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How to Run a Successful Association Website August 20, 2019

Five to ten years ago, the biggest topic of discussion surrounding association websites was mobile responsive design. Thankfully at this point most websites have adapted to the reality that more than 50% of website visits are performed on a mobile device.

Associations often struggle to keep up with the latest trends; they operate with non-profit budgets, but in a competitive business environment. Today’s association executives and website designers in-the-know are thinking about:

  • Personalization and personas
  • Integrating multiple platforms seamlessly in one website
  • Improved user experiences

Let’s dive into each of these areas to help you run a more successful association website.

Personas can help you understand and better communicate with your members

A persona is an imaginary profile created by a communicator or marketer to represent a specific group of your membership. Large nonprofits and associations create these profiles as it helps them craft personalized communications that speak to the core of what that target member group needs or wants. Surveys, focus groups and interviews can help you learn a lot about your target audience and develop personas.

Although some organizations will spend six digits to research and create personas, it can be done on a more informal basis. At its core, this process is about understanding the different types of members you have and that their needs are unique. When you identify different groups of members such as millennials or baby boomers and low technology users versus early adopters, it’s easy to see that:

  • Each persona may have a different membership journey and varied reasons for visiting your website.
  • Messaging should be adapted and targeted to better serve various types of members.

So how might personas help your association website?

Say you are a trade association about to change from a classroom environment for some continuing education units to an online course. You know that this transition to online classes is going to be tough for one of your personas. In your association management software, you can create labels or tags related to members’ comfort with learning new technology. Members can apply labels to themselves through a website form submission or by editing their profile. You can then use labels to message specific groups of members who might need more help learning how to use the new course.

Integration requires both technical and design skills

Sometimes it is hard to keep track of all the pieces of technology an association uses on its membership website. Here are some of the tools your associations might have:

  • Email marketing platform such as MailChimp
  • Membership management software to handle member billing and recurring payments
  • Shopping cart system
  • Event registration system
  • Website platform like WordPress or SquareSpace
  • SMS messaging service
  • Online survey platform
  • Learning management system

You might find some of these services in one piece of software, but often you will have different providers. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Not many membership platforms offer email marketing services as good as a company like MailChimp that is dedicated to creating new features and offerings specific to email marketing. In the best case scenario, you will be able to use best-in-class tools like MailChimp along with your membership software through integrations set up by your web developer.

Whether your technology is integrated or not, it is key to help the member feel as if they are not jumping between different platforms. Using the same fonts, type styles association logo and color scheme can help the user experience feel easier and more seamless. A designer experienced in CSS can be of great help here.

Upgrade the Member Experience with Animations, Infographics and Custom Illustrations or Iconography

Take a look inspiring websites and consider how some of these innovations might help your site might be a place where members want to spend their time. Some of these ideas are expensive and technically challenging to execute. However, an investment in something like custom-illustrated icons can be used not only on your website, but also in other communications materials like event programs, annual reports and brochures. It’s true that a picture communicates much more quickly than words do, and who wants to read pages upon pages of text without images?

Animations that load in text and pictures in a gradual fashion are often easy to accomplish if you have a theme (for example, the Divi theme for WordPress websites) that has animation controls for its modules. Animations like this aren’t just a fun bell and whistle feature. Animated buttons can direct a member’s attention quickly to your call-to-action and can also reveal interactive elements like toggles that encourage further engagement with your pages.

Infographics are shareable and can go “viral” within your membership.  This site showcases some ideas to help you create infographics that can quickly reveal salary survey results or annual achievements. Aside from memes, they may be the communicator’s best tool for reaching those with short attention spans. Be careful designing infographics — make sure the overall message can still be understood when the graphic is viewed on a smartphone. If members find the information valuable, it’s likely that they’ll share it on social media among fellow members and those who may be likely prospects for you as well.

Have other ideas for running a successful association website? Let us know in the comments.

Amy Hufford is a Technologist at MembershipWorks, which offers association management software and membership websites for associations in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and more. Amy has worked in non-profit and association technology for more than 20 years and has experience with a variety of nonprofit and membership software platforms.

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