The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Membership Site Platform

Membership March 24, 2021

Tatiana Morand

By Tatiana Morand

Over the last few years, I’ve helped dozens of organizations – from nonprofits, associations and businesses – get set up and running quickly with membership site platforms.

In this guide, I’ve condensed all of my experience to help you quickly choose the best membership site platform for your needs.

And since different types of organizations have different needs, I’ve included information relevant to both nonprofits or associations and businesses. I’ve got you covered. 

Let’s get started!

 

What is a Membership Site Platform?

A membership site platform (also known as Membership Management Software) is an all-in-one tool used by many different types of organizations to manage all their membership functions online.

Most membership site platforms allow you to instantly...

  • process online payments, fees and donations.

  • set up online member and event registration pages, payments and reminders.

  • improve member communication through automated invoices, emails and newsletters.

  • build a professional-looking website complete with member directories, event calendars, downloadable resources, a blog and more.

  • create a full contact database that's easy to search, filter and update.

  • access financial reports, analytics and membership summaries in seconds.

  • and more.

If you’re running a business, membership site platforms can also allow you to offer online courses, create a subscription service (think Home Chef or ClassPass), create access to an exclusive community of like-minded professionals and so much more. The possibilities are endless! 

A membership platform site can also eliminate the need for multiple software programs (Excel, Mailchimp, Eventbrite, etc.), because it’s an all-in-one platform.

Below is an image we frequently use to explain how Wild Apricot (our membership site platform) can do this.

Wild Apricot Tennis Club Software

If you’re unsure whether a membership site platform can help you out, take a look at the following five benefits most membership managers experience after setting it up.

We’ve also put together a complete Consumer Guide on how to choose Membership Management Software, so if you’re a nonprofit organization, check it out for a little more help deciding which platform you need!  

 

6 Benefits Membership Managers Experience Immediately After Getting Set Up

If there’s one piece of feedback I’m always hearing from membership managers, it’s that the benefits of using a membership site platform become pretty clear pretty fast. 

 

Here are just a few of the top benefits that most membership managers say they experience right away. 

 

1. Save Time

 

Imagine you had an army of robots doing all your administrative tasks for you. Things like running checks to the bank, processing member records, and registering members for events — all while you sit back and relax.

That’s exactly how a membership site platform works — it automates nearly every administrative task you can think of instantly. Many membership managers report saving 20 hours a week or more after setting it up for the first time!

Check out this feedback from one of our customers after they started using Wild Apricot’s membership site platform:

"Allowing our members to update their information and having members input their own information upon joining for the first time has saved us hours of manual input (both initially and going back to correct errors)."

Clara E., Volunteer, Wild Apricot Customer

(If you want to test this out for yourself, you can start a free 30-day trial whenever you're ready.) 

 

2. Save Money

Along with time savings comes money savings. There are a number of reasons for this.

For one, a membership site platform can eliminate the need for multiple software programs.

Plus, with the extra time saved from automating processes, many membership managers use their time more productively to improve other areas of their organization like hosting better events, increasing marketing activities and creating more resources for members.

In some cases, it’s even allowed clubs to go completely virtual, eliminating the need for a physical office. 

Here’s one example from another customer of Wild Apricot:

"This software has allowed us to truly be a dynamic AND virtual club. It has saved us at least 15,000 euros a year in rent and more in labor."

Kathy A., Administrator, Wild Apricot Customer

 

3. Reduce Errors

How many times have you emailed members, only to get a bunch of bounce-backs from erroneous addresses? What about duplicated event registrations, or simply data lost while transferring from one database to another (like from paper forms to Excel to Mailchimp)?

A membership site platform eliminates errors by holding all data in one central database that connects to your email platform, events and registrations. Members can even enter and update their own information online whenever they like.

Here’s another great example of how this plays out:

"It has kept us from having to keep records on paper in binders that just keep getting larger and larger. It has been a great way to upgrade our record keeping and prevent errors in the records for the club."

John P., Secretary, Wild Apricot Customer

 

4. More Members! 

 

Many membership managers are surprised when they see their membership and event registrants increase after implementing a membership site platform.

 

That’s because signing up to become a member is easier than ever. You’ll no longer risk losing countless potential members because of a frustrating and messy sign-up process. 

And event registrations typically go up because you can email your members about an upcoming event, and they can sign up right there and then — even from their smartphones.

Take this example from a small nonprofit in the States:

"We used to have a self-built website that was a mess. After moving to Wild Apricot, we increased membership by almost 50%. We have a professional looking website now and the bonus of managing our membership, email blasts, payments invoicing and collections."

CM E., Website Administrator, Wild Apricot Customer

 

5. More Efficient, Effective Marketing 

 

Having a membership site platform can make your marketing efforts – and your member onboarding process – a lot more straightforward. 

