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Best Membership Management Software for Nonprofits

10 min read
October 07, 2022
Neon One Staff
4 women sit around an office table smiling and working on their laptops

Nonprofit membership management software isn’t just a tool for administrators. When used correctly, it can be a fundraiser’s best friend. Many of the most effective nonprofit campaigns require high levels of personalization and automation.

The best membership management software for nonprofits can deliver these options. These nonprofit CRMs support total membership management and allow you to track member data, create personalized communications, and build relationships that encourage members to stay involved long term.

How Outdated Processes Damage Nonprofit Growth

Many nonprofits consistently rely on multiple systems to manage their membership programs. It’s not uncommon for someone to use human-driven workflows, Excel spreadsheets, payment processors, and email platforms to drive new or renewed memberships. Unfortunately, this approach can quickly become unwieldy for staff and frustrating for members.

Preservation Houston, for example, used spreadsheets to track memberships, process donations, manage events, and communicate with their supporters. As they grew, they quickly realized the limitations of spreadsheets. Manually tracking every single interaction involved with building and sustaining a membership program can pose lots of problems.

All of the following issues add up to administrative issues that can make it harder to reach new members, engage existing ones, and reconnect with lapsed constituents. 

Errors

Human error is a big factor in workplace accidents and it’s also responsible for 82% of data breaches. It’s also responsible for other headaches like duplicate records, spelling errors, and inaccurate data.

Staff and volunteers can make mistakes that filter through systems, leading to ineffective campaigns, inaccurate member information, and poor financial tracking.

Wasted Time

The average knowledge worker reports spending about 60% of their time on “work about work.” 

These tasks that focus on workflow and internal management are time wasters that could be spent on strategic planning and mission-critical work.  

Poor Quality

Quality comes down to one thing—data. Inaccurate or faulty information leads to off-target messages, ineffective contacts, and bad tracking. 

In fact, it’s estimated that bad data alone costs organizations $15 million per year. 

Lower Engagement 

Engagement is driven by personalized interactions that reinforce your nonprofit’s  impact. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to engage on a personal level if an organization doesn’t track the right data and details about its members. 

That’s a major risk in a market where 67% of consumers state they’re frustrated by companies that don’t deliver personalized interactions. 

Missed Opportunities

here are dozens of small opportunities to turn donors into members—but only if you send them the right information. Sending an email to a donor that explains your mission and invites them to become a member can be a great way to grow your membership base.

Welcome emails, for example, generate 320% more revenue per email than other promotions. Without technology that can trigger and send these emails to donors, you run the risk of missing out on engaging potential members. 

Member Attrition

Member attrition will always be a concern for organizations. Just as many nonprofits focus on retaining donors, organizations that rely on memberships as a revenue stream must have processes in place to engage their members, encourage renewal.

Keeping track of factors that contribute to lapsed memberships can help to improve renewal rates, but that requires a robust, data-rich monitoring program.

Options in Nonprofit Administration Technology

Switching away from outdated or disparate systems can help you avoid or solve many of those problems. Using a dedicated platform can make managing your membership program easier and less time-consuming.

When Preservation Houston switched from using multiple spreadsheets and different programs to using Neon One’s CRM platform, they were able to manage their membership program, fundraising campaigns, and events on a single platform. Switching to a CRM resulted in a 300% increase in total donations and improved membership management.

Nonprofits looking for a way to simplify their membership management processes like the team at Preservation Houston did have several options.


When it comes to nonprofit databases and technical ecosystems, there are basically three approaches to take, absent custom-built CRMs which are typically used by massive organizations with extensive funding.

For everyone else, there are spreadsheets or generic CRMs, or you can choose a platform specific to nonprofits. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each option.

Spreadsheets

You use a spreadsheet program like Excel or Google sheets to manage your database and manually create outreach tasks. This is a helpful way for fledgling nonprofits to start tracking members’ interactions, membership level, and histories.

Pros

Low Cost: Spreadsheet programs are freely available on multiple platforms.

Low Barrier to Entry: These are easy to start using right away and don’t require any major tech implementations.

Easy to Learn: Most spreadsheet programs are user-friendly, and many people are familiar with these programs.

Cons

Non-Standard: There’s no standard way to record data or interactions, leading to potential errors and inaccuracies. Manual: All data will require manual entry and tracking.

Limited Function: Spreadsheets are fine for tracking information, but they don’t offer tools like personalization or automation.

General CRM

You use a general CRM, like Salesforce, to manage activities. Fields traditionally reserved for customers or clients are repurposed for members and volunteers.  

Pros

Simplicity: The pre-built CRM offers out-of-the-box functionality, allowing for a rapid rollout. 

