Common Challenges of Building a Membership Website in WordPress | Software Advisory Service

Common Challenges of Building a Membership Website in WordPress

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Common Challenges of Building a Membership Website in WordPress


WordPress is the go-to platform for most membership websites. Why wouldn’t it be? WordPress is free and its market share is 34% of all websites. In addition, as open source software, anyone can use, change and redistribute WordPress source code. With this advantage, WordPress has spawned an ecosystem where developers build plugins that meet just about any business process challenge.


Incomplete research can yield to the wrong choice of membership plugin


There is no shortage of plugins to handle membership management and billing. The hardest part of building a membership website in WordPress is often the beginning of the process:

  1. Accurately identifying all of your requirements, member billing processes and nice-to-have features. In cases where this process is not thorough, some must-have features may not become evident until you start using a system that doesn't align with your needs.
  2. Finding all of the possible WordPress plugins that you should research.
  3. Testing out a few top choices to make an informed decision.
  4. Existing organizations should conduct an honest assessment to