Do you really want a members-only site?
Before you commit to members-only content for your association, consider the upfront setup and long-term maintenance of a membership list. One of the important aspects of integrated commercial association software is that all of this is generally handled automatically, i.e. you pay your dues, you have access; you don’t pay your dues and the account expires – but then again, if this is all you need, you can do it with a plugin (for us, MagicMembers) for around $100.
In my case, for a 250 member organization, I probably spent a full week getting accounts set up and sent to users. Then, users came back asking for different usernames than my assumption of the same username as their email address; or they wanted a different email address. Bottom line is that this is a time-consuming process.
In addition, there was sorting out which of the available membership plugins would provide the functionality I required and then making sure that it actually worked. I had some good and bad experiences with that process but did eventually find a product that worked well.
Interestingly enough, for this small association, there was push-back from the officers themselves when I brought up the idea that the website could control membership in terms of renewals and dues collection. They felt that many members didn’t actually have internet access depending on where they were in the world or simply didn’t use the Internet in the same way that I’m used to. They were concerned that email addresses change so often that members wouldn’t necessarily receive their renewal notices.
They wanted to continue to maintain their membership through snail-mail and keep that one central list outside of the website. Well…I have been in the computer biz long enough that I can’t even imagine doing such a thing outside of the website but in this case I do what the “client” is asking for. 🙂 When and if the decision is changed, I can use the membership plugin to automatically handle renewal notices, payments, and extension of expiration dates.
The up side of the members only content was that we are actually driving additional membership to the organization because people want to use the new site and finally realize they can’t do it without paying dues. The downside was a lot of work but worth it!
For those of you maintaining small members-only sites, what are your experiences?