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by Justin Guinn,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: June 23, 2016


Membership-based organizations serve a diverse range of communities: museums, clubs, cultural societies, civic leagues, unions, professional associations and more. Most start small, with a handful of people who share an interest or idea. But it doesn’t take long for a founder to realize that tracking participation, payments, renewals and contact details, even for a small group, is a lot of work.

That’s where membership management software comes in. These solutions help leaders record and track important member details in order to best serve them and grow the organization.

In this guide, we’ll answer the following questions:

What Is Membership Management Software?
What Features Are Most Common?
How Is Membership Software Priced?
Membership vs. Association Management: What’s the Difference?
Who Buys Membership Software?

Note: While this guide focuses on memebership management for nonprofits, it's important to understand that there are some for-profit industries that also require this type of functionality. For example, software products for fitness clubs, campus recreation centers and sports clubs also incorporate memebership management features. This type of software is described here.

What Is Membership Management Software?

At its core, membership software is a database that hosts member contact details and interactions, payment due dates, relevant interests and more. Its purpose is to simplify business management tasks and communications.

Functionality varies greatly from product to product. Some are built specifically for small organizations, with modules that are no-frills and easy to use. Others are geared toward very large organizations, and come with more technical capabilities to support things like events, committees, awards and continuing education.

Member profile for Personify360

What Features Are Most Common?

Membership management software offers a range of features, from bare bones to highly sophisticated. No matter the complexity, nearly every product includes the following:

Member database Allows users to create and store member records in a single location. Some systems include a self-service portal, which lets members sign up, log in, view records and keep their own data up to date.
Dues management Lets users set membership levels and pricing structures; automatically generates renewal reminders to collect payments manually or online.
Payment processing Facilitates acceptance of credit card and other payment types directly through the software. Some membership products also integrate with accounting software, so transactions don’t have to be entered manually.
Communication tools Keep in touch with members by creating member lists, then customize messaging to members on the list. More advanced systems also support mass text messaging.
Reporting Basic reporting tools let users filter and export member data for insights that inform fundraising, marketing, events and other planning tasks.

Dues tracking report in Dashboard membership management system

How Is Membership Software Priced?

Many membership management products on the market today are “cloud-based.”

Cloud-based products, also referred to as online membership management systems, are hosted on the software vendor’s servers. They are available to users on-demand through any compatible device’s Internet browser.

Cloud systems have the same functionality as “on-premise” solutions (which are hosted on the user’s own servers). However, updates for cloud systems are automatically rolled out by the vendor to all users—no download required.

Membership management mobile interface for Wild Apricot

Furthermore, most cloud products have a subscription-based pricing structure. Whereas perpetual pricing requires users to pay one large upfront fee to use the software indefinitely, under subscription pricing, users pay a lower monthly or annual fee.

Another factor that affects software pricing is its functional capabilities, which increase at higher price levels.

Price levels for membership management products are often determined by the number of records stored in the system. For example, an organization with 100 records might be charged the lowest monthly or annual fee, while an organization with 10,000 records might be charged the highest fee.

Membership vs. Association Management: What’s the Difference?

Membership and association management systems both store contact details and track member dues. They are similar enough in functionality that the terms are often used interchangeably.

Association management systems (AMSs), however, are generally considered better for handling processes unique to large associations, such as:

  • Publication management
  • Sponsorships
  • Committees
  • Job boards
  • Continuing education
  • Certification tracking

Moreover, while membership management is typically offered as a single application, an AMS may bundle several applications into an integrated suite of tools to handle fundraising, financial reporting, event management and other activities.

Who Buys Membership Management Software?

Nearly any type of member-based organization can benefit from using membership software. Organizations that benefit most, however, include:

Nonprofits. Member-based nonprofit organizations may include museums, zoos, unions and chambers of commerce. These organizations rely on membership software for fundraising, membership renewals, new-member recruitment, keeping current members up-to-date on deadlines, special events and other activities.

Clubs. Booster clubs, service and volunteer organizations, special interest groups and other social clubs often use this type of software to track member details and dues, and distribute information on upcoming group activities.

Small associations. Associations that engage a small number of members primarily use membership software to automate dues and payment processing, track participation and contact details and support communication.

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

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