There are as many types of membership software as there are member-based organizations. Sorting through them to find the one best for you can be an intimidating task. It isn’t always easy to know what you need from software, and it’s even harder to evaluate a platform’s ability to meet those needs.

Selecting a platform that you can be confident in takes work, but less than you might think. Get your search started on the right foot by checking our 6 tips below to take the pain out of finding software!

1. Know Your Budget

Having a firm grasp on your budget is extraordinarily useful when shopping for membership software.

There are hundreds of membership software platforms spanning a wide gamut of price-points from totally free to thousands of dollars a year. If you know your budget, your search becomes tremendously easier because you can immediately limit your search to the fraction of available platforms that meet your price-point.

Even in the case that a membership software company doesn’t list their prices (favoring a case-by-case pricing structure), having a budget you’re confident with helps you frame expectations in sales calls, and help you negotiate prices that work for you from a strong foundation.

In cases where businesses have confusing pricing structures, a firm budget is the best way to cut through confusing pricing tables and get a solid answer to the question ‘Can I Afford This?‘.  The easiest way to sort through confusing pricing is to skip confusing pricing tables altogether, and simply get in touch with a company. Tell them what you need, how much you are able to pay, and ask how they can make a deal happen. You might be surprised to find out that they ignore their front-facing pricing altogether, and develop a deal tailored to you.

2. Know What You Need, And How To Ask For It.

It’s one thing to know what you need, and another to find it.

You might know that you need a software that can make applications and renewals faster and easier. Perhaps you’re also interested in a system that can take some (or all) of the burden of managing contact information.

It’s important that you’re able to clearly articulate these needs so that you understand them, but it’s also useful to know how to translate these needs into language you can use to find software that meets them.

For example, if you’re looking to do anything with contact data, you need a CRM – or Contact Record Manager. To streamline applications and renewals, you need to create and process forms, process payments, record transactions, manage contact information, and update your member portal.

Searching for “Membership software, update contacts” is not going to turn up results nearly as useful as “Membership CRM”. Likewise “Application and renewal automation” is going to be far more fruitful than “Membership software”.

3. Check for Compliance

It isn’t difficult to violate CASL or CANSPAM in an email campaign. You certainly don’t want to find out the hard way that you’ve infringed on GDPR.

If you don’t know what any of these things are (like most people), that’s OK, because many membership software platforms are designed to guarantee your organization’s compliance with a multitude of international regulatory frameworks.

The only thing you need to do is make sure that the software you choose ensures your compliance with the regulations that matter.

Which ones will require a bit of investigation and research on your part, but you’ll want to at least ensure that you’re GDPR compliant – as storing contact information requires you to adhere to GDPR standards. If you ever expect that you’ll be sending email campaigns, or building email lists, you’ll also want to check for CASL (in Canada) or CANSPAM (USA) compliance.

4. Don’t Forget Support

Support is one of the most important criteria to getting the most out of membership software, but is often an afterthought to member-driven organizations shopping for software.

Whenever you or your team has trouble with your membership software (and you will have trouble), Support is your first (and best) resource to finding an effective, timely solution.

This is why evaluating the quality of a given software’s support service ought to be a top priority. Your’re depending on software to run your organization. Assuming your going to get stuck at some point, how long can you expect to remain stuck? It might seem like a trivial consideration now, but if you find out after buy-in that you have to wait 3 days for resolution to a time-sensitive issue, you’ll wished you found out earlier!

It’s also important to think of ‘support’ not just in terms of interacting with a support department, but support resources as well. Check to see if a given membership software platform has a quality knowledgebase. Searching for a quick how-to article takes seconds, and often is far preferable than submitting a ticket, or waiting on-hold for 5 minutes to solve a 10 second problem.

5. Professional Services?

If you have nuanced, highly specific needs, and are having trouble finding software that meets them just right, you ought to it can be difficult to find software that meets them.

This is where it’s useful to look for membership software that offers the benefit of professional services.

Professional services allow you to consult with a membership software company regarding specific needs not currently met by the software, and negotiate a deal to have features/tools developed or edited to do the job.

This kind of work is typically not approachable to smaller-scale membership organizations, but to larger ones, the cost of custom development work can well be worth it.

Professional services may not be something you need now, but it’s worth considering if you might need it as your organization scales. Adopting membership software that offers professional services means that, should the time come, you won’t need to leave your platform of choice if and when the time comes!

6. Trials and Demo’s

Most membership software companies will let you use their software for free, or provide a guided tour of their software for you to evaluate.

Both of these method are valuable, but it pays to know how to get the most out of them.

Whether evaluating via demo or free trial, it’s important to have clear, explicit purpose to your evaluation. Instead of poking around software blindly, write down a list of 5 to 10 common tasks, and see if you can perform them.

For demo’s, ask a salesperson to show you how X, Y, Z is done. For common tasks especially, evaluate how long or complex a given process is. Is it easy to make a contact, plan an event, process a payment, draw a report, etc?

For free trials, try to perform those tasks yourself. Keep an eye out for a software knowledgebase, and take the opportunity to use it and learn how to use a given platform. This will help you evaluate not only how well the software works, but how easy it is to learn.