What next for membership organisations?

With the pace of change in digital, it’s hard for membership organisations to keep up with the needs and wants of their members. We explore what's next in this opinion piece.
Written by
James Bloor
Published on
March 1, 2021
What next for membership organisations?

The digital landscape of today looks very different than it did a few years ago. From the rise of data to the rapid acceleration of online platforms, society has taken gigantic leaps in technology and digital innovation.

However, with things changing so quickly, including the development of new tools and processes, it’s hard for UK membership organisations to keep up with the needs and wants of their members.

With so much to plan and execute, maintaining relevance with members in today’s digital world is becoming harder to achieve.

Luckily, with the right approach and mindset, finding opportunity and reaching success is a lot easier than you think.

How the digital landscape is changing

The digital world as we know it is now more complex than ever. To stay relevant to members, membership organisations must keep up with the following trends:

Self-serve expectations

Members expect to find answers to their questions without having to contact your organisation. They desire autonomy to engage with you on their terms.

Uncompromising user experiences

Your members are used to world-class experiences every day. Great digital experiences are available at their fingertips on their mobile phones, just as they are when out buying their favourite coffee. They expect nothing less from your organisation.

Multiple devices

Although not new per-se, as this research from 2012 explains, your members continue to use multiple devices to engage with your organisation. Today, members switch from device to device; from desktop whilst in the place of work, to mobile whilst commuting or checking email. So it’s essential that your user experience is consistent across devices.

If you’re thinking “but desktop traffic is the vast majority on our site”, perhaps consider if that data is showing correlation or causation.


Since 2016, over 50% of all web traffic has come from mobile devices. Although many membership organisations are still seeing a majority of their traffic from desktop devices, mobile devices should not be neglected, especially with Gen Z entering the workforce.

Social media

Membership organisations have generally struggled to make the most of social media. The 2020 Online Nation report found that people in the UK aged 18 and over spend 3.5 hours a day online, with approximately half of that on social media. That rose during the coronavirus lockdown but is expected to level off again shortly.

Your members are engaging with each other on social media, and there is still a huge opportunity for organisations like yours to be part of that conversation. You can read more about social media strategy for membership organisations in a separate article.

Search engine algorithms

With Google being the dominant search engine in most corners of the world, your members are often starting their search there. If your organisation’s website doesn’t appear for their searches, they’ll be heading off to a ‘competitor’ who does appear.

Keeping on top of search engine algorithm changes and investing in ongoing search engine optimisation is something many membership organisations would benefit from.

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Unsuccessful digital transformation

Digital transformation is the integration of technology to make improvements in your organisation. It involves the combination of people, processes, and technology to achieve higher success in member satisfaction and engagement, operational efficiency, increased revenues, and more.

While many organisations understand what digital transformation is, many have tried and were unsuccessful. Normally because they haven’t fully realised the expected benefits.

To find success in this technology-driven world, membership organisations should be asking themselves more in-depth questions about member relevancy, including how your organisation fits into their world. Adopting an outside-in (customer first) approach could be a huge step in the right direction.

Challenges facing the membership sector

There are many challenges facing the membership sector today but harnessing the power of digital can lead to finding innovative ways of solving them.

The most pressing challenges include:

Data protection

Many internet users are worried about their personal information online, so your members probably are too. In 2016, a report by Pedalo in consultation with MemberWise found that 50% of membership sites weren't using any security protection. Surprisingly, that was still the case when payment details were entered.

And with the first wholly digital native generation – Gen Z - now entering the employment market and turning to membership organisations and professional bodies, you have a workforce that’s acutely aware of how data is used.

When you combine these concerns with changing GDPR regulations, organisations are starting to make some serious changes when it comes to data protection. Keeping data safe should always be a focal point in your digital efforts.

Balancing data privacy with a personalised experience is tricky. Here are a few tips:

  1. Keep your members’ data in one, secure location – such as a CRM. Other systems can integrate with this for use on your website or in emails, for example, but the data itself is always safe.
  2. Only collect what you need and store it only for as long as you need – following the ‘data minimisation’, ‘purpose limitation’ and ‘storage limitations’ principles of the GDPR.
  3. Empower your members to keep your data relevant with self-serve options – preference centres and member portals are great examples of this.

