Member Applications: An Inexpensive Solution for Small Associations

Member Applications: An Inexpensive Solution for Small Associations

All member organizations—nonprofits and associations—have the issue of registering and keeping track of their members. A larger organization will use an Association Management System, a usually proprietary, and expensive, combination of tools and programming. However, smaller organizations—with smaller budgets—are often left in the dust and still resort to using cumbersome, offline methods.

Here is a way a small organization can streamline their method of collecting registrations that will save time and cost very little to implement. This solution is not going to store member data or allow users to access their data. But it will be able to provide a more convenient way to collect registrations without a whole lot of investment.

The Problem

The problem with converting most membership applications to online forms is that the information is often quite complex. Not only is there a lot of background data to collect on each new member there are often other options, such as:

  • Different levels of membership with different rates.
  • Discounts for joining for longer periods of times.
  • Payment options. Online, fax and mail in with check
  • Prorated fees, i.e.  new member rate changes in the period leading  up to member renewal date.

No wonder so many organizations still only offer membership forms as PDF files that need to be printed out and mailed or faxed in. But there are a lot of problems with that, including:

  • The form needs to be filled out by hand
  • The information needs to be rekeyed into the system.
  • Payment could take days or longer to process.
  • Members might wait over a week for their applications to be accepted

Simplified member registration

The Solution

An ordinary online form couldn’t handle this. Here is a solution using WordPress, an inexpensive form plugin called Gravity Forms, and PayPal.

First WordPress. Unless you are using another Content Management System, do yourself a favor and make the switch. There will be a cost up-front but savings down the line as you can begin to do in-house what you used to pay a webmaster to do.

Then add the Gravity Forms plugin. It is not free, but it is inexpensive, $39 annually for one site. It is one of the few plugins that offer a drag-and-drop method of building forms. This makes it very easy to build a complex member application. After a form is submitted, the data is sent to via email to the organization. It is also accessible via your WordPress admin page where it can exported as a CSV file and imported into your own internal database.

These benefits should be enough to justify making the switch but they don’t stop there.

The Benefits of Conditional Logic

One of Gravity Form’s most useful feature  is its “conditional logic”. That is, as certain options in the form are selected, additional options become available. This is the key to be able to create a really workable membership application.

Conditional logic gives a solution how to handle payment options. Here’s how it works. An applicant wants to pay by check. Before they submit the form, they select that option. Through conditional logic they are taken to a page just for check payment. The page displays the information that they just entered on the original form.  All they need to do is print out the form and mail in with check.

To collect online payment, an account first needs to be set up with PayPal which now accepts all major credit cards.  On the PayPal site you generate a button that can be pasted on your web page. Back at your site, people who want online payment select that option and are taken to that page where they can click on the link to pay.  The PayPal button can take the form of a list of options, which will allow you to offer varying levels of membership (e.g. Student, Retired, etc.) or discounts for longer membership periods.

And finally, if you offer a prorated membership, Gravity Forms can be set up to change its form fields based on the date the form is viewed. This is not a default feature but can be added with a method described in their support area.

With this system in place,  a member application can processed more easily; a simple solution to help smaller association streamline the membership application process.

Anything on your mind?