Comments from U3As currently using Beacon…
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Thank you to all of you!
Val Darbyshire, Beacon Administrator, Chalfonts U3A
I am a big fan of Beacon. We transferred over from a system where all our records were kept on spreadsheets to Beacon as I took over as Membership Secretary, so I have grown with it.
Beacon makes keeping membership records very simple, it is easy to update and any changes made to members' details automatically feeds into the group leaders lists which means their lists are also up to date.
When our spreadsheet system was transferred over to Beacon, we discovered that there were a lot of email addresses on our records that were incorrect so these had to be put right.
The first year with Beacon was used to ensure that our records were correct and that the system was working how we wanted it to. We then introduced online joining and renewing membership which has been a total success and is used by 70% of our membership. When someone joins or renews online the money is recorded in our accounts, the membership card is issued and the member’s record is updated automatically. The only thing I have to do is - if the person is a new member is check that they have entered their details in the way we want i.e. not all capital letters etc.
I like the way that a mass email can be sent to all members at the same time and the email can be personalised so each member gets their own personal information e.g. when I send the email inviting members to renew their subscription, I can send one email to all members but each email has the member specific information that person needs to be able to log into the members portal.
I have written and stored a collection of emails in the system to cover a variety of occurences.
To do a return for Third Age Matters using Beacon takes at the most 5 minutes.
There are a few minor niggles I have with the system,
- If someone has not renewed their membership for over a year you have to change the renewal date on their record to within the last 12 months to enable them to renew online.
- When our system was set up it automatically defaults to a class of membership which is more expensive than our standard membership and this has resulted in a few new members who join online paying too much and we having to make refunds by cheque. To correct this would mean an awful amount of work.
- After the grace period we give members to renew, I have to go into each member’s profile and mark them ‘lapsed’ to ensure they do not continue to receive information from us – I do wish that there was a way of selecting them from the renewal screen and saying mark all these lapsed.
Those niggles apart the system is very easy to operate and find your way around. It cuts down the amount of time that a membership secretary spends on lists and cuts down the amount of space needed for storage. When I took over as membership secretary, I was handed 2 very large boxes – one where completed membership forms were kept, the other with blank membership cards, envelopes, stamps copies of spreadsheets etc. in. I now have one small box the size of a lady’s shoebox which I keep everything in.
I have been using Beacon for just under a year, primarily to record membership and membership renewal payments for a U3A numbering over 1000 members. As a ‘non-technical’ person, I have found the system simple and straight-forward to use. I value the fact that I no longer have to hold a lot of personal data on my own computer and I believe the e-mail facility, whilst very basic, is probably more secure than using my own software. I also believe it is of benefit to my U3A to be able to access the membership information relatively easily if something were to unexpectedly incapacitate me. There is plenty of scope for improvement and development but it represents a very acceptable starting point from my perspective.
For the last six years I have been a Group Leader of one interest group and closely involved with the organisation and administration of three others. Three of these groups have 20-30 members and one has over 70. I have been using Beacon very successfully for over two years.
Instructions are straightforward and easy to follow and Beacon allows me to use information directly from the main list of members avoiding a huge amount of time consuming data input. This provides data protection and helps to avoid mistakes, particularly with input of email addresses.
Using Beacon I can check for members who have not enrolled at the start of a new U3A year. I can summarise group information and contact all or any of my groups by email. I can print registers simply by transferring data from my list of group members and view and deal with, any waiting list which occurs.
It has made group administration much easier, although, it does require basic computer literacy and confidence and regular use to improve efficiency.
I have guided two other Group Leaders in its use, one, with very limited computer knowledge, who now is using it with only occasional support.
We have been using Beacon for 2 ½ years now and it has made a huge difference to the work of the Membership Secretary. Before Beacon we had a spreadsheet for member’s details.
When a new member joined we had to enter the same information several times into various documents, now the information only has to be entered once. If we wanted to email all our members, the same email had to be sent five times because we could only have fifty addresses in a group. Now all members can be emailed with a few clicks.
We are hoping to use the online payment process within Beacon for our renewals this year which should mean a lot less work for the Membership Secretary and the Treasurer.
Quite a few of our Group Co-ordinators now use Beacon to keep track of their group members. They can easily see if someone is not a member or if a member has forgotten to pay their subscription. They can also email the members of their group without having to enter their emails addresses into their own email provider.
Another major advantage of Beacon is the ease with which the role of Membership Secretary can be passed on to someone else. Even someone with limited computer skills.
As the Membership Secretary for Fife U3A the Beacon database management system enables me to manage the full data structure for storing our members' details, enabling me to access and amend the data stored at any time
Compared to the traditional approaches of storing data in Excel sheets etc this system has a number of advantages.
- Organisational data is always susceptible to losses and therefore a proper system is highly recommended when a lot of data exists.
- When the Membership Secretary role passes to another member, the information is easily accessed and transferred with the minimum of difficulty
- The download of Members' addresses for the TAM Magazine has proved invaluable as it certainly saves time compared to downloading from Excel and having to amend names, for instance for two people at the same address
- Send emails in bulk has proved a boon. The option of being able to access the email delivery gives me the opportunity of amending email addresses where applicable and also to ascertain how many members actually open their emails