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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Varieties of Membership Management

A naturalist studying non-profit membership organizations would quickly identify two principal subspecies.

One sort of specimen is the type of organization that NTEN classifies as the "mutual benefit organization". The organization exists primarily to serve its members; the members join specifically enjoy the benefits the organization will provide to them. They want the journals and publications, the professional seminars, the reduced prices on publications or classes. This subspecies includes trade associations and professional societies. But it also includes groups like JCCs and YMCAs.

The other sort are organizations that exist to serve a broad social or cultural goal. Membership here is a way to package fundraising. Members join primarily to offer financial support to the organization, although a well designed program will offer benefits or premiums that help to draw people in. Museums and cultural organization tend to be organizations of this sort; many advocacy and political groups also structure themselves in this way.

Dues Billing is managed very differently in the two sorts of organizations. For the first type, the dues represent is a fee in advance for services. Each member will receive a renewal notice for a specific amount. That amount might be determined by the membership type (corporate, individual, academic, etc). For organizational memberships it might be based on the members revenue, or number of employees or even -- in the case of one leather-industry trade association, the average number of hides processed each week. And the dues may be due monthly, or quarterly, or annually, depending on the membership type.

The second type of organization has a mirror image set of billing business rules. Rather than bill people based on their classification, members are classified based on what they pay(i.e. $25-$50 members, $50-$100 supporters, $100-$250 sustainers, etc). And rather than tell members when their dues must come in, development teams struggle to understand when people tend to renew.

The staff and board need to articulate quite different sorts of business rules and practices for these two subspecies. So it is critical they understand which type of membership program they are developing. Every now and then we see an organization stuck in the middle. This uncertainty leads to in ability to settle on membership policy and practice. And not surprisingly to confusion in marketing and development messages. After all, no one ever joined their public radio station because they really needed a tote bag.

We often first hear the signs of "membership ambiguity disorder" as an organization debates software requirements for membership and development support. But it's not a problem of deciding what you want your software to do. You need to first understand what sort of beast your membership program is.

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