Membership, Money, and Marketing => Website
By Marilyn Maze
The Maryland Career Development Association (MCDA) has completed a two-year odyssey of exploration of online membership management systems. In the process, we have learned a great deal that we would like to share with other state counseling associations. As a point of reference, MCDA is a midsize state CDA with about 100 members and 4 events a year.
The Search for a New System
Two years ago, we realized that online registration processing for our events would allow credit card processing of fees, 24/7 access to event registration lists, and automatic event confirmations/receipts. We researched online event registration systems and subscribed to one that provided these services at a reasonable fee. After one year, during which our membership declined, we realized that we needed more from our online system. Last year we started the search over. This time we were looking for an online membership management system. We found several suitable systems that charged less than $150 per month. We selected a service called MemberClicks (www.MemberClicks.com) which offers all of the event registration services, plus:
- An online Membership Directory (including photos of members) that is instantly updated whenever a new member joins.
- Automatic membership reminder emails (so now our membership grows without human intervention)
- Reports on which emails bounced (so we know when an email address becomes invalid or when our emails get classified as junk) and reports on which recipients open the emails we send.
- A "profile" for each person on our email list which that person can update (so both members and non-members who want to receive our marketing emails can update their own information when they move or change their email address).
Restructured Website and Board Duties
We selected a service that offers an integrated website. This may not seem important because commercial website hosting costs as little as $10 per month, but the integration means that, when members log on, they see additional features that non-members do not see. We can set the "permissions" for each page or function so that various groups (non-members, members, and board members) can or cannot see that page or function. The benefits of membership are suddenly much more evident and visible to all members. Also, trusted members of the board are allowed access to functions and information that our general membership cannot access (so website assistance can be rendered or pages can be updated by any board member who is willing to help).
MCDA found that the standard format offered by MemberClicks provided a helpful structure for our website. We hurriedly adapted our former website to this new structure and the organization of our website improved. The editing features offered by MemberClicks are similar to a Word document, so any board member can add a new page or edit the content of a page. We are still learning how to use MemberClicks efficiently and effectively, and how to share the workload. Now that our website has become a central part of our organization, a lot of duties and responsibilities have changed. For example, our webmaster needs to be an active member of the Board and we need an Event Registrar to enter registrations for members who don't want to do it for themselves.
Do we recommend MemberClicks? We definitely recommend using an online membership management system and we are happy with our choice. However, we found several comparable services (such as ClubExpress, WildApricot, CountMeIn, and Affiniscape), each with slightly different features and pricing. The list of options changes daily, so other state CDA's facing this choice should conduct their own search and compare the various features.
Additional benefits which result from adopting an online membership management system include:
- Listserv: We can maintain a marketing list for non-members who may want to attend our events.
- Bulk emails: We can email our entire list of members and interested non-members. We can send different emails to people who have not yet registered for an event and to those who have registered.
- Uploading and downloading: When we receive an electronic list of members of a group, we can upload the list and merge it with our current list. When we want to print nametags or send letters by mail to a group, we can download the list as an Excel file and use it with the mail-merge function in Word.
- Accuracy: People can update their own records. They can correct the spelling of their name, job title, etc. This means that our records are now much more accurate.
- Historical event tracking and cross-event correlation: We know who registered for each event since we started using this system and which people attended more than one event.
- Surveys: We can create a "form" (an online questionnaire) that collects information about the preferences of our members. We can "send" this form to our members (actually, we just put the link in an email). We can keep sending reminders until members respond.
- Verification: We can register people on-site, with a laptop. This removes the problem of reading a hand-written credit card number. We can also check on a membership status at the registration table.
- Preferences: We can ask people to specify breakout session choices or food choices when they register.
These functions reduce our overhead by automating many of the functions that we formerly paid an administrator to do. To better understand some of the features and issues discussed here, please visit our website at http://www.MDCareers.org. If you choose "Free Email List," you can add a profile for yourself. You will then be able to log on and edit your profile. If you are in the process of selecting an online membership management system and would like a copy of the checklist we used, contact the author.
Marilyn Maze, Ph.D., is currently the webmaster for the Maryland Career Development Association and a past president of MCDA. She holds the position of Principal Research Associate in the Career Transitions Research Department of ACT, Inc. At ACT, she guides the development of the DISCOVER online career guidance system and works on other occupation-related research activities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .