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Managing Membership

​Who doesn’t enjoy the thrill of attracting new paid members? You learn that someone values your organization and your efforts so much that they are willing to plunk down real dollars (or whatever their currency) to invest into your Scottish heritage society! You then need to keep them engaged with membership benefits such as access to the members-only section of the website, the member newsletter, and free give-ways.

The real challenge, for many societies, is encouraging renewal. You need accounting skills to keep track of the dates and amounts, a regulated communication system, and marketing skills to lure them back. Successful Scottish heritage societies have a robust system for maintaining the master membership records, updating the payment records, integrating the information with communications platforms, processing payments, and balancing security with accessibility.

Before we delve into the types of systems, let’s take a look and what information we need to track.

Master Record

For all members, you will need to record basic contact information such as salutation (Mr., Ms., Dr., The Hon., etc.); first, middle, and last names; postal address with state/province, country, and postal code; telephone number; cell phone number; and e-mail address. Especially for clan and family societies, you will need a member number or some other key field to reduce duplication among similar last names.

Payment Records

In addition to the information in the master record, you should be able to capture information about each payment. These should be linked to the master record. The payment record should include such information as date; purpose (when it’s membership dues, a gift membership, a donation, etc.); amount; source (whether through the website, renewal notice, an event such as games, etc.); payment type (ACH, charge, cash, PayPal, Square, Stripe, etc.)

Payment Processing

As noted above, you also need to integrate your membership records with some payment processing service, such as PayPal, Square, or Stripe. Online finance company NerdWallet has rated (out of 5 stars) the top ten services for small businesses: PayPal (5.0), Stripe (5.0), Square (5.0), Helcim (4.5), Stax (4.5), Payline (4.5), Dharma (4.5), Shopify (4.0), Clover (4.0), and Chase for Business (3.5). While many societies manually enter this information into their membership systems, the most efficient is to integrate these payments.


At the very minimum, you will need to be able to track the number of new and renewing members every month. You should also be able to track the average renewal rate (by month); the source of the new membership (such through the website; social media; or games); and the average life-time value of you members. This information is very useful in adjusting your recruitment and retention strategies.

Communications Platforms

Maintaining data on each member is only part of the challenge. You need to communicate with each of these member appropriately. This means you need to segment or identify the type of member (whether paid, free or affiliate, gift, life member, etc.) in order to acknowledge their membership dues or donations, send the newsletter, and most importantly request their annual dues, if appropriate.

Security and Accessibility

Since the overwhelming majority of societies are based on volunteers rather than paid professional staff, you also need to have access to the membership information without sacrificing security of personal information. Clearly, you need to have a very secure payment processing system so that your potential donors feel comfortable in giving money over the Internet. Key volunteers such as your Treasurer and Membership Chairman, need to have access to the information to perform their duties.

Types of Membership Systems

Membership systems can either be based on a flat, two-dimensional database (such as a spreadsheet with rows and columns) or a relational database that links master records to a series of individual data (such as for individual dues payments, donations, merchandise purchases, etc.)

Some societies use an online service to maintain their records accurately and prove the interconnection with various communications methods, such as mail-merges for postal mail, targeted e-mails, and renewal notices.

Cost Considerations

With a variety of options come a variety of process. Some online services offer a free version but the costs ramp up quickly depending on the number of records and types of services you need. Many providers range from $30/month to $450/month depending on the size of your organization. You should be able to get a discount for a yearly plan. You also need to find out any additional fees such as for setup, support, or extra features.

More Information on Managing Membership

For more information on:

  • Which clan and family societies are using specific memberships systems

  • Membership system checklist

  • Comparison of ten highly-rated membership systems

Learn more here in the members-only "Members Services" section:

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