The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Free Membership Management Software

Terry Ibele 03 November 2017 0 comments

Free Membership Management Software

The membership organizations I’ve talked to began to search for a membership management solution when they reached about 50 members.

Unfortunately, this put them in a too big/too small sort of limbo — they’d grown big enough to feel administrative pain (from processing member records, running back and forth to the bank, and other tasks), but they were still too small to justify paying for a new solution.

Luckily there are a number of free membership management software options to choose from. After speaking with a dozen membership organizations who got started on free membership management software, I put together this guide to help others just starting out.

In this guide I’ll cover:

 

What Is Membership Management Software

Membership Management Software, also known as MMS, is an all-in-one management tool comprised of a website builder, online contact database, communications system (email), finance & payment system, event platform, and more.

If you run any sort of membership organization, nearly all your administrative work can be eliminated by MMS, which can:

  • Instantly process online payments, fees, and donations.
  • Setup online event registration pages, payments, and reminders.
  • Improve member communication through automated invoices, emails, and newsletters.
  • Give you a professional, easy to build website where you can host a news section, notices, resources, member directory, an event calendar and more.
  • Maintain a full contact database that's easy to search, filter, and update.
  • Provide you with financial reports, analytics, and membership summaries in seconds.
  • Save your organization money and time by automating many more administrative tasks.

Below is an image we frequently use to explain how Wild Apricot (our membership management software) is an all-in-one platform that can handle all areas of your administrative work.

Wild Apricot Tennis Club Software

 

Top 5 Benefits of Membership Management Software

If you're unsure whether MMS can be of help to your organization, take a look at these five benefits I most commonly heard from the membership managers I spoke to:

1) Save Time: 

MMS can replace and automate many time-consuming administrative processes you may be doing by hand. For example, MMS can completely automate new member applications, renewals, event registrations, online donations, invoice emails, and more. If you're interested to find out more about how MMS can save a lot of time, here’s the story of a sailing club that was able to save 20 hours a week by using membership management software.

2) Save Money:

Instead of using and purchasing separate systems to manage your organization, MMS is an all-in-one tool that can do everything for you from one centralized database.

3) Offer Better, On-Demand Member Service:

MMS gives your organization a professional-looking website where members can self-manage their accounts (pay for dues, events, update contact info, access resources, etc.) online.

4) Increase Event Registration and Attendance:

MMS gives you the ability to publicize your events online through an event page with online registration and an easy-to-view event calendar. You can also set up an RSS feed so people can subscribe to all your event updates.

5) Accuracy of Data: 

The number one problem with using multiple systems to manage members is the risk of transferring data from one system to the next — member records get lost, duplicated, corrupted, or fail to transfer properly. With MMS, all your data is stored in one centralized, secure, searchable, filterable database. The website, email, events, payments, etc. are all seamlessly integrated, so there’s no worry of mixing records up. This also saves a lot of time when managing your member records. 

 

The Pros and Cons of Choosing a Free MMS Solution

Before you take the plunge, consider these five pros and five cons of choosing free software over a paid option:

Pros:

  • It’s free!
  • You can’t get locked into a contract.
  • You can try a lot of different options with no risk.
  • If it’s a cloud-based software, new features are introduced as the software gets updated
  • If you have the know-how, you can customize open-sourced software to your needs.

Cons:

  • Depending on which provider you choose, support for the system may be iffy, nonexistent, or paid.
  • Some open-sourced solutions are dated and glitchy since they don’t have the same investment going into them as the paid versions (I had to remove three options from this list because they are no longer supported).
  • You may get limited features compared to a paid option.
  • You may have to host your own website.
  • It’s difficult to switch your member records and website over to another system in the future.

If the pros and cons match up with your expectations, you’re ready to choose a free option for your organization. In the next section I’ll cover five considerations that will help you choose between the different options.

 

5 Things to Consider Before Choosing MMS

Here are some of the common questions most membership organizations considered before choosing an option:

  1. Is the system easy-to-learn? Is there support available?
  2. How fast do you need the software setup?
  3. What specialized features will you need?
  4. Do you need integration with other systems like Quickbooks, or Wordpress?
  5. How secure is the system secure?

Once you have your list of must-haves, you’re ready to start evaluating between options. In the next section I’ll cover two full service membership management software solutions with free lite versions, and then five open-sourced options.

 

2 Full Service Membership Management Software Solutions with Free Lite Versions

There are two full service membership management software solutions that also offer a free lite version of their software.

