I’ve condensed all my experience and their advice to help anyone else looking to quickly choose the best membership site platform for their needs.
Here’s everything included in this guide:
What is a Membership Site Platform
A Membership Site Platform (also known as Membership Management Software) is an all-in-one tool used by associations, clubs, and nonprofits to manage all their membership functions online.
Most Membership Site Platforms allow you to instantly...
- process online payments, fees, and donations.
- setup 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.
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.
We’ve also put together a complete Consumer Guide on how to choose Membership Management Software.
5 Benefits Membership Managers Experience Immediately After Getting Set Up
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.
Here’s the experience of one 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
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 transferring from one database to the next (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. Increase Registrants
Many membership managers are surprised when they see their membership and event registrants go up after implementing a Membership Site Platform.
One of the reasons membership goes up is due to how many potential members visit your website, but leave feeling frustrated they can’t sign up online.
The reason event registrants go up is 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. Increase 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
The Top 8 Membership Site Features Explained
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
7. 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.
8. Online Donations
Encourage donations by adding a donate now button and donation meter to your website.
The 5 Evaluation Criteria That Will Lead to the Platform of Your Choice
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).
- Are there additional costs for setup, support, or extra features?
- What are the transaction fees, or do you have to setup 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.
- 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. 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.
- 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)?
4. 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.
- Are you dealing with particularly sensitive data?
- Are there specific data security requirements for your members?
5. How fast do you need the software setup?
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.
- 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?
Reviews of the 5 Best Membership Site Platforms
1. Wild Apricot (that’s us!)
#1 rated Membership Software (as rated by Capterra) used by over 25,000 organizations across the world.
- Free basic plan
- 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. In addition, you'll have access to a community of peers and experts that share knowledge and best practices.
- 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.
- Free support
SilkStart is a comprehensive and easy to use membership site platform. Features include job boards, donation pages, chapter integration and mobile-friendly websites.
- 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.
- 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.
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!