a Membership Management solution—do you pay for a professional tool that includes everything that you need, or do you spend little or no money for a more amateur (by this I mean simply a solution aimed at an organization of a different class—clubs, like-minded groups, and the like, that don’t typically have dues paying members) option that has the same features but with less detail?

To answer that question, I looked into four well-known Membership Management software offerings that focus on the lower end of the membership market. I found that while most of them seemed to have similar features and price points, they differed in the types of organizations they served. So I dug deeper and did free trials with each. I discovered that while it’s true they have similar features and prices, how those features were implemented was very different between solutions.

Some offered many customization options and more robust layouts, aimed at more professional organizations in need of much detail and support. Others had simpler layouts and less support, but an easier learning curve for a more amateur organization willing to “do-it-yourself.”

Below, I compare for you the four solutions, and the two “amateur vs. professional” buckets they fall into.

Amateur/Casual Systems

If your group is very small, does not pay dues, and you do not have the time or money to train people on more complicated software, you fall into the casual group bucket. You’re looking for a way to organize members and keep track of events in a very simple and free or low-cost way. There are two stand-out systems that cater to groups like yours.

1. BigTent

If you need software for anything more than managing a listserv or discussion group (which you can use Yahoo or Google Groups for) a first stop on your trek should be BigTent.

BigTent is an online platform that allows users to manage multiple groups all in one place. It provides a secure network where members can interact with one another and stay informed and involved in their groups’ activities. It allows groups to organize, communicate and run their program, and gives them a customizable web page as well.

Here are some screenshots of the back end customization of the web page:

BigTentImage2

BigTentImage1

Notice that while they only have a few basic options, this makes the system less complicated and doesn’t present you with too many choices.

Stand out features

1) Payment Processing

  • Process instant online payments, track all dues payments in one place, and speed up membership renewals

2) Unlimited Free Photo and File Sharing

  • Unlimited free file storage, share photos with group, and post and archive important documents

Pros

BigTent is great for small groups with a small budget and for people who need an easy to use site that does not require a lot of maintenance.

Cons

While BigTent has event management, you can’t sell tickets for events. Also, while it will work with your existing site, it doesn’t offer a custom domain. Another con is that they are difficult to get hold of—this could be problematic in terms of getting support.

Target Market

BigTent serves a wide range of groups/organizations, such as arts and entertainment groups, nonprofits, educational groups, religious groups, sports clubs, etc. While some large groups and associations use BigTent, most of their customers are shared interest groups.

Cost

While BigTent is free for most functions, if you want to take payments they assess a fee of 4.9% plus $0.49 per transaction.

2. GroupSpaces

GroupSpaces provides technology to manage membership, activities, and promotion online through a free group website.

What their back end customization looks like:

GroupSpacesImage1GroupSpacesImage2Similar to BigTent, GroupSpaces has a simple layout and few options—while it is not a robust system, if you are only looking for simplicity and ease of use, you will find it here.

Stand-out features

1) Ticketing and Event RSVP

  • Organize events, send invites, and sell tickets

2) Create Custom Domain

  • Create custom domain, or integrate with current website

Pros

GroupSpaces has a free option with the added bonus of features such as selling tickets and your own custom domain.

Cons

A downside of GroupSpaces would be that they don’t integrate with QuickBooks or any sort of accounting package. They are also difficult to reach—I tried calling both phone numbers listed on the website to find that both numbers were down, and received no reply to the form on their site, or to a direct e-mail. While their software is good, if you have any issues support may be hard to come by.

Target Market

GroupSpaces caters to a wide variety of groups: sports teams, associations, non-profits, shared interests, meetups, communities, businesses, and churches. Group sizes range from under 50 members to as many as 10,000—however, if you are above 50 members you will have to use one of their paid plans.

