Spreadsheets are a powerful tool, but even the most advanced membership spreadsheet can not compete with membership software. Some clubs and nonprofits limp along for years with member spreadsheets, thinking that they are saving money. But all it takes is one membership chair’s inattention to financially cripple an organization.
How can a membership platform can increase productivity, profits and peace of mind?
- Software smooths staff and volunteer transitions
According to one study, more than one-third of those who volunteer one year do not donate their time the next year. Volunteers are wonderful, but with high staff and volunteer turnover rates, membership processes that are handled by humans are bound to break at some point. Renewal notices that are sent manually based upon spreadsheet data might not get sent to members at the right time or might not get sent at all. The outgoing membership chair might not provide complete information to a new chair, or may not have been diligent in keeping records accurate. These missteps give members a poor impression. Life happens and people make mistakes, but your group’s financial security, reputation and dues income should not be dependent upon one person.
- Membership platforms make the best use of volunteer time
According to the Corporation for National & Community service, volunteers who use their skills when they serve appear to be more likely to continue serving from year to year. Most volunteers don’t perform Excel membership management in their professional lives, so why should they be asked to do so in a volunteer capacity? With a membership system, member management tasks like past due notices are handled automatically. This can free up volunteer time for other projects that may relate to a volunteer’s skill set.
- Software provides members with instant gratification
Who hasn’t recently logged in to a website to sign up for a service, change their billing information or edit their profile? Modern members expect a membership website with online account management where they can:
- view their renewal date,
- pay member dues by credit card,
- update their profile and
- see past transactions.
Organizations without this are perceived as slow, technologically challenged and out-of-date. As some membership platforms offer free accounts for smaller organizations, it’s a good idea to consider a membership system.
- Software is smarter than spreadsheets
While a member spreadsheet may do a decent job of holding members’ addresses and expiration dates, it does not:
- Integrate with other systems like an email marketing platform (except on a manual upload basis).
- Generate renewal notices, past due emails or new member welcome letters.
- Allow invoices to be paid online.
- Keep track of other interactions like sponsorship payments, ticket purchases or online survey answers.
- An online directory stays current and increases privacy
Some organizations go to great expense to put out a printed directory from their members spreadsheet data, but printed directories are largely a thing of the past. Even the Yellow Pages are not printed anymore.
- Some members may decide that they do not want their information in a printed directory, but once a directory is printed, that request can’t be honored.
- An online directory allows members to have privacy controls and allows members to update their own contact information, freeing up the membership chair to do other tasks.
- Online member directories can be restricted to members only.
- An online membership database increases member value
Every organization is judged at dues renewal time based upon the value they provide their membership. A member database unlocks features that a membership spreadsheet cannot:
- Prevents non-members from registering for events at member prices.
- Enables member only access to insider information.
- Allows the organization to host member only events with online registration.
- Provides an online directory that can be a lead generation or referral tool for members. Bonus: directory listings can be sold as non-dues revenue.
- Membership reports can turn around an organization
It may feel like a lot of effort is involved in setting up a membership website, especially for smaller organizations or those with a low membership growth rate. Consider that the key to fixing low growth or poor retention could be found within membership software reports. Once you begin to use a membership system, you will have more data at your fingertips:
- Are there moments in a year when your membership income is highest? What are the factors that might drive that trend and can those be improved throughout the year?
- Look at your event attendance numbers. Perhaps events with large numbers of non-members are a great place to recruit new members? You can have non-members automatically added to your email list and can send membership offers after the event.
- You can institute discount codes for membership and track their usage.
- Note who attended your annual conference in a prior year. You can send a customized and personalized message those same people about this year’s conference.
- Track interactions with members through CRM tags. Note who was called this year and who was not.
It’s not hard to convert your spreadsheet-based workflow to a membership software workflow. Once you have undertaken research to select your membership platform and set up your membership levels, tags and labels, you’ll then need to convert your spreadsheet to a CSV file, rename some field names and import it into your new system. Key fields you might want to import are member name, company name, membership level, email address, labels or tags and renewal date. Historic information such as join date and prior transactions can also be imported. Later, if you need to have a spreadsheet of members for some reason such as generating name tags, you’ll be able to export your member data back out.