 

Most membership site platforms offer options to build customized contact lists, allowing you to create targeted communications for your existing members based on whatever criteria you choose.

 

But they also make it much easier to appeal to potential new members by simplifying your message and the overall sign-up process. 

 

Think about it. If potential members have to go through a whole bunch of different steps to become part of your community – regardless of whether you’re running a nonprofit, association or business – that can make it difficult to figure out how or where to direct them through your communications in order to get started. 

 

And, as I mentioned above, complicated communications mean you’ll lose potential members fast. 

 

Having one dedicated, easy-to-navigate platform means you can quickly and easily point your target market to your site, where they’ll find a seamless sign-up experience – and you’ll find a seamless approach to managing all of your new members. 

 

6. Increased Cash Flow

With instantaneous payment processing, there’s no more forgetting to bring cash, or waiting to take money to the bank — everything is processed the moment someone pays for a membership, event ticket or product online.

This is exactly what happened to a ski club once they switched from manual to online payments.

“Within one month of promoting the club’s upcoming winter trip, all spots were filled and the club’s cash flow increased by $18,000...This is by FAR the earliest we have ever sold out a ski trip.”

Gary R., President, Wild Apricot Customer

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Creating A Membership Site

 

What Do Membership Sites Offer?

If you’re wondering if a membership site platform is right for your organization, here are the top 10 features most providers have that can help you get your work done faster.

To illustrate each of these features, I’ll show you what they look like in Wild Apricot, our membership site platform.

 

1. New Member Registration

Create fully customizable online registration forms for membership and events.

Here’s an example of how a registration form looks to a member in Wild Apricot.

 

  Membership Site Platform Registration Form

 

2. Cloud-Based Member Database

All your member data (emails, event registration, payment data, etc.) is stored in a secure, centralized, cloud-based database. Easily filter, sort and group members. You can also set different administrative privileges.

Here’s what the contact database looks like in Wild Apricot:

 

Membership Site Platform Database

 

3. Easy Website Builder

Easily create a modern website using professionally designed and mobile-friendly templates. You don’t need any tech experience to add, remove or edit pages. Simply drag and drop different elements and begin making edits. Create popular pages such as events, members only and blog.

 

Membership Site Platform Website Themes

 

4. Email Marketing

A membership site platform gives you the ability to schedule and automate emails, including reminders, invoices and event promotions. You can easily group and filter contacts and choose from a number of professionally designed newsletter and email templates.

Here’s how to select and edit an email template in Wild Apricot:

 

Membership Site Platform Emails

 

5. Online Store

If your organization sells products or merchandise, a Membership Site Platform will allow you to sell them online too.

Here’s what it can look like:

 

Membership Site Platform Online Store

 

6. Online Event Registration

Increase event attendance with easy online registration and payments. You can also send out automated reminders, add a calendar to your website and set member versus non-member pricing and discounts.

Here’s how it looks when you create an event in Wild Apricot:

 

Membership Site Platform Events

 

7. Members-Only Content 

Add value for existing members and enhance marketability by offering exclusive members-only content. Your members-only content could include articles relevant to your member base, resources and toolkits, job directories, courses, access to live webinars and more.

Here’s an example of how you could feature members-only content using Wild Apricot: 

member-only site

 

8. Online Payments

 

Add the ability to automate member dues, renewals, invoices and reminders by setting up online payments through your site.

With Wild Apricot, you can use our preferred payment system, Wild Apricot Payments, or choose between PayPal, stripe, and Authorize.Net.

Membership Site Platform Payments


Read More: How to Develop a Successful Subscription Business Model for Your Organization and How to Create an Amazing Subscription Website in Less Than a Day

 

9. Online Donations

Encourage donations by adding a donate now button and donation meter to your website.

Membership Site Platform

 

10. Reporting and Analytics 

Access to an integrated reporting and analytics tool is a major benefit of many membership site platforms. 

 

With access to in-depth data about how your members are interacting with your site and your content – not to mention financial reports that will help you stay on top of your cash flow and expenses – you’ll have all the insights you need to adjust course, create high-value content and keep your members happy.  

Here’s an example of a report produced using Wild Apricot’s reporting and analytics tool:

membership report

 

There are many advanced features various Membership Site Platforms offer, so if you're looking for something not in the above list, I recommend contacting the provider directly.

(Or, if you want to see how all of these work in Wild Apricot, you can start a free 30-day trial today.) 

 

The 8 Evaluation Criteria That Will Lead to the Platform of Your Choice

I know, this is a lot of information! But there are a few questions you can ask when checking out platforms that will help you narrow it down. Below are eight evaluation criteria that may help you narrow down your choices:

 

1. What is the total monthly cost of the platform?

Most providers range between $30/month to $450/month depending on the size of your organization (contacts and members).