Cost

GroupSpaces is free for 50 members, 2 member lists, and 250MB storage. They have different packages at different prices after that depending on the size of your group:

Basic: $7.99/month—200 members, 5 member lists, 2GB file storage
Starter: $14.99/month—500 members, 10 member lists, 5GB file storage
Pro: $19.99/month—2,000 members, unlimited member lists, 10GB file storage
Premium: $49.99/month—5,000 members, unlimited member lists, 50GB file storage
Ultimate: $99.99/month—10,000 members, unlimited member lists, unlimited file storage

Before we get into the professional solutions, there are some other other good “amateur” options that might also suit your needs if you’re not satisfied with the above two, such as MeetUp, GroupLoop, MemberPlanet, and Ning.

Professional/Serious Systems

If you are a group that is small, not looking to spend a lot of money, but still a serious organization that is willing to spend the time on a system that is professional, robust, and has support, you fall under the more serious, “professional” bucket of membership organizations. Here are a couple of systems for you.

1. Wild Apricot

Wild Apricot is an extremely popular membership management solution that focuses on serving small membership organizations. While they are focused on small groups and are low-cost, they are in-depth and customizable solutions with available support. Here is what the back end looks like:

WildApricotImage1WildApricotImage2They provide many in-depth options for your webpage—it is more complex than BigTent and GroupSpaces, but if you need a very professional looking layout, this will be perfect for you.

Stand out features

1) Website Creation

  • Create a complete website with public and members-only information as well as interactive features

2) Payment Processing

  • No transaction fees for payments taken online
  • Export financial data into QuickBooks

Pros

Membership and contact records are integrated with event management, website builder tools and email newsletters, so that small organizations don’t need to buy a bunch of different pieces of software and try to integrate them by themselves. Most of their customers have very low budgets, and so they focus on being self-service and low-priced.

It may also have some advantages over the average free membership service (such as BigTent and GroupSpaces), according to Jay Moonah, VP of Marketing for Wild Apricot:

I would say the complete integration of online payments, automation, email newsletters and reporting are a big advantage over many of these systems. For example, with Wild Apricot you can pull complete financial reports for your membership and events payments, and you can even export these into QuickBooks.

Unlike some other CRM/membership software options, Wild Apricot advertises having no initial setup charges or “hidden” fees.

Cons

Wild Apricot is not quite as strong on the CRM side of things as it is on members and events, etc. You don’t have the ability to make date-specific notes and create follow up sequences for a specific member or prospect. It may not be a great fit for more robust, enterprise-scale organizations.

Target Market

Wild Apricot has more than 6,500 paid customers–they focus on small membership organizations, mostly associations, and also clubs and charities. A lot of their customers are volunteer –driven organizations, or else ones with a very small staff. Most of their customers have very low budgets.

Cost

Wild Apricot has a free version for up to 50 members and 100 MB file storage. They have different packages at different prices after that depending on the size of your group:

Group Plan: $40/mo
Community Plan: $70/mo
Professional Plan: $130/mo

Network Plan: $240/mo

Enterprise Plan: $270/mo

Global Plan: $600/mo

2. MemberClicks

MemberClicks is a membership management solution that is focused on serving the small organizations or groups that are run by small staffs. It is an all-in-one solution that gives membership management and website tools. Their back end looks like this:

MemberClicksImage1MemberClicksImage2Similar to WildApricot, MemberClicks provides many different layout options for a professional website.

Stand-out features

1) Social Community

  • Member networking
  • Career center
  • Polls and surveys

2) Member Website

  • Custom design
  • Public/private pages
  • Content management and blogging tools

Pros

MemberClicks includes a career center, and has several different support options. They offer very strong tools for building completely customized donation forms and membership payment processing forms.

Cons

While MemberClicks is an all-in-one system, it has a slightly high set up fee, and they also charge a transaction fee, which can be costly as well. Their interface can also be a bit difficult to use at times and may need some technical expertise to get started.

Target Market

MemberClicks serves over 1,000 organizations throughout North America and Europe—they serve mainly small organizations, and are devoted specifically to meeting the needs of small-staffed organizations.

According to Adam Kearney, the Director of Marketing for MemberClicks, what sets MemberClicks apart from groups such as BigTent and GroupSpaces is not the size of the groups, but the class of the groups. He states that for a club that has no budget and no paying members, a solution like BigTent or GroupSpaces is great and contains a great suite of tools, but would not contain the amount of detail needed for a professional or trade organization. He says that “most of our customers are professional organizations with paying members—dues-collecting is a big component of our software, and we offer all the tools you need to do that.”

