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Using Google Docs for Membership Records


You don't need a fancy private office space full of file cabinets and staplers to do some basic bookkeeping for your group. With the cloud-based awesomeness of Google Docs, it's super-easy to set up a professional-looking membership form on a website (or just by e-mail if you don't have one), and zero effort is required to maintain it. Even better, the whole thing exists in a safe, permanent place on the internet, rather than being tethered to someone's hard drive.

Here's how to do it! But first, why?

Yes, you really should keep track of your membership

Maybe your group just meets twice a month to eat pizza and talk about Futurama. Even so, it really is an official Thing (you registered with your student activities, right?), and there are several reasons you should keep at least basic records:

  • It helps to know how many students are officially members of your group if you want to apply for funding from your school or just impress people.
  • You can collect demographic information about your group to help you decide what kind of events to hold.
  • You might find potential volunteers or even future leaders.
  • People feel more invested in the group if they can say they're members of it.
  • It's a good opportunity to ask for a suggested donation, if you like.

But if you follow the steps below, it's so easy to keep membership records that there's no reason not to do it!

Step 0: Get a Google account

If you already have a Gmail or Google account, you're done. Otherwise, you can link a new Google account to your existing e-mail address. It's easy and free, and they don't spam you, I promise. Just click here to create a new account and jump on the bandwagon.

Step 1: Create a new form

From the main Google Docs page, click on "Create new", then "Form". Here you can set a main title for the form and a block of introductory text that users will see at the top. Then, you can customize each item on the form: "Question Title" is the text prompt for that item, optional "Help Text" appears in a lighter shade under the prompt, and "Question Type" gives you plenty of options.

Of the question types that have more than one preset answer, "Multiple choice" only lets the user select one option, "Checkboxes" allows her to select as many as she wants, and "Choose from a list" is just like the drop-down menu you're using to set the type. The first two of those also allow you to leave a blank box for "Other".

To add a new question, click "Add item" in the upper left. You can use the icons in the upper right of any individual item to edit it, copy it, or delete it. You can also click the link at the bottom of the window to see what the form looks like.

You might also want to click "More actions" in the upper right, then "Edit confirmation", to customize the message users see after they submit your form, e.g. thank them for joining your group, provide a link where they can sign up for your mailing list (if you aren't doing that yourself after you get their e-mail address), or tell them how to donate to your group or buy a T-shirt.

Creating a Survey

Step 2: Make your form available

There are several different ways you can direct people to your online form. One easy way is simply to copy the URL from the top right of the "send form" page; you can stick this in an e-mail or provide a link on your website. Google Docs also gives you the option to send out the form using your gmail account. Another way, which requires only the absolute minimum of webmastery skill, is to click "File" and then "Embed": you immediately get a chunk of HTML code to use for your website. You can add additional editors under "File" and "Send form" with "Add collaborators".

Embedding a form

Step 3: Use your records

Now that you have your members' information organized, you can start planning great meetings and events. Under "Responses" and then "Summary," you can see all the responses from various individuals. To put these in a spreadsheet, select "Choose response destination". If you want to stop collect responses at any time, go under the "Responses" tab and click "Accepting responses" to deselect this option.

Creating a Spreadsheet

This page was written by SSA Board Member Joe Foley and 2013 Summer Intern Tori Rehr.

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