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Are Associations Neglecting a Big Slice of Potential Members?

A re-post from SCD Group’s blog and a great summary of key points from this remarkable book.

If you would like to borrow my copy of this book, I highly recommend it! Don’t mind my notes in the margins. 

Today’s guest poster is Sarah Sladek, CEO of XYZ University and author of The End of Membership as We Know It (ASAE Press).


Membership associations are a lot like pizza parlors.

I read somewhere that three-fourths of Americans like pizza. Likewise, most Americans belong to a membership association. (However, if you’re among the one-fourth of Americans who don’t like pizza, bear with me. I do have a point to make here.)

For a really long time, associations have been serving pizza. In other words, associations have mastered how to deliver products, services, and events that really appeal to one audience in particular.

The baby boomers love the pizza that associations serve up, and in most cases they are the ones frequenting the pizza parlors and eating all the pizza, as well as managing the pizza-making process and restaurant operations, and possibly even making the pizza themselves!

Now you have people coming into your restaurant asking what else is available. Maybe they don’t like pizza. Maybe they’re hoping your association will offer something else in addition to pizza.

These new consumers tend to be younger. Their unique interests, needs, wants, and expectations have left some boomers thinking these consumers are self-centered, demanding, and foolish for wanting something other than the fantastic pizza they’ve made.

Suddenly, as the owner of the pizza parlor, your association has a mess on its hands. Your new customers are storming off in frustration while management complains that new customers are needed but they certainly aren’t serving anything other than pizza.

So what does your association do? Do you stop serving pizza altogether? Or do you continue to serve only pizza?


Your pizza parlor should continue producing its great pizza and recruit these new consumers to come in and help your association master making some new foods, too.

If your association expects to grow membership, it can’t abandon its traditions. But it also can’t ignore the opportunity to introduce new members to new members benefits and marketing strategies.

The U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics both predict that by 2015 baby boomers will cede the majority of the workforce to generation Y. It will be the largest shift in human capital in history.

Yet most membership associations remain almost entirely governed and supported by the baby boom generation. If we take an honest look at membership we can see that most associations are still struggling to engage generation X (currently ages 30-46), much less generation Y (ages 16-29)!

Can you fathom the world being dominated by people in their 20s and early 30s? The baby boom generation has been in power for so long, it’s difficult to imagine our corporations, government, schools, nonprofits, and just about every industry out there being influenced by other generations.

And if gen Ys aren’t already highly engaged in your association, do you have a plan for engaging them within the next four years? You can’t keep your pizza parlor intact and expect to miraculously build a membership monopoly that engages younger generations. It won’t happen.

So take off your apron, roll up your sleeves, and let’s get started on building a highly successful, multigenerational membership monopoly.

Step 1: Understand Generational Differences

Many association executives make the mistake of thinking that younger generations just aren’t joining their association because they haven’t grown into it yet. “Just give it time,” they say. “Soon they’ll have more interest in their community/more money/more responsibility/more something and they will want to join.”
Think about it. We’re all a little more footloose and fancy-free in our twenties. As we age, we gain more wisdom and responsibility, get tired more easily, and approach life very differently. The behavioral differences between a 20-year-old and 60-year-old are age differences.And to these associations I say, “Don’t hold your breath.”

However, the decision to join an association (or not to join) isn’t an age difference. It’s a generational difference.

Just take a look at generation X—its oldest members are 46 and associations are still struggling to engage them. This generation is nearing middle-age and they still aren’t “joiners”!

The decision to join an association isn’t something you grow into alongside mortgage payments and diaper changing. The decision to join isn’t the result of wisdom or maturity; it’s rooted in our most basic needs and wants.

If younger generations aren’t joining your association, there’s a reason. It has absolutely nothing to do with their immaturity and everything to do with your association’s inability to deliver value to them.

As I mentioned above in the pizza parlor example, your association is likely managed, supported, and frequented by baby boomers. That would mean baby boomers are your association’s target market.r generations aren’t joining your association, there’s a reason. It has absolutely nothing to do with their immaturity and everything to do with your association’s inability to deliver value to them.

