Wild Apricot membership software

wild-apricotFor the past 4 or 5 months I’ve been using the Wild Apricot software to manage the membership records and events bookings for the London Society.

The Society is a small (c 1000 members) organisation that puts on debates, talks, walks and lectures about the built environment in London. It also publishes a highly-regarded journal and research papers, and runs an all-party Parliamentary group to do with development in the capital.

Until three or four years ago records were kept on hard copy – file cards, lever arch files and so on – which were then migrated to an Access database and a separate WordPress plug in for taking online payments, plus Eventbrite for event bookings, and Mailchimp for newsletters.

The problems were manifold: the online system didn’t talk to the offline database, so new members had to be cut and pasted into Access. There was no practical knowledge of database programs within the organisation so interrogating the files needed outside help (at £££ per hour), and to send out renewals and invoices was a manual process.

The Wild Apricot software – a cloud-based, SaaS program – has solved most of these issues. I’ve now set up automated functions for renewals, invoices, notifications and so on; data is entered once only (generally online by the customer, although the functionality is there for us to manually set things up); accurate reports can be run (for the first time in a number of years the London Society actually knows exactly how many active members it has).

Loading data was reasonably intuitive and was done, checked and verified in an afternoon. Members get password-protected access to their records and to events booking, which means that the events module, while not as pretty as Eventbrite, allows for member discounts and priority booking. This is an additional benefit to those members, but has also protected the Society’s income – previously we were losing revenue with non-members booking events at members’ rates.

Another good feature is that order forms and event pages can be embedded into the Society’s web site, allowing transactions to take place within the core site, rather than spinning people off to another domain.

Renewal emails are automatic (Although there doesn’t seem to be the flexibility to add/take away from the preset number of communications. Reports are not aesthetically pleasing, but are good (and can be downloaded as Excel data), and there is a connection to QuickBooks (which we haven’t used).

The system is far from perfect – there are several buggy processes that mean a series of basic tasks often have to be restarted and, although it has an email client, it is nowhere near as flexible or as powerful as Mailchimp; Wild Apricot should spend less time on trying to improve this and simply provide APIs to Mailchimp.

It is also lacking in several really necessary features; the system doesn’t do ‘gift’ memberships which has left the Society with a time-consuming workaround, and, more critically, no way to track promotional sources. If we’ve set up an offer and are linking to this from a number of sources (e.g. email, Facebook, Twitter), we need to know which sources are producing what orders, and Wild Apricot doesn’t have the facility for this. As any direct marketer could explain, this is a big, big omission and would render the program significantly less useful for any organisation that does a lot of external marketing. (I would have thought that a simple system that could take tags from links would swiftly solve this.)

Overall though, my reaction is positive. The software costs just a little more that £1000 a year and delivers a more than adequate performance. It’s robust, reasonably flexible, and pretty comprehensive – it’s several light years better than the previous system, and a fraction of the cost of an external bureau. It has allowed the London Society to concentrate on growing memberships (which are up 50% since the start of the year) and selling more tickets to events. All of these factors make it a system to be recommended. If I were wearing my theatre reviewer’s hat, I’d give it four stars.

 

[If you would like help with recruiting new members for your organisation, or transferring databases, drop me a line.]

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2 comments

  1. Hi Don,

    Thank you for this detailed and fair review. I’m from the User Experience team at Wild Apricot, so I can tell you that many users have shared a similar point of view – the good and the bad.

    You mentioned that we should integrate with an email provider (e.g. MailChimp) rather than building our own. Could you elaborate on this point?

    I ask because we’ve looked at this a few times, but never decided to go down the integration route for a few reasons, but mainly it was:

    1) Lack of predictable availability/reliability – we have no control over the 3rd party, so we can’t schedule upgrades or make other availability guarantees. And with emails, this is something we consider critical, since a delayed reminder or other emails could have a serious impact on an organization (e.g. membership activation email).

    2) Controlling Costs for Users – we think fixed pricing is a real strength of WA, since most small to medium orgs don’t have much wiggle room in their budget. If we used a 3rd party, we might not have an option to control the cost of emailing without restricting users in some way or raising prices.

    Thanks again for posting this, I’m sure others will find it helpful.

    1. Thanks Frank. I certainly think that when it comes to ‘system’ emails (invoices, renewals etc) you’re right to keep those within the WA program for all the reasons that you mention in (1) above, and I don’t really have an issue with how WA does these, other than perhaps wanting a bit more flexibility in terms of setting the numbers and interval of the notifications. As a marketer I would tend not to need to be changing the design or content of these emails that frequently, so the clunkiness of the WA set up isn’t too much of a concern.

      Having an interface for data between WA and other email providers would help in terms of the marketing and events emails that we send out. At present I export a file each month from WA and upload that to Mailchimp. This has details of membership status and so forth and that feeds into various segments of our main list. If someone new joins the Society they therefore don’t get onto our newsletter list until the beginning of the next month; alternatively, if we email our ‘non members’ segment, that might include people who’ve joined since the last export/import.

      It is still easier to do this than attempt to grapple with the WA email set up! I spent some time last week trying to do a simple email to send to one particular membership level, but gave up in the end and did it through Mailchimp in ten minutes.

      If there was a flow of data from WA to MC we would know we had up to date records on our broadcast file, have preset segments for the various activities we do, and set up any automations we wanted for new names. This might not be appropriate for every organisation, but the option to have such a flow (whether that was real time or user-initiated) would be beneficial for some of us.

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