Membership association website projects: 5 top tips

We’ve been lucky enough to work with a number of membership associations over the years. This article is an amalgamation of everything we have learned.

26 Apr 2016
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Jon Eaton

As with all of our self-help articles this article tries to strike a balance between the practical and the technical. We've covered some of the practical skills we have learned from working with membership associations and also tried to impart some of the knowledge we have around technology choices.

Most importantly for you, the reader, all of this advice is useful in tackling the relatively tricky job of delivering an online service that benefits your members... and satisfies the plethora of stakeholders inside and outside of your organisation.

1. Never try to dodge bad internal stakeholders

It is always tempting to avoid involving disruptive people during new internal projects. The reasons for doing so are clear; these characters tend to be either abrasive, disruptive or obstructive to progress (most likely all three). The problem with trying to keep these people out is that they have a tendency to get back in. 

In fairness to them sometimes they are forced back in. Many membership organisations see a disruptive influence as an appropriate counter-balance to more easy-going team members. In these situations you might even find yourself put in the same team as the person you tried to avoid involving. Not a good plan. They know you didn’t want them and are therefore even more abrasive, disruptive and obstructive.

Another factor to consider is that, as hard as it is to admit, bad internal stakeholders even sometimes improve the end result of a web project. They do this by forcing us to think about getting the right solution rather than the fastest solution. 

2. The right technology for the right job

So many RFP’s we see from membership associations are looking for a technical solution that fulfills an extraordinary amount of functions. The truth of the matter is that if one platform did everything to the full extent specified in tender documents two things would happen:

  • There would be one dominant technical partner used by all membership associations worldwide (there isn’t!)
  • You could probably halve the number of people employed by membership associations (nobody wants that)

Please be realistic. We have found that websites built to support member services tend to have specific quirks that can’t always be changed. Infact in some cases they definitely shouldn’t change to suit a technical platform. We recommend that you buy technology that gives you flexibility but not a headache.  

In our experience it is often a combination of technology platforms working together that delivers against what tend to be the three main objectives of membership associations: 

  • make it easier for members to use online services 
  • lessen the administrative load 
  • increase member spending on complimentary products and services

Trying to achieve all of these objectives may well be possible but in our experience it is often the case that different tools have different fits. For example one of our membership association clients uses Sitefinity CMS due to its integration potential with their CRM provider and another uses Kentico because it has an out of the box connector to their document management system. These are both membership associations but the nature of their member services has led to completely different technology decisions.

3. Don’t stop looking at opportunities to upsell, cross sell and generally make revenue

Compared to most businesses Membership Associations have great data. Their customer and client records are relevant, have a continuing interest in products and services offered and the database has a vested interest in maintaining a relationship with you. It has taken Apple 30 years to develop this potential for repeat custom and loyalty.

In our experience many membership organisations miss opportunities to generate extra revenue and participation. Although not all membership associations are the same most of the ones we have worked with have the ability to offer most or all of these services:

  • Events and Conferences
  • Buyable eBooks and training videos
  • Competitions and Awards
  • Merchandise (mugs, hoodies, t-shirts, etc)
  • eLearning and online certification

If you don’t have the capacity or inclination to add any new revenue generating areas there are other ways to monetise your website. A well defined and loyal customer audience will be very attractive to advertisers looking to attract customers in your niche. 

4. Involve your members in your website project

As your website is for your members do yourself a favour and make sure that they like it before you put it live. 

Most of our customers incorporate user testing into every new website project. We have still in over 16 years of trading never completed a usability test that didn’t highlight something which could either generate additional revenue or improve efficiency. Membership Associations are, due to their good quality data, in a much better place to do this than organisations in other sectors. In fact it is possible to gather intelligence before you start to think about page layouts and navigation structures. In our opinion direct feedback at this stage can be incredibly useful as it gives a really clear steer on what frustrates members and what other services they want.

If you do decide to do usability testing don’t limit it to just testing the final designs. Prototypes, if built correctly, can also be used on usability tests as can be seen in the image above. Identifying issues at this stage is a good thing as it avoids costly re-configuration of user journeys on a website which is near go-live.

5. Think about reporting before you get going

There is an amazing amount of membership organisation digital departments who overlook this massively obvious fact:

If you can demonstrate ROI from your digital marketing investment you get more budget

If you don’t do the leg work before your website goes live it is very difficult to prove anything definitively. Scrabbling round for improvements to organic traffic levels or brand mentions will mean much less to a board room than increased revenue, better member feedback and reductions in administration tied to the processing of online enquiries. It pays to think creatively about what tools you use and how you measure board level metrics like this. Don’t limit yourself to Google Analytics. Consider using screen recording software, CRM reports, timesheeting reports or anything that can help you to clearly present what you helped to achieve.

Summing up

Creating a membership organisation website is not easy but there are a lot of things in your favour. There is an active and targeted audience and the potential for you to monetise your site in a number of ways. If you would like to talk to us about a membership association website project you are planning give us a call on 0114 279 7779.

Listed in:  UX Design