This is all fine and good, but if you want your association to grow and sustain, your target market needs to shift to generations X and Y—and these generations want their memberships to provide them with ample opportunities to learn, lead, and make a difference.

Step 2: Create a Place to Belong

Even more basic than that, all members, regardless of age, needs to feel like they belong. Your association doesn’t see much turnover within the boomer membership because you are satisfying their need to belong.

But what about the other generations? Do they feel like they belong in your association?

Belonging by definition means two things. It means that you have a secure relationship and it also means that you have ownership in something.

For generations X and Y to feel like they belong, they are looking to your association to listen—and act upon—their points of view, generate new ideas and create alternatives , provide a positive and motivating membership experience, and include them in leadership and decision-making processes.

Generations X and Y need to feel a secure relationship and a sense of ownership in your association before they join. In contrast, most baby boomers will join an association because they feel it’s the right thing to do and they work at the belonging piece of it after the fact.

However, your association will struggle to recruit and retain younger members if they don’t feel like they belong in your association. As soon as you understand the significance of that need, your association can begin to make progress towards meeting it.

Menu Diversification

I’ve made a strong case here in favor of recruiting and retaining younger generations. It’s not because I think you should fold up your prosperous pizza-making business and start up a spaghetti factory.

What I do want you to do is to start thinking of your association like a buffet.

It’s 2012 and your most loyal customer base has started to shrink. You may not even notice anything happening yet, but it will. With each passing year, it will get a little smaller and 20 years from now, it won’t even exist.

The question is: Will your association still exist?

Younger generations have different needs and wants. Their appetite is different. Ignore them, and they will find somewhere else to eat.

And I’m not talking about feeding a little goldfish here. At 120 million people, generations X and Y are the equivalent of a herd of elephants! They have the power to make or break your association.

Start thinking about all the needs within your membership and cater to them all.
It’s the only way to keep your pizza parlor from going bankrupt.

How to Make a Scrapbook- I Mean Facebook Page

The essence of any good scrapbook is the story.

Think of your high school yearbook. I’m guessing there was a section devoted to the cost of a car, the Best Actor award winner, and the song that hit the top of the charts during that year. The story of your high school life is told among inscriptions, photos, ticket stubs and doodles and the memories within the bound pages are reminiscent of… what exactly? Feelings! Emotions! The love, laughter, tears and frustrations of your adolescence.

But small condo dwellers and frequent relocators rejoice. No need to lug that heavy book of memories around with you anymore. The scrapbook has gone digital (and public) with a company called Facebook.

Instead of scissors, glue and a late Friday night (oh wait, I’m writing this on a Friday night), you can upload and post your story with photos, videos and status updates for friends, friends of friends and the entire world to see.

But what does this mean for associations?

Everything. Think about the thousands of stories throughout your association and the belonging and hope they often bring out in others! Belonging and hope are feelings. And while people may not remember the specifics of each story, they will remember how you made them feel.  Stories are the heart and soul of your association. They are the tiny threads that bond your members and your fans together.

Your job is to evoke feelings on your Page with photos, videos and status updates to make a good story. When this happens, people will spread your mission quite naturally!

But how do I do that?

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Use the features in Facebook to let images tell your story.

Cover Image– the easiest way to reflect your brand. Don’t be afraid to change it frequently! Tell your story from different perspectives using different images or color themes.  Image size is 851 px by 315 px and high-res photos are best.

Profile Pic– with a thumbnail of only 32 px, it must be simple and easily viewable within the defined space. The large size is 180 px square. Most associations will use a logo, so be sure it fits. If it doesn’t, you may want to incorporate the logo into the Cover Image. This is what Facebook users will see the most.

Custom Icons for Third-Pary Apps- you can upload your own images for the app feature by clicking the pencil icon. Use consistent colors with your branding and 111 px by 74 px in size.

Pinning– allows you to feature an update for 7 days. Again, what you pin should evoke emotions or contribute to your story.

