Beginning to Manage Your Association’s Membership Records Online

We have a new client that is going to use Wild Apricot for membership management purposes – membership, event registrations, etc. They have never used anything online before to manage membership transactions, so they have offline practices that have to be migrated and evolved to online efforts. There’s an important word there for associations looking to do this – evolved. What you did before and worked in the print form and Access Database world has to change no matter what you use for association membership management online. The tools will require it, and so will the user experience. So let’s start with some basic issues.

Do you want it to be easy to apply for membership in your organization? For a lot of organizations, the answer is “of course”, but there are also many organizations that have some “proof” requirements before an applicant can become a member. Your online membership management tool should allow for an approval process for these “proof” applicants but we recommend that organizations keep it as simple as possible. Just because you have an online application form and are no longer constricted by the space requirements of the print world doesn’t mean you still aren’t under limitations, because the user’s time needs to be considered in this process as well. Don’t make it too easy to put off by the applicant with a daunting array of questions. Stick with what your organization HAS to know in order to approve an application. You can always ask – globally to the entire membership – if you want members to fill out additional information down the road, and Wild Apricot makes it easy to do that.

For example, some associations ask for information in the application that will be used, not for the application needs itself, but for a print or online membership directory. To a limited degree that is fine BUT if there are too many or it is difficult to determine the correct response then it’s counterproductive to the actual revenue generator – membership. One of the beauties of Wild Apricot is that you can create fields for membership for such purposes at any time. Another is that you can search your membership database for members that do not provide data for any given field and email them with a request to provide content for that field, including directions on how to update their membership data AND the kind of responses your organization is looking for. This has the added benefit of keeping your organization in touch with membership and membership data, and you can also find out who is responsive to such requests and who is not – valuable as well.

Which leads us to the second question: Will the membership data be used for other tasks other than association membership management? Obviously, an online membership directory is an example of such, as a print directory could be as well. What about email groupings? Wild Apricot allows you to search your membership (and contact) database for any data fields you maintain and email the qualifiers of that search. What about secure access to board documents or other pages that are meant to be available ONLY to a subset of your membership? This will impact how your database is set up. And anything that impacts how your membership database is set up is likely to impact the fields of data that your organization requires members to provide when applying for membership.

The good news for associations is that you don’t have to know every answer before getting started – but you should have these questions in mind as you get started.  Your goal is to make the member’s experience comfortable while working towards making the members’ data as valuable as possible for the association.   It’s not just collecting and processing, or it shouldn’t be, with a management tool with the power to do so much more.