The Evolving Tech Needs Of Your Association: From Spreadsheets to Membership Site


This tool will help you calculate the total cost needed for your membership portal

Member Growth is Stagnant: What’s the Problem?

Every association should seek to increase member engagement and member retention within the realm of Association technology. Managing associations and memberships can be complex, and a network of issues may hinder your growth. Sometimes, however, your wheels are spinning because you don’t have the right tech tools (such as your CRM and website) to keep pace.

To help diagnose whether your problem is your association technology or not, let’s start by seeing whether any of these statements describe your association’s situation:

  • Our member retention rate isn’t where it should be. We have a hard time conveying our value to our members.
  • Our member engagement rate isn’t where it should be. Our members complain that they don’t know what’s going on and don’t understand how to easily access their member benefits.
  • Our staff spends lots of time answering emails and calls from prospects and members. We need to automate our onboarding process and reduce the number of FAQs we need to answer.
  • Our team has to manually make changes to our members’ accounts and manually manage events since there isn’t a way for members to access them themselves.
  • All of the above!

Do any of these statements describe your association technology situation? Congratulations! Needing to improve your tech capacity on your membership site and CRM means that your association is growing!

The good news is that there are solutions to these problems readily available. The singular biggest investment you can make to set your association on course for growth is to invest in your membership site.

What is a TRUE Membership Site?

Many people think that when your organization has a membership, by default your regular website is a membership site. This is not the case. A membership site is separate from your public-facing website. Your association’s website is your association’s way of communicating who you are and attracting prospective members. Your membership site, on the other hand, is a different website providing a different experience for your members. It is where members can engage with your exclusive members-only content, their member benefits, and fellow members.

The Purpose of Your Membership Site
Your membership site has two main functions:

  • Effortlessly deliver your association’s member benefits online to members.
  • Automate your member-related processes.

How Does A Membership Site Work

Your membership site is your association’s member hub where members log in to get updates, browse information, and engage with their member benefits. Members should be able to make changes to their accounts, renew, register for events, join other opportunities, connect with other members, etc.

Membership Site for Members, CRM for Association Staff
Your membership site consists of a front-end interface for your members and back-end access for your association staff to administer the site (eg. make updates, add pages, add events, remove expired information, etc.) The website utilizes a Content Management System (CMS), such as Drupal or WordPress.

Read our blog WordPress or Drupal: Which CMS Should Your Association Use for Your Website and Member Portal?

When an association gets to a point where they have too many members and too much info to use spreadsheets, a CRM (Customer Relationship Management tool) is a must. There are many available. The one we recommend for associations is CiviCRM. Have a look at our CiviCRM Maintenance & Support Plans.

The Membership Site & CRM Connection
Both your website and membership site can be connected to your CRM, allowing the CRM to capture data and activity from your website and membership site. When your members update their accounts or use a benefit, the data can be transmitted to your CRM for your records and for reporting.

Building your membership site with integration to a powerful CRM like CiviCRM will allow you to give freedom to your members in the membership site, help your staff stay organized, and save time and money by automating your routine tasks so you can provide better value and advocacy for your members. This automatically puts your association technology one step ahead.

When is the Right Time for a New Membership Site?

As an association grows, it is reasonable and expected that its member and staff needs will also grow, especially in the realm of Association technology. Generally, a member-based organization has as part of its mission to serve its members through innovative solutions and technological advancements. The best way to do that is through your membership site.

Let’s take a look at the common issues associations face in the dynamic landscape of Association technology that can be resolved through your membership site:

Staying Organized & Saving Time
Associations are often short-staffed and their team wears many hats. The list of tasks to do in a day is endless. Many association staff are still using manual processes that can be automated with a membership site. Many associations are still performing routine tasks for their members when they should be able to do these tasks independently on a membership site. Your membership site should be set up to provide your member’s independence to perform routine tasks.

Your membership site should have a super straightforward UX and navigation. Members shouldn’t regularly contact you to find content on your member portal. Nor should they be reaching out to ask how to use their benefits. Eliminate this unrewarding website troubleshooting with your members with an improved user experience on your website.

Watching the Budget
Creating a membership site does have a price tag, but it’s not money you are throwing away. It is an investment towards scaling your membership and freeing up your team to scale the association. When your member retention rate is low, this is a signal that members are not seeing value in your membership. If you have quality member benefits and a community, it’s time to invest in an improved member experience! When members can engage with their benefits, they will see value in membership and are much more likely to review. Those increased renewals will increase your bottom line.

Automate As Much As Possible
Think of the time your staff spends answering emails and phone calls from members and prospects. Consider the time your staff spends making manual changes to member accounts. Reflect on their efforts in managing event registration, donations, and member emails. Calculate the cost of this time. Think about more meaningful ways they could use their time to enhance member benefits. Also, focus on advocacy, and establish strategic partnerships.

Our clients have reported time savings of 35 to 40 hours a week through automation on their membership site. This equates to a full salary that can be reinvested into more strategic work.

The Best Options for Membership Sites

You have the choice between creating a custom-designed membership site and choosing from the many website-builder (template) tools available on the market.

Custom-Built Membership Sites
The process of creating a custom website is exciting, creative, empowering, and can be a great experience. Additionally, you get to make all the design choices, and your developers can create custom workflows that support your work and delight your members..

On the other hand, custom software development takes time and commitment from your team. There are always surprises and delays are common. If you have a firm deadline in mind to launch your membership site, building from the ground up may not be the best choice for you.

Membership Site Builder Template
A templated membership site builder is a tool that comes with a structured layout and a suite of features. Some features that are generally included are the easy browsing of member benefits, events, member databases, membership renewals, and integration with a CMS.

On the positive side, you’ll have a functioning membership site faster than with a custom-built one. However, the product’s structure won’t allow you to create the desired design, layout, and features.

Join A Webinar To Learn More
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.