Milestones– tell your bigger story by posting goals, successes and advancements in  your cause using photos.

Highlighting– like pinning, you can highlight an update that furthers your story plot and that contains unique photos or videos (preferably high-res). This will enhance the visual make-up of the timeline and draw the eye to the content that you want to display. Click on the star icon at the top right of any post.

What kind of stories work?

  1. Stories about how your members are “using” information/knowledge gained from the association. Job offers, anyone?
  2. Stories that show your mission at work. How have you saved lives, promoted your profession or supported education?
  3. Personality sketches of members or member companies.
  4. Stories that show the personality and culture of your organization.
  5. Stories that highlight your programs and services at work (by members).

Where can I find them?

  1. At conferences and other in-person events.
  2. Calls or emails from members to your staff.
  3. Calls for stories sent to members.
  4. Random comments overheard or “watercooler” conversation. 

Read more: The Stupidly Simple Facebook Page Features by John Haydon, author, Facebook Marketing for Dummies

Using Stories and Member Perceptions to Shape Strategic Planning Process

Guest Post by Jim Schnurbusch, founder of OrgStory 

You’re a board member of an association and you’ve been asked to describe the benefits members receive and why your association would be attractive to those for which it’s intended.

You can respond to that question, can’t you? Of course you can – you certainly know what you think would be the pat answers (if you’re in trouble you can always go to your association’s web site to find copy points) – probably something like, “great education and networking resource, terrific lunch meetings” – sound familiar?

But how do you know – really know – how to answer these questions? How do you know – really know – that what your association shares on its website really addresses the questions? In this day and age where associations of all types are being challenged to find relevancy, membership value that enhances retention and organizational benefits that enhance recruitment, your association has to stop referring to “what it’s always said and does” and find out what members and prospects want it to be.

The St. Louis Society of Association Executives (SLSAE), using an outside facilitator, tackled this issue through a unique process called “StoryCrafting” which uses stories and members perceptions to shape not just messaging, but the entire strategic plan. Rather than continue to “tell” what it thought were the reasons members stayed and prospects came, SLSAE started by listening and asking members about value and prospects about what they wanted from the association.

What SLSAE discovered was that the aspects of member value the board and “elder statesman” of the organization found most appealing weren’t appealing to newer members or the association’s prospects. SLSAE also discovered it needed to reposition and reformat its approach to meetings and content to be relevant to today’s association leaders.

Through this discovery, SLSAE is in the midst of a total “relaunch” of the association – including mission, vision, name and every element of its brand reflected in every aspect of its overall marketing efforts including programs, dues and communications.

While it’s not “rocket science,” your association can do the same thing to make certain it is relevant and provides value to its membership – and, is attractive to its prospects.

Start with board and leadership perspectives to provide a benchmark. Then, go listen and ask membership and prospects. What you’re certain to find out is that there are “gaps” (sometimes significant) between what your association provides and what members want.

And, after their first answer, keep asking “What else?”

Sustainable, future success for your association comes from addressing the wants. 

Jim Schnurbusch is founder of OrgStory which engages with nonprofits to help them discover, define, develop and deliver the right stories that lead to the right outcomes which often include increased membership, the creation of earned revenue paths and greater financial support, clarity of communications, stronger programs, heightened visibility or simply, an enhanced understanding and reputation of an organization.

12 Tips for Productive Board Meetings

I’m busy. You’re busy. We’re all busy. So here we sit, having another meeting. Here’s 12 rules to make your board time as productive and efficient as possible.

1.      Never hold a meeting without an agenda.
·       Attendees, please read the agenda and supporting documents ahead of time!

2.     Agendas should have a precise starting and ending times.
·       If you say you’ll be starting at 9:00 am, then do it! On the button!
·       Be sure to actually end at the stated time too. If discussion is hot, encourage attendees to continue outside after the meeting is over.

