7 Membership Software Questions that Are Basically Impossible to Answer (But We Did)
We’ll give it to you straight—membership software questions can rarely be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.”
The software that acts as your member database, marketing, accounting, member portal, and more is a lot more complex than a lunch order, so questions that create a false simplicity aren’t very useful to organizations evaluating a system.
There’s almost always a “but” or an “and” to form a longer, more complete answer. For instance:
Q: Can you use Excel as a membership database?
A: Yes. But, you can’t use Excel to communicate with your members, process payments, and a slew of other highly important tasks to run a complex member-based organization. The amount of manual work that situation would create would be astronomical.
Q: If I need a feature that my system doesn’t have, should I use custom development to increase the functionality?
A: Probably not. And if you go down that route, you’ll run into more problems down the line than you bargained for.
No, the questions that are actually useful to your research for membership management software require longer, more thorough answers. At Aptify, we’ve helped hundreds of organizations improve their processes for member services and heard just about every difficult question that exists, and we don’t shy away from them.
Asking the difficult questions and addressing them upfront can save you dozens of hours of research, meetings, and product demos. It’s all about getting what you need as efficiently as possible.
With that said, please review several of the most frequently asked questions regarding membership software.
Also—check out our latest eBook The Ultimate Guide to Implementing Membership Software.
OK, let’s start at the beginning!
Why Consider a New Solution?
It may seem simple, but this is actually a great question! After all, there is a good amount of startup capital, people resources, and investment needed to complete a successful implementation. Whether you are already considering upgrading your membership system, or you didn’t even realize you had a problem in the first place, here are a couple reasons organizations consider (new) membership software.
You don’t fully understand your membership base
How well do you really know your members? Sure, you probably know many of your members by name and could call or send a personal email and get the information you need—right?
Well, maybe, but how does their situation stack up against the rest of your members? How often do they open your marketing emails, how much do they contribute to your fundraising efforts, how many people have they referred to your organization? If you can pull up a digital file and immediately answer all those questions, then you don’t know your members that well, unfortunately.
Member-centric software allows you to collect and store virtually unlimited data points about your members. If done correctly, it should also allow you to organize the data into reports that are actually useful and actionable, instead of just columns in a spreadsheet. When you start to look at this data in aggregate, it can be highly useful to spot trends in renewals, events, engagement, and much, much more.
Your membership is growing
Another sign you might want to consider a member management solution is that your problems or opportunities are now on a much larger scale.
For example, let’s say you have 100 members and a 5% annual churn rate. Not bad! With a little digging, you may even be able to figure out what’s causing churn. Either way, the dues from five members probably won’t make or break your organization. Now, when your organization grows to 10,000 and you have that same 5% churn rate, you are missing out on a lot of revenue in terms of membership dues.
If you do a little digging into your drop offs and find out they all have a common denominator, you may be able to take action and save those members! For example, if you look at your data and see that the members who drop off don’t have any events scheduled in their area, you might want to reconsider your event schedule. The solution might even be as simple as having your system automatically reminding your staff to call members a few months before their renewal is up!
You want your organization to be more efficient
Technology has made absurd progress over the last few years, and machines can take on more “human-like” tasks than ever before.
Need your system to run you a financial report on this year’s membership drive? Done—just tell it to. You might have just eliminated an entire afternoon of a staff member manually pulling numbers and compiling a report.
The same thing goes for marketing and membership—need to trigger a conversation with a prospective member whose communication has gone cold? Program it into your email system!
The possibilities for automation within membership management software are extremely sophisticated.
What Functionality Would Make My (and My Organization’s) Life Easier?
The premiere benefit of advanced membership management software is kind of a toss-up—is it improving the experience of your members, or making things easier and more efficient for your employees? We say you should have both!
We touched on this earlier, but the amount of time and effort a sophisticated membership system and some advance programming can save you and your organization is substantial.
Overall, customer relationship management (CRM) functionality has the potential to seriously make your job better. When your system contains all the data you need to see a particular member’s activity, all in one place, the ability to make informed decisions just got much easier.
Additionally, using a single database for all your member info, from financial data to email engagement statistics allows you to answer questions quickly and run in-depth reports. One of the ways this streamlines your workflow is by eliminating the need to access several different silos or departments to get the data you need.
What Kind of Team Would I Need in Place to Execute on This Solution?
