Managing memberships for your association is one of your association’s critical functions. How and where should you manage member data in a world where your website is the hub of operations for your association?

Online or offline? That’s the big question for associations. With most associations on their fifth or sixth web site iteration in the last decade or two, the ever-increasing sophistication of software tools for managing both members and association, the question comes up again and again. How and where should we manage our members?

One database or two?

Synched or not?

Email list sync and management?

What are you doing with your member data?

The first question to ask is what are you doing with member data in the first place? If you’re hosting multiple events per year, it makes sense to ensure that your membership system interfaces with your registration system. On the WordPress platform, for instance, membership apps like Paid Memberships Pro or MemberPress interface with registration apps like Event Espresso, allowing members to login and see different rates for members, receive special offers, have pre-filled badge information generated, among other nifty features.

If you’re building a virtual space to let members access content, tools and discussions, you’ll want a robust member app, but you won’t necessarily need to have a connection to event management if you’re not offering that. You might need a membership app that interfaces with a commerce app, such as Woo Commerce for WordPress or Woo Memberships. If you’re using a SaaS platform like SquareSpace, there are member apps like MemberSpace that can be added on.  If you’re monetizing your content and memberships, definitely choose member apps like these over something like Facebook Groups. You cannot monetize FB groups (although Facebook monetizes it for themselves, using your group data!)

And then let’s add in that third wrinkle with email marketing– how are you communicating with members? Most member apps offer communication emails associated with transactional items (such as member registration, password reset and member subscription reminders). But for optimum delivery, you will want a third party email marketing system like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp and ensuring your membership tool talks back AND forth with your member app is key. These may take some custom code (not heavy coding but you’ll not want to tackle it yourself) to connect using PHP scripts, but they mean the difference between having your membership database synched with your email database, or not. And you don’t want a member list that you have to manually update.

If you’re using an all in one system like Wix or SquareSpace (Saas solutions that offer paid platforms for marketing, websites and memberships), you’ll want to ensure that your all-in-one solution really is that. They’re great platforms to build on – but your association or business needs to fit into their offerings.

Should we have an offline database?

We highly recommend that most organizations download their lists regularly. Some prefer to actually manage a “house” list and use it for more than just email marketing or member access, but the tricky part comes when that data gets updated in one system or another. We recommend that you utilize your web site as the ‘base’ member data. Your email list syncs to that online member database and you pull reports or exports for the express purpose of doing a one-time task with the data (e.g. running badges for a workshop).

Great offline databases include good old Excel spreadsheets. Online ones that stand alone from a website include CRM systems like Hubspot CRM and Marketing Free (which also includes e-mail marketing.)

Your website should be the hub of your association. If you monetize your membership, your online space allows for members to have a private, premium experience, and if you’re not developing or at least archiving information to this space for member-only access, you’re missing out on a huge value-driver for members. They WANT to get special member-only stuff, even if it’s just the post-workshop slide decks.

Want to know how to get more members in seats at your events? How to grow your member base? Download our Association Inbound Marketing Guide. It shows you what you need to convert visitors to prospective members, and how to nurture them to sign up for your workshops, trainings and events (whether online or in person!