3.     List mission, action items or goals prominently on agenda.

4.     Show strategy or work plan element of each item on agenda.

5.     Use a consent agenda …
·       Routine items (minutes, committee reports, metrics, financial reports) can be placed in consent and assumed approved unless a director wants it added to the discussion agenda.
·        Place key strategic items at beginning of the agenda.

6.     Find time on agenda for board members to “check in” with what they are observing that relates to the association.  Some call this an environmental scan. Share feedback received from the members or volunteers.

7.     Take time to celebrate organization victories. Give a committee a well-deserved round of applause.

8.     Words matter … establish a culture to eliminate negative words that stifle creativity.  Enough  already of “playing devil’s advocate.” Support and encourage positive outlooks.

9.     Before any brainstorming, play “the yes, but game” (ask me and I’ll explain) or other similar exercises to open up minds.

10.  Ensure that board creates a self-evaluation annually.  Use a survey tool that allows them to share concerns honestly.

11.   Ensure committees have clear assignments/roles and be sure they don’t overstep.

12.  Ensure board members clearly understand their legal & fiduciary responsibilities.

Thanks to Strategic Concepts Delivered Daily for this quick hit!

“Hit and Run” Volunteering

Re-posted from Steven Drake’s association blog, this article begs yet another case for GenXY/Millennial differences in volunteering. I have recently applied this generational philosophy by creating a short-term “task-force” for a website committee which will be about 6 weeks in duration. I must admit the defined start and end time with set tasks to accomplish has been appealing, even to me. It has been easy to stick to the defined timeline, the volunteers’ participation has been on-track and there’s an end in sight.

Another association I work with has a volunteer program called “Done in A Day.” Yup, it’s that obvious: cleaning out a storage unit, shipping packages to troops, anything where many hands make light work. A project if tackled individually would make you tear out your hair, has been started- and finished– in the span of a few hours. The resulting sense of satisfaction among the volunteers is enough to make them come back next time!

Are Associations Ready for “Hit and Run” Volunteering?

Despite being recession-slowed, Boomers are retiring at record rates. And, for many associations and non-profits, that means millions fewer volunteers for boards, committees and service projects.

Most nonprofit organizations will depend on the 80 million Millenials to replace the retiring Boomers.

There’s one big problem: The Boomers running most associations and nonprofits have built rituals, traditions and programs for people like them:

  • Want to be a leader in our association, well, you need to volunteer on a committee or participate in a service project?
  • Oh, that means you need to spend 8-10 years or more before you can step into a leadership position. You know, pay your dues like we did.

Well, based on current generational research, many Millenials will flee from such “opportunities.”

I first witnessed the issue when no one on the board of a client professional society was willing to “step up” to be the association’s president … a two-year term. No one had time. They resolved the impasse when two directors volunteered to serve one year each. After solving the short-term issue, however, the board failed to address the longer-term issue of two-year terms.

Research shows Millenials support causes in large numbers. Yet, many associations (especially civic/service clubs are facing difficulties in engaging younger members.

Millenials place high priority on time with family and friends. Long-term and/or time-consuming volunteer opportunities rank lower especially if it means time away from family and friends.

This might explain the success of online cause-related donation programs such as Pepsi Fresh. It may explain the cause-marketing support generated by product purchases. It may explain when civic/service clubs (Jaycees, Lions, Optimist) continue to watch membership fall off a cliff.

Rather than complaining about the “young kids” not willing to play by our rules, perhaps we need to rethink our systems by looking at them from a Millenial point of view rather than our point of view?

Perhaps we need to explore concepts related to “hit and run” volunteer programs … projects that can be completed quickly allowing our volunteers to help and then move on.

Think of the Habitat for Humanity model: “We’re building houses. You’re welcome to help. Too busy this weekend? You can do it later.” No requirement for membership. No requirement to volunteer every time.

As Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers noted in Race of Relevance, “associations continue with their time-intensive model. Time to participate on a board or committee. Time to get involved in grassroots political activity. Time to read association newsletters and magazines. Time to attend seminars and conferences. Time to volunteer for a community service program. Time. Time. Time.

And, today, it is almost easier to get people to donate money than to give time.

