Member directories lie at the heart of what makes membership valuable for professional organizations, but taking care of them can be a major hassle for managers.
Most membership managers start out by manually creating and managing their member directory on their website. Essentially a giant spreadsheet offered to your members, this approach quickly becomes unmanageable, prompting the search for a software solution that can do the job.
If you’ve reached this point, you’ve likely realized that shopping around for the right solution is far from easy. There are so many member directory software solutions on the market that picking the one best for your organization is a major feat.
To help make the search easier, Member365 has divided the solutions available into broad categories that you can use to focus your search and zero-in on the software appropriate for you. Consider the pro’s and con’s of each, and narrow your search to the category with the most potential to meet your needs!
The Manual Approach
Manually managing member directories is a less-than-great option for almost every organization, but for most, it’s where we get started.
Essentially a giant spreadsheet available to your members, manual directory management means that every cell is the responsibility of your team to manage. You’ve got to seek information from your members, manually input it, and continually check-in with your members to update information to ensure it’s accuracy.
Understandably, this approach is extraordinarily slow. It offers often inaccurate information, and requires a lot of time and energy to manage.
However, in certain circumstances, a manually-managed directory can still be better than other options. Here’s why:
Why You Might Want to Manually Manage Your Directory
New technology isn’t always innovative, but don’t expect the businesses you’re shopping from to tell you that.
If a directory software solution offers to automate your directory management, but creates a directory that isn’t useful to your members, requires even more time to manage, or both – it obviously isn’t worth your time.
Despite this, you might be surprised to find out how easy it is to fall for software solutions that actually make your life worse. Flashy advertising and big promises can pull the wool over your eyes and trap you in a new process that actually makes things worse.
‘Automatic’ does not mean easy or fast, which is why it’s important to evaluate not only what directory software is capable of, but also how much work is required to achieve the end result you’re looking for!
The most common way to manage a member directory is via the use of a website plugin. Whether you’re using wordpress, squarespace, wix, or plain-old HTML, there is an abundance of software plugins that you can use to make managing your directory easier.
The key to making the best choice is knowing what you need!
Let’s say you want to ‘automate your directory management’. This is an easy thing to Google, but isn’t likely to turn up very valuable results.
This is because your search terms are vague and ambiguous. ‘Automate directory management’ could mean:
- You want to be able to regularly import contact information from a spreadsheet and have your directory update automatically.
- You want to be able to integrate your CRM so that when contacts are updated, your member-facing directory is as well.
- You want your members to be able to create and manage their own directory information.
Each of the above falls under the category of ‘automated directory management’, but are all very different solutions. Because there are so many member directory plugins available across website platforms, it’s important that you narrow your search to highly-specific terms that meet your needs!
Member Directory Plugin Advantages and Drawbacks
The primary advantage of using a plugin for your directory management is ease of adoption and management. Plugin’s are website ‘add-ons’, They’ll take contact data you already have, and arrange it in a way that is easy to set up and manage. They’re designed to be compatible with the tools and processes you’re using already, making them fairly easy to set up and use right away.
The trouble with website plugin’s is that they can make scaling your systems and processes a major pain. One plugin generally isn’t a big deal, but when your website is running a mish-mash of different ones to manage your members, work can quickly spiral out of control. Managing your directory, member portal, email campaigns, contact records, and so on with different plugin’s makes management slow. As well, when you’ve got a mess of plugins that can change and share contact data, that contact data can quickly become corrupted as different plugins modify it.
Relying on plugin’s for your directory and other functions generally only become a problem for member-driven organizations at scale. The more data you have, and tools you need, the less value you’ll get from plugin’s. Conversely, they can be the right choice for membership managers responsible for small-to-medium member-driven organizations.
All-in-one software is generally the domain of medium-to-large organizations (at least 100 members).
These platforms (like Member365) offer all the advantages of the plugin approach above, with none of the drawbacks. However, they cost more as a result.
While they are generally more expensive, they offer ample value-for-money compared to other solutions through the time they save membership managers.
The Advantage of an All-In One Solution
All-in-one membership management software makes creating a directory easy, managing it effortless, offers the best experience for users, and the most options for strategic design.
More than this, they make almost every other membership management task easier as well.
This is because an all-in-one membership management software (or association management software) brings all your member data and tools under a single roof. Sharing data among modules is effortless, allowing you to create directories that draw from your CRM and automatically update. New member automatically go in the directory, any edits a contact makes to their member portal profile are instantly reflected in your directory, and data from any of your forms can be mapped to your directory in a click.
The Drawbacks of All-In-One Solutions
The drawback to all-in-one solution is a matter of cost. Both in terms of monthly subscription fees, and in terms of the time and energy required to transition your organization to a new system. Data must be transferred, managers trained, processes updated, and so on. Evaluating if an all-in-one solution is right for your organization is a matter of assessing exactly how much work transferring to a new system will be.
All-in-one membership management software often includes import tools, learning resources, success coaching, and support plans to make the transitioning to their system a straightforward process. For medium-to-large organizations looking to save time on directory management, a entire new system might seem like too much, but might be more accessible and valuable than you think!