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The pandemic massively accelerated the pace of digital transformation. One of the most frequent comments we hear from PAOs is that they are in need of a modern, efficient CRM system. One capable of managing a member’s lifecycle effectively, with a high degree of automation, reducing the burden of manual, repetitive tasks on staff. With an ever-growing number of apps, accelerators, features, integrations, and bespoke software, there is so much that a PAO can achieve with the right CRM supporting them. That, however, does leave a rather important choice to be made… 'what is the right CRM for a PAO'?

PAOs need their CRM to work hard for them, empowering new and older relationships while maintaining regulatory and jurisdictional compliance (often across borders) with up-to-date compliance software. That is a lot of requirements for one piece of software, especially considering most modern solutions will also require a layer of AI and RPA over them to succeed in this 'new normal'.

Universal Expectations of a PAO CRM Solution

Running a robust and successful PAO is not easy, but the days of having a simple web portal capable of a bit of email capture and sending out the odd update on the organization are long gone. In the modern marketplace, professional members will expect secure levels of data protection, a personalized service, immediacy, and many other value-adds to differentiate one organization from another. Digital memberships are not new, and today’s audiences are savvy about what makes for a great experience. If it takes them too long to locate what they are looking for—e.g., if the sign-up process is overly complicated or if a page loads slightly too slowly—then it's quite likely a user will quit and go looking for an alternative (competitor) option.

And that expectation is for all digital experiences… from tiny, one-page websites right through to internet giants like Amazon or Google. Competing at that level makes it hard to acquire new members and even harder to retain them in the long-term. This makes membership engagement, facilitated by a cutting-edge CRM system, a priority of all PAOs. Members need to see instantly and be often reminded of the value of belonging to an organization. That's why the core features of a PAO-specific CRM need to focus on three key points: attraction, engagement, and retention.

Key Features for a PAO CRM Software

The capability of CRMs is evolving all the time, expanding the realm of the possible and giving a PAO a real competitive edge in the market. Still, many organizations are worried about making that jump due to fear of cost, over-reliance on legacy systems, and/or the possibility of vendor lock-in.

Secure But Efficient Membership Profiles

Whatever data that is captured needs to be stored securely for a whole host of reputational, legal, and compliance issues. It also essential that a CRM can integrate seamlessly with other applications to auto-populate member data with updates like:

  • Event Attendance: A CRM should have the ability to record the type of events a member is attending, store log-in details to the event for the member, and provide accurate Business Intelligence (BI) for the organization going forward.
  • Connections: Any modern CRM should be able to provide instant BI data on the relationships and touchpoints between your members, whether they are colleagues, peers, or met at an event once. That level of connectivity allows for much deeper personalization but also a more efficient allocation of resources.
  • Membership Levels: If a PAO offers different membership tiers then it is important the CRM can accurately reflect that, applying suitable badges or signage to each profile, applying special permissions or access, and where appropriate, discounts based on said level.

Automatic Membership Renewals

Increasing retention rates is a key concern for PAOs and automatic membership renewal can be a great facilitator to that… if managed correctly. If not, it runs the risk of reputational damage that could massively affect ongoing acquisition efforts.

The simpler the process is to renew, the better and with a proper CRM capable of sending out notifications or reminders this can be achieved while eliminating some or all the work for the member.

  • Notifications should be timely, giving members plenty of time to make their decision.
  • While several notifications can be sent, they need to be inobtrusive rather than demanding.
  • Importantly, the notification needs to be personalized, thanking members for their continued membership and reminding them of the benefits they will continue to receive.

Integrated Event Management

Whether virtual or in-person, it's likely members will be attending PAO-hosted events, and a good CRM should be capable of allowing each member to update and manage their attendance via their credentials in addition to the valuable BI mentioned earlier. A good CRM will include the ability to schedule events, invite members through their log-in details, showcase a schedule of upcoming events a member can register interest in, track who is and isn't coming (and who might need a follow-up call).

Easy But Secure Payment Options

It's likely through the course of a member's lifecycle with a PAO that they will need to make payments. That could be as simple as their membership fee but could also include event participation, CPD or exams. The CRM system being used should create a seamless link from the members’ access to the CRM, on to the payment portal, and finally to the PAO's financial software.

Easy To Access Analytics

The importance of accurate and timely business intelligence has been mentioned several times now. It is different to discern an effect or impact of activities if they are not being tracked. That is why a significant feature of any CRM should be on-hand analytics capable of providing real-time data on member activity and engagement levels.

