User Groups both big and small must deal with record keeping and managing membership. For group leaders this can sometimes be burdensome and time-intensive work. Managing a database of members, membership payments, and, of course getting the monthly meeting emails out can take a majority of your group’s leaders’ time each month. There is no one-way-fits-all for groups to manage their members. The goal of this how-to is to offer some tips and guidance, to help automate some of your groups’ membership tasks so that your group leaders can spend their time creating great meetings. We will look at member database management, communication, and payment options for membership.
Keeping track of your members is important if you wish keep them involved with your group. Knowing who your members are, and how to communicate with them, is the key to longevity and sustainability of a group. A membership list can be as simple as a spreadsheet or a basic database, or even a more advanced web-based membership management system. Picking which option is best for your group depends on the number of members and what information you need from your members. A spreadsheet program such as Numbers from Apple is great for smaller groups with a need for basic information, including name, email, current membership dues, etc. If you need more information or have a large number of members, a database program such as FileMaker will allow you to capture more member information, and manage that information in multiple pages. A database program will also allow you to sort and search member’s information more easily. Online database systems can be useful, as management of members does not require a specific computer or application to manage. You can easily have a spreadsheet accessible in a cloud-based program such as Numbers in iCloud. There are more advanced systems you can build into the back end of your group’s website as well. The upcoming sections will build on managing an online database. Whatever database option you choose, make sure it is something that can be passed onto new leadership in your group.
One thing that makes user groups meetings great is when you get members to your meetings. Communicating with your members is a key factor for meeting attendance success. An important question to ask is, what is the best way to get meeting information to your members? Probably the most popular method is emailing your members. Whether your group is small or large, mass emailing members from an email client will sometimes reach sending limits, or get blocked as SPAM. There are a number of web-based companies that offer groups the ability to be creative with HTML based emails and the ability to email your entire group. Some services are free and some have a small monthly fee that is based on the number of individuals you need to email. MailChimp is a great free service that allows mailing up to 2000 members. Other services such as MadMimi and Constant Contact offer similar assistance.
Another great benefit to web-based email communication is the ability for members to manage their memberships themselves. Group leaders can upload their membership email list. Members then have the ability to subscribe or unsubscribe on their own. Some services will also filter out emails that are bouncing so that administration does not need to go in and manage. Most of these services also allow group leaders to get feedback reports on how well the email is being received, what members are clicking on in the email and how many may or may not be reading it. Most of these web-based email services also offer the ability to integrate a sign-up form into a group’s website. This will allow people who discover your website to sign themselves up to your group’s meeting notifications.
Some other great options include using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs or online groups/forums to communicate with members. If your group is not as receptive to digital notifications, Apple’s Pages offers some great flyer and newsletter layouts that you can print out and post or distribute to your members.
Many groups that charge a membership fee usually collect at meetings or have a member fill out a form and mail the form in with a check. This can create additional work for the group’s leadership, including having to do bank deposits and process paperwork. In the past few years companies such as PayPal and Square have made accepting online payments much easier. They have also made it simple enough to integrate pay buttons into your group’s website. This makes it easy for members to click a button on your website, then go to a secure site and pay for membership. The advantages of online payments inlcude no deposit forms to fill out and no trips to the bank. Everything is handled electronically. You can even have the payments automatically deposited into your group’s bank account. What may discourage groups from using online payments are the service fees associated with using an online payment company. Usually fees vary from 2-3%. But, the fees may be well worth it, especially considering the time saved when leaders do not have to do manual paperwork. Another great thing with online payment is that you are provided with the members’ contact information digitally, which you can integrate into your group’s membership database.
Membership management will vary from group to group. There is no one right way to manage your members. If yours is a new group, this can help guide you in growing your group and members. If you are an officer of a long standing group, you may already be using some of these tools. The Apple User Group Advisory Board would like to hear success stories from groups. If you have a membership management system that works great and would like to share your story with us, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rick Ortiz- Apple User Group Advisory Board and President of Maui Apple User Society