Cost

Memberclicks offers its services through an annual pre-pay or 12 month payment option in addition to the across-the-board setup fee of $2,495. They offer a basic setup option that is suited for organizations with the time and resources to setup their own website and membership management system with limited assistance. This costs $1,295.

Price If Paid Annually

Level 1: $210/mo ($2,520/yr) – Up to 300 member profiles – Up to 900 prospect profiles

Level 2: $263/mo ($3,150/yr) – Up to 1,000 member profiles – Up to 3,000 prospect profiles

Level 3: $336/mo ($4,032/yr) – Up to 2,500 member profiles – Up to 7,500 prospect profiles

Level 4: $394/mo ($4,725/yr) – Up to 5,000 member profiles – Up to 15,000 prospect profiles

Level 5: $525/mo ($6,300/yr) – Up to 10,000 member profiles – Up to 30,000 prospect profiles

Price If Paid Monthly

Level 1: $245/mo ($2,940/yr) – Up to 300 member profiles – Up to 900 prospect profiles

Level 2: $310/mo ($3,720/yr) – Up to 1,000 member profiles – Up to 3,000 prospect profiles

Level 3: $395/mo ($4,740/yr) – Up to 2,500 member profiles – Up to 7,500 prospect profiles

Level 4: $465/mo ($5,580/yr) – Up to 5,000 member profiles – Up to 15,000 prospect profiles

Level 5: $620/mo ($7,440/yr) – Up to 10,000 member profiles – Up to 30,000 prospect profiles

In addition to the above two, there are many other affordable membership solutions worth looking into.

Here is a comparison matrix that outlines the different price levels of each of the four solutions:

Membership pricing chart big

Conclusion

Given all these different options, how do you determine when to switch from a less involved, more casual solution to a more professional, robust solution?

I suggest using member size and the level of involvement you need as the criteria for determining when to switch. You will want to switch to a more robust solution when your group grows and you need more room to manage all of your contacts, or when you need higher level tools and more people involved in the system. As you grow, so will your processes, and the professional solutions will give you the ability to take payments online, sell tickets, manage donations, and use other more advanced features.

What else should you consider other than member size? Here are 3 additional steps to choose the right solution:

  1. Assess the size of your group and the potential it has or desire you have for it to grow.
  2. Make a list of what processes are the most important and necessary for you to have.
  3. Determine your budget (or if you even have one). Calculate how much money this software will save you in man-hours each year by recording how much time certain processes take you now and then reducing those hours to the time it will take you if those processes are automated. Then, figure out how much additional revenue that could drive by an increase in donations due to efficiency, more fundraisers, etc. Those two numbers are the maximum you can spend for a software solution.

Once that’s done, you’re all set to take the next steps to making your organization more manageable and more successful!

Membership chart

Looking for Membership Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Membership Management software solutions.

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About the Author

Leah Readings

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Leah Readings is a Software Analyst for Capterra, a company that connects buyers and sellers of business software. She specializes in church management software along with several other software directories. When she’s not helping software buyers, she is, among other things, reading, writing, and spending time with her family and friends.

Comments

Just pointing out that GroupSpaces has been a “ghost” company since mid 2013 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GroupSpaces

It’s true–their founder left and the company is unresponsive, as I mentioned in the article. You can read what the founder said when he left on his blog: http://insomanic.me.uk/
There hasn’t been any announcement about them shutting down as far as I know, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were to shut down this year.

-Leah

Does Wild Apricot have a tutorial?

Hi Larry,

They seem to have several, including an introduction to getting started with Wild Apricot, here:

http://www.wildapricot.com/webinar-wild-apricot-software-overview

And a whole series here:

http://help.wildapricot.com/display/DOC/Video+tutorials

Yourmembership is a solution that should be included on this list. Not just an AMS… YM serves over 4,300 non-profit organizations globally.

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