WordPress is the right platform for building a membership club website. WordPress powers 60% of websites that use a CMS. And with tens of WordPress membership plugins to choose from, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel with custom development. As a developer, designer or club volunteer, finding the best membership plugin to align with the project budget and required features may be the hardest part of your job.
In the past, membership software often required you to build your membership website in a proprietary platform. Changing the look of the site could require large payments to the membership software provider. With WordPress, changing themes to achieve a redesign is a much simpler process that can be performed by your favorite local web designer. Integrating an existing WordPress website with a club plugin often only involves installing the plugin, configuring it to your needs and using the plugin’s WordPress shortcodes to add membership features to your site’s pages.
Let’s look at some of the features your club will need. By creating a list of must-have and nice-to-have features, you’ll be able to better narrow down your list of membership software; not every plugin offers the same set of features.
1. Membership Billing
Your club may bill once a year or send renewal notices on a rolling basis based upon each members’ join date. Look for a membership plugin that will be able to handle billing with a method that makes sense for your group. Note that even if you’ve always billed on an annual basis, it can be much more profitable to switch to rolling renewals where you will always get 100% of your dues payment upfront instead of a pro-rated amount. The membership management software will send out renewal and past due notices for you and keep track of which members are current or overdue. Some other billing features you might want to inquire about if they apply to your group:
- The ability to charge late fees.
- Setting up new member fees.
- Allowing membership upgrades or downgrades with or without pro-rating.
- Offering a trial period for membership.
- Providing auto-recurring billing through an integration with a payment gateway such as Stripe, Authorize.net or PayPal Pro.
2. Event Calendar & Online Registration
Social connection through events is a major benefit of most club memberships. Even if a membership plugin you’re considering offers event registration, make sure it can handle your most complex event. For example, your club might host a:
- Conference with breakout sessions to pick,
- Festival with vendor booth spots to choose from, or
- Golf tournament with foursomes to be registered.
Not every membership CRM will have robust event features, so it’s important to ask questions before purchase.
3. Member Directory, Forms, and Shopping Cart
With an integrated WordPress membership plugin, a member’s activity in one function — such as a shopping cart — can be tied to the member record and noted within their activity timeline. This provides membership CRM features. Restricting forms and purchases based upon membership level or member status is also possible when all features are offered in one system. For example, perhaps only premium level members are allowed to be listed in the directory or purchase VIP event tickets. Without an integrated platform, verification of purchases would need to be done manually, adding to staff or volunteer demands.
4. Members Only Website
Your club may want to have board documents hidden from everyone except board members. Some clubs will want to set up WordPress members only pages on a tiered basis depending upon membership level. Some membership plugins offer content restriction by providing a shortcode to paste onto member only pages. You’ll want it to be easy to execute.
One of the advanced WordPress wiki plugins that you can use to create a wiki space, where your members can collaboratively create, and edit the content is called Helpie Wiki.
Also, with Helpie wiki you can choose which member or member groups can view, edit, approve and publish the wiki contents.
5. Membership Reports
Nonprofit membership organizations such as clubs must disclose membership activity and finances to their board of directors. Don’t be tempted to install separate plugins for event registration, member billing, member directory, or a shopping cart. This will prevent someone from having to pull data from each plugin for reporting. Consider what software the organization already uses such as Quickbooks, Xero, MailChimp, and others and see if the membership plugin offers integration. Volunteers and staff are more likely to be successful when they can keep systems that they are already familiar with.
The best membership plugin will offer support. While support is rare in the world of WordPress plugins, you have probably seen that robust plugins charge for their service. With an ongoing fee, your club can access ongoing support and perhaps training as well. This is especially important for clubs that are volunteer-run. All the investment of time in setting up membership software can be lost if the new board doesn’t know how to use it.
Create a Google doc or spreadsheet to document how each plugin meets your needs; be sure to include a column for support. Some considerations:
- Does support come at a cost?
- Is there evidence of support being rapid or slow? Look at reply times on a forum or read reviews.
- Is there a setup fee?
- Is training offered on a one-time or unlimited basis? Is training offered in groups with other organizations or is it available a one-on-one?
- What types of support are offered? Phone, email, forum or chat maybe some of the options.
About the author
Amy Hufford is a Technologist at MembershipWorks. She has worked in the membership technology space for more than 20 years, gaining experience along the way with a wide variety of membership management software platforms.