No website development projects occur without friction, especially something as complex as a membership site. You might think of using WordPress’s built-in user levels as a starting point for creating membership features. While you can go down that path, it’s much faster, cheaper and easier to configure an off-the-shelf WordPress membership plugin to meet your client’s needs. To help you know what you are getting yourself into as a developer or designer, let’s look at some usual membership website requirements and challenges.
What do most membership websites need to do?
Sell renewable memberships
Chambers of commerce, nonprofit organizations, clubs, professional groups, trade associations, and arts cooperatives all need membership tracking software. People who are subject matter experts, coaches and bloggers also sell memberships to their website content.
Membership tracking and billing is complicated. You don’t want to try to code custom membership software from scratch. Some of the system requirements can include:
- Accommodating multiple membership levels at billing intervals and prices that may need to be edited in the future.
- Offering payment options such as offline payments, one time credit card and auto recurring card payments.
- Creating an interface for members to login and update their credit card information and contact information (perhaps for a member directory).
- Flexibility to handle fixed renewal dates or rolling renewals.
- Compliance with GDPR and other emerging privacy laws.
Use a WordPress membership plugin such as MembershipWorks with a payment gateway like Authorize.net, PayPal Pro or Stripe that accommodates both one-time and auto recurring payments.
Restrict content to members only
A chamber of commerce may want to have board documents hidden from everyone except its board members. A trade association may want a years-in-the-making research report restricted to members only. Some organizations will want to restrict content on a tiered basis depending upon membership level. For example, a fitness coach may have bonus training content that only premium members can access.
Install a membership plugin to restrict content. A plugin could accomplish content restriction by providing a shortcode to drop onto member only pages.
Offer event registration, an online member directory, forms, shopping carts and other features
Example: A networking group wants to sell tickets to its monthly meeting, but members should pay less than other attendees. They will need their event registration plugin to verify membership.
Example: A newcomers club wants to stop publishing a printed directory as members often move, causing the directory to be out of date almost from the day it’s printed. As a 100% volunteer-run group, the membership chair wants to get out of the business keeping member contact information current.
Example: A coach wants to sell an advanced training package to her clients, but only those who have already purchased another product are eligible to purchase it.
While you can find separate WordPress plugins to handle any of these needs, a robust membership plugin will handle these challenges in a much more elegant and efficient way than stand alone event, directory or shopping cart plugins can. A member’s activity in registering for an event can be tied to their record in the member database. While not every organization, especially those run by volunteers, has the bandwidth to take advantage of this kind of data, membership software that has CRM features can help the organization identify their more engaged members.
Deliver reports on transactions, membership growth and retention
Nonprofit membership organizations have an obligation to disclose membership activity and finances to their board of directors. Savvy coaches and bloggers will want to track membership growth and retention to see how their business is doing.
Nonprofits need to present a unified report to their board. Don’t be tempted to install separate plugins for event registration, the online member directory, member billing, or shopping cart. Then the bookkeeper, accountant or executive director will have to manually have to pull data from each plugin.
Look for a membership plugin with most or all of the must-have features your organization or client needs. Consider what software the organization already uses such as Xero, Quickbooks, MailChimp and others and see if the membership plugin can integrate with them. Volunteers and staff are more likely to be successful when they can continue to use software that they are already familiar with.
Provide a way to access support
The last thing you want to deal with as a developer are large or small questions related to a project you built in the distant past. Organizations don’t necessarily want to pay for this kind of support in advance or on an ongoing basis. Some nonprofits may have struggled to come up with the money to build a membership site in the first place. Wouldn’t it be nice to stay out of the support loop (unless of course that’s how you make your money)?
A good membership plugin will offer support. While support may be an anomaly in the world of WordPress plugins, you have probably seen that the highest quality and most robust plugins are ones that charge an initial or ongoing fee. With an ongoing fee, you or your client will be able to access ongoing support.
Do your research and use a Google doc or spreadsheet to document how each plugin meets the features your organization or client needs; be sure to include a column for support. It’s important to consider:
- Is there a setup fee to get started?
- Is training offered, and is it one-time or unlimited? Is it in a group setting or is it one-on-one?
- Does support come at a cost?
- What types of support are offered? Some organizations will need phone support while others will prefer to email for answers.
Have you experienced other challenges when building a membership site in WordPress? Let us know in the comments!
Amy Hufford is a Technologist at MembershipWorks. She has worked in nonprofit technology for more than 20 years and has experience with a variety of donor and membership software platforms.