Designing An Engaging Association Website

If you are tasked with leading or conducting a redesign of an association website, a traditional approach would be to look at other association websites for inspiration. This isn’t a bad idea as other sites can give you a starting place for your own design ideas and site outline. But don’t be tempted to copy the look or organization of another website. Here’s why:

  1. A replica won’t necessarily serve your members’ needs, which are likely unique to your group.
  2. Even if you are evaluating websites of other chapters of the same organization, the needs of your local chapter may not align with a fellow chapter due to:
    • Different programming priorities such as a large annual event that is held by your chapter but not others.
    • Differences in volunteer resources, organization structure or staffing.
    • Local factors such as different member needs and board priorities. 
    • A different set of business processes.

Here is a 13 point checklist to help you get to the heart of your members’ needs so that you can best engage them and attract new ones.

1. Do you know your members’ priorities?

Create an online survey to ask members for their opinions about things such as:

  • What are the most important tasks they come to perform on your website?
  • What kind of information are they looking for on the website. In other words, what keeps them coming back?
  • What information is currently hard to find or unavailable?

Use the priorities you discover to decide what items appear in your primary and secondary navigation and what appears above the fold or below the fold on your home page. If you don’t want to conduct an official survey, consider forming a small working group to answer the above questions, review designs and give feedback on site outlines. 

2. Do you quickly communicate the organization’s mission?

Websites have around 7 seconds to prove to visitors that the site is worth sticking around. Bringing the mission forward — in simple terms, not boardroom language — can help visitors connect to the organization. Run a usability test to be sure you are doing a good job.

3. What is your call to action for prospective members? For current members?

When laying out the homepage, consider what action you want a first time visitor to take. If the main goal is to drive membership, the home page should include member benefit information and a Join button. For current members, do you need a flexible space on the home page to encourage them to engage with the group? Look for a theme or layout that will allow you to easily change out messaging or graphics to foster engagement such as:

  • Encouraging registration for a big annual event.
  • Promoting networking and referrals from your member directory.
  • Asking members to complete their online directory profile.

4. Do you offer auto recurring membership payments?

Associations without an auto recurring membership payment option are missing a revenue opportunity. If you are asking busy members to take action to log in to enter their credit card information again for renewal, you have created friction in the renewal process. In this case, members are best served by not asking them to engage in a tedious activity. Setting up membership management software requires time, but proceeds from auto-recurring payments can compensate. 

5. Is joining fast easy?
Pretend you are a prospective member. 

  1. Count clicks to reach the join page from the home page. It should take one click. 
  2. increased his form conversion rate by 26 percent just by removing one form field. Every field members must complete reduces conversion rates. Get rid of “nice to have” fields. Ask for them later in the process. 
  3. Open your join form on a phone. Are the buttons and field names readable and large enough to click with big fingers?

6. Do you show off your member only benefits?

Members feel special when there are reports, articles or an online member directory that only they can see. Your membership management software should allow you to restrict access to specific members only pages, posts and event tickets.

7. Are your pictures “real” and are they visually uniform?

Prospective members want to see real people, not stock photo models. Generic stock images don’t foster connection with your association like real pictures do. As you are evaluating images, consider that a large range of photographic styles (in terms of color, tone and style) is going to make your site look less professional. 

8.  Is your contact information hidden?

Members may be diverse in terms of age and tech savviness, so offer them different ways to engage with you. Don’t forget to include links to social media. 

9. Is your site responsive?

If you send members an email with a call to action, be sure they can complete the entire task on their phone without having to zoom in. While some organizations have responsive websites, sometimes the member billing emails or the payment page are not responsive. 

10. Do you have a way to gather prospective member emails?

The people most likely to someday become engaged members are those who are being invited to events and asked to volunteers. Collect email addresses with a signup widget. 

11. Are all of your events listed online?
Events — in person or virtual — are a core engagement feature for an association. Your membership software should have an online event registration feature. 

12. Can members easily volunteer?

Volunteers are often the biggest advocates of an association among its membership. Make volunteer information easy to find:

  • Include a volunteer page link in the site navigation,
  • Mention ways to get involved in the welcome email or membership renewal letter. Ask members to respond to the email with opportunities that interest them.

13. Is every page on your site secure?

Security is critical for payment processing pages; if a page has insecure images or content, users will not see the secure “Lock” icon on the browser. Without a secure environment, members will feel less sure about filling out a form or otherwise engaging with you online.

Have other ideas? Let us know in the comments.

Amy Hufford is a Technologist at MembershipWorks. She has worked in non-profit and association technology for more than 20 years and has experience with a variety of donor and member management software platforms.


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