A Note about Surveys

“Let’s survey the membership!”  I think I hear this statement about once a month.

Surveys have their place in membership associations as a tool to gather the demographics, mood and opinions of your members, when handled properly. However, members generally don’t take the time to answer them and usually you end up with a small sample size that statistically won’t tell you anything more than what you already knew.

In college (Advanced Marketing, thank you) I learned there is a science behind wording and ordering the questions. That’s why big marketing firms charge big dollars to do this for you. Luckily, there are several free services on the internet that allow you to create basic 10 question (or less) surveys with relative ease. I prefer

If your volunteer wants to create a survey, don’t squash his enthusiasm, but encourage him to read this post from Zoomerang covering tips on question types and answer choices. Please. Your leadership will thank you when the survey results in useful data!

Generations X and Y

During his inaugural address in 1961, John Kennedy famously said:

“…Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…”

Now, more than 50 years later, Kennedy’s sentiments seem relevant again as Millennials come of age and become a driving force in the marketplace and grows into a leadership role that is defining the American landscape and marketplace.

This transition creates an opportunity for member-based associations and organizations to market to a new audience and position themselves as leaders in an industry, as they’ve done for several generations.

However, it’s not as easy as cut and paste.  What worked for Baby Boomers won’t necessarily resonate with Generation X and Y– They like communication and are constantly connected, always engaged (often doing multiple things at the same time), and hungry for information now.

We’ve all heard about them- the younger generation entering the workforce with a very different attitude and ethic than the previous generations. Perhaps you’ve even been required to take training on how to communicate with them or understand their motives. Whatever your level of experience with this hot topic, you’ll need to consider how this “Generation X and Y” affects your membership association.

First, let’s define:
Generation X: born 1965-1981
Generation Y: born 1982-1995

Second, let’s examine some of the traits that are common to this generation:
• Gen XY learns fast, easily bored, able to multitask
• First generation to not know job security in the same sense as prior generations. This group will not work the same job for 10 years before moving on to the next one.
• Salary/prestige takes a backseat to work/life balance
• Seeking recognition for resume building
• Leadership training for young professionals interested in board service or career leadership
• Offer these members short jobs with a defined start and end. Calling it a “Task Force” instead of a “Committee” may increase interest as they will know there is an end to the job in sight.
• All members, but particularly Gen XY, need to feel like they belong: secure relationship and ownership in something. Trust +respect = belonging
• Gen XY trusts slowly, less forgiving in lapses (product of divorce, lack of job security, failure to deliver on promises)

Third, let’s look at Ways to Engage:
1. Listen to their point of view- get ready for a frank examination of strengths and
weaknesses. Empathize. Ask for specific examples.
2. Create solutions- be part of the solution, don’t argue over arbitrary rules/ procedures.
Conflict = lost productivity and revenue. Solve it and move on.
3. Encourage feedback- listen via online chat, over coffee, online forum, include Board,
Staff and Members. Have the ability to respond to the feedback, both publicly and
privately if necessary. If you say you’ll do it, then do it. Don’t break your promise or you
lose trust and respect.
4. Be inclusive- leadership roles no such thing as a lack of experience, be tech savvy.
If you want more members, give Gen XY a reason to join.
#1 reason people join is to solve a problem in their lives
#1 problem in lives- financial, worried about the future, job security. Help solve a problemprograms and services related to helping find jobs, make more money, feel
#1 reason people renew- solved the problem: advanced career, got referral, cut costs

As I mentioned in the Strategic Plan post, an association must consider how it is involving and appealing to Generation XY in order to pass the membership baton from the Baby Boomers. I heard a statistic on television yesterday saying that 10,000 Boomers are retiring every day. Oh boy! If your association is primarily comprised of Baby Boomers who are renewing their memberships because they think its the right thing to do, then your association may be in trouble.

The Strategic Plan

Let’s play a game… Where would your association be in 5 years, in your wildest dreams? Would it be bigger? Perhaps more efficiently managed? Using new technologies without blinking an eye?

