If you operate a membership-based organization, your tasks include managing your memberships, member profiles, joins and renewals, subscriptions and much more. In the times we have offered a proposal for a web-based, open-source solution, we have had to reaffirm and sometimes break long-standing assumptions about what "membership management" entails.

In this article I will provide an overview of the world of member management software and the long-standing assumptions surrounding this type of solution. To those of you in a membership organization, this might seem elementary. However, when I outline our license-free, web-based alternative, many of your assumptions will no longer apply.

Large Membership Example

Membership organizations, especially those with larger memberships, have often implemented a package like iMIS and its associated modules to manage the various aspects of their operations, such as membership joins, renewals, dues and subscriptions, accounts receivable, reporting, meeting management, etc. As packaged software, you, as the customer, buy what is included the package or purchase additional modules to extend its functionality. Often, you change the way your organization works to fit in with the purchased software. You pay for a license to the software and probably ongoing support and updates. In addition, you often pay for consultants to implement, train, support and enhance the system.

This is all pretty standard, and probably boring for those of you who run your membership organizations this way.

None of Your Assumptions Are Valid

Let's say that you don't have to pay licensing fees for your membership management software. Let's also say that your membership management software is one-in-the-same as your web site. Yes, you run your membership organization on the same web site that your members visit. Let's say that you can customize the membership processing to match the way you've always wanted to run the organization. Let's also say that you can develop and provide real time, customized, online reports to leadership across the world.

There is a down side; you still have the consultant fees and website hosting fees, but nothing else.

Open Source Alternative

Monarch Digital has implemented a number of membership management websites using Drupal, the free and open source development platform. Using that experience, Monarch has developed a suite of free Drupal modules to manage memberships.

Since all of this software is free, why can't I just download it and use it? Well, yes, you can use it for free right now just by downloading it and implementing it. In fact, we don't really know how many organizations use the membership solution we have contributed to the Drupal community!

However, membership organizations might work with Monarch to plan and implement their version of their new membership website as we have the experience to implement it more effectively and to provide insight into features and functionality frequently needed by membership organizations.

A Case Study

The entire reason for this post is that we have frequently walked membership organizations through the education process. The following is how this conversation usually goes:

Q: "OK, so how does your system interface to iMIS or your proprietary membership backend?"

A: "The website IS the member management system."

Q: "Well, OK. We'll leave that one for now. How much does the software cost?"

A: "Drupal and the membership entity module is open source software. There is no license fee. It is free."

Q: "Well, I don't know how THAT could be, but let's move on. Can you handle our member numbers that are based upon the member's eye color, age and number of pets they have?"

A: "Wow, really? We can extend the contributed membership processing to meet your needs, but number of pets? Really?"

Q: "I'm quite serious. When our members join or renew, what does our administrative staff need to do to process these transactions?"

A: "Not much. Members log in and can manage their member information, renew, and see member-only content. They are reminded when their membership will expire and the system renews their membership immediately when they pay."

Q: "What about sending membership cards?"

A: "Weekly or at whatever interval you'd prefer, you can go to a list of new or renewing members and download a CSV to mail merge the information into your membership card template."

Q: "Here's a hard one. Each of our members can designate up to 2 family members. They can do everything the member can do. How do you handle that?"

Q: "When someone joins, they can designate their family members. Each family member would have their own login to the site. However, the membership is shared between everyone. If the membership expires, the member and his/her family members are all expired."

And the conversation continues. Let us start our own conversation today, and demo a live membership site to your organization.