How an Uncashed Check Led to This Association Tripling Membership

Membership December 16, 2016

Terry Ibele

By Terry Ibele

Behind every customer is a story, a reason that WildApricot has made sense for them. Today we shine the spotlight on Kim Elliot, President of the Klamath Rental Owners Association.

In 2012, Kim Elliot discovered that a check she’d written never got cashed. This discovery would inspire her to take over an association that was struggling and turn it around, tripling its membership within the first two years.

That check was Kim’s membership payment to the Klamath Rental Owners Association. As a landlord, as well as the owner of a successful online business, she was shocked that the association could let something as important as a check slip through the cracks.

After contacting the board about the check, she got the sense that the association was in disarray, which explained other issues she had noticed, like why the association didn’t have an active website. After some further digging, Kim discovered that the association’s membership had been dwindling and that the board members were considering closing down the organization.

kim elliottA Sound Plan

Kim didn’t like hearing that the association might shut down, so when the opportunity to become its president came up, Kim took it.

Because of the initial issue with her check, Kim first looked into the association’s processes.

What she found were many outdated processes:

  • Members could only pay by check, which created a lot of manual processing work
  • To register for an event or join as a member someone had to complete a physical form, which also meant lots of manual processing.
  • The association mailed its newsletter, which took several days each month to coordinate. 
  • The association kept member records in physical files, which made searching and updating member data a major headache
  • The main way the association advertised was through a physical brochure, which hadn’t been updated in twenty years. 
Essentially, the organization was still operating the way it had since it was founded. To Kim, these original systems were the root of the organization’s problems. They might have worked well enough when the organization was originally founded, but they didn’t scale as more members joined.  

So, Kim found that she couldn’t manage all the members properly, let alone work on initiatives to grow membership. She barely had the time to maintain the services the association offered, which created a poor experience for the members. It was no wonder members had left.

Keeping Pace

These original systems were also a problem because they were outdated. Kim knew from running her own online business, just how much the world had changed in the last few years. People wanted to pay for things online, instead of writing checks. They wanted to register for events online, rather than download and fill out a form So, for Kim, that was the other big issue with the organization. It hadn’t kept pace with the times.  

Given everything Kim discovered, she figured that the only way to save her association was to quickly modernize the way it ran and offered services.

First on her list was creating a brand new website for the association. After that, her plan included several other initiatives.

“I wanted an events calendar,” she told us. “I wanted to do online signups. I wanted to track my membership and send email blasts and newsletters and that sort of thing — all from a single program, without having to have one program over here that handles newsletters, another over here that does the online signup, and another one over here that has the blog, and another one over here for an events calendar. You know, having five different admins and five different passwords and five different everything was not going to work.”

Two Tough Challenges From The Board

Kim was looking forward to jumping on these initiatives, but when she presented her plan to the board she was surprised by their skepticism. They came at her with two challenges. 

The first was that the association had many older members who might leave if they had to register and pay for things online, or read a digital newsletter. 

Kim didn’t like the idea of losing members, but she knew the organization had to move ahead and create a future for itself. As Kim told the board, “This is going to sound a little harsh, but it’s like let ‘em go. We need to move on. We need to join the 21st century. You know, if we lose a few of those 90-year-old members that don’t have a computer, well, sorry. We’ll pick up 20 because we’re doing it this way now. So you weigh out the benefits. To me, the benefits far outweigh the losses.”

The second challenge was the budget. The association was already cash strapped, so it couldn’t afford to pay for new systems, especially since Kim wanted new systems for the database, events, website, emails and newsletters, and so on.

Kim agreed, but promised to somehow find a way to make any new systems pay for themselves.

At first she wasn’t sure how to keep this promise, given the number of new systems she wanted. But, within the week she stumbled across something she figured could help — an affordable software solution that could do everything she needed. That type of software was known as membership management software, and it was specifically built for membership organizations. After exploring a number of providers, she landed on WildApricot as her option of choice, because it fit her needs perfectly.

Even though it was an all-in-one solution that made it less expensive than buying five new systems, Kim still needed to figure out how get the software to  pay for itself.

To solve that problem, Kim looked at all of the association’s expenses and discovered that if she removed the expense of sending out a physical newsletter and used WildApricot’s emailing system to send out an email newsletter instead, that would more than cover the cost of the software.

To test drive WildApricot to see if it really would be a good fit, she started the online trial.

“Once I started the online trial and found out how easy it was to get set up, running and ready to go, that’s when I just flat told my board, okay, either we do it now, or the whole thing’s just going to come apart, because we had a seminar coming up that I wanted to take online registrations for.”

One Chance To Save The Association

The board agreed to give Kim a shot and with that she got started.  

In just two days the website was up and running, she started seeing members register and pay online right away (you can take a look at her website here).

As Kim said, “I consider the website an income generator because we’re always picking up memberships online, and it makes it easy for folks to become members. So, it’s paying for itself.”

Kim also moved the physical member files into WildApricot’s online membership database, which automatically updated member profiles and automated renewals. 

When she coordinated her first event with the new system, more than half of the attendees registered and paid online, which cut out the time it took to register them manually.

Plus, not a single member complained about moving from a physical newsletter to an email one.

With WildApricot, Kim was able to manage the entire association on a part-time basis. As she says, “I'm basically doing the job of five people that used to do it. Now it’s being done on a regular basis. It’s being done professionally. And the software itself is easy enough for anybody to use.”

After only a year and a half since Kim modernized the association’s processes, the organization’s membership nearly tripled.

And while Kim is one story of success, there are many associations out there still doing things the old way — operating with outdated legacy systems — which is limiting their potential to grow.

How WildApricot Can Help

Often it takes a change agent like Kim to come in and turn things around. But, sometimes people like Kim still need some help convincing their board to modernize their processes and use a membership management system like WildApricot. That’s why we’ve put together this simple presentation to the board, which covers the main benefits of how WildApricot can help an organization save time and grow. 

If you find yourself in a similar situation to Kim, but need some help convincing your board I encourage you to download the presentation and see how WildApricot can help you modernize your organization’s processes.

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!

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