The One Thing You’re Probably Overlooking on Your Association Website

Now more than ever, connecting with members is imperative.

By Chris Bonney

Young woman looking at website on computer screen

The importance of a sound website strategy cannot be overstated. If the last two years have taught associations anything, it’s this. And while a more dynamic online presence will surely position your organization for a brighter future, it’s important you keep one often-overlooked thing top of mind in the process.

The secret sauce to website success is as simple as it is effective:

Create an emotional, human connection with your members in all you do. 

Missing this one critical piece could easily mean the difference between an engaging, high-converting website that captures the attention of your members, or one that – regardless of budget and effort – will never get the traction you hoped for.

It’s a natural business instinct to promote money-making programs across your website. You have bills to pay, after all. But how does the experience of buying something make your members feel? Are you alienating the very people you value most?

A great first step is to get your team together and assess the emotional impact your content is having on your site visitors. 

In addition, here are some very easy and practical ways your website can make people feel more positively connected to your association.

Be a Mirror

To buy into your organization’s vision, members (and, more importantly, prospective members) need to see themselves on your site. Not a literal picture of themselves, of course, but people like them. People doing the kinds of things they do every day. Emotional expressions on faces that they can relate to. The same equipment and tools they use for their work.

Can this be achieved through stock imagery? Rarely.

So, hire a photographer for your next event to take posed pictures as well as journalistic shots to build up your media catalog. Ask members to submit pictures of themselves on the job. And even take some pictures on your iPhone the next time your staff gets together. Displaying these real-world images will instantly lift your website from generic-looking to authentic and inclusive.

Be Casual and Conversational

The primary goal of your homepage is to seamlessly move your site visitor through their intended user journey, whether that is to renew membership, register for an event, or read your blog.

The key to that frictionless experience lies within the words you choose. Take a hard look at your website copy. Is it formal, stiff, and non-specific? If so, strive to craft a voice that has more of a cocktail party vibe than a research symposium feel. One simple solution is to write as if you’re addressing a single person. Use words like “you” and “us” instead of “members” and “our organization.”

Choose text that evokes a feeling in the reader. Tug at heartstrings. Be provocative. Just don’t be stilted and dull. On the web, you only get a few seconds to connect with people, so don’t squander it away with unrelatable copy.

Be the Guide, Not the Hero

The primary theme from Donald Miller’s wildly popular book, “Building a Story Brand,” is that organizations just like yours should focus less on themselves and more on the customer. In other words, don’t tell members how great you are, show them by being the expert guide they’ve been waiting for.

You are the go-to destination with the content and community to help your members grow, learn, and connect. If your homepage has messaging similar to “We have the best resources, advocacy, and events in our industry,” think about changing it to something more like, “Up your game by networking with peers, attending workshops, and participating in our community. Our programs are created for people in our industry, by people in our industry.” Shining the light on your site visitors’ needs more than your own can create genuine appeal.

In Closing

It might not seem natural at first and you may even get the usual “we’ve always done it this way” pushback by your staff, but evolving your team’s collective mission toward a feelings-based, connection mindset could be just the strategic breakthrough you’ve been looking for.

About the Author

Chris Bonney is Director of Client Partnerships at Yoko Co. You can find him at

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