Not all membership software is equal to the task of managing the membership information of volunteer and non-profit organizations and associations. Most such organizations simply lack the resources to devote to proactive membership management. The answer to this common problem is to automate online member services and integrate them with your membership software.
Membership Self Service
Online member services — interactive, Web-based, membership self-service support — that’s how to manage a large membership when you don’t have resources to dedicate to the task.
There are a number of online member services that you can automate and integrate to make your life easier, including:
– Online member profiles
– Private, member-only access to data
– Online membership application
– Online event registration and payment
– Online donations
Properly implemented, online membership self service lets organizations meet their members’ needs 24/7. From new member applications, renewals and profile updates to online conference registrations, the benefits are numerous. People of all ages and walks of life are now using online services — and will gladly use yours IF it actually works and saves them time and effort compared to calling your organization or sending faxes.
Of course, such organizations also generally lack the IT skills that large businesses typically have, so ease of use is also a very important quality for your membership software to possess.
According to ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership’s 2006 Policies and Procedures benchmarking report, online member services are more prevalent among individual membership organizations (IMOs) than trade associations (308:265). Associations responding to the survey reported that meeting attendee registration and online member directory were the most popular (79% and 69%). Other services offered online to members include organization newsletters (67%), member online community functions (56%), dues renewal (55%), and document download (51%).
Online Member Profiles
Allowing (and encouraging) members to manage their own profiles can save your organization an immense amount of time. Using a simple Web interface they can easily ensure that their information is up to date.
Security and privacy are serious concerns for your members, so the first thing you need to do is ensure you have policies in place and the ability to enforce them. But remember that this initiative will only work if you are providing convenience — you need to make it easy for members to retrieve misplace login information via email, and personalize their profiles with photos, logos, etc. Remember too that the information you collect belongs to the individual members. Make that information available to them. If they can view the history of their relationship with the association online (event registrations, membership renewals, etc.), then they experience convenience, and you experience fewer requests for information.
Private, Member-Only Access to Data
A secure, private section for your members can provide added value, attracting new members and motivating existing members to renew. To provide value, this section must be convenient, easily accessible (with proper authorization), and useful (i.e., informative, and not cluttered with irrelevant material).
To keep the members coming back, you also need to keep the content fresh. (This is where you’ll need to spend some of that time you’re saving with self-serve membership management.) Allow members to sign up for email alerts when you publish certain kinds of information. You can even use Web analytics software (there are free versions available) to track access to this section to find out what is most popular.
And just because the section is for members only, it doesn’t have to be a secret. Providing “teasers” — summaries, overviews, tables of content, samples — can draw in people through search engines, encourage new memberships, and influence existing members to log in.
Online Membership Applications
Forget PDF membership applications. They’re inconvenient for your members, and unnecessary overhead for your staff. Online membership application forms are the way to go. By integrating the form with your membership software, you provide immediate results for your members, and less work for your staff.
Online forms are so simple that you may be tempted to use them to ask for all sorts of additional information. Don’t. Your objective is to get the membership, and once potential members abandons your intrusive application process, you’re not likely to get them back. Once they’ve joined, you can encourage them to update their online profiles with additional information, or use surveys. Flexible payment options are another way to keep potential members in their comfort zone.
One more thing: make sure it works. Nothing reflects more poorly on your association than a failed first interaction, whether live or automated.
Online Event Registration and Payment
Your membership is busy. If you create a Web-based event calendar with full online registration and online credit card payment capabilities, you empower your members to plan ahead. They win, because they can plan their busy schedules to include the events that are important to them, and you win, because you increase early registration — so you can project attendance more accurately.
When members register, they should receive automatic confirmations of their registration showing the information they provided. Send reminder notices one or two days before the event.
As the Internet plays a big role in people’s lives, online fundraising is gaining popularity, but it can’t be the entire focus of your fundraising plan. It’s just one more way to reach people and include them in your other fundraising efforts. Include a “donate” link in a prominent position on every page of your website. Add a donation form on your website, and accept all major credit cards as well as PayPal if possible. Allow donors to specify designations or acknowledgements, make memorial or gift donations, or remain anonymous. Setup email notifications when a new donation is made, and email a regular or update notice to a donor email list.
Encourage your supporters to spread the word to even more people online through the use of widgets and social networking sites such as Myspace and Facebook.
Lastly, don’t forget to recognize and thank your donors!
Membership Software – Choose Wisely
As I said at the beginning of this article, not all membership software is up to the task of automated membership management. Online member services and membership self service can provide convenience for your membership and liberate your staff to do what’s really important to your association. When you’re shopping for membership software, you owe it to yourself to see whether the software can serve your membership in the ways outlined in this article.