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.]