Configurability: Most CRMs are highly configurable, in that you can change or update fields and categories to meet your needs. 

Cost: A CRM is far more cost-effective than hiring an in-house development team to create a custom solution or running a legacy system. 

Cons

Suitability: Traditional CRMs are targeted at business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) organizations. As a result, many fields, features, and categories will not apply to you, even if that solution has been adjusted for nonprofit users.

Management: While CRMs are designed to be user-friendly, you will still need an expert to maintain them. 

Scope Creep: As the CRM is not nonprofit-focused, you may find you need to purchase add-ons or additional solutions to meet your needs.  

Nonprofit CRM

You use a platform specifically designed for nonprofits to manage all tasks related to membership, events, contributions, and volunteering. 

Pros

Precision: A nonprofit CRM is focused specifically on the needs of organizations that must track members, donors, events, constituents, and other industry-specific data. 

Simplicity: Many nonprofit CRMs are aimed at a less tech-oriented audience to allow volunteers and general staff to easily understand the platform. 

Cost: You are able to buy exactly what you need.

Cons

Access: As nonprofit CRMs are a niche product, it can be challenging to find the right one for your organization.  

Variety: While there are dozens of CRMs on the market, there are far fewer nonprofit CRMs. Even fewer include dedicated membership management tools. 

Expertise: Without a deep understanding of CRMs, it can be challenging to know which platform is best. 

The 8 Features of the Best Membership Management Software

The nonprofit CRM is the obvious choice for most organizations because it’s the quickest and most cost-effective to implement. However, not all these options are created equal. To see their true advantage, look for the eight following nonprofit CRM features

1. Low Code/No Code

One of the best benefits of a CRM is the ability to run it without a team of developers or a dedicated administrator. Many programs are designed with simple drag-and-drop features so you can design membership forms, build emails, create workflows, and set up automated processes without development experience.

2. Multi-Entity Records Support

Many nonprofit systems come only with individual records support for donors. However, not all donors are members, and not all members also make donations. If you want to track the different types of support your members and others in your community provide, you need a CRM that allows you to track different activities.

3. Customizable Templates

You work hard to create a brand that’s instantly recognized and trusted by your members. Having access to a variety of customizable templates for various forms, emails, and messaging campaigns makes it much easier to keep a consistent presence. When your enrollment form, membership communications, reminder emails, and other assets have the same look and feel, you’ll create a more positive experience for your constituents.

4. Workflow Automation

Workflow creation—the simple act of assigning tasks to individuals—can be a major time sink for nonprofit staff. The ability to automate many of these tasks saves staff and volunteers a lot of time and can eliminate mistakes. 

For example, with workflow automation, you could automatically send a welcome email to a new member, then create a follow-up task for your membership coordinator to contact them a few days later with a short welcome call. This ensures a rapid, personalized, and fully automated message is sent when you are top of mind, then follows that personalized message with a one-on-one phone call.

5. Records Merge Support

Some experts estimate that duplicate records make up about 30% of databases. For a nonprofit, that can mean making redundant calls, sending duplicate messages, and creating a disorganized appearance that damages member trust. 

CRMs that support records merging will help you locate duplicate records, verify member information, and eliminate unnecessary details.

6. Portability

Unless they’re in a shared drive like OneDrive or Google Drive, spreadsheets and other static files are not easily portable from one workstation to another. Meanwhile, cloud-based solutions are accessible from anywhere, even on mobile devices. That makes it easy to work from anywhere with all the information you need.

7. Customizability

Customizability is the foundation of personalization. By creating fields to store member details, you can build automated tasks targeted based on their data. 

For example, a database that notes a member has also recently become a recurring donor can be configured to automatically send a special message thanking them for their additional support. This personalized approach makes the constituent feel seen and appreciated, which makes them more likely to stay engaged long term.

8. Reporting

Reports that are customized using your nonprofit’s specific goals can provide a roadmap to success. They can show where your initiatives are paying off and where they can be improved. Many nonprofit CRMs will offer base-level reports, but the best provide customizable options.

The True ROI of Membership Management Software

Membership management software with the above features pays dividends. Here is a look at an organization that successfully used Neon CRM to manage their membership, build relationships with their constituents, and use that data to identify members who could give above and beyond their existing level of support.

The best membership management software supports nonprofits of all types and sizes while still ensuring a customizable, personalized approach. By focusing on features that allow you to easily automate tasks, you can gain greater insight into your membership, find new ways to engage your constituents, and build relationships that will ensure your organization grows and thrives for years to come.

In addition to Neon CRM, Neon One offers Neon Membership, the best membership management software for nonprofits aiming to make a bigger impact. Neon Membership adds a suite of membership-specific features to Neon CRM’s powerful nonprofit software. To learn more, contact us


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