How to Adapt Your Membership Renewal Policies to COVID-19 Challenges

Membership April 22, 2020

Kate Hawkes

By Kate Hawkes

If you’re finding that COVID-19 is impacting all aspects of your organization, you’re not alone. As well as needing to cancel events and move everything online, lots of organizations are finding that COVID-19 is also impacting their member renewals. 


With changes to the economy and our day-to-day lives, some members may need to change the way they pay their membership dues. Some members may need to switch from annual to monthly payments. Others may ask to put their membership on pause until they can get involved with the organization again.


Most organizations are trying to find ways to accommodate these requests, to support their communities and keep their members coming back. If you’re thinking about how to adapt your renewal policies to suit the needs of your members during this time, I’ve put together some common scenarios you might face and ways to manage these in WildApricot.

With most people feeling the squeeze at the moment, some organizations are finding that their members need a bit more time to pay for their membership renewal.  

Here are two ways you can give your members some more time to pay their dues in WildApricot: 

  • Extend the grace period

  • Defer the renewal date


How to extend the grace period

The grace period is the time you allow after a membership renewal is due, when members are still able to pay without incurring late penalties. Generally, most organizations set their grace period to around 7 days, but if your members need more time, you can extend this – for example to 30 days. Your members can pay their dues on time if they’re able to, but they won’t be penalized if they need to take a bit more time, and their membership will stay active.  

To extend the grace period:

  • Hover over the Members menu and click the Levels option.
  • Select the membership level you want to edit from the list and select the Renewal policy tab.
  • There are two sections with the heading If not renewed within X days(s).  
 Member level renewal policy diagram-1
  • In the first section with this heading, you can set when the grace period email notice is sent by editing the number of days in the text field. 
    • Click the grace period notification email link to edit the email. You can add wording to explain that members will have an extended grace period to pay their fee.
  • In the second section with this heading, you can set when people will be penalized for not paying their renewal fee. 
    • Edit the number of days in the text field to set how long after their renewal date you want members to start being penalized. For example, you can enter ‘30’ into the text field to give your members a month’s grace period to pay before they start being penalized.
    • Check the boxes to set what should happen for members who haven’t renewed by the end of the grace period, e.g. change their status to lapsed or downgrade their membership level. 
  • Click Save.

For more information, click here.

Grace period crop

How to defer the renewal date

If you want to give your members a break from paying renewal fees and also avoid the pressure of their renewal being overdue, you could consider postponing the renewal date for a whole membership level. 

This works if the renewal date is set to a specific date, e.g. January 1, rather than individual member joining dates. 

To postpone the renewal date for all members in a level:

  • In the Renewal policy tab, go to the Renewal period heading.
  • Choose a new renewal date using the dropdown menus. For example, if your renewals are usually on May 1 and November 1, you might choose to set the renewal to June 1 and December 1 instead. 

You can update the renewal date for all members in the level by exporting their records to a spreadsheet and editing the renewal date then importing the modified records.  

  • In the Contacts module, run an advanced search for all members in this membership level. 
  • Click Export. When prompted by the pop up, click Export again to export the data to an Excel spreadsheet.
  • Open the Excel spreadsheet.
  • Go to the column titled Renewal due and update the date in the first two rows to the new postponed renewal date. Select the two updated cells and double click the bottom right corner to make the update to all the cells in the column. 
  • Save the spreadsheet

Spreadsheet change renewal due
  • In the Contacts module of WildApricot, click Import.  
  • Click Choose File and select the updated spreadsheet. Click Upload.
  • Follow the instructions in the upload wizard to complete the import. 
  • All member records for this level will be updated with the new renewal date.  

If members want to freeze their membership

Some organizations I’ve spoken with are finding that some of their members aren’t able to use their membership at the moment, or that they won’t be able to pay their renewal fees for a while. Rather than having these members cancel their membership and lose them as part of the organization, you can temporarily freeze memberships. This gives your members a break, and makes it easy to restore them to active, paying members in the future.  

Here are two ways you can manage this in WildApricot: 

  • Suspend a membership 

  • Switch a member to a free level 


How to suspend a membership

If a member wants to temporarily stop their membership but keep the option of reactivating it in the future, you can suspend the member. This will keep the member as a contact, retain all their information, and archive their level, but while they’re suspended they won’t be an active member. This means they’ll be hidden from directories and may not have access to certain pages or events depending on your settings. 

To suspend a member: 

  • Click OK to confirm. 

If a member has recurring payments, suspending the member will automatically stop the recurring payments on the former member's card, unless the recurring payments are with PayPal. In that case, you must stop the recurring payments manually. 

When the suspended member is ready to reinstate their membership, you can click on the Resume button within their membership tab. This will reactivate them to their previous membership level with all their details intact. 

Click here to learn more.


How to switch a member to a free level

If a member needs to temporarily stop payments but you still want them to have Active status, you can switch the member to a free level. This gives members who request it a break from paying dues, but still allows them to stay engaged.

You can set up a free level that only admins can add members to and set a limit on how long people can stay in this ‘membership freeze’ level. You can also choose to limit what these members can access by restricting access to website pages or forums to exclude this level. 

To switch members to a free level:

  • On the membership level page, click the Add level button.
  • Add a name for your level, perhaps something like ‘Membership Freeze’.
  • Ensure the membership fee is $0.00. 
  • In the Level security options section, leave the Public can apply to and Members can change to boxes unchecked, so only admins can assign people to this level.
  • If you want to limit how long people can be in the membership freeze level, in the Renewal policy tab, set the renewal period to monthly and check the Limit renewals box. Click here to learn more.
Membership freeze crop
  • If a member requests to freeze their membership, you can switch them to this level. 
  • In the member’s contact record, click the Membership tab.
  • In the Membership section, click Edit.
  • Select the free level from the Membership level dropdown menu.
  • Click Save.  

Switching between membership levels can cause complications if the member has recurring payments set up. Click here to find out more.  


If members can’t pay full year’s fee up front

If you usually bill your renewals annually, some members might not be able to pay the full year’s fees up front at the moment. One way you can help make the fees more manageable for members while still keeping revenue coming in is to give them the option to renew monthly instead. Members will be able to pay in more manageable chunks and still keep up their membership.  


To offer monthly renewals for a membership level:

  • Create a version of the membership level with monthly renewals.
    • On the Membership level page, click Add a new level.
    • In the settings, recreate the membership level you want to have a monthly option. Make sure to distinguish the annual and monthly versions in the level names.
    • Click the Renewal policy tab.
    • In the Renewal period section select monthly renewals and then set when in the month you want the renewal date.
  • By default, only admins will be able to switch members from the annual level to the monthly level. If you want to allow members to switch themselves:
    • Select the membership level with annual renewal from the membership level list.
    • In the Renewal policy tab, check the box for Member can change to and then check the box for the new level with monthly renewal. 
  • If a member requests to pay monthly, you can switch them to the new level.
    • In the member’s contact record, go to the Membership tab.
    • In the Membership section, click Edit
    • Select the monthly version of the membership level from the dropdown menu.
    • Click Save.   
Annual to monthly crop

Switching between membership levels can cause complications if the member has recurring payments set up. Click here to find out more.  


I hope these suggestions will help you to tackle some of the admin challenges you might be facing, and to make things a bit easier for your members. If there are any other membership-related admin challenges you would like us to include, let us know in the comments below. 


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