“Lite” means you get access to the main membership management features while premium features are only available on paid plans — most small membership organizations can run their organization without issue on a lite version of full-service membership management software. 

The main benefit of choosing a "lite" solution is that you don't need any technical or coding expertise to setup your organization. Plus you're guaranteed the software will be fully supported and frequently updated with new features and bug fixes. And while you have the choice to stay on the free "lite" version indefinitely, as your organization grows and requires more capabilities, you can also upgrade to the paid version to access premium features.

If you're interested in using a free "lite" version, here are the two companies that offer this:

 

1) Wild Apricot

Free Membership Management Software

Free Account Details:

  • 1 Admin
  • 50 total contacts and members
  • File storage limit: 100 MB
  • Website includes banner ads for free accounts
  • Free unlimited support by phone or email
  • Update to accept online or recurring payments 
  • Here is a full guide on how to setup a free account of Wild Apricot

Wild Apricot is the number one provider of membership management software (that’s us!), used by over 20,000 organizations worldwide. Along with a basic free lite version, Wild Apricot also provides a free, 30-day trial of the full version. In just an afternoon, you can build your entire website and upload your contact database all by yourself. That’s because Wild Apricot is an easy-to-learn system and even if you do get stuck, support is free. You can start a free trial here. And if you're wondering what type of membership website you can build with Wild Apricot, here are 25 examples to look through.

 

2) Member Planet

Member Planet Membership Management Software

Free Account Details:

  • Free lite version
  • Unlimited Admins
  • Unlimited contacts and members
  • 100 email limit per month
  • Online payment fee of 4%, plus a processing fee of 3% + $0.30

Member Planet is used by nonprofits, religious groups, schools, boosters, PTAs, and alumni groups. They offer a basic free option for small organizations looking to use an all-in-one system to help manage their members. As your organization grows, you can upgrade your account to send more emails and have access to more robust features.

 

4 Open-Sourced Membership Management Software Solutions

Another type of free membership management software is what’s called, “open-sourced” software.

“Open-sourced” means anyone is free to use, copy, or modify the code which makes up the membership management software. As a word of caution, some tech savviness is required in order to download, install, and operate open-sourced software. As Simon Hill of Crowd Sourced Testing points out, there’s also a high learning curve when it comes to modifying the code yourself.

Another risk with open-sourced software is that the software developers may not have the resources to launch new features or fix bugs. Some may even abandon the software, or force payments down the road. I’ve already had to remove three open-sourced options from this list for these very reasons.

Risks aside, the main benefit of using open-sourced software is that you can fully customize it to do anything you want, plus you can use its full capabilities completely free.

Here are three robust open-sourced membership management software solutions to choose from:

 

1) Zenbership

Zenbership Free Membership Management Software

  • FTP server required (tutorial uses Filezilla)
  • Advanced coding experience recommended

Created in 2012, Zenbership is designed to provide a central hub helping online businesses & organizations acquire, monetize, and retain members. Features include invoicing, a content builder, eCommerce tools, and events management. Self-installation is free and they have a 14 minute video on how to do it. If you’d like to get setup right away, Zenbership also offers a one-time fee of $99 to do it for you.

 

2) admidio

Admidio Membership Management Software

  • Free, runs on donations
  • Free demo available

Admidio is an open-sourced membership management software solution optimized for clubs, groups, and membership organizations. They have a number of free plugins like a birthday list for members, category reports, membership fees, export to Excel, and more.

 

3) Tendenci

Tendenci Free Membership Management Software

  • Free if you know how to set it up and run it for yourself
  • For non-programmers, pricing starts at $169/month
  • Setup costs vary in price depending on needs

Tendenci is an open source management system built for nonprofits, associations and or types of membership organizations. Features include event management, content management, online fundraising, photos, job boards and more.

 

4) CiviCRM

CiviCRM Free Membership Management Software

  • Free, runs on donations
  • Free demo available 
  • Support is run through partner organizations
  • You are also able to hire the core team to work on paid issues that are important to you

CiviCRM is a flexible membership management system used by over 10,000 nonprofits. Features include contact management, events, email marketing, case management, peer-to-peer fundraisers, and more. Their open source software is made possible from thousands of donors.

 

Helpful Resources If You're Just Starting Out

Starting a membership organization is a lot of work, and growing it can be even more difficult. 

If you’re just starting out with your membership organization, here are three resources we’ve created to help you out:

Best of luck with your membership!

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Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot]

Posted by Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot]

Published Friday, 03 November 2017 at 4:52 PM

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