Member Database Software: A Short Guide

Members are the foundation of an association. Without them, there is no reason for the association to exist. Every association needs an organized and comprehensive system for tracking their members. The wide variety of software and programs currently on the market can make this decision-making process confusing and lengthy. To optimize the search for membership database software, here are some basic database overviews and search tips.

Main Types of Database Software:

Desktop Databases: These types of databases are designed to run on a desktop or single computer. They are usually low-cost and fairly simple. They are best for organizations with uncomplicated database requirements. An example of a well-known desktop database system is Microsoft Access.

Server Databases: These types of databases are usually more expensive than desktop databases, but they are also more complex in their capabilities and features. Server databases can be accessed by multiple users on different devices, rather than a single user on a single computer as is the case with a desktop database. An example of a well-known desktop database system is Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle.

Online Integrated Systems (or Web-Enabled Databases): These types of databases can be the most costly to set-up and may also include monthly or annual fees for continued service, but they can also be the most efficient for association projects, events, and day-to-day operations. Online integrated systems usually include a wide variety of functions outside of member data storage and tracking services. Web-enabled databases often become one-and-the-same with the organization’s website, content management, event management, e-commerce, email and marketing communications, etc. Having integrated website, email, and member database systems can greatly simplify many of the association’s projects and day-to-day operations.

Questions to ask before and during your member database software search:

Identify what you need the database software to do for you, including who will be using the database, what the database user’s needs will be, what types of records you will need to store, what other functions the database must be able to complete (for example, queries or reports).

Identify future needs. Can the database software grow with your membership and strategic plan? What are you goals for the future that your database must be able to accommodate?

Prioritize your requirements to ensure your association’s most important needs and functions are considered first during the selection process.

Review your budget for your new database. Be aware that there may be an initial set-up cost and ongoing monthly or annual charge depending on the software type. Additionally, consider what current costs may be eliminated by the functions of the new software (for example, if the new database system can send out marketing emails, you can eliminate your subscription costs from your current email marketing vendor). Identify the price range that your association can afford and stick to it.

Having these requirements, goals, and limitations available in an organized manner prior to the selection process will allow you to narrow down the type of software you need and to more easily weed out vendors.

What to Look for in a Vendor:

  • Knowledgeable and responsive support/help line?

  • Experience with associations or geared toward association membership?

  • References/testimonials from satisfied clients?

Carefully and intelligently selecting a member database software system that fits your organization’s current needs and can accommodate your anticipated future needs is likely to save your organization time and money in the long run. 

Written by: Anne Lacher, Office Manager and Member Specialist