If you read my recent post about Wild Apricot then you probably have a pretty good idea that it really isn’t the membership system you want in this day and age, unless you like opening your non-profit’s/charity/membership group’s wallet really wide to support the absurd costs of the system, and can deal with the constant frustration of working with such an outdated platform.
Here’s a look at how I replaced Wild Apricot with some more modern and easy to use platforms, gained a lot more functionality and usability for our membership site, and saved our group over $1000/year in the process!
If you just want numbers and don't want to understand the solution I used in more detail, then skip towards the end.
The solution is a multi-platform approach, but the three platforms we’ll be using are made for each other and the setup is easy enough that anyone can do it – you don’t need to be a technical expert, or a web developer, or anything of the sorts – just be able to follow a simple guide!
WordPress is an open source Content Management System (aka the foundation of a good website). If you spend any time on the internet at all, then you’re likely accessing dozens and dozens of sites a day that are all running on WordPress. Estimates are that 30% of the top 10 million websites on the internet are all WordPress based!
WordPress is free too! But.. you’ll need a web host. Web hosting will run you anywhere from $3/month and up. We settled for a $15/month WordPress hosting plan. We pay a bit more, but we get things like daily backups, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited visits, and best of all, we didn’t need to install WordPress ourselves because it’s a “WordPress Hosting” plan where the host does all the setup and hands over a perfectly functional WordPress install to us! From sign-up to logging into our fresh WordPress instance was less than 20 minutes!
WordPress will really be our foundation for our website, think of it like the brain.
MemberPress is a purpose built plugin for building Membership based websites in WordPress. There are other plugins like this, but MemberPress is the “king of the hill” in this realm. All we needed, and all most people will need, is the basic $129USD / year plan.
I could write several blog posts to cover everything MemberPress is capable of, but let me point out the major ones:
- Unlimited Members
- Unlimited Membership Packages
- Unlimited Member Content
- Self-serve member dashboard
- Create and sell membership packages. You control your pricing, billing frequency, etc.
- Ability to create and use discount codes against your memberships
- Ability to control access to content on your website based on membership tiers (you can go as granular as allowing different tiers access to different types of content)
- Customizable sign-up forms to collect the data your organization needs about it’s members
- Ability to upgrade/downgrade memberships
- Content dripping
- Supports many common payment vendors (e.g. PayPal)
- Customizable email templates
- 10+ included free addons
The list is endless. Go to this link to check out more.
Are you keeping tabs of our costs? Don’t worry, I sum it all up at the end! That flat rate is already looking really appealing though, isn’t it?
WordPress and MemberPress are great for sending one-off emails, like the various emails you’d receive as part of a membership package purchase, expiry, or renewal, or resetting passwords, etc. but they aren’t mailing list platforms. If you have a membership base, you probably need a way to effectively communicate with them. Our third and final application we need is MailChimp. It’s free up to 2000 subscribers, so we won’t need to worry about paying for it for a long time to come. Even when that time comes, the cost is minimal.
MailChimp has a MemberPress plugin. It will automatically keep a mailing list in MemberPress up to date with all your members. Hands off – no action needed! As your members come and go, your MailChimp mailing list will be updated to reflect this!
How it keeps the list up to date is by adding tags to the list (you can customize this!). Our group has three membership tiers, so I set a tag for each tier. This way I can create segments in my MailChimp list based on member tiers. Now I can email market to each individual tier if I want, or, I can simply market to all members at once (aka anyone with any of the tags present). Users who don’t have MemberPress tags have probably signed up through our website, social media, or directly. If I want to market to only my paying members, then I don’t include those users in my list segment that I email to. I won’t go in depth on MailChimp use, you’ll figure this out quite fast, or you’re welcome to email me to ask more details about the setup.
This sounds more confusing than it is. MemberPress has amazing documentation, both written and video form, so again, anyone of any skill level can set this stuff up!
Completing the Setup
We completely designed and built a whole new website for our group as part of this move. Our project involved the new website design, testing, a revamp of all our membership tiers, and of course setting up the three aforementioned applications. I single-handedly did all of this in less than 25 hours. These systems are just so easy to work with, and there’s so many great starter templates out there for WordPress, that it’s all the ideal setup for a small (or large!) membership group because you don’t need to be investing lots of time into upkeep and development.
Setting up content access rules for our members in MemberPress was also fantastic, and very easy. We have some pages that are locked off for members only, and then we also have some blog post categories where any entries in that category will need various tiers of membership to access. We have several blog writers in our group, so it’s as easy as educating everyone on what blog topics do what, and they can start creating rich content for our members without needing to always go through me to post it on the website.
But here’s what you’re really waiting for!
You want the number comparisons, I know you do.
500 Contacts Tier: $90USD / Month (the tier we were using)
Grand Total: $1080USD / Year ($1471 CAD / Year) for 500 Contacts
WordPress + MemberPress + Mail Chimp:
WordPress Hosting: $15 / Month (unlimited visits, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited storage, free WordPress installation, daily backups)
MemberPress WordPress Plugin: $129 / Year Basic Tier (unlimited members and membership, all the features you could ever need)
MailChimp: FREE up to 2000 Contacts/Members.
Grand Total: $309 USD / Year ($422 CAD / Year) for Unlimited Contacts
Revision (May 2019): Since writing this and adding up all the costs above, WildApricot has, not surprisingly, found yet another way to take more hard earned money from your Charity, Non-Profit, or Member Organization. If you don’t use their own payment processor (of which they get a % cut of all your payments) and you opt to use your own processor, such as the one your charity/non-profit has negotiated good rates with for your non-web transactions, then they will now be increasing your entire bill by 20% per year! So it seems if WildApricot can’t have their cut of your donations and memberships, on top of them already taking their cut from your renewing memberships (based on their contact tier pricing), then they will still find a way to siphon away the funds that are critical to your non-profit or charity. They want their cut of the money you are making, period. (source)
Our group now puts over
$1000$1200/year (factoring in the new third party payment processor fee) back in our pockets, and that savings continues to grow as our membership does because MemberPress is a fixed rate and doesn’t continue to charge us more money as our group grows. It always bothered me that WildApricot positioned themselves towards charities and non-profits, yet had a pricing model that saw them milking more and more money off these groups as they grew!
In addition to tremendous savings ($1000 is a lot for non-profit and charity type groups!), MemberPress also gives us much more functionality too. We finally aren’t held back by a dated and frustrating to use system and can run a sleek, easy to manage, membership system. The flexibility of WordPress, MemberPress, and MailChimp allow us to create great looking content for our members with minimal effort, and to easily control access to that content based on a virtually infinite set of rules we can build.
For our members, it’s easy to access their portal, update their information, and handle payments, upgrades, etc. in their membership packages.
As we grow and want to add more functionality, the size and market share of WordPress makes it easy to find plugins, often times free plugins, to do almost anything we can dream up. I’ve added a variety of plugins to our site to handle small design and content functionality where I had unique ideas and could find someone who’s build a plugin to do just what I was dreaming up!
WildApricot should be sweating. Their platform is dated, expensive, and lacks features compared to far more modern competitors. Making to move to WordPress + MemberPress is a no-brainer for any membership group who wants to save a lot of money, and have a more powerful, easy to use website and membership platform in the process. We continue to be pleased by our move and I highly recommend this setup to everyone!