It is extremely important for a VOPE to make sure that it has actively involved and informed members. The first aspect to be addressed is the membership policy statement (See Section 1.6 – Membership Policy). Once this is clear the actual running of a membership administration system can be planned and implemented. This section will provide some insight into the administration aspects of the VOPE member management system, and suggest some software and examples to review.
Many existing VOPEs make allowances for more than one type of member and differentiate the membership fees (if applicable) and benefits according to the membership type. Once the decisions about the types of members, their fees and benefits are made and documented in a membership policy statement the other aspects for membership management that may need attention include:
The remainder of this section will focus on the membership management system. Informal VOPE networks might only require that members be added to an email distribution list, and the only administration that would be necessary is checking occasionally that all the bouncing email addresses are cleaned up. Service providers like Yahoo and Google and Facebook, among others, do provide automated listserv or group management options, where people can join or leave when they want to, without much intervention from an individual administrator.
More formalized VOPEs require members to provide some basic information about themselves and to pay a membership fee in order to become a member. It is possible to run a membership administration system with little more than paper-based forms, an excel spreadsheet and a membership dues receipt book, but this has the drawback of requiring many hours of meticulous work and carries the risk of errors slipping in. A better alternative would be to implement an automated system which runs off an online database that can automatically do more of the mundane tasks like issuing invoices, sending out reminders, etc. You will still require a person to manage the system, but the level of effort would be much lower, and it is likely that prospective members won’t be lost if they can’t get hold of the right person at the right time. Once a member has completed the application form, it would be necessary to consolidate the information into a central repository, in order to make sure that it is on hand if questions about membership are asked. Again, online systems make the collation into a central database very easy.
Other benefits of having an online membership application and administration system are that the information that members typically need – e.g. how to become a member, the cost of becoming a member, the benefits of membership – can be shared at the same time. If your VOPE has a website, consider adding a module that has an online registration form. Remember to allow for different membership types in the application form and provide fee payment instructions and details. If you set up your form with some logic, it will prompt potential members to correct missing or incorrect information fields before submitting.
For membership administration databases, a VOPE generally has three options available:
Bear in mind that, if you go for a free or low-cost service, you are likely to have to spend more time managing the membership system – so the total cost of operating the system is not necessarily apparent right from the start. In some cases, it does make sense to pay for a more expensive system, and invest the time to get it set up for your purposes, because in the longer term it will save you time and money associated with administering the system, while also making sure that you don’t lose out on potential members. Especially if your organization is going to rely on volunteers to do the work of the VOPE, you would want to have a membership management system that is as automated as possible.
A full specification membership system would allow you to:
Irrespective of the system you choose, bear in mind that you still would need a process for managing the information. Standard operating procedures for maintaining the membership database should be developed. They should clearly stipulate tasks, processes, roles and responsibilities. If you are using part-time or volunteer staff to manage your system, it is imperative that the steps for managing the system are clearly documented, since turnover in staff is likely.