Membership management: Avoiding the 5 most common pitfalls

Posted on 14 Sep 2023

In the world of many Australian organisations and clubs, memberships are the lifeblood that keeps the community alive. They bring people together, foster a sense of belonging and provide essential support for the group's goals.

However, there are some common missteps that can undermine the effectiveness of Australian membership programs. Here are some of the traps and tips on how to avoid them.

1. Lack of member list

Picture this: your organisation has a thriving membership, but there's no actual list of who these members are. It's like hosting a party without knowing who's invited. And then having no grounds to exclude the outlaw bikie gang from across town. The solution? Keep a detailed list of your members. It may sound obvious, but you'd be surprised at how many organisations miss this fundamental step.

Importantly, maintaining an accurate and current membership list isn't just a matter of good practice so much as being a requirement by law across Australia. Ensure you know your state's mandatory requirements (or the Corporations Act, if this applies to you) on membership list management.

2. Absence of removal process

Membership is a two-way street. While it's essential to bring members in, it's equally crucial to have a mechanism for removing them when necessary. Don't assume that failing to pay dues automatically disqualifies someone from membership. Without the provision to remove members your organisation might end up with inactive or problematic members who are difficult to manage.

And again, as above, this isn't just good practice, it is a legal requirement in Australian that your committee explicitly approves the removal of members to avoid potential disputes down the road.

3. Missing membership forms

It’s all well and good to have a list of members, but how did they become members in the first place? Without a proper application process, you're essentially allowing anyone and everyone to join your ranks. Encourage potential members to fill out application forms. This not only legitimises their membership but also helps you gather important information. Ideally this would be completed in a membership registration application that allows you to access this data at anytime.

4. Lack of Committee Approval

Now you have a list and application forms, but did your committee specifically approve those applications? Is this a requirement in your terms of reference, as it is for so many organisations and clubs? Avoid the trap of assuming that anyone who fills out a form automatically becomes a member. Ensure that each application is reviewed and approved by the committee at formal meetings to maintain the integrity of your group.

5. Specific Membership terms

Some organisations specify membership terms in a way that can lead to complications. For instance, stating "a year" or, worse, "a football season" can create problems if the Annual General Meeting (AGM) is delayed or pandemics (such as COVID) change the definition of a season. Memberships might lapse, leaving your AGM without enough participants to make decisions.

So, what's the solution? Treat memberships as if they were financial debts. Every detail should be meticulously signed off, from the approval process to the duration of membership. This way, you ensure that your membership program is robust and legally sound.

In the grand scheme of things, not many organisations end up in court over membership issues, but it's always better to be safe than sorry. It has happened that judges have had to determine membership based on applications made years earlier at the time of incorporation – a situation you'd undoubtedly want to avoid.

In conclusion, memberships are the lifeblood of any organisation. They define those who are highly connected to your mission and provide momentum for activity. They are your go-to community. By following these simple guidelines and treating memberships with the seriousness they deserve, you can ensure that your membership program is robust. It's all about building a strong and cohesive community that stands the test of time.

For more information about how GiveNow can help you manage your memberships, see here.