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by Justin Guinn,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: November 17, 2016


Online membership software helps associations, clubs and other groups collaborate, communicate, register for events, process payments and more. It’s a must-have tool for any organization serious about engaging members, as well as tracking their participation and other interactions.

With dozens of great online membership systems on the market, it can be tough to figure out which one is right for your organization. So, we put together this guide to help.

Here's what we'll cover:

What Is Online Membership Management Software?
Common Functionality of Online Membership Management Software
How Online Membership Software Is Priced
Types of Software Buyers
Potential Benefits and Drawbacks

What Is Online Membership Management Software?

Online membership software is the same as any other type of membership software—only it is exclusively deployed online and accessed via a Web browser.

The functionality offered in this software ranges from simple to complex. Basic systems serve mainly as a membership database that tracks contact details, dues, renewal dates and payment history. More advanced capabilities include modules for managing continuing education programs, publications, certifications and more.

Common Functionality of Online Membership Management Software

At a minimum, an online membership system will include the following:

Membership database Stores all records in a single location. Some systems include a self-service portal, which lets members log in, view and update their own records.
Dues and renewals tracking Set membership and pricing levels, as well as generate renewal reminders. Most systems also accept and process credit card and other types of payments.
Communication capabilities Enables staff and members to send messages to all members, specific groups or individual members. Administrators can create lists, then customize email, text and other communications to people on that list.
Reporting tools Filter, sort and export member data for insights on program success and member satisfaction.

Dues management interface in StarChapter

How Online Membership Software Is Priced

The majority of online membership products come with subscription-based pricing. Under this pricing model, users pay a relatively low monthly or annual fee to use the software and receive upgrades and support. Some vendors also charge a one-time setup fee to configure the system and migrate critical data.

It is less common to find online software that has perpetual license pricing. Perpetual licenses require a large, one-time fee up front, which allows a buyer to use the software indefinitely. Support, maintenance and upgrade fees are rarely included, however, and must be renewed.

Furthermore, price levels are often determined by the number of records stored in the system. For example, an organization with 50 records is charged the lowest fee, while an organization with 5,000 records is charged the highest.

Types of Software Buyers

Any membership organization can take advantage of online membership software. Organizations that benefit most, however, include:

Clubs. Special interest groups, PTAs, booster clubs, religious groups and others use this type of software to track member details and dues, and distribute important details on group activities.

Nonprofits. Member-based nonprofits include chambers of commerce, real estate boards, theater groups, zoos and similar organizations. They use online membership software to communicate with members, raise funds, renew memberships, manage event registrations and more.

Small associations. Trade, professional and alumni associations that engage a small number of members primarily use online membership software to track contact details, support communications and automate dues renewals.

(Note: Large associations that participate in publishing, political lobbying, continuing education and conferences are usually better served by AMS products.)

Membership levels and renewals in MemberPlanet

Potential Benefits and Drawbacks

Online software has a number of advantages over traditional platforms, including:

Lower upfront cost. Instead of a large initial investment, a lower monthly or annual subscription fee is paid only as long as an organization needs the software.

Greater accessibility. Instead of being tied to a computer in a physical office, users can use online membership software anywhere they have a good Internet connection—even on a mobile device.

Always run the latest version. The vendor rolls out software updates and new features as soon as they are ready without users having to pay for an upgrade and manually install it themselves.

Online membership software is not without drawbacks, however. The biggest one is, ironically, cost. Although its initial and short-term investment is lower than installed software, recurring fees add up, resulting in a total cost of ownership that exceeds what would have been paid for an on-premise system.

Online Membership Software Total Cost of Ownership

Downtime is another potential drawback. Since an Internet connection is required to access online software, it’s not possible to use it if service is disrupted. Additionally, the vendor may schedule downtime for periodic maintenance, which blocks people from using the system during that time.

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