How to build an engaging members area

Member area software

As banks, online retailers and other service providers continually invest in improving their users' online experience, customers are expecting more. As a memberhip organisation your members will be increasingly demanding the ability to sign up, manage their membership and engage with other members online. 

This post explore small steps that membership organisations can take to incrementally improve their members' online experience. 

Ways to improve online experience for members

1. Manage profile

Allowing members to manage their own details saves staff time chasing up contact details and gives members transparency about the data you hold about them.

Members should be able to manage:

  • Communication preferences
  • Preferred contact details
  • Job title & organisation
  • Members directory listing (if applicable)

Even if you don't have a fully integrated membership management system that provides these functions, you can emulate this functionality to some extent on a simple website by building a set of forms that allow the member to easily submit information which you can then use to manually update the information in your database. 

2. Manage payments and renewals

Allowing members to manage payments and renewals in the member area reduces churn (the number of members that don’t renew) and means staff don’t have to waste time chasing people and dealing with ad-hoc manual payments.

One of the best ways to simplify payment and renewal is to ask your members to sign up for a Direct Debit using a system like GoCardless

3. Discounts

Exclusive discounts are a great membership perk. It is particularly common practice to offer membership discounts on event bookings. By managing discounted event booking within a password-protected member area you ensure only active members take advantage of these discounts.

For service providers providing discounts brings them the benefit of being promoted to your membership. 

4. Special content

If you produce valuable resources, consider restricting these to members. In some cases, you may want an entire section of your website to be accessible only to members. In other cases, it is advantageous to allow the public to view a teaser of the content to help promote the benefits of membership.

5. E-learning

Professional membership organisations and associations often play a role helping their members keep up-to-date with continuing professional development (CPD) to keep their qualifications fresh and valid. In these circumstances, the member area may hold e-learning functionality that allows members to take courses and verify their learning.

6. Forums

Forums can add huge value to a community of members. They certainly don't work well for all organisations but they can be very powerful and don't require members to maintain an account on a particular third party service like Facebook. Read about the best forum software options for your website.

7. Directories

One valuable benefit that membership organisations can provide is a directory for members to promote their profile, services or credentials. This could be publicly accessible or restricted only to members depending on it's purpose. Directories can allow members to connect with each other or to promote their services to the general public. 

For smaller membership organisations, you may be able to manage a directory manually on your existing website without the need for comprehensive membership management software. 

How to bring online membership functionality to your website

One of the main challenges in hosting a successful member area online is enabling your members to log in. Ideally, the member area and login validation are directly connected with your membership CRM so that you don’t need to duplicate data about people and manually update user accounts when membership changes or lapses.  

Here are three common approaches to building a member area.

1. Extend your current website

A good place to start is to explore the capabilities of your current website. Popular open source website software like Wordpress and Drupal makes it pretty easy to install extensions (like WishList) that will allow you to restrict certain pages. It can be harder to integrate functions like payment and renewal but if you have a decent development budget it may be possible. Also check out complementary platforms like Memberful that work alongside an existing website and manage payments.

The main drawback of extending your current website in this way is that you are working with lots of different software and plugins. This is usually time-consuming for staff to set up, rarely provides the best experience for members and can end up duplicating member data in different systems.

2. Build a separate member area

To avoid complex development of your public-facing website you can keep your member area  separate from your public-facing website. This could be on a subdomain such as or on a completely different domain. Your public-facing website will simply point members to the separate member area for any membership interactions like joining, renewing, accessing restricted content, etc.

Lots of membership management software solutions offer some kind of member area functionality. For small to medium organisations, try White Fuse and for large associations try iMiS.

The main drawback of a separate member area is that member-only content has to be 100% siloed. It’s not very easy to present teasers or snippets of member-only content to entice the public to join. This approach can also be frustrating when it comes to things like events where you have one ticket price for the public and one for members - where do you publicise your event?

3. Membership software with built-in website tools

The last option is to adopt a software platform that can manage your membership interactions, provide a member area AND run your public website. These solutions have a number of benefits:

  • Save staff time by managing everything in one place
  • Smoother experience for members
  • Create content that is both public and member-facing

Once you have moved most of the more complex transactional elements of your website to a CRM-based membership software, (such as form submissions, membership joining and event booking) the remaining public-facing pages are often very easy to migrate as well. There are a few membership software platforms that can offer this full end-to-end experience for your members including White Fuse, Wild Apricot and NeonCRM.

Compare membership software

Want to explore membership software? This comparison offers a detailed look at 15 of the best membership software solutions with prices, pros and cons.

Read the comparison

4 March 2019