Additional considerations:

  • Are there additional costs for setup, support, or extra features?

  • What are the transaction fees, or do you have to set up your own payment processor? 

  • Do they offer discounts for yearly plans?

 

 

2. Is the platform easy to learn?

Every software comes with a learning curve, so having access to online help resources and live support is an important consideration. When browsing reviews, check to see how easy other customers found the setup.

Additional considerations:

  • Who will be learning to use the system? Is it you? Your board members? Staff? Volunteers? 

  • What kind of support does the platform offer? Phone? Email? Online wiki? Training videos?

  • Does the platform charge for support, or is it free?

  • Are there people on your team who are tech-savvy?

3. Is the platform easy for members to use?

In addition to finding a platform that’s easy for you and your team to learn, you’ll also want to pay close attention to how easy it is for your members to navigate. If your membership system is overly complicated, unintuitive or just a pain to figure out, it won’t be long until registrations and user engagement start to drop. 

 

 Additional considerations: 

 

  • Can you test the platform from the perspective of the user before buying?
  • How many clicks or steps are required before members are successfully registered?
  • Is the user interface clear and intuitive to use?

 

4. Do you need integration with existing systems?

If you have existing systems, such as QuickBooks or WordPress, that you plan on keeping, check which MMS providers offer integration with them. Some platforms offer built-in integration, an app market or can custom-build you a solution.

Additional considerations:

  • Can the platform offer all the same features as your existing systems? Maybe it’s worth the switch?

  • Does the platform have an open API (for those who are tech-savvy)?

 

5. How secure is the platform?

Most providers offer data security that covers more than a typical organization requires. However, if you require additional data security, like the ability to set admin access levels, or enable two-factor authentication, you may need to get in touch with the provider to see if they offer this.

Additional considerations:

  • Are you dealing with particularly sensitive data?

  • Are there specific data security requirements for your members?

 

6. How fast do you need the software set up?

Some platforms can be set up in an afternoon (like Wild Apricot), while others require help from a specialist. Knowing when you need the system set up and running can help you avoid any surprises.

Additional considerations:

  • Do you need the system right away?

  • How long does it normally take to set up the software, and will you be able to do it yourself?

7. Do you need to offer online courses?


Courses can be a great way to add value for members, but they can also be a lot of work. 


Whether or not you decide to invest time and resources creating courses depends on what you’re trying to achieve: are you looking for another revenue stream? Is education a core part of your mission? Before jumping on the online course bandwagon, give the idea some serious thought and do your research.

 

If you do decide to offer online courses, make sure your membership site platform offers options for creating, selling and delivering them. Look for a platform that includes an learning management software (LMS) to help you easily and effectively manage all of your course delivery needs. 

 

Additional considerations:

 

  • Would courses add value for members? 

  • Do you have the time to regularly manage and update your course offerings?

  • Should you offer courses for free to members or make them available for an additional fee?

8. How easy is it to create an online community for members? 

 

A recent survey found that almost 60 percent of people who join association membership sites do so to network with their peers. The same holds true for business membership sites, which offer a great way for people who share the same interests to connect with one another. 

 

Whether creating an online community – like an open forum or a private group – is your top priority or something you’d like to do down the line, make sure your chosen membership site platform has the capabilities you’ll need to make it happen. 

 

Additional considerations: 

 

  • What kind of online community do you want to create? Check out this article from Thinkific to get the ideas flowing. 

  • Does your membership site platform offer just one option for creating an online community or several different approaches?

  • Do you have the knowledge, resources and capacity to regularly monitor and manage an online community?

 

Reviews of the 11 Best Membership Site Platforms

If you’re not sure where to start, here are my top 10 recommendations for the best membership site platforms – six that are best suited for nonprofits or associations, and five geared more toward businesses.

Nonprofits or Associations

 

1. Wild Apricot (that’s us!)

#1 rated Membership Software (as rated by Capterra) used by over 25,000 organizations across the world.

Wild Apricot Membership Site Platform
  • Pricing starts at $48/month
  • Free basic plan
  • Free 30-day trial
  • Free support
  • Free educational webinars

Wild Apricot helps thousands of organizations spend less time on administrative tasks, like processing payments and updating Excel files, and more time on growing their membership. It’s designed for volunteer-run and small staff organizations with a user-friendly back end so that you don't have to be a technical genius to take your organization to the next level. You’ll also have access to a community of peers and experts that share knowledge and best practices.

 

2. MemberClicks

MemberClicks boasts 20 years of experience and 3,000 customers throughout North America.

