How Your Membership Site Is Different From Your Association’s Website


This tool will help you learn the differences between a member portal and a website and how they help you with your association’s goals.

Website vs Membership Site: Two Different Entities

Many associations and nonprofits face challenges with member management and technology. Often, the problem arises from having a combined website and membership site.

The issue starts when they try to view their website as their go-to hub for all online use. They aren’t trying to cut corners. They simply may not be aware that the best practice is to keep your membership site separate from your website.

This article will help you understand the pitfalls of combining your membership site and website. It will also explain the advantages of keeping them separate.

Website vs Membership Site: Function & Audience

Let’s take a look at websites and membership sites to understand how they differ; their different functions and their audiences. Have a look at the chart below to understand the differences between the two:

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Website: A Marketing Machine For A Broad Audience

Your website is, above all, a marketing machine. It is a space that anyone can access. It is your number one source of information for the world to see and, ideally, functions as a lead magnet for your association. Whether it be potential clients, members, donors, you name it – the content on your website is geared to position you as a trusted authority in your field and will determine whether or not they contact you. Our ‘Know Your Membership Quick Guide and Worksheet’ can help your association establish who your members are so you can create better content and benefits that appeal to them.

Membership Site: A Vehicle To Deliver Association Benefits

Your membership site, on the other hand, is all about your members. Here we flip the script from focusing on you (the association) to the members, what they want, and how they can grow professionally and personally. With a membership site, members can only access it with a login, and you control the user experience by delivering specific content to them. The membership site provides members with members-only services, training, events, and opportunities. The members can do practical things such as update profiles, and certifications and renew their membership on the membership site.

Furthermore,  a good membership site will be well-designed, easy to navigate, and include current and relevant content. It should also have a powerful search tool so members can quickly find what they’re looking for. With Member Lounge, you’ll be able to include your members in most conversations, from marketing activities to membership development possibilities. 

To learn more about how to deliver member benefits on your membership site, read our blog ‘5 Ways to Present your Association Benefits for Maximum Member Engagement‘. 

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Problems With A Combined Website & Membership Site

A combined website and membership site on one platform makes for a complicated site map. Information can get easily buried. Any given user (be they a prospect, donor, member, you name it) isn’t seeing the relevance of the information they encounter because it’s not geared specifically for them

There isn’t enough real estate to keep relevant information visible to both users and members. Searching through the website’s content can overwhelm users. When members can’t easily find benefits, it leads to frustration, underutilized benefits, and a lack of perceived membership value.

Members who don’t see the value in your membership are at risk of not renewing their membership and are unlikely to refer their peers to become members. Easy navigation makes for happy members, which leads to membership growth.

A member who finds the website confusing may contact your team to ask more questions. Handling avoidable customer service inquiries takes time, money, and resources from the typically small admin team of associations.

  • Keep The Membership Site and website Separate But Connected:
    When it comes to membership options and providing access to appropriate content for different users, an all-in-one website becomes complicated. The best way to keep all your stakeholders satisfied is to create different platforms for different users: a website for the general public and a separate special membership site that offers access to members-only content.

    By keeping your tiered membership access organized, you will be able to communicate your member benefits more readily to your members and save your admin team time and energy.
  • Easy-To-Navigate Sites:
    Keeping the website and membership site separate makes navigation easy and more intuitive for your user. The user who wants to browse your website to get to know your association will be able to have a different expectation than the member who wants resources to benefit their membership. Of course, the website and membership site will link to one another for easy access.

    Having the link to your membership site on your website is a great way to create awareness about your membership site and show visitors to your website that you offer a catered experience for members.

Read our blog ‘7 Rules to Create a Great User Experience on Your Membership Site‘ to learn how to grow your membership and retain members through quality user experiences (UX) on your website and membership site.

  • Membership Sites Have A Longer Lifespan:
    Websites have a shorter life span than membership sites. Websites need frequent updates to stay up-to-date and reworking websites is common as internal and external trends change. When a website and membership site share the same platform, updating the website can become a challenging and costly task due to the interconnection of member content. It is best practice to separate them so when you want to update the website, it is an easy process.

    Membership sites, on the other hand, offer benefits and services that have long-standing value beyond the design. People often build membership sites with customization to meet the specific needs of the association. This gives them longevity, regardless of design.

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Ready for a Separate Membership Site
Ready to take the plunge and create a separate membership site? This is a huge step toward member satisfaction and retention. Creating a membership site that is easy to navigate and offers clear solutions to members will cut down on client support offered by your team, offering significant savings in time, money, and energy. Visit Member Lounge

Learn More About Member Engagement
Join an upcoming webinar or live podcast to learn more about member engagement, member retention, and creating user journeys for your membership site! ​


Farhad Khan, CEO

A tech entrepreneur specialized in creating membership websites for professional associations to increase member engagement. My background is as an engineer for Nortel and Ericsson. I started my own tech company in 2009 to help associations and nonprofits solve their challenges with my digital technology skills.