Many associations and nonprofits have challenges around their member management and technology, and often the sword falls on their combined website and member portal. The issue starts when they try to view their website as their go-to hub for all online use. They aren’t trying to cut corners, they just don’t know that the best practice for smart data management, successful online marketing and healthy member engagement is by keeping your member portal separate from your website.
This article will help you understand the pitfalls of combining your member portal and website, and understand the advantages of keeping them separated.
Websites vs Member Portals: Function & Audience
Let's take a look at websites and member portals to understand how they differ; their different functions and their audiences. Have a look at this chart:
We see here that the goals and audience are different for the website and the member portal.
The Website: Your Marketing Machine for a Broad Audience
Your website is, above all else, a marketing machine. It is a space that anyone can access. It is your number one source of information for the world to see and, ideally, functions as a lead magnet for your nonprofit. Whether it be potential clients, members, donors, you name it – the content on your website is geared to positions you as a trusted authority in your field and will determine whether or not they contact you.
The Member Portal: Your Vehicle to Deliver Association Benefits
Your member portal, on the other hand, is all about your members. Here we flip the script from focusing on you (the association) to the member, what they want and how they can grow professionally and personally. With a member portal, members can only access with a login, and you control the user experience by delivering specific content to them. The portal informs members about members-only services, training, events, and opportunities. The members
can do practical things such as update profiles, certifications and renew their membership.
Inherent Issues of the Combined Website/Member Portal
A combined website and member portal on one platform makes for a complicated site map. Information can get easily buried. Any given user (be they a prospect, donor, member, you name it) isn’t seeing the relevance of the information they encounter because it’s not geared specifically for them.
There just isn’t enough real estate to keep the information that is relevant to both users and members front and centre. Searching through the content on the website becomes an overwhelming experience for the user who is trying to wade through all the content. When members can’t easily find your benefits, there is frustration, benefits aren’t used and the members don’t see the value of their membership.
Members who don’t see the value are at risk of not renewing their membership and are unlikely to refer their peers to become members. Easy navigation makes for happy members, which leads to membership growth.
A member who is confused with the website may contact your team to ask more questions. Handling avoidable customer service inquiries takes time, money and resources from the typically small admin team of nonprofits.
The Better Way: Separate but Connected
When it comes to membership options and offering access to appropriate content for different users, an all-in-one website gets complicated. The best way to keep all your stakeholders satisfied is to create different platforms for different users: a website for the general public and a separate special member portal that offers access to members-only content.
By keeping your tiered membership access organized, you will be able to communicate your member benefits more readily to your members and save your admin team time and energy.
Navigation Made Simple
Keeping the website and member portal separate makes navigation easy and more intuitive for your user. The user who wants to browse your website to get to know your association will be able to have a different expectation than the member who wants resources to benefit their career. Of course, the website and member portal will link to one another for easy access.
Having the link to your member portal on your website is a great way to create awareness about your member portal and show visitors to your website that you offer a catered experience for members.
Lifespan and Updates
Websites have a shorter life span than member portals. Websites need frequent updates to stay up-to-date and reworking websites is common as internal and external trends change. When a website and member portal use the same platform, updates to the website can be an arduous and expensive undertaking because the member content is intertwined. It is best practice to separate them so when you want to update the website, it is an easy process.
Member portals, on the other hand, offer benefits and services that have long-standing value beyond the design. Member portals have specific uses and are often build with customization for the specific needs of the association. This gives them longevity, regardless of design.
Divide and Conquer
Ready to take the plunge and create a separate member portal? Congrats! This is a huge step toward member satisfaction and retention. Creating a member portal that is easy to navigate and offers clear solutions to members will cut down on client support offered by your team, offering significant savings in time, money and energy.
Resources & Support
Easy Reference: To get all this website vs. member portal information on one easy reference, download our free Member Portal vs Website Content Guide & Worksheet.
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