MemberClicks

  • Annual subscriptions available (minimum $2,000 investment for smallest organizations)

  • Request free quote

  • Pricing incentives available with longer terms

Focused on professional and trade associations, association management companies, colleges and universities and chambers of commerce, MemberClicks is all about connecting people who share common interests. Offering an integrated suite of tools, including learning management software that allows members to manage certification programs and engage in continuing education, this platform prioritizes a simple, seamless user experience.

 

3. memberplanet

  memberplanet Membership Site Platform
  • Pricing starts at $15/month, plus a 3% platform fee, plus 3% + $0.30 processing fee
  • Free basic plan
  • Free support
  • Demo available upon request

memberplanet was built for chapter organizations and offers a full suite of engagement tools, while still allowing headquarters to manage the entire organization. Some of their key features include surveys, text messaging, discussion boards, and email tracking capabilities.

 

4. SilkStart

SilkStart Membership Site Platform

SilkStart is a comprehensive and easy to use membership site platform. Features include job boards, donation pages, chapter integration and mobile-friendly websites.

 

5. Tendenci

Tendenci Best Membership Site Platform
  • Free if you host the software yourself (it’s open source)
  • Pricing starts at $199/month if you host with Tendenci
  • Additional setup costs: contact for a quote
  • Additional one-time development charge: contact for a quote
  • Free online support. Paid hourly support via helpdesk
  • Demo available upon request

Tendenci is an open sourced software, meaning you can host it yourself for free and customize it to your needs. It features many management platforms including those for members, events, content, fundraising, job boards, forums, and more.

 

6. MemberPress WordPress Membership Plugin

MemberPress
  • Must have a WordPress website and upgrade to a Business Account (pricing starting at $33/month)
  • Pricing starts at $258/year
  • Support and updates included in price

MemberPress is a WordPress Membership Plugin that can turn any WordPress site into a fully-realized membership site. Features include community forums, drip campaigns, and easy reporting.

Businesses

 

1. Kajabi

Kajabi
  • Basic annual plan available for $119/month

  • Basic monthly plan available for $149/month

  • Save 20% with annual billing

  • Stripe merchant processing fee of 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction

  • 14-day free trial available

  • 30-day money back guarantee

  • 24/7 support available, including training available through Kajabi University 

Kajabi is the go-to for knowledge businesses offering online courses, coaching programs and high-value members-only content. Offering integrated subscriptions, courses and digital products, Kajabi brings everything you need together in one place – complete with customized pricing and one-click templates.  

 

2. Podia


Podia

  • Pricing starts at $39/month with savings available for annual subscriptions

  • Stripe or PayPal merchant processing fee of 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction

  • Any-time cancellation available 

  • 14-day free trial available

  • Live demo available

  • AI-enabled support available 24/7

Podia’s platform is capable of hosting a wide range of products all in one place, including online courses, digital downloads, memberships, webinars, websites, email marketing, messaging and more. With so many options available, Podia is a popular choice for creative entrepreneurs.  

 

3. Thinkific


Thinkific
  • Pricing starts at $49/month

  • Free plan available to “test drive” core features

  • 30-day free trial available 

  • Personalized onboarding included in Premier and Plus plans

  • Support available during business hours or via the Thinkific Knowledge Base 

Thinkific is an all-in-one solution that enables entrepreneurs to create, market, sell and deliver online courses. Offering the ability to integrate seamlessly with membership sites and a wide range of business tools to support sales and marketing, Thinkific has a goal to help experts transform their knowledge into sustainable businesses while revolutionizing the way people learn. 

 

4. Mighty Networks


Mighty Networks
  • Plans include free option, Community ($23/month) or Business ($81/month)

  • 14-day free trial available 

  • Support available through comprehensive online help centre 

Focused on providing membership and course solutions for “creators with a purpose”, Mighty Networks is a one-stop shop for those looking to build meaningful online communities. The service also offers one of the most flexible payment models available for courses, groups and memberships. 

 

5. Kartra

Kartra

  • Starter plan available for $99/month

  • 30-day money back guarantee

  • Support available through Kartra’s helpdesk and online resources


In addition to a membership site platform, Kartra offers a vast range of cloud-based services for businesses – from email marketing campaigns to a helpdesk portal to lead capture forms and beyond. Each Kartra plan offers access to membership services, with full flexibility to build out your membership site in the way that best meets your needs – including creating a private community space, a multi-topic content directory and courses. 

If you’d like to browse more platform options, you can do so here: The 10 Best Membership Website Builders You'll Come Across. Forbes also has a great article on boosting your business with a membership model.

Or, if you have a WordPress site, we’ve also collected a list of The Top 10 Most Downloaded WordPress Membership Plugins (of all time).

All the best in choosing the right platform for your organization!

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