How to Build a Membership Website: 4 Steps (with Examples!)

author Murad Bushnaq on September 22, 2020

Learn how to build a membership website that maximizes the online member experience.

Members are the lifeblood of associations, and developing a strong online community is paramount for creating an engaging experience that encourages them to stick around. This all starts with a well-designed, compelling membership website.

However, associations and other member-based organizations aren’t always well-versed on web design best practices. Further, they often have limited budgets and can’t shell out the necessary funds to hire web designers and developers. Luckily, there are simple steps membership managers can take without integrating plugins, creating code, or seeking external help.

Here at Morweb, we provide the tools and experience necessary to make beautiful web design possible for nonprofits, associations, and other member-based organizations. We understand the challenges many organizations face when creating an online presence, from limited budgets to a lack of coding knowledge. Using our extensive background on the subject of web design, we’ve compiled suggestions for membership managers who are learning how to build a membership website for the first time.

Before jumping headfirst into those necessary steps, let’s quickly review what a membership website is. This way, you’ll have a strong foundation upon which to build as you start to develop your strategy.

What is a membership site?

Simply put, a membership website is primarily used by nonprofits, associations, and some businesses to provide valuable content that incentivizes prospects to join and stay engaged. The most successful membership organizations use their websites to acquire, engage, and retain their members by offering exclusive resources such as industry insights, online courses, and a tight-knit online community.

Membership websites that are both well-designed and functional provide the most value. When membership websites feature functional tools, the association’s team can save substantial time on administrative tasks, such as:

  • Registering new members
  • Processing dues
  • Updating personal member profiles
  • Distributing members-only content

As you can see, there are many moving parts to consider when building a membership website. Now that you’re fully familiar with the purpose behind them, we can dive into the steps necessary for creating one that drives engagement. These steps include:

By taking the time to learn how to build an engaging membership website, you’ll be able to create a valuable member experience for your organization’s loyal advocates. Let’s dive in!

The first step when learning how to create a membership website is to build a compelling membership model.

Step 1) Create a compelling membership model.

Prior to building the membership website itself, it’s important to complete a sufficient amount of research and prep work. Otherwise, you’ll spend time developing features and pages that don’t offer value. This all starts with defining your membership model.

Membership model example - The SEEP Network

What is a membership model?

Your association’s membership model is the compelling reason as to why someone should join your organization. It’s a type of plan where individuals pay a recurring fee in exchange for access to the value an organization creates. An unclear model will lead to a disorganized website, whereas one that’s predefined will help boost acquisition and retention over time.

As you create your membership model, be sure to answer the following:

  • What benefits do members receive for joining? The type of value that you deliver depends on what type of organization you’re running. For associations, members typically receive access to resources such as continuing education opportunities, networking opportunities, certification, events, and more. Determine the specific benefits, and prominently communicate that value online.

  • What are the different membership levels? The approach taken for membership levels and dues varies across organizations. According to Association TRENDS, most employ a tiered structure in which lower-level members receive basic benefits, while higher-level members receive more flexibility. On the other hand, associations that cater to specific organizations typically employ an organizational approach, helping them appeal to wider audiences.

Defining your membership model is a key first step in building an effective membership website as it will allow you to produce relevant content pertaining to your target audience. From here, you’ll be able to be completely transparent regarding your membership program, positioning your organization as a trustworthy entity online.

When learning how to build a membership website, ensure you invest in the right website builder.

Step 2) Choose the right membership website builder.

After you’ve sufficiently defined your membership model, it’s important to select the right content management system (CMS) to help bring your vision to life. Specifically for organizations with smaller budgets, it’s important to have an intuitive CMS that empowers you to build your membership website without help from a professional web developer.

When learning how to build a membership website, check out Morweb's intuitive CMS.

For instance, Morweb’s membership website builder provides an easy-to-use solution for beautiful web design. Its tailored tools cater specifically to associations and other member-based organizations by providing sector-specific functionality. Here’s a glimpse into the key features Morweb offers that will empower you to build a robust membership website:

  • Live editing tools. Many website builders have back-end editors that must be used to update pages. However, most of these editors in no way resemble the front-end of the page. Morweb, however, empowers its users to bring their visions to life and make changes directly to their web pages with live editing and drag-and-drop functionality.
  • Mobile-responsive forms. From membership applications to event registration pages, your membership website will likely house numerous forms. Morweb enables you to fully customize and embed forms directly onto your website. Best of all, they’re mobile-responsive, meaning the page elements will adjust to fit the users’ devices with complete functionality.

  • Member directory. With Morweb, you can easily add, edit, and categorize members in a directory. Using the interactive mapping capabilities, your members can conveniently search and connect with others. This will help foster a strong sense of community within your organization as they bond over their mutual passion for your cause.

  • Intranet portal. Member-based organizations need the flexibility to create password-protected pages for their members. With Morweb, you can grant access to members so that they can share internal information, participate in exclusive forums, and register for private events.

As you can see, Morweb is an easy-to-use solution for beautiful web design, and the features above only scratch the surface. These intuitive design tools paired with useful member-based tools will prove invaluable when engaging your supporters.

Remember, open-source CMS platforms require regular updates to prevent cybersecurity threats. Morweb takes care of the security and maintenance for you, so you can focus on producing compelling content and building your ideal membership website!

The third step when learning how to build a membership site is to provide valuable content to users..

Step 3) Provide valuable content on your membership website.

Offering the right type of content that reflects prospective members’ goals is an essential part of membership website design. Otherwise, you’ll leave users frustrated when they can’t find sufficient information that reflects their interests.

To determine what type of content to provide on your membership site, you first need to understand why users visit your site. Overall, most prospective members have three primary expectations for your membership website, including:

  1. They want to understand your organization’s purpose and values. Oftentimes, prospects and existing members visit your membership website to determine if their personal values and needs align with what your organization offers.
  2. They want to see a thriving and engaging community. One of the primary reasons individuals join organizations is to connect with like-minded people who share the same values and passions. Conveying a tight-knit community on your membership website is essential.
  3. They want access to specialized information and resources. Your membership website is an optimal opportunity for showcasing what value your organization brings to the industry that can’t be found anywhere else.

To effectively accomplish the above, you’ll need to feature high-value pages, so let’s walk through the seven primary pages to consider when building your membership website.

1) Homepage

In most cases, your homepage will be the first page your membership website visitors will land on. Keep in mind that it only takes about 50 milliseconds for visitors to form an initial opinion of your membership site, so you’ll need to instantly showcase value in a visually compelling way.

Knowing how to build a membership website means starting with a strong homepage.

Specifically, this means taking the area above the fold into the account. The phrase “above the fold” refers to the content that’s visible above the border when the page initially loads. Eye-tracking research has shown that 80% of users' viewing time is spent above the fold. In other words, this is prime real estate on your membership website, especially on the homepage.

Use this as an opportunity to feature your main calls to action, such as becoming a member or making a donation. You may also choose to include industry news, organizational updates, featured members, upcoming events, or captivating imagery that showcases your work. To aid in the design process, make sure your website builder offers the functionality you need to create a beautiful layout that instantly captures the essence of your membership organization.

Take a look at the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast's homepage. Along with intuitive navigation, its purpose and the value it provides to members clearly shines through the moment users land on the homepage with clear descriptions, calls to action, and powerful imagery:

2) About Us

In a study conducted by KoMarketing, 52% of respondents indicated they want to see an ‘About’ section with organizational information. For associations and other member organizations, an ‘About Us’ page is imperative for displaying its work and purpose.

This page will tell your organization’s story and showcase the individuals who drive your mission forward. This is a great opportunity to include the following key elements:

  • The history of your organization
  • Your mission
  • Your vision and core values
  • Staff and board member profiles

3) New Member Information

The primary goal of your membership website is to provide ongoing value to existing members and encourage prospects to make the commitment to join. Featuring member information will provide a compelling case for prospects to join, so create a webpage that houses anything a new member might need to know, such as:

  • Benefits
  • Membership levels
  • A link to your online form

Take Greenbelt’s ‘Join’ page for example. It succinctly outlines the impact on the organization, including protecting local land and building a passionate community of like-minded individuals. Then, it lists the individual benefits of joining, such as invitations to members-only events and a newsletter subscription. Plus, it provides options for becoming a member and links out to the appropriate forms so users don’t have to search for it:

When learning how to build a membership website, ensure you offer sufficient information regarding your membership program like Greenbelt.

4) Events

Conferences, conventions, and fundraisers are an excellent way to connect and interact with members, whether you’re hosting them in person or in the virtual space. Condense all available opportunities into a singular events page.

When building your membership website, spend time developing an events page.

When building this page on your membership site, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Include a page with upcoming events. Add details regarding the date and location of each event so that it’s easy for potential attendees to find. As soon as your event dates are finalized, add them to a comprehensive page on your membership website to get the word out and build momentum.

  • Feature easy-to-complete event registration forms. Create and share well-designed forms that capture key information, such as names, contact details, and payment information. This way, you can accurately predict attendance and prepare accordingly.

  • Privatize members-only events. With privatized pages, you’ll be able to manage user permissions and offer exclusive events to your members. This way, others aren’t able to access and register for it.

5) Members-Only Area

Member engagement should be at the forefront of your membership website design strategy, and offering a members-only area is a great place to start. Not only does a members-only area provide ongoing value for current members, but it also incentivizes prospects to join and gain exclusive access to content.

You might use this area of your membership website to protect members’ confidential information or to house exclusive resources. You may also consider creating a forum where members can discuss your work and industry trends as well as members-only events. Remember, a CMS with an intranet portal and private pages will make this possible.

Thanks to Morweb, FSSCC offers its members exclusive access to special events, online resources and webinars:

Members-only area example: FSSCC

6) Contact Us

Web development studies have found that 44% of website visitors will leave a website if there is no contact information available. Further, 54% of respondents indicated that a lack of thorough contact information directly impacts the organization’s credibility. In other words, a lack of contact information will likely deter prospects from joining your membership program.

Avoid this altogether with a ‘Contact Us’ page that includes basic contact information such as a phone number, email address, and a physical address if available. This provides a level of transparency and gives members a way to reach out to inquire about joining your organization. You may also choose to include an email newsletter signup here that discloses the benefits of receiving a monthly membership newsletter.

7) Donate

While membership dues make up the majority of your revenue, donations provide a source of additional income. Give donor prospects and members the ability to act on their generosity by featuring a conversion-optimized donation page on your membership website.

According to our complete donation page design guide, this page should be visually consistent with the rest of your membership website to create a seamless, trustworthy experience. In fact, consistent brand presentation has proven to increase revenue by up to 23%.

Remember, an intuitive CMS like Morweb will allow you to fully customize your donation form with your organization’s colors, logo, and imagery. Then, you can embed this form directly into your membership website. From here, drive traffic to this page by featuring it as a CTA button in your navigation bar. This way, it’ll automatically appear on each page of your membership site.

Take a look at the donation page on Poultry Science’s website, which features a straightforward and minimalist design. Notice the use of suggested gifts and easy-to-select options that encourage prospects to make a larger impact:

When learning how to build a membership website, gain inspiration for your donation page with examples like this one from Poultry Science Association.

To fully understand how to create a membership website, check out these examples.

Step 4) Gain inspiration from other membership websites.

While discussing best practices for membership web design is certainly beneficial, it’s best to see these methods in practice. Let’s walk through a handful of well-designed membership websites that may inspire your own design!

Membership Website #1 International Association of Fairs & Expositions

When learning how to build a membership website, the International Association of Fairs & Expositions turned to Morweb's intuitive CMS.

The International Association of Fairs & Expositions uses eye-catching shapes, colors, and page animations to engage site visitors and capture the essence of the fairs it represents. Through this membership site, the association strikes the perfect balance of design and functionality.

Taking a look at the image above, you’ll find that it provides sufficient information regarding the purpose and the benefits of joining. This membership website uses brightly-colored buttons in the navigation menu to make it crystal clear how to join the association, attend an upcoming fair, or log into the members portal. Plus, the creative design establishes a strong brand identity with unique fonts and stunning image banners that match the association’s branding.

This beautiful membership website was built with Morweb CMS, with a completely custom design to match the association’s uniqueness. To provide an exceptional member experience, the association makes use of Morweb’s member-specific functionality with member logins, private pages, online forms, and events pages.

Membership Website #2 Poultry Science Association

To fully understand how to build a membership site, the Poultry Science Association implemented Morweb's intuitive CMS.

On this membership website, the Poultry Science Association features a minimalistic design with a pop of color. It captures visitors’ attention the second they land on the homepage with recent news and resources to download. Plus, it features custom icons that walk through the benefits of becoming a member as well as information on the various membership types.

Further, the unique navigation menu features a combination of drop-down menus and links for quickly accessing specific resources. This way, users can quickly locate the information they’re seeking.

Designed with Morweb, The Poultry Science Association effectively conveys its focus on memberships across the entire website. Using the built-in membership tools, the custom design drives visitors to take action, whether that’s by joining, attending a meeting, or exploring resources.

Membership Website #3 The SEEP Network

When learning how to build a membership website for your organization, take a look at inspiring examples like this one from the SEEP Network, built with Morweb's intuitive CMS.

On this membership website, The SEEP Network (short for “Small Enterprise Evaluation Project”) captivates prospects with beautiful imagery and videos. Its commitment to solving global poverty is evident through the use of rotating banner images that put a human face to its advocacy work.

The SEEP Network is fully transparent with involvement opportunities by featuring “About Us,” “Resources,” and “Membership” pages. It showcases these high-value pages with icon elements on the homepage as well as in its navigation menu.

The SEEP Network brought its vision to life by partnering with Morweb. Using one of Morweb’s responsive website themes crafted for international NGOs, this organization was able to seamlessly customize its membership website to reflect its brand.

The Gist

Designing a professional membership website isn’t as challenging as you might initially think. Armed with an effective CMS and inspiration from others, you can easily craft a membership site that captivates visitors and provides ongoing value.

Want to delve deeper into effective membership website design? Check out these helpful resources crafted specifically for associations and other membership organizations:

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