Making a Case for Embracing Integrated Membership Management

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One thing that hasn’t changed in the many years since my first nonprofit job is that the staff and volunteers at small membership organizations are still “wearing many hats” and juggling many competing priorities. The snapshot we captured through our Small Membership Insight Survey of a typical small association or club portrays a group of committed volunteers and staff working long hours with small budgets and few resources to meet their top priorities: increasing membership and member engagement. Our survey findings also indicated that in most small membership organizations, the responsibility for finance, member and volunteer management, as well as events and website functions, is often handled by time-strapped volunteers rather than staff.

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Are legacy admin procedures and systems stalling success?

Limited budgets and resources aren’t the only challenges facing hard-working volunteers and staff at small membership organizations. Sometimes the administrative systems that are put in place and handed down become outdated, causing frustration, wasting time and resulting in volunteers and staff working at cross purposes. For example, organizations that use a variety of basic tools such as Excel spreadsheets and other out-of-the-box systems, can face challenges such as:

  • Multiple spreadsheet mania:  When organizations use multiple spreadsheets to manage membership, event registration and even donations, it can be a daunting task and lead to:
  • Wasted time and effort: It takes a lot of time and effort to manually change information and try to keep data clean. If you have the same contact on multiple lists, you need to ensure any changes to the information are made across all lists or spreadsheets.
  • Trouble sharing: When staff, board members and other volunteers need to view or update any of the spreadsheets or lists outside of the office, the file needs to be exported, emailed or copied to a USB stick. This poses security concerns and may also lead to further errors or duplicate records.
  • Data errors and duplication: This sort of manual data administration and sharing of files can lead to errors and duplicate records as well as challenges in trying to merge data for email campaigns or keep track of financial records across platforms. And if you are using these spreadsheets to update your online member directory or event registrant list on your website, it might mean frequent website changes to ensure records are kept up-to-date.
  • Difficulty seeing and reporting on the “big picture”: Having separate spreadsheets for membership, events, etc. makes it difficult to report on or see the entire picture across all of the organization’s work, as well as understanding member involvement or engagement.
  • Lack of system / IT support: Few small organizations have the internal resources necessary to update their computer systems regularly, which can lead to outdated software versions, crashing computers, security holes and lack of effective back-up of data.

Looking to online technology for solutions

While the volunteers and staff of small organizations are still trying to do a lot with a little, there are some technology solutions available now that weren’t around during the good old days at my first association. For example, there are a number of membership management systems or software specifically designed to automate and streamline administrative tasks for associations, nonprofits and clubs. These association or membership management systems offer a number of integrated modules that work together to manage your website, along with your membership database, event registration and donations.

Many of these membership management systems operate “in the cloud” which offers anywhere, anytime access for both those managing administration, as well as for members or supporters wanting to revise contact information, register for an event or renew their membership. For example, using an integrated membership system can simplify membership renewals – enabling renewal reminders to be emailed automatically, and allowing members to renew and pay for their memberships online via self-service.

How can membership management systems help?

Implementing a membership management system, especially one that is cloud-based, can go a long way to helping time-strapped volunteers and staff at small membership organizations. For example, they:

  • Make it easier to update and share data: When using an integrated, cloud-based membership management system, all data or files are stored online, so member and contact data can be updated and shared anywhere via any Internet-enabled computer. This means that everyone is always working on the same set of records, so when changes are made to member contact information, membership renewal status, event registration, etc. all records are simultaneously updated. This prevents duplicate member databases or outdated contact lists and no need to email or copy files for sharing.
  • Can help you see the “whole picture” With an integrated membership management system, the folks managing the membership database and directory, as well as those handling event registration and promotion, can all work together, updating data and reports remotely, yet collectively.
  • Save time: Instead of staff making changes to member contact information or membership status, with online membership management your members and supporters can quickly and easily update their own details.
  • Reduce infrastructure and offer built-in backup: While the software you load on individual computers needs to be updated frequently, with cloud-hosted membership management, the service provider automatically updates the software so your system is always current. In addition, they offer automatic updates, backup and tech support, saving you the time and effort. In addition, with cloud systems there should be limited downtime since they have back-up servers as well as expert support to manage and minimize service disruptions.

Making the case for embracing tech solutions

While there are integrated membership solutions that can help, our survey participants told us: “board members are still reluctant to embrace new technologies such as [online membership management software].” So if you need help in making a case for embracing an integrated membership management system at your organization, here are four benefits to a centralized system, that were identified by database expert, Wes Trochlil (Effective Database Management):

  • Benefit #1: Data Integrity – One of the cardinal rules of database design is that no redundancy is allowed. … A centralized database means that each member has one primary record, with primary contact information. Thus, when there is a change required (like a new phone number), there is only one place to look to make these changes.
  • Benefit #2: Valuable broad marketing info/history – With all the information centralized, it is much easier to develop reports that show the broad range of activities that your members are engaged in. With multiple databases, records need to be matched, de-duping needs to occur and the opportunity for duplicate records is greatly increased.
  • Benefit #3: Ease of training (it’s the same system for everything) – If all processes (membership, meetings, products, etc.) are in the same database, then users need only learn one system, not multiple systems.
  • Benefit #4: Support – With a centralized system, support is focused on one product. With many databases, even if they are built on the same platform, separate support is required for each.

Since the world – including the members of even the smallest membership organization – has moved online, perhaps it’s time for your organization (board members and all) to fully embrace technology, especially when there are tech solutions that can support volunteers and staff in meeting your mission.

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About the Author

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Lori Halley

Lori Halley is the Blog Writer (Engaging Apricot) at Wild Apricot (recognized as number one on Capterra’s Top 20 Most Popular Software Solutions for membership management). With a background in communications at associations and non-profits, Lori offers tips and information to help the staff and volunteers of small organizations with their day-to-day challenges.

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