Choosing a CMS for Membership: Think Outcomes Before Technology

Ida Vejzagic
October 27, 2020 6 min read
CMS for membership organisations

More than ever, membership organisations are realising the importance of having a solid online presence that drives and engages members. But with such a complex business model, and a need to deliver engaging content and experiences online, marketers, membership and IT professionals have a tough decision on their hands; choosing the right CMS (content management system) that delivers on their member’s digital expectations. 

Far too often, we see membership organisations investing vast amounts of money (more than necessary) on platforms that don’t sufficiently meet their requirements and lead to project failure. More often than not, this is due to having their hearts set on the technology before engaging with their agency and diving deep into what they’re trying to achieve. 

Of course, if you’ve picked a CMS you probably have your reasons for doing so, whether that’s because it fits in your budget or your team is already comfortable using it. These necessarily aren’t bad reasons, but they’re not enough to help you pick the right content management system that will deliver the best possible experience to your members. Here are a few tips for how you can get it right the first time.


Take a step back 

Whenever I speak to a membership organisation for the first time, I always urge them to take a step back from their initial ideas and be open to exploring new technologies. It’s always a risk as an agency to directly challenge a potential client's requests, but we have a duty to ensure that the solution we implement is up to the task at hand. It makes no sense to ‘go with the flow’ when we know that there are more suitable solutions.  

There are literally thousands of CMS platforms in the world, all offering different functionality which may or may not be right for your business. By simply going for whatever the competitor is using, or choosing a platform you’ve used before, you risk falling into the trap of not getting it right. - And this is where many unsuccessful projects go wrong.


Think for the future

The average lifespan of a website is 3 years, which on the face of it doesn’t seem to be a long time. But in 3 years, many aspects of a business can change, even more so in membership organisations who are typically going through complex digital transformation. In most Digital Transformation Consulting projects, the website is a fundamental piece of the jigsaw. Therefore knowing where it sits in the wider digital landscape is key for a successful project that not only works now, but into the future.

It’s imperative that you get buy-in from other department leaders, and fully understand how the new CMS can impact them and their future projects. Here are a few questions to consider: 

  • What software do other departments use now? What digital platforms do they intend to use in the future? How do they need to integrate with the new CMS?
  • Does the business have plans to better serve our members online in the future (e.g. online training and membership portals)? What software will we use to facilitate this?
  • Where is vital membership data stored and how can the website use this to provide better experiences for members?

Asking yourself these questions early on should unearth some key requirements that will help you narrow down your CMS selection process.


Undertake a CMS selection process

All of the considerations that we’ve talked about here are covered in what most in the industry know as a ‘CMS Selection Process’. In my own experience, the businesses that go through this process ahead of briefing, are the ones that get their selection spot on.  

To many, it may sound like wasted resources, spending thousands up front just to determine what CMS you should be briefing for. But when you angle that against the potential losses incurred when a CMS project goes wrong, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Not only that, but you can undertake your briefing process knowing that you have done everything in your power to identify the right CMS.

If like many membership organisations, you’re currently at the start of a complex digital transformation process, then I’m glad I was able to share these insights with you, and hopefully they will help make your job a little bit easier. The key thing to remember is that you are not alone in your decision-making process. There is vast amounts of information and support out there, from vendors and agencies alike, to help you choose the perfect CMS for your membership organisation.