When it comes to reaching and retaining members, your website can be your most valuable asset. Much more than a means for keeping members in the loop about the latest news and events, your website is the key to adding value to memberships by providing a positive online experience and engaging your constituents.
Though your website may look great and house infinite amounts of information about your association, are you really maximizing its potential? Here are some best practices that today's most forward-thinking associations and nonprofits are employing to improve their websites and offer the best-possible member experience.
The Power of a Flexible CMS,
Is your website static or dynamic? While a static, HTML-based website may be quick to develop and inexpensive to host, a site built using a content management system (CMS) offers many more long-term advantages. First of all, a CMS provides the flexibility for nearly any staff member to update, organize and manage content with little to no programming knowledge. These on-the-fly capabilities not only save you time and resources, but also positively impact your members, as you are able to ensure that they are always accessing the newest and most relevant information. Also, if you're migrating from a static site to a CMS, you'll have the added benefit of truly refining your content; migration provides the opportunity to identify which content is most prolific and make sure that it makes its way onto the new site. Your members want fresh and pertinent content, which will surely keep them coming back again and again.
Bringing in Your AMS
You probably already understand the value of Association Management Software (AMS), but you may not realize the importance of integrating it with your website. A flexible CMS actually sets you up for the best-possible integration so that your AMS goes above and beyond its typical membership management duties (member communication, event logistics, dues renewal, invoicing, continuing education, etc.). When fully integrated with your website, the AMS's database also communicates seamlessly with the CMS platform to custom tailor content based on membership status or defined user roles. For example, when a member logs into your website, the CMS will talk to the AMS in real time. The AMS recognizes the user's credentials and enables the site to display content designated exclusively for members—be it premium articles or an exclusive message board. This provides members, as opposed to non-members, a more personal experience that increases engagement and boosts the likelihood of membership renewal. Once logged in, members are able to conveniently update their personal or contact information, which syncs back to the AMS and keeps membership data up to date.
Also, by integrating your AMS with your website, you can incorporate e-commerce functionality and manage financial transactions online. Members can register for events, renew memberships, or make donations directly on the site without having to pick up a phone. At the same time, you'll save time and gain new operational efficiencies, as members do not have to call or email your staff to make a transaction. If you are considering a new AMS and CMS, make sure the two platforms work well together. A seamless integration is crucial to set your site up for success and eliminate technical difficulties.
Bringing It All Together With Your Website
While there is plenty going on behind the scenes with your CMS and AMS, your website is the face of your organization. Members aren't concerned about which AMS you are using and how it is integrated - they simply want to have a positive experience and a single touch point for all online interactions. In addition to the obvious web development tips - creating a streamlined navigation pattern, aesthetic design and clear calls to action - take into consideration the following elements to really make your site shine and entice members
- Responsive Design: Mobile device usage is rapidly growing with no signs of a slowdown, so odds are that many of your members are accessing your site from their smartphone or tablet. Shouldn't they have as positive of an experience as desktop users? While you could certainly create (or may already have) a separate URL for a mobile version of your site, it is much more efficient to take the responsive design route-an approach that ensures that essential content is readily available to all possible audience members across the device landscape. With responsive design, you'll only have to manage one set of content, and your members will be able to efficiently access the site from any gadget.
- Branding Consistency: Whether browsing your main site, a local chapter's site, or an event registration page, members should experience a familiar, consistent look and feel. This is another area where a CMS proves valuable as it allows you to create and manage multiple sites that reside under one umbrella. Moreover, your website's branding and messaging should permeate throughout all marketing channels-social media, print collateral, email marketing, advertisements and direct mail-to create a consistent member experience.
- Social Communities: Your organization probably has a social media presence, whether or not you are actively involved in your accounts. However, the typical social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, do not have the flexibility and control to help you effectively connect to members. Within your site, consider building your own social community. Unlike the standard channels, you'll actually own and be able to analyze the membership data, while offering members a single, multi-functional touch point, minus the messaging clutter present in broad social platforms. With the AMS, you'll also be able to create permissions to give access to members only.
- Add-ons and Extensions: What else can you add to your site to engage members? Add an online newsletter (with a simple online subscription option), jobs listings, internal search functionality, or an events calendar. A flexible CMS will allow you to incorporate these elements with ease.
In the end, a seamlessly integrated CMS and AMS paired with a high-quality, intuitive website will not only help you to improve your members' experiences, but will also benefit your overall organization. By engaging members and keeping them actively and happily involved with your organization through the web, you'll increase site traffic, facilitate more transactions, and most importantly, increase the likelihood of membership renewals. As a result, you'll position your organization for profitability and stability in the long run.
Jason Stone is Vice President of Sales & Marketing and Kevin O'Brien is Vice President, Operations, at Engage, a St. Louis-based, full-service web and mobile design and development firm. They can be reached at 314-884-2448 or www.engagesoftware.com. Brian Bruffey is CEO of Protech Associates, Inc., provider of cloud-based association management software. He can be reached at 800-310-8813 or www.protechassociates.com.