Large-scale software implementations rarely, if ever, happen in a silo. Apart from the actual work, training, and vetting, you’ll need buy-in from your organization’s leadership. Of course, every organization is different, but here is a fairly common team structure for a successful AMS software implementation.
The Internal Team
When assembling your internal team, you want a broad representation from your organization—especially from those departments that are directly impacted by the new system, like membership, accounting, and IT. Input from across the organization, though, is essential, because each team and department has different needs, processes, and problems to be addressed.
Your internal team should include:
- An executive sponsor
- A project manager
- Subject matter experts
- A technical team
To see a full build out of what an implementation team should look like, including job descriptions for each role, check out our Ultimate Guide to Implementing Member Software.
The Vendor Team
Implementing a new software requires you to “spill your guts” to your vendor and their team. You will have to reveal what you consider to be organizational secrets. And you can expect the vendor to probe you with questions about your processes, procedures, members, data, and much more. You need to feel comfortable enough to trust them. And of course, the vendor needs to first make make sure they’ve earned your trust. If you don’t, they will not be able to help you get the most out of your software.
Your vendor team should include:
- An executive sponsor
- A project manager
- A solution architect
- A business analyst
- A technical consultant
With you and your team having to juggle your day-to-day jobs and the impending implementation process, it can be tempting to consider using a third-party implementation team to assist you. If you opt to do this, be sure to do your research. Make sure they are following best practices in the membership management software industry regarding implementation practices and that they aren’t endangering your upgrade path.
Depending on your organization’s needs and your team’s bandwidth, it might make the most sense to work with a third-party. They can provide you with a structure to the implementation process and can help you move things along. Just because one organization chooses not to go that route doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Research your options thoroughly before you proceed.
What Should I Expect From a Budgetary Standpoint?
We told you we would address the tough questions! At some point, every discussion about an AMS software implementation is going to come down to the bottom line.
There are actually two numbers you need to consider with AMS pricing—the cost of a perpetual license, or the SaaS (software as a service) model. For an organization of 50 employees, a perpetual license could range between $200,000 and $250,000. If you choose a SaaS model, the industry average is $180 to $190 per user per month. Of course, these numbers are on average. There’s quite a bit that goes into pricing, especially for complex, enterprise-sized systems.
A word of caution: The bottom line doesn’t provide enough information to make a decision. There are still other “costs” to consider, like training, consulting, configured development, and maintenance—depending on which vendor you choose. AND, all of this needs to be framed in terms of value your organization receives in return.
We suggest a deeper dive on pricing your AMS software. For a closer look at all the factors you need to consider, please check out our free Ultimate Pricing Toolkit.
How Do I Make the Business Case?
So you’re ready for an upgrade? Please, whatever you do, don’t run into your manager’s office exasperated and start venting your frustrations with your current system. Instead, here’s a logical, benefits-first strategy for making a compelling case for an AMS software change.
1. Document all the inefficiencies of your outdated system
Yes, you might be frustrated with the way things are now, but not everybody knows about your day-to-day struggles—write them down! And while you’re at it, cruise around a few other departments and take down their list of complaints also.
2. Research the features that will solve the most pressing problems
Now you’ll have to do a little research into all the other ways people are solving similar problems. For example, “Better data analytics providing 360-view of members, prospects, and customers” might be a helpful thing to have when planning your next membership drive. Add that to your wish list and explain the rationale.
3. Prepare your presentation
We’re not saying you need to hire actors or anything, but a well-thought out presentation can be the cherry on top that convinces your board to see things your way. If you need some help getting started, we have your back. We’ve actually created a template that we know for certain has convinced several companies to upgrade their association management system.
Where Do I Begin?
You’re off to a great start by making it to the end of this blog post!
In all seriousness, the beginning starts with a lot of research, and not just looking up software vendors and scheduling demos—that is definitely not the beginning.
Given that new member software is a significant investment, takes several months to implement, requires approval from your management and board, and can affect how your members interact with your organization, it’s not something to be taken lightly.
Before you start evaluating software vendors, we recommend taking a step back and looking at the big picture. The process of finding the right membership management system can be simplified into several distinct steps—Download our free eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Implementing Membership Software, to get an objective view of the entire process.
About Jennifer Barrell
As the Director of Content, Branding & Buzz at Aptify, Jen oversees the strategy and execution of brand management and content production across the organization’s global offices. She thrives on bringing compelling content and useful information to associations to help them grow and engage their membership. She's also an avid fan of mid-century modern design and all things science fiction.