Engaging and Empowering Members Through Websites

By Robert H. Lane, Ph.D.

Your website plays a major role in the successful engagement of your members, donors, and other constituents. But to be really effective, you need to first look at your member/donor management software to ensure it will support the personalization, self-service, and mobile/social access your constituents are demanding.

For the not-for-profit community, it's all about engaging constituents. Given that new member/donor acquisition is so challenging, nothing surpasses the need to maintain your current member base. With this in mind, we should approach the issue on three fronts:

  • Economic—giving members bang for their buck;
  • Demographic—sophisticated self-service options and the ability to share are particularly important to younger members;
  • Technological—whatever you members can do from their desktop or laptop, they want to be able to do on their tablet or smartphone.

Personalized content isn't the most important thing; it's the only thing. To provide personalized content, you need a powerful engagement management solution to support your website. Your constituents should believe you really understand their needs and will provide the resources they seek. Younger members may voice this outright to you or on social media, but everyone should feel they are an integral part of your organization.

Creating a personalized web experience where members may manage their profiles, access their history, find relevant content, and enjoy streamlined navigation that takes them to exactly what they need when they need it, will make your website the go-to place for information that members will find indispensable. For philanthropic organizations, personalization may help you become your donors' favorite charity and reward you with an investment of dollars, time, and passion.

To keep up with constituent demands, your website should support the latest self-service options that allow visitors to update their contact information, renew their membership, donate online, create personal pages, register for events, collaborate with other members, and purchase products. Providing these options will not only increase satisfaction but also significantly increase staff productivity, freeing them to provide better customer service.

Self-service is also becoming more social. Today, individuals are far more influenced by the recommendations of friends and colleagues than by push marketing. With an engagement management system, you may introduce personalized social elements that subtly, but effectively, influence buying decisions. When a constituent logs into your site, they may be able to view a list of those who already registered for a conference, friends who donated to a cause championed by your organization or a list of recommended products geared to their particular interest. Tara may view a Google map of upcoming classes and find one three blocks from her office. Steve realizes he may quickly set up a fundraising page allowing him to send a link to his fraternity brothers to sponsor his 5K race. These are but a few examples of how a social website may help bolster engagement.

Successfully competing for your members' attention and ensuring a high level of engagement requires delivering value they can't find elsewhere. Creating an engaging, branded, private social community on your website will help ensure that your members and donors turn to you first for the information and resources they need. Your members are searching for powerful online networking and communication tools that allow them to connect and receive feedback from their peers, advance their careers, keep up with industry trends, and network with others.

While your members and donors may be able to perform some of these tasks on various public social sites, with a branded community that you control, you may better protect your organization's reputation and assets and provide a valuable benefit available only to members. With an online community you may track constituent habits and preferences and understand their perspective on what your organization does well (and not so well). In addition, you may reward active constituents with ribbons or other recognition and gather valuable feedback that will ensure loyalty.

Until recently, you may have been cautiously watching the growing smartphone and tablet markets to determine if adoption rates warrant creating a mobile presence. A recent Gartner Group survey stated that tablet sales were projected to more than double between 2012 and 2014. It's important that you create an effective mobile strategy that takes into consideration the specific needs of your constituent base. This starts with understanding the difference between mobile apps and mobile websites. Mobile apps are specifically designed for certain devices such as Apple, Blackberry, or Android operating systems. These are often expensive to create and distribute since their availability may be regulated by the hardware vendors. Mobile websites are flexible, quick and easy to set-up, affordable, and platform-independent. The vast majority of nonprofit organization requirements may be met by a mobile website.

Start by assessing what you want your members or donors to be able to do via their mobile devices and then create a plan to meet their needs. The potential is virtually limitless and will go far in assisting younger constituents in particular, to better understand the value membership in your organization holds. With the cost of new constituent acquisition rising every day, you can't afford to lose even one!

If you're like most organizations, you use multiple, disparate systems: member/donor software to manage data, a content management system (CMS) for web content, another solution for your mobile website and yet another for your private social community. The complexity and cost of integrating these systems is great. The latest and most forward-thinking trend is to implement an engagement management system that manages everything for you. When evaluating member/donor management systems, look for solutions with an established track record in creating dynamic websites that simplify the ability to connect, communicate and collaborate online and via mobile devices. In doing so, you are ensuring the future viability and success of your association.

Robert H. Lane, PhD, is Principal/CEO of Lane Services, LLC, offering technology solutions for nonprofit organizations since 2003. He is a member of NYSAE's Technology Committee and serves on the Board of Directors of the COMMON Education Foundation. He can be reached at: rlane@lane-services.com or www.lane-services.com. This article is based on a presentation made by the author at the January 2015 Technology SIG.