Integrating Your Association’s Website and Association Management SystemHenry Mills
If you’re an association—professional or otherwise—you may have built, or be somewhere in the process of building, a “seamless integration” between your website and your association management system (AMS).
Before diving into this thorny-but-potentially-powerful integration, three things you should consider are:
- What you mean by “seamless” integration
- Integration is a two-way street
- Why “seamlessness” matters
What do you mean by “seamless” integration?
This word! This dang word is used everywhere. And usually, we look askance at buzzwords. But we use the word “seamless” because it’s the best word available to describe the ideal integration.
Connecting your website to your association management system depends on many things: which software you use, the content management system your website is built upon, what you want the connection to do, etc.
By “seamless” we literally mean “without any seams.”
Just as a seam interrupts a piece of clothing, a seam in the relationship between your website and AMS tool creates an interruption in your users’ experience. They’re jolted awake by something amiss.
Interestingly, the most basic approach to connecting your website and association management system has the biggest seam of all: A simple link from your website to the association management system. Even if you “skin” the AMS to look like your website, your users will sense the change. They’re no longer in your trusted care. They’re off on some other, unknown domain. Creating this simplistic connection is a waste. It’s like owning a library of classic books but reading the same issue of People magazine everyday, forever.
A truly seamless connection means using the data stored in your association management system on your website in helpful, interesting ways. More tech-sophisticated associations choose this route.
But peering into your association management system, finding the right data, and then displaying it on your website relies on a number of additional requirements:
Requirement #1: Confidence in the accuracy and completeness of the data in your association management system
If you’re going to put data in front of your members, it had better be accurate. Either they’ll notice your mistakes—and flood you with emails and calls to get it right—or they’ll remain blissfully unaware that what they’re seeing isn’t quite right.
Perhaps the most damaging example would be: You decide to show members when they first joined and when their membership is due for renewal. The user logs in. They check out the “Membership Ends” date on their profile—and boom! It’s empty, so they wonder if they’re members at all. Or worse, it’s the wrong date, so they mistakenly believe their membership ends sooner or later than it does.
That’s a seam you don’t want.
Requirement #2: A Web developer who knows what she’s doing
There are more potential combinations of AMS platforms and content management systems (CMS) than potential moves in a game of chess.
What works to integrate your current AMS with your current CMS won’t work for the association next door. And what they need to integrate won’t work for you.
We’ll spare you the deep dive into computer code, programming, APIs, and modularized content, etc. Suffice it to say: If you want to effectively integrate your AMS and website, you’ll have to invest in a Web development team who’s done it before. You need not only their technical savvy; you need their strategic mind.
The finest Web developers are great listeners. Eventually they’ll type out a few thousand lines of code, but first, they come to understand what your association is trying to do—and then offer possible solutions. And because your (soon-to-be-hired) developer has built these AMS integrations before, she knows what’s possible, what’s impossible, and what’s only mostly impossible.
Read more: Best practices for documenting your project
Requirement #3: Goals
Speaking of which: What do you want to do with this integration? What’s the point?
For some organizations, a robust integration doesn’t make sense. They’re too small to warrant a bunch of digital work like this. Or perhaps they’re organized in a unique way, in which they don’t have traditional members but instead an audience of “supporters” instead.
But for most medium-to-large associations—especially profession-focused associations—delivering value to their members means empowering them with knowledge and data.
For them, we recommend starting with large-scale goals related to their member data, then drilling down into concrete examples of how that data might be used on their website.
The sky’s the limit. You could simply provide your users with a “profile” or “dashboard” of their own interactions with you. Or you could go further and feed aggregate data from your AMS onto your website, then display it in creative, visual ways.
Integration is a Two-Way Street
Let’s not lose sight of this fact. Your website/AMS integration doesn’t have to be just one tool shouting at another without receiving anything in return.
If your association management system can move data in new and interesting ways onto your website, your website needs to be able to collect data from your users and place it in the right spot in your AMS.
The question, as always, is how?
Again, the scale runs from “super simple” to “super sophisticated.” On the simple end, we have the ability for users to “log in” to their AMS profile on your website. On the sophisticated end are websites that are setup to constantly—and, hopefully, delightfully—collect members’ info, ideas, opinions, and challenges. Doing that can take any number of forms.
Imagine if every time your users visited your site, they saw a brand-new article on the homepage directed at something they are especially interested in. Because while everyone in the International Plumbers Association may be a plumber (of some sort), they each have unique needs, passions, and challenges they want your help with.
Imagine if every time your users visited your site, they saw a brand-new article on the homepage directed at something they are especially interested in.
So again, imagine: Fred is a plumber who’s thinking about expanding his modest business to include commercial plumbing work. Luckily, as a member, he can go to your website for help. But this time when Fred lands on your homepage, he’s greeted, front and center, with a series of links to articles like “How to Expand Your Plumbing Business” and “Commercial Plumbing 101.”
Why does Fred see this content aimed directly at him? Because your integration is big and awesome, and you’ve collected this info from Fred during a previous visit (or via a survey, or at an event, or through personal conversation) and it’s ended up in your association management system. Your AMS, in turn, helps feed this info to your website: “Fred’s interested in expanding into commercial plumbing, and because he’s already logged in, be sure to show him our related content.”
And that’s not the end. Because your AMS now contains the information that “Fred is interested in commercial plumbing,” you can make sure to email him about it, to send him to events related to it, to connect him with other plumbers in his city who do the same thing. And so on. And so on.
That’s an obvious, but powerful, example of how a two-way integration can help you deliver on your core premise: providing real, actionable, personalized value to your members.
Why does any of this even matter?
Because for most associations, their website is—or at least should be—their primary way of communicating with their members. And, therefore, association web design should look for any and all opportunities to deliver a cohesive, delightful, effective experience to users.
Simply providing a hyperlink to your AMS login, or using some third-party portal, is fine. Nobody is going to cancel their membership because you didn’t deliver a seamless brand experience at every moment. (Or not many will, anyway.)
But on the other hand, maintaining a great set of data within an AMS and not using it to deliver value to your members runs counter to your grander mission. Moreover, while a small brand wrinkle—such as sending your users away from your website—won’t lead to canceled memberships, an accumulation of these, over time, may lead your users to believe (even if only vaguely and subtly) that you don’t have your ducks in a row or you’re stuck in the 90s. And once that belief sets in, membership churn numbers begin to expand.
Read more: How Much Does it Cost to Maintain a Website?
One of our many mantras here at Mighty Citizen is: Your content is the only reason anyone visits your website. Creating, maintaining, and exploiting the power of an integration between your website and your association management system is a prime way to deliver content that keeps your members engaged and paying their annual dues.