Self-Service Member Portal

Engagement is the key to increased revenue for PAOs so empowering a member to 'self-engage' is essential for any good CRM system. That means the CRM should support allowing members to have full control over their membership tiers, payments, and payment history, easy online registration, online networking potential between members, CPD certification, and accreditation options. 

The Top PAO-Suitable CRMs Currently on the Market

Microsoft Dynamics 365 - Paid

For most PAOs, Microsoft Dynamics 365 will be the solution that answers all requirements in one package. Most people will be inherently familiar with Microsoft products, making it easy to learn. It's excellent as an Out-the-Box solution but can also be fully customized as required, especially when combined with the Power Platform. It also integrates seamlessly with the full Microsoft Stack, Office, and Outlook, which almost all private and commercial sectors will operate on.

That integration with Office (especially Excel) also makes the reporting capabilities of Dynamics second to none, empowering a PAO's Business Intelligence to drill down in real-time and analyze data better than any other solution available today. It is also incredibly easy to automate daily, weekly, or monthly reports to show developing or historical trends at a glance.


CiviCRM is an open-source CRM designed for NonProfits and civic sector organizations that's available worldwide for free. It was built and kept up to date by a community of volunteers and users from the sector. It comes with a surprisingly mature set of solutions for CRM, donations, contact management, email marketing, and reports. While its features will not be as advanced as other extendable systems, it is ideal for smaller organizations with fewer requirements looking to make cost and efficiency savings.

Wild Apricot – Paid (30-day free trial)

Wild Apricot is a membership organization software that is very handy for smaller PAOs with some wider applications for those looking for something more complex. It comes specially equipped with software designed to keep track of members, automating billing for dues and events, and tracking engagement and touchpoints.

Join It Software – Paid (Entry level pricing available)

Join It is a great entry-level membership CRM solution for PAOs, with several low-level pricing options for smaller organizations. It allows a PAO to quickly customize a CRM solution capable of searching contacts, creating web pages, and more.

Chargebee – (Free & Paid Options)

Chargebee offers a free option for very small organizations, with staggered pricing after that based on revenue, making them a beneficial choice for any organization just starting out. Their CRM offering is more than capable of capturing, retaining, and maximizing revenue opportunities from members via automated billing and subscription management solutions with connectors capable of plugging it straight into other third-party solutions.

SilkStart - (paid)

SilkStart is not the cheapest option for a PAO CRM solution but comes with a well-designed and intuitive user interface for both members and back-end users, making it easy to pick up and deploy. Their back-end dashboard also comes with a 'health-at-a-glance' overview allowing for a good view of current membership engagement with additional built-in reports tracking membership churn. Silkstart also enables automation functions of internal processes, scheduling and sending of emails, and creating events.

Glue Up – (paid)

Glue Up does not offer pricing breakdowns on their website; instead, they encourage prospective PAOs to contact them for a quote. It does segment solutions, from CRMs to event management to community management to training management solutions. There's very little upskilling needed with Glue Up as it's another intuitive Out-the-Box solution combing a host of functions to complement a basic CRM.

HiveBrite – (paid)

Hivebrite is another all-in-one community management portal designed for membership organizations, NonProfits, the education sector, or corporate professionals. It's a good solution for different-sized organizations, empowering PAOs to deploy, manage and grow a vibrant membership eco-sphere. It's a customizable solution focusing on community engagement, data analytics, payment collection, and centralized communications.

Memberclicks – (paid)

Memberclicks, as the name suggests, is a dedicated membership CRM solution well suited to the PAO sector. It's capable of managing finances, running marketing, and membership queries all in one software package. Memberclicks also comes with a continuous release cycle of improvements keeping it relevant while others may get outgrown.

Where is your PAO on the Digitalization Journey?

IFAC teamed up with cloudThing to offer our membership a free Digital Readiness Assessment Tool that would assess an organization's digital readiness ahead of a digital transformation project. The Digital Readiness Assessment Tool has been designed to measure how digitally 'mature' an organization is, or where they already are on their individual digital transformation journey.

Check out IFAC's PAO Digital Transformation Series webpage which houses helpful resources, articles and videos on Digital Transformation and is regularly updated!

cloudThing, based in the UK, is a technology company that help organizations such as the British Red Cross, The South African Institute of Accountants, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants (England & Wales) to name but a few, digitally transform by taking advantage of the automation technology available to them on the cloud.