Higher member expectations

With more and more people using mobile devices, smart watches and voice assistants to find information, member expectations are getting higher.

Members expect instant gratification; and if it takes too long to find what they’re looking for they get frustrated and lose interest quickly. They expect websites and apps to work at lighting-speed and devices to be more user-friendly than ever.

They expect the same great experience from your membership organisation as they do from customer experience leaders like Monzo, Netflix and Starbucks.

Acquisition and retention

While membership organisations have been struggling to acquire new customers, many also find it challenging to retain them. So with member engagement the number one priority for membership organisations, it’s essential to spend more time on your digital strategy and have a clear understanding of your target audience.

You must also take a value-driven approach to communications, so that members see value in renewing their membership with you.

Achieving digital transformation success

As many digital transformation efforts fail, or take months or even years to execute, organisations must understand the current digital landscape and what tools they can use to succeed.

Here are some tips that can lead to effective and long-lasting results:

Easy log-in, registration and payment processes

When you’re asking for a sign-up or payment, you want to make things as easy as possible for the member. Even a slow page speed can turn people away.

If a member went to your website, would they know where to go? Would they feel secure, and have confidence to use your site?


Members want to feel special, like you care about them. So be sure to make a members-only area on your website. That said, don’t ‘content gate’ everything either. Balance the content you give away to non-members for free to encourage new sign-ups with exclusive content for members only.

Boost page speed

Page speed should always be a top concern. About half of internet users expect a page to load in two seconds or less; failing in this regard will be detrimental.

There are dozens of reports explaining the impact of page speed on your website conversion rate, which web performance company Cloudflare neatly summarise in this graphic:

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Source: https://www.cloudflare.com/en-gb/learning/performance/more/website-performance-conversion-rates/

Get personal

Personalisation is another key element to consider. When online, people expect a personalised experience. They want things tailored to them. Members expect relevant content and messaging that’s geared towards their wants and needs.

Take an outside-in approach

In your digital transformation efforts, there is one fundamental element to consider – you need to build a strategy around your customers’ wants and needs. This is called taking an outside-in approach.

While you may have a piece of technology or a certain product that has great capabilities, it means nothing if it doesn’t provide value to the customer. Always keep that in mind as you’re building your digital strategy.

Behnam Tabrizi, a professor who teaches Leading Organizational Transformation at Stanford University’s Department of Management Science and Engineering, has this to say about digital transformation:

“There is no single technology that will deliver ‘speed’ or ‘innovation’ as such. Digital transformation works when leaders in organisations focus on changing the mindset of its members as well as the organisational culture and processes before they decide what digital tools to use and how to use them. What the members envision to be the future of the organisation drove the technology, not the other way around.”

After all, your members are your top priority. So your goal should be to find digital tools, processes, and ideas that can provide the most value for your customers. But it's important to realise that it’s a constant, conscious effort; technology is always changing and adapting, so it’s up to you to stay relevant to your target audience.

Building a successful digital strategy can be very challenging. With so many elements to consider, many organisations don’t even know where to start. But the important thing is to take action and this is where we can help.

The what and the how, for the now and the next

At Distinction, we use active strategy to achieve unreasonable progress for our clients. Active strategy allows you to plan ahead with clear business objectives in mind but be flexible and dynamic enough to respond quickly to market changes. So as your members’ needs evolve, you’re always in a position to respond quickly.

To start you on your digital transformation journey, you can download our free Active Strategy Framework Template. With your main business goal in plain sight, this simple framework will help you assess where you are now, what you can do today to effect change, and what you need to do next to get to where you need to be.

We review this plan with our clients every 90 days to allow for changes – both external and internal – that can affect your members’ needs and therefore what they want from you. Taking this approach means you’ll be making constant progress towards your long-term business goals, keeping members and stakeholders engaged alike.

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