Membership: how to choose the right management system

By Simon Clayton, chief ideas officer, RefTech


At some point in the lifespan of your association, you will probably need to invest in a membership management system or to upgrade to one with more functionality.  There’s a whole host of member management systems out there, so where do you start?

My advice would be to not start from where you are now. This is a common problem when people try to move their IT forwards; they consider what they already have and work around that. Don’t limit yourself by starting with what you already have, but instead work out what you’d like to achieve in a perfect world and work backwards from that.

Don’t get suckered in by the whizzy bells and whistles, look at these later and only once you have established that the system offers you the security that your members deserve.

Security should be your main priority and is the foundation on which all good systems are built.  Make sure your provider has security at the heart of everything they do, that they are GDPR aware, ISO 27001 certified and have an exemplary track record. Without a solid, security focused platform you are risking reputational and financial damage. Don’t get suckered in by the whizzy bells and whistles, look at these later and only once you have established that the system offers you the security that your members deserve.

Once you have ascertained that the security is good, then consider the features that would really make a difference to member sign ups and retention. Member attraction is key, so make sure the system makes it as easy as possible to join with online registration and payment processing. Cash flow is often an issue, so make sure that the payments made through the system go straight into your bank account and they don’t sit in the provider’s account for a month. This could be an important concern and one that a provider may not share with you unless you ask directly. Consider how you’d like to create ongoing member engagement, with creative emails, newsletters, invitations to events etc. All good systems should be able to manage these for you and track opening rates, bookings and responses.

Consider how easy it is for your members to renew. I have personally encountered some systems that do not allow a member to renew their membership until two weeks before the renewal date. This could mean that your members try and fail to renew early, then forget and then only remember months later. They miss out on member benefits and you miss out on their membership income and possibly incremental revenue from the events and other ‘add-ons’ that they have missed during that period. If your members want to renew early, make sure your system lets them!

A good system will enable you to manage membership renewals throughout the year or in one annual block if you have to. It’s worth remembering that renewing all your members at once may be easier for you as a business because you will know your income for the year and you can plan accordingly, but it’s not member centric. If you allow someone to join for a whole year at the time it suits them and you then don’t have the trouble of new members joining for only a few months until the annual renew date only to then have to commit again for a full year only a few months later.

Choosing a new member management system is not something you do every day, and it is not something to do lightly so consider the points above, take your time to explore all the options and remember to ask questions. Your members will thank you for it.


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