As a membership organisation, you’re likely to fall into one of two categories. Either you already issue membership cards and you spend a reasonable amount of time and energy doing it. Or you are considering issuing membership cards but want to find out the best way to do it.
Whichever of the two categories you fall into, you’re probably looking for a time-efficient and straightforward way of making your cards without spending money that would be better spent elsewhere.
In this article, we will talk about the need for membership cards in the modern world, the challenges faced by membership organisations looking to issue cards, and how to actually go about making them.
Do you need membership cards?
You might be thinking, we live in a digital age – why have membership cards? And it’s true that not all membership organisations need cards. But they certainly have some useful functions.
Membership cards can strengthen your membership offering in several ways:
- Data collection. If a member has to scan their card to participate in activities, you can obtain data which can help to inform your marketing strategy.
- Sense of community. Membership cards can act as a physical reminder that the person belongs to your organisation and a community of other members.
- Status and identity. Cards can remind members of the sense of pride that they feel in belonging to your group and/or supporting your cause. It can also help with a sense of status if the cards differentiate between membership types or levels (e.g. honorary or premium).
- Discounts. A physical card can act as an easy way to validate whether a person is eligible for a specific membership perk or discount.
- Admittance. Cards are sometimes used for gaining physical entry to venues, events or other places.
What are the challenges?
There are a number of options for creating and printing your membership cards, and with these different options come various challenges that need to be taken into consideration.
- Cost. Getting cards professionally printed looks great but it can easily mean that costs accumulate significantly over time. You are much more likely to get value for money if you print your own cards, particularly if you design the cards yourself too.
- Environment. It is possible to get the equipment to print your own PVC cards. They do look and feel great, however, they are not environmentally friendly. It’s important to consider the message that you’re sending out with your cards.
- Convenience. Sending away for cards means that you can only order membership cards in batches. If you make your own cards, you don’t want to waste your time typing in all the information each time someone joins – a streamlined process is going to save you a lot of time and energy.
With these considerations in mind, the best option will depend on how many members you have and the main purpose you are issuing membership cards. It may be possible to minimise many of the challenges in the way you create your membership cards.
What needs to go on the membership card?
The key to simplifying the process of membership card creation is minimising the information they contain and ensuring each bit of information has a clear purpose.
- Organisation information may include your name, logo, website, and phone number.
- Member information may include member name, number, a barcode or QR code, and their signature and possibly photo.
- Subscription information may include the membership plan/tier/type, renewal date, price, etc.
How do you make your own membership cards?
The method of membership card creation will depend on whether you issue cards with all information already printed onto the card or print a template on to which specific member details can be handwritten.
Creating a simple fixed template
With this approach you print a single template for all members. Individual member details are added by hand either by an administrator or by the members themselves. It's surprisingly common for membership organisations to take this approach and the benefits of creating a fixed template are significant:
- You can do a large print run and use them over multiple years.
- No time spent working with mail merge software, etc.
- Less complexity for your printer, lowering costs.
- Can allow for higher quality or environmentally friendly cards and printing processes.
There are of course also some downsides to this approach when compared to cards that are printed for each member so it will not be appropriate in all circumstances:
- Can look less professional.
- Feels less personal to the member.
- Possible more prone to mis-use.
- Not easy to add a personalised barcode or QR code.
Membership card software
Designing and printing your own membership cards might seem like a bit of a mystery but it is actually relatively straightforward. You can use everyday software like Adobe Illustrator, GIMP or even Microsoft Word to create professional-looking cards. There are also an increasing range of online tools that can be free or very low-cost. A leading example is Canva. Most of these tools offer some starting templates you can work from and they offer tools to allow you to print customised cards for each member.
Alternatively, creating a membership card template is a very simple (and therefore inexpensive) job for a professional designer.
Similar tools can be used together with a mail merge function to create envelopes and covering letters so that you can send out your membership cards in an efficient way.
Membership card printing options
The software above will help you with the design side of membership cards. There are a number of approaches to consider for printing.
Use your own standard printer
Special paper is available for creating membership cards as part of a welcome letter which the member can pop out. these are often called 'integrated membership cards'. This option gives you a good middle-ground between cost and convenience as these cards can be printed using a normal laser printer.
Dualam, peel-out, pop-out and butterfly style cards all have different pros and cons. Check which of these is appropriate because some can only be personalised on one side.
Use a PVC card printer
Another option is to buy a special PVC card printer so that you can print your own professional looking PVC cards in-house.
There are also some inkjet printers that will print onto PVC cards, which reduces the cost of having PVC cards if you already have one of these printers.
This kind of setup is often expensive so is only likely to make sense if individualised membership cards are critical to your membership offering and you have a large membership base.
PVC cards are also less environmentally friendly, so decreasing in popularity significantly.
Have members print at home
Having members print their own cards at home is another option. To make sure your members have a professional looking card, you can send out a hand laminating pouch to members.
This is a more environmentally friendly option as only members who will use a printed card will actually print one. However, members may perceive printing their own cards as inconvenient or unnecessary and then not reap the benefits of having a membership card.
Use a professional printing company
If you have decided to just use a template and handwrite onto your cards, getting cards professionally printed will almost always be the best option because it will deliver the best quality at the lowest cost.
If you need individualised membership cards and can print them all at the same time of the year then using a printing company may be the best option here also. Most printers can print individualised cards if supplied with an appropriately formatted spreadsheet of member details. Some printers also offer a service to post out the cards to your members.
Create a digital membership card
Another important approach to consider with membership cards is a digital membership cards. Many membership management platforms, including White Fuse, offer tools to allow members to log in to an online account and view an online membership card that can be presented digitally to gain entry or discounts.
While this may not be right for everyone, the advantages of moving to a digital approach are significant:
- Large cost saving
- Members need not remember to carry around their card
- Friendlier to the environment
- The person's membership status will always be up-to-date as they won't be able to login and show their membership credentials if their subscription has expired.
When it comes to membership cards there is no one-size-fits-all approach so you should always start with an analysis of why you need membership cards. You may even find they are a legacy feature of your membership scheme and can be dispensed with entirely!
Once you know the primary purpose of the card you'll be better placed to weigh up the costs and decide between template vs. individual and digital vs. printed.