Now, think about how you would achieve that vision? You’ll need a plan- just like a college student has a four-year roadmap to get to graduation day. You’ll need to know what steps to take. Don’t worry, its not hard- it’s fun! Just let your imagination run wild!

Below I outline the basics of achieving a Strategic Plan for your association. This is your road map to achieve new ideas.

1. Focus
• What is the purpose of the association? Who are you trying to reach? Are you trying to be all things to all people?

• Donald Trump said “Don’t think about how you can make money. Instead think about what service you can offer that is valuable and useful to people in your community.

• Cut out all programming, expenses, etc that distracts from this purpose and after careful consideration during the following steps, add back only those expenses which truly further the associations purpose.

2. Benefits
• If your association wants to gain more members, give them a reason to join! Sounds simple, but here’s a tip:

i. The #1 reason people join associations is to solve a “problem” or make their lives easier.
ii. The #1 problem in their lives currently is financial pressures and job security due to the economic downtown. Skill building, including learning or implementing new technology, and relationship building (in person and electronic) are other member concerns.
iii. Help solve their problems by offering programs and services related to finding and keeping jobs, make more money and feel valued and accepted by their peers.
iv. The #1 reason people renew their membership is because their problem was solved: they advanced their career, got a referral, made more money, received recognition, cut costs, etc.

• What are your core benefits? Are they measurable- can you clearly state the Return On Investment a member can expect to receive? This is particularly beneficial for Generations X and Y members. Focus on outcomes, not features: Networking is not a benefit of membership. It is a means or feature for the member to get more job referrals (the outcome or end).

• What makes your members join your association apart from others? What do they like about it? This difference is the inherent value of your association and is a benefit.

• Why are people hesitating to join? Can you offer a “satisfaction guaranteed” to ease their minds? Member feedback or surveys may be required to gain this information- event exit surveys, use of a free internet survey tool (SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang), informal chats with members.

• Would a new membership structure aid in achieving the goals? Please see this post for a review of alternative membership structures that may benefit your association.

•Are you trying to reach a younger demographic- Generation X and Y? Please see this post as a summary of Generation X and Y characteristics which will need to be addressed to successfully appeal to this demographic.

3. Set Goals- Five Year Plan
• Make goals measurable and reachable. Mediocre goals are not worth the effort!

• Do you already have a goal in mind like this one: “Increase the membership by a net 10 percent per year for the next 5 years”? After a successful review of the benefits of membership and your chosen target market, you may need to revisit your predefined goals to ensure they are still in-line with your decisions.

4. Marketing 
• Use targeted marketing materials to explain and define your goals to your membership.

• Inspire and excite your members to help achieve this goal. Use rebranding, marketing, new methods (ie social media, video message from the President posted on the website) to disseminate the plan among the membership.

• Are you reaching your defined target market from step one? If not, change your marketing approach. If you are trying to reach a younger demographic, you must be aware of their characteristics, age, geography, etc. and take active, measurable steps to reach them.

• Establish a relationship with your prospective member first via a “non-salesy” method, ie a free newsletter to which they subscribe. (Utilize an email marketing service such as Constant Contact to build a fresh, modern looking newsletter, members can assist with the article content.) After the relationship gains trust and respect for relevant information, then “upsell” membership benefits to the prospect.

5. Troubleshoot
• After a designated period of time (3-6 months or 1 year) review the strategic plan and methods used to achieve the plan.

• What are the obstacles for growth? Review many potential solutions and select the top 3 to implement.

• It is important to eliminate negative/biased discussions and focus on the positive.


That’s it! It’s not rocket science to create and implement a strategic plan, but it does take brainstorming and cooperation between the association’s leaders and the Executive Director’s leadership. One person cannot answer these questions alone, but a team of driven individuals can put your association on track to a better future.


April Fools: Angry Boards, Members vs Zombies and other new mobile games

I couldn’t resist reposting this today! I don’t  know about you, but Angry Birds and Zombies are a popular mid-day stress reliever in my office. Find the original post here:  While you’re there, check out some of their articles about management and strategic planning.

