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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.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Membership Management Software and CRM

What is the difference between CRM and Membership Management? Isn't the latter just CRM for a member-based organization? This is the kind of discussion you hear over Italian cold-cuts on a ciabatta at our office.

The answer is: not really. Membership is where CRM meets Business Process Management. Typically we find that Membership is the part of our system that needs to be customized most intensively for an organization, to meet the complex business rules in place governing the membership plans.

We have found that the business rules governing membership tend to be more complex and less easy to generalize than in other areas of non-profit operations. It wasn't rocket science, for example, to create a structure that allows users to set up virtually any sort of discount scheme for their order entry and sales operations. It's way harder to generalize membership logic.

There are three sorts of business processes users want to incorporate into a Membership module:
  • Dues Amount Calculation
  • Dues Billing and Accounting
  • Membership Application Process.
Because of the centrality of these processes to the life of a membership organization, they tend to vary widely between organizations, to grow in complexity as time goes on, and to change relatively frequently as the board debates better ways to attract, retain, and serve members. Indeed, membership business process rules can reach what I consider the breaking point of complexity: where users are confounded by the behavior of the system because the rules are too complex to keep in mind. When this starts to occur, it is time to simplify.

Simplification can occur in two ways.

One is simplification the business process. Minimize the number of different member types. Use a uniform billing process across all your members. Simplify the algorithm for computing dues. Eliminate programs that support tiny numbers of members.

The other is simplification of the software. Don't require the system to handle cases that are really exceptions affecting very few members. For example, allowing the dues amounts in special cases to be entered by hand may eliminate a number of formulae for dues calculations that are used only in a few cases each. The tendency -- if the budget is available -- is to try to automate the full complexity of the board's mandated membership process. You may make everyone's life easier if you just say no.

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Comments on "Membership Management Software and CRM"


Blogger David Geilhufe said ... (March 30, 2007 at 10:56 AM) : 

Simplification of business process.

I think this is where the funder/ NTAP community has probably done a dis-service to the nonprofit sector. McDonalds simplified the fast food business process and that simplification has spread to every other fast food place there is from corporations to mom and pop outfits.

Time for a similar simplification of common nonprofit business processes.... I am not a believer in the consolidation of the nonprofit sector through acquisition, but I think we can achieve the same goals through finding ways to simplify and adopt common business processes across the sector.

Are there any good franchise models out there? It there a way for the software vendors/ providers to play a role?


Blogger dP said ... (July 24, 2008 at 3:01 PM) : 

Is there a recommended off-the-shelf software product (web site service) to allow online management of memberships? Meaning, where new members can be registered and submit payment etc.?


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