Researching options for membership system

meirionwyllt
meirionwyllt used Ask the Experts™
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I'm going to be helping a non-profit youth organisation to modernise their IT systems, which includes moving their current 50,000-entry membership database (names/addresses/emails) from an old Access database into something that will simplify administration and enable concurrent use, etc, simplify mail merges and e-mail blasts etc. There are 150 staff, but whilst most of these will not need access to the member databases, I think we're still looking at around 25 staff who will, including the 4 IT staff.

Something that might help here is that they've recently been moved over to Office 365 (not sure which licence). There is an educational theme throughout the organisation's work, but I'm not sure whether they qualify for Education licenses. I will learn this at our first meeting.

The above does involve the personal details of children, so this will need to be a consideration.

Before the meeting, I just want to research a few options that might be available to them, therefore I would appreciate if you could suggest some options for what format their new database might take. The way I see it, here are some possible options...

# Putting them all as contacts in Office 365 (cut-down option for zero cost)
# Outlook Customer Manager (if they have Office 365 Business Premium)
# Getting something built in Microsoft Dynamic 365
# Buying an Azure SQL instance, and writing some sort of web-based front-end for it
# Buying a fully-featured cloud solution like yourmembership.com

What are your thoughts on the above? And are there any other options?

I realise that a lot of the above depends on what else they have in their domain that can be utilised, but until the first meeting I'm not sure. But for argument's sake, let's just say that they have very little in terms of current infrastructure. Of course I'm not asking for you to spec a solution, I'm just asking what are the good/popular solutions for this sort of thing currently, as I have limited experience in this specific area.

Thanks
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David FavorFractional CTO
Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
Information is to sparse to guess, as your question covers to many areas.

Maybe start by describing what membership means.

Huge difference between members who require some sort of login system to access some sort of data... and... members who receive bulk email about events periodically.
Brandon LyonWeb Developer/Designer

Commented:
It's also going to depend on what exactly the data is used for.

Phone calls? Integration with PBX? Skype?
Ecommerce integration for shipping and order tracking?
Email blasts could mean info should be accessible via API or it could mean exportable via CSV, or something else?
yo_beeDirector of Information Technology

Commented:
From my POV you are also adding layers of new technology that will require knowledge and expertise to manage, administer and support.  This is something to consider for your client.
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meirionwylltSenior Desktop Engineer

Author

Commented:
Hi, thanks for your responses. I'll try to clarify some of the points as I have now received some more information...

No, the members will not require a login to access any data

Membership is that the organisation receives their details, including which school they attend, and then sends a welcome pack upon joining, and sends bulk emails out periodically. Membership has previously been done through schools, but the organisation is now keen to look at being able to join by filling out a form on a website, and being to set up recurring PayPal payments from there as well - with Standing Order and cheque being an option too.

No, there will not be a need for integration with PBX or Skype.

By 'email blasts' I just mean that they'd need some type of Mailchimp style system where you have a bunch of email addresses in lists, and that you can write nice looking emails and track unsubscriptions etc.

Thanks
David FavorFractional CTO
Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
I think you've actually designed your entire system in your last comment.

1) For membership + payment management, setup a WordPress site.

2) Use something like Content Restrict Pro for simple membership management or one of many other Membership plugins.

3) Use MailChimp or something similar to send your bulk email.
meirionwylltSenior Desktop Engineer

Author

Commented:
Sorry I was away over the holiday period.

Thanks, I must admit I hadn't thought of the Wordpress+Plugin approach. Great idea. Although something for me to consider here is that many of these don't have a newsletter functionality built in, and but offer integration with Mailchimp. And the amount of members involved here would require $375 a month extra in Mailchimp fees (unless I can find one that integrates with Office 365). Also the hosting fees, and as yo_bee said above, the system would require a bit more maintenance with it being self-hosted. But it might still work out a decent price. I'd make some calcs.

Just so that I can cover all bases, I'd also like to see what my options are within Office 365 as well, seeing as they've invested in this recently. Do you know if there's any way I can make use of the O365 ecosystem to help with this solution?

Thanks.
David FavorFractional CTO
Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
I use MailGun for 1000s of sites.

First 10K message/month for each MailGun account are free. After that per message prices are dirt cheap.

Also MailGun is the only truthful relay service I've found to date.

What I mean is you can tap into Webhooks for each message to receive the "truth" about all state changes on a per message basis.

Other services, like MailChimp, don't provide raw SMTP banner logs, so you never really know what's going on in the bowels of these systems.
meirionwylltSenior Desktop Engineer

Author

Commented:
I now know that the Office 365 licence they have is E3. So before I wrap up this question, are there any thoughts on if I could use the existing Office 365 infrastructure in any way to help with this solution to improve it or to save costs?

Thanks,
David FavorFractional CTO
Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
To guess at costs, compare costs of whatever email volume you imagine you'll be sending... compare between 365 + MailGun + whatever other services you may be considering.

Tip: I was just working on a system using https://smtp.com as the mail relay service.

There are zero debugging facilities.

The first time you have to debug some complex problem + can simply scan your Webhooks MailGun logs + instantly find the answer... well... it's a very good day when debugging mail problems is fast.

Compared with most relay services... they all work the same... till they don't + you have to debug the problem...

This is where systems like MailGun shine, because you have 100% of every SMTP response code ever generated for 100% of connections.
meirionwylltSenior Desktop Engineer

Author

Commented:
No I see the benefits of MailGun, but this can only be a part of my solution, as I will need some membersip management system (possibly able to accept payments) so it's to help with this that I was asking about Office 365.

Any suggestions?

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