It’s April 1st and the we are pleased to announce three exciting new games (available on iPhones, iPADs and Android) to please the game-loving association professional!   

The survival of the National Association of Furious Fowl (NAFF) is at stake! Dish out revenge on the Society of Green Swine (SOGW), whose Board has a diabolical plot to steal NAFF’s future members from the nest. Use the unique destructive powers of the NAFF’s Angry Board to wreak havoc on SOGW’s prospect database! Use logic, skill, brute force – and a few trick questions from the CAE exam – to crush the enemy!
Jane Clemens, Chair of the Bylaw Committee has gone rogue! With her band of scofflaws, she is threatening to wreak havoc at the next Board meeting. To catch her you must assemble your posse, track her down through the wilds of the exhibit hall – all while meeting a tight deadline and coming in under budget!
Zombies are invading your association’s Headquarters. Thankfully, you have a horde of loyal members to defend you in Members vs. Zombies! Armed with a host of member benefits, dues invoices and a newly revised strategic plan, you`ll need to think fast to stop the different types of zombies dead in their tracks. Obstacles like a declining retention rate and an enemy immune to social media makes this the ultimate volunteer experience!


Mobile Credit Card Readers: A Comparison

Mobile credit card readers have been around for a long time, but I feel that they are just recently becoming a viable solution for associations. Past swipers have required expensive bulky equipment, duplicate or specialized merchant accounts and were just plain complicated to manage! Plus, members didn’t trust security and didn’t understand how the

Now, it seems like everyone has an Android or Apple mobile device and the secure apps for these are well-designed and really easy to use. There are many providers on the market that offer services, merchant accounts and readers, but here’s a comparison of the ones that I believe will become the market leaders.

Square Intuit PayPal
Works with Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, debit cards, cash, check capture, PayPal, electronic invoices
Cost per Swipe 2.75% 2.7% 2.7%
Cost per Manually entered numbers 3.5% + 15 cents 3.7% 3.5% + 15 centsChecks/Invoices free
Service Plan None Optional: $12.95 per month, 1.7% per swipe, 2.7% manually entered
Operating Systems iOS 4.1 or higher Android 2.1 or higher(no Blackberry) iOS 3 G or higherAndroid select phones iOSAndroid
Merchant Account None. Enter your bank account and routing numbers for deposits. (Currently the only provider that does not require a merchant account.) Apply for merchant account online or by phone, 10 minute application, credit review.
Card Reader 1 free, free shippingAlso available at retail stores for $10 with $10 rebate (Radio Shack, Best Buy, Walmart) Intuit reader free with merchant account; iPhone reader $79.95 at Apple retail stores; Blue Bamboo Bluetooth swiper with receipt printer $218.95 + $15 paper roll refill (does not work with Apple devices) Free
Deposits Transaction taken during business hours (PST) deposited the next day Deposits stay in Merchant Account or EFT to bank account within 2-3 business days. Offers debit Visa to access funds in Merchant Account. Deposits stay in Paypal account or EFT to bank account in 3 business days. Offers debit MasterCard to access funds in Paypal account.
Refunds Within 60 days of original transaction. Processed on iPad Register app or online account. Partial refunds not yet available. Processed in Merchant Account. Partial refunds ok
App Free; iPad app allows more features than phone app.Requires Username & Password. Up to 10 users can be linked to 1 account with same username & password Free; Up to 50 users with individual Usernames & Passwords can access 1 account Free
Receipts Finger-sign on mobile device, receipt sent by email or text. History saved to reissue receipts if needed. Receipt sent by email or text Receipt sent by email or text
Notes Ridiculously intuitive and easy to begin*June Update: Square card readers are now for sale at even more locations. It’s popularity is skyrocketing! My hairstylist has one… Export history to QuickBooks Coming soon! Not yet available but GAM is on the wait-list for more information

*June Update: does a great review with screenshots of the Paypal Here against his existing Paypal Merchant account.