Membership organisations have changed significantly in the past decade, and they must continue to evolve. Member expectations have changed too. A lot of interaction with an organisation or club takes place in the real-world with meetups, events, and other social gatherings. However, a large proportion is moving online. This began with the use of forums to allow people to quickly get answers and interact with others, and is more fundamental now with social platforms, and our expectations of everything being easy and fast, and of course the pandemic has pushed this on further.

Your online presence needs to be modern and simple to use. It must allow those unfamiliar to find out about your organisation and join quickly, and should enable those already signed up to get the information they need.

Here we outline our 8 key features your membership site needs in 2021.

1. Let members join online

A traditional element of some clubs is new members needing to be approved or proposed before they can join. In practise this process often has little impact (as most new members are approved) but can reduce signup attempts in the first place.

If membership fees are low enough to be considered an impulse purchase (generally less than around £50, but depends on the demographic – if you’ve bought a £80,000 car, higher numbers may be considered an impulse) then remove any barriers you can. Even if a new member signs up, you can still cancel the membership and return the money if you need to. Take the plunge, and I bet this will never happen!

Once you’ve agreed that members can join online, make it easy for them. Only ask for the key information you need for the membership. They are interested, so will provide more background information once they’ve joined. You can encourage this by promoting the personalisation benefits of doing so. Then take the payment online and send them their automated welcome emails. And most importantly, allow them to access the member areas of the site immediately. There may be a reason they wanted to join – like booking an event or buying an item from your shop – and you want them to be encouraged and excited while they’re here. 

2. Allow members to renew

And once they’ve joined you want them to stick around. Stats show that the biggest drop off in membership is between years 1 and 2. After that they tend to stick around for the long term. As long as you keep delivering.

Let members manage their own details and preferences online. You may need to remind them (perhaps with an annual email), but we all expect to update our address, and opt-in and out of emails online now.

Once it comes to renewal time, give them options. Ideally you want members to signup to Direct Debit so they don’t need to do anything to renew (this is good for everyone). Offer new members Direct Debit once they’ve joined, and remind them when the renewal date is approaching.

If they don’t want to use Direct Debit, allow them to renew with their credit card. Post reminders on the site, send them emails/messages, but make it easy. In most cases nothing has changed, so get them directly to the credit card page. If you need them to check and confirm their details, do so but make it easy – the default should be “nothing has changed, let me continue”. 

3. Offer teasers or 'freemium' content

Freemium is a bit of a buzzword at the moment, and generally tied more to the world of mobile apps, but what it means here is make sure you’re clear about what your club offers, and how it will be worth the subscription. First make sure the member benefits are clear, both at a glance and also in detail. If you run events, make them visible to everyone (just make it clear that they are for members, and its easy to join). If you’re writing content, make all or some of it visible to everyone, perhaps by allowing them read part of the article or by releasing on a delay.

All of this seems obvious, but there are often conflicting points of view about giving the public access to what is in effect a member benefit. Clearly there is a middle ground, but don’t be afraid – if the content is interesting enough they will join. This also has the benefit of providing more content for search engines to index, increasing the number of people who see it.

4. Member management and reporting

So you’ve got thousands of members, what now? Make sure you have a simple-to-use management system for you and your team to use.

Some members will always refuse (or be unable) to join or renew online so you need to be able to do this for them, whether over the phone or by receiving a form in the post. And it needs to be quick.

As well as individual members, you need to be able to find groups of members whether it be by location, based on their preferences, by renewal dates or something else. This is where a flexible reporting system comes in.  Find all members in a particular region, everyone with a specific model of car (or both), click export and off you go. Want to send an email to them – create a list and send.

Each month you’ll find some members don’t renew. Perhaps they’ve decided against rejoining, or perhaps they just forgot. A renewal system will allow you contact these members and keep your membership growing. 

5. Integration

Make things easy on yourself by integrating with other systems in your business. I have mentioned online payments above, and this is a given nowadays, but where else can you make improvements.

You need to talk to your members, so make sure you’re able to easily and quickly send emails to members (or groups of members), either directly from your platform or by integrating with an email service.

Do you sell merchandise online too (if not, why not?)? Make sure you’re integrating with your accounting system to simplify the reporting for your finance team. They’ll thank you!

6. Get social savvy

This isn’t entirely part of your membership system, but almost all demographics are shown to be using social media now. Some are on Twitter, others Facebook or Instagram, and others on TikTok. The key message here is to forget your favourite platform, and be where your members are.

Do some research and find out where they are - you can ask them as part of their membership, or provide a survey. You can also use the social channels to search. Or you can always try it. Post similar messages across all of your platforms and measure the response. This should quickly start to show you where to focus your time.  

7. Analytics and insights

This is a key element of any online system - you must review performance regularly. Look at how members (and non-members) are using your site. Are they finding what they want, or are they leaving at strange points? How well are your email or ad campaigns working?

Also, how are they finding you in the first place. Are you ranking for the right keywords, or are your competitors doing better?

What insights can you see. How can you improve? Even if things are going well, they can always improve.

8. Customisation

Almost the most important feature of all. Make sure your platform is flexible and easy to customise and enhance. Everything might seem right when you first set things up, but it needs to evolve – either based on analytics and insights or on member feedback. Make sure you have a platform that allows this. You also want to be able to add new features easily. A platform such as Kentico is designed to be flexible and easily extendable. Others are more rigid, particularly off-the-shelf packages that may not have been designed for your exact needs. 


In summary

If you’re looking at your membership website and platform, ask yourself about your existing processes. Are they efficient? Are they even necessary, or could something change to automate them? Are members able to learn about the club and join easily or are we putting barriers in their way?  Just because you “have always done it that way”, doesn’t mean you have to do it forever.

Do you have all of these features, and if so is everything working as efficiently as it can? If not, or if you’re not sure, get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.

Remember, new members may have different needs or expectations to someone who has been with you for years and years. Neither is more important than the other, so you need to make sure they’re all getting what they need. And if not, evolve to make sure they are.