Chances are that prospective members will first meet your association through your website and your existing members use it as a primary touchpoint. And their interaction with your site will influence whether or not they choose to pursue or renew membership. Therefore, when you start a website project, you’ll want to ensure that you’ve done all you can to guarantee its success.
Your website is your digital front door and one of your most important investments. It’s got to look, feel, and function in a way that helps attract and engage members over time. In short, your website has a big responsibility for which it cannot afford to fail.
While a website project is not easy, its foundational elements are straightforward. When working in concert, these five elements can result in a website that’s relevant, useful, and engaging to members — present and future.
User experience (UX) encompasses all the ways in which users interact with your website. Its goal is to make user interactions as easy, satisfying, and useful as possible.
Good UX is based on your answers to three seemingly-simple questions:
These answers provide valuable information you can use to inform site architecture, site map, wireframes, design, development approach, maintenance plans — basically every corner of your website.
User interface (UI) refers to your website’s visual and interaction design. Once you’ve developed a strategic approach based on your members’ needs, you should design accordingly. An off-the-shelf template designed to meet the needs of any generic association simply won’t do.
Your association should already have a strong brand system designed to communicate your story and appeal directly to your audiences. If not, stop. Go no further. Engage a branding partner who can work with you to create a comprehensive, cohesive, and flexible system.
When you have a strong brand system, leverage the design tools in your brand guidelines to tell your story, craft a distinct digital presence and bring the user experience to life
Good visual design is no longer a luxury. The next generation of members are digitally discerning and expect a seamless, impactful, and inspiring website. If you want members to trust you to represent their industry or cause, you need to reinforce that trust with excellent design. Good design takes your website from a necessary tool to a high functioning asset that enhances the member experience and amplifies the efforts of every department.
Accessibility — making your site usable by people with disabilities — should be top of mind from the beginning of your website project. People with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, visual, and speech disabilities require specific considerations and adaptations.
Every strategic, content, design, and development decision contributes to the final usability and accessibility of the website. You’ll need to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2 requirements as you make these decisions. The level of accessibility (A, AA, and AAA) you meet is up to you — but greater conformance results in more use by more people.
Neglecting or de-prioritizing accessibility concerns will alienate your members with accessibility needs and open up your organization to costly legal suits.
Don’t forget: another facet of accessibility is ensuring your website is mobile responsive. Your members visit your site on different devices, primarily their mobile phones. Your site should be optimized for your members to be able to interact, consume resources, and engage with your organization regardless of what device they’re on.
Integration is your website’s ability to communicate well with external systems and data sources. When done well, the integration is both strategic and seamless (without interruptions).
However, poor integration can quickly lead to user frustration. For example, a user might enter through the main association website to view the list of upcoming events. As soon as they’re ready to sign up, that member may be taken to an external website (typically the association management system) to register for the event. This external website will often look very different from the main website, which may have that member wondering if they’ve gotten lost.
Another example of poor site integration: mismatched committee information. A PDF or a static page on your website may not have the up-to-date committee list from your association management system. Outdated information makes your organization look unprofessional, eroding trust and relevance. A better integration would automatically sync the committee information data from the association management system to the website and display it in a user-friendly presentation.
The content management system (CMS) allows you to create, edit, and publish content to your site. A good CMS is flexible and customized to your association; its functionality should help you optimize your members’ digital experience.
Your CMS should anticipate and address your future needs. What if you have a new annual event? Are you able to build a robust landing page for it? What if you need to fight a certain piece of legislation? Can you build a page that will provide timely information to your members and drive action?
If your website has fresh, compelling content but your staff can’t maintain it, your website will devolve into a useless relic. Your CMS must be easy for your staff to train on and use daily.
UX, UI, accessibility, seamless integration, and CMS are the necessary ingredients to creating a dynamic and valuable member-focused website. When your association is ready to make this all-important investment, make sure you thoughtfully consider each of these elements. Then your website will serve you — and your members — for years to come.
Prospective members can meet your organization in several ways: at a mixer, on your Facebook page, through an article on your website, or through an email a friend forwarded them. The combination of those experiences adds up to something critical: their perception of your brand.
If your design is outdated or inconsistent across touchpoints, you’re giving prospects reason to doubt you. And frankly, they’re already skeptical. There’s no question about it: you need to tell one story of who you are in a cohesive brand experience to win new members.
Fonts, colors, textures, and images are not trivial details. All brand elements should reiterate your organization’s mission and messaging. A consistent brand experience builds trust and resonance with each interaction. Isn’t that what you want to offer prospective members?
It might be time for your organization to update your materials, so you’re telling your one story masterfully. However, deciding what to prioritize and how to sketch out a reasonable timeline is challenging. Whether you need to start from scratch or attend to just a few elements, you need a solid plan. Here’s how to get started.
Perhaps you know exactly what needs updating. But before making decisions, you’ll need to systematically take stock of and prioritize each asset.
Account for your website, emails, social media, event materials and displays, webinars, membership collateral, sponsorship materials, and all other assets. Assign each asset a rating from 1-5 based on the level of potential impact it can have on your organization and members.
In addition, document:
Avoid determining your materials update budget purely on cost. Instead, consider what investment is reasonable based on the value to be generated. If a positive outcome was likely, what would you invest to achieve that outcome?
For example, if you were told that you’re likely to generate $500k in sponsorship dollars for your event if you invest 10% of that goal on branding the event, would you? This exercise gives you a ceiling for what’s reasonable to invest if there was a high degree of certainty in the results. From there, you can reduce the investment based on your ambitions, available resources, and level of certainty in generating that value.
Ensure you have set up adequate internal and external resources to tackle each project. Even if you have the most capable external vendor to help you through this journey, you still need timely information, decisions, and approvals by your internal team.
The following timeline represents an example of a complete brand update. As you approach this process, be patient and realistic. And bear in mind each part of the update affects the following, so the sequencing is important.
Every organization is different, so you can customize this suggested timeline to one that fits your needs.
The story you tell, how you talk about yourself, and the value you bring to members should be consistent and complementary. Your logo, colors, fonts, and visual elements bring your story to life in a unique, authoritative way.
Make sure you work diligently — and with an external partner if needed — to build a robust brand system that equips your team and vendors for success.
Once you’ve solidified your brand identity, you can begin designing and building a website that supports it. The website is your primary communication tool, and it will require the longest time commitment.
Your brochure is a foundational product that will establish messaging, tone, and visuals. It’s a vital asset that serves as another face of your business and a detailed reference of your services. Subsequent materials (like presentation decks and sales folders) can follow and complement this primary piece.
As you wrap up work on your website, you’ll integrate your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. Your CRM allows members to connect with resources like webinars and registration for organizational events and cannot be an afterthought and disjointed from the rest of their experience on the website.
Since email drives traffic to the website, design and deploy your email templates post-website launch. Remember: a good email depends on crisp, clear, concise content.
When you sell a membership, you’ll want to leave a sales folder in that new member’s hands. And one-pagers can be just the right thing when you need a brief, easy-to-read marketing piece. Both of these assets play an important supporting role and build from what you’ve established in your organizational brochure.
Decks can be built alongside sales folders and one-sheets and are also inspired by the established organization brochure, website, and brand guidelines. You’ll use it to present information to potential sponsors, members, or partners. A customized PowerPoint template, another must-have asset, will help you create presentations quickly and professionally.
Event design has a unique place in your brand update timeline. Membership organizations typically start marketing events a minimum of 2 months in advance. The development of an event look and feel should start 6-8 weeks before you want those materials to go live, depending on the complexity of the event.
A well designed event not only drives attendance, but also helps to communicate the caliber of an event to potential sponsors. Reimagined events have the opportunity to tremendously increase sponsorship revenue.
Membership organizations like yours need to actively communicate your value with year-round efforts. As soon as the core corporate communications materials (identity system, brochure, and sales kits) are complete, you’re ready for your membership campaign.
Today’s digital natives have high expectations and low tolerance for counterintuitive, disjointed design. So use all of your brand elements to create and maintain your story and your vision. That’s the way to earn trust and make your organization memorable, impactful, and sustainable to future members.
If you’re initiating a rebrand for your membership organization, you’ve probably known it needed to happen for a while. The evidence is clear as day: perhaps it’s been a decade since your brand got a refresh, or there’s a lack of cohesiveness in your brand elements. Or more than likely, your audiences (or services) are changing.
While the branding need may be obvious, the way forward certainly isn’t. Rebranding requires a huge investment of your time, energy, financial resources, and reputation. And the reality is that a board member could shut the process down at the last minute and shelf your efforts. Frankly, you can’t afford that — in more ways than one.
Follow these 10 steps to better ensure your staff and board adopt your rebranding plan. When they do, the enthusiasm of your organization’s members and prospects isn’t far behind.
The sooner you get buy-in from those critical to the rebranding success, the better. Naturally, that implies you need to identify just who those stakeholders are. Sure, that will include the CEO, but who else should be involved?
In addition, do some research and determine who was in your organization when branding was last approved. Understanding who made previous decisions and why they chose what they did is extremely valuable. What was that process like?
If those who participated or witnessed the last brand evolution considered it a success, they may have emotional attachments to the results. If the last brand felt exceedingly difficult, stressful, or otherwise unsuccessful, you’ll need to have empathy for that. They may dread undergoing a rebrand as they imagine round two.
One to three people should work on the rebranding project from start to finish and make the decisions. Then, at key points, they can communicate the decisions to everyone else.
Invite whoever has the most to gain or lose on your project to serve on your committee — so long as they are trusted and respected. Make an ally out of them before they become an adversary. Of course anyone who has previous brand experience can be an asset, too.
Whoever you choose to be on your committee has to be invested and willing to act as a champion for the rebrand. Most importantly, you’ll want to make sure committee members have integrity, energy, and resilience. After all, they’ve got to be able to speak authoritatively to your leadership and board.
There are several points in the rebranding process in which you’ll want to include more than your committee. You’ll want your CEO and board president to sign off on:
You may want to pull in the department heads for involvement and approval as well.
The rebranding process is a cumulative one — each decision impacts the following. When key players sign off at key milestones, they’ll all feel ownership and responsibility for its success.
Conduct a survey to gather feedback from staff and board members. Be sure to ask specific questions regarding their thoughts and feelings about your organization. Surveys can be done online or in person.
Weigh out whether to do it yourself or have a third-party administer the survey. Individuals will typically honestly and openly share their feelings in a survey given by a neutral source.
Listen and take into account valid concerns. Your staff and board will then feel legitimately connected to the branding project — and more likely to embrace and defend it.
Staff and board aren’t the only ones you need to listen to. There’s no substitute for knowing the end-users: your members.
It’s all too easy to extrapolate that other opinions might accurately represent your members.’ Working on that assumption, though, can prove costly. Instead, use objective quantitative data at your disposal (like demographics) and qualitative research (like surveys, focus groups, and interviews) to better respond to your members’ actual needs.
The entire board only needs to hear the one rebranding solution you’ve settled on. They ought to be told explicitly what problem it’s solving and how it solves it.
However, the board presentation is more than a courtesy call.
The board has chosen who is heading up the rebranding project. Now, it’s time for them to trust they’ve made the right choice and prove it with a vote of confidence. Or, if they identify serious issues with your solution, now’s the time for you to make adjustments. If step 4 is done properly, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Remember, the people on your committee have day jobs. The plan you outline needs to work within those human constraints. Ask these questions as you plan:
Easily accessible and usable brand guidelines will help ensure that staff can implement new brand components. Your brand guidelines reflect your organization’s messaging, voice, and visuals. It’s the instruction manual from which you build your organization’s identity. Cohesiveness of all visual elements and messaging is vital as you communicate your new brand.
Your entire organization should be introduced (or re-introduced) to the branding work upon its completion. Handing them a swag bag won’t cut it. Your staff members will be your biggest asset or liability, so you’ve got to educate them and convert them into brand champions.
Your brand is more than your logo and colors; it’s who your organization is. Have conversations about how your branding captures your organization’s purpose and promise. Show the staff all the new tools at their disposal. And encourage them to embody the brand with pride.
It’s not everything, but your staff will love a swag bag. And they’ll enjoy a launch party.
While it’s fun to wear a tee and drink from a mug featuring your updated logo, the results of rebranding work can actually be much more profound. Rebranding is not a “marketing thing.” When done right, rebranding can inspire and revitalize your entire organization.
Not long ago, it didn’t take much to stabilize or grow your association’s membership numbers. The benefits of joining were obvious. Membership dues provided unique networking opportunities, advocacy efforts, annual conferences, and professional education. Plus, people would join because others did — their parents, industry leaders, or coworkers.
Today is a whole different ball game.
10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age in America every single day until 2030. That means many of your devoted members are leaving vacant seats. You can no longer assume your current members will renew, much less that new members will join. “Dad did, so I will” is no longer good enough. Networking on LinkedIn is easy and free, and advocacy and specialized education abound online. It’s all too easy for potential members to think that they don’t need your association. And rightly so — many associations can no longer prove their worth.
Syncing up with the attitudes, behaviors, desires, and values of your association’s next generation isn’t optional. It’s the only way to stay in the game. Here’s how.
Your retiring members can recall the days of navigating to a beach vacation with a paper map. Next generation members are guided to the beach with Siri’s help.
These scenarios illustrate the difference between those who learned technology at some point in adulthood and those who are “digital natives” (who grew up with technology). Your association needs to master the language of digital natives — they’re your future.
In order to communicate effectively with digital natives, you must bear in mind their tendency to:
Digital natives are also highly selective. If you want their attention, you have to earn it. Thanks to complex algorithms, they’re used to being served up what they’re interested in. And that attention you earn? You may only have it for seconds.
Instagram averages 500 million daily active users. Your association should care deeply about that number as it represents, in part, a global obsession with aesthetics. Whether it be a coffee grinder, sneakers, or a new event landing page, your next generation of members demands it looks good. “Functional” is assumed, and style is no longer optional.
The next generation will draw conclusions about you by how your website looks and navigates. Your website should hold up to their scrutiny, so make sure you consider:
Organizations that will survive and thrive in the next decade need a cohesive — and attractive — online presence. Your association can be no exception.
The next generation needs a compelling reason to join your association. Tangible “benefits” like industry resources, education, and networking are not convincing anymore. This is true even if membership in your association is automatic, free, or obligatory.
Your association needs to provide something exceptional: a sense of belonging and a chance to make a difference. The next generation of members is moved to participate when they feel they matter. And they will take action when they feel it has a measurable impact on something they care about. Essentially, your association needs to tug on their heart strings.
Appealing to the heart is every bit as important as appealing to their sense of aesthetics — maybe more so. Translate your association’s mission into a unique story that proves your authenticity and purpose. And be aware: every aspect of your website adds (or potentially subtracts) from your story.
When your association is walking your talk, your members have something they can be proud to be part of. So tap into the tools at your disposal — like members’ stories that share the impact your association has made on the industry.
Now is the best time to disrupt your association’s status quo. You can’t afford to waste any more time as more and more members retire or bypass renewal. Welcome change. Insist on innovation. And put in the work to prove your value to your future members.