Membership-based organizations serve a wide 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:
Note: While this guide focuses on membership management for nonprofits, clubs and similar associations, it's important to understand that there are other industries that require this type of functionality. For example, software products for fitness clubs, campus recreation centers and sports clubs also incorporate membership management features. This type of software is described in our club membership buyer's guide.
At its core, membership software is a database for hosting member contact details and interactions, payment due dates, relevant interests and more. Its purpose is to simplify business management tasks and communications for membership-based organizations.
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 such as events, committees, awards and continuing education.
Membership management software offers a range of functionalities, from bare bones to highly sophisticated. No matter the complexity, nearly every product includes the following common features:
|Member database||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||Let users set membership levels and pricing structures; automatically generates renewal reminders to collect payments manually or online.|
|Payment processing||Accept 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||Filter and export member data for insights that inform fundraising, marketing, events and other planning tasks.|
Dues tracking report in Dashboard membership management system
You’ll likely find some of these less common features offered as add-on modules to enhance your software capabilities:
|Website management||Many systems offer the capability to create and manage a mobile-friendly website, so current and potential members can more easily find information about your organization online.|
|Mobile app||To complement the website, some vendors may offer a mobile app, giving members a simpler way to access their membership information, donate or contact the organization.|
|Email marketing||In addition to text communication, software can include the ability design branded emails and strategically email specific groups.|
|Online store||Build an online store to sell products, such as clothing or books, directly on the website.|
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, and 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, with no download required.
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.
Functional capabilities can also affect software pricing. These capabilities 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 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:
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.
Nearly any type of member-based organization can benefit from using membership software. The following organizations may benefit most, due to the communication and member-tracking abilities:
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.
Schools and PTAs. Education-related groups, such as small schools, parent-teacher associations and even Greek chapters and alumni groups can use software to manage communications about meetings and track member status. Some systems also offer a portal so members can contact each other.
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.)
Our service is simple and 100% free to customers like you because software vendors pay us when we connect them with quality leads. You save time and get great advice. Vendors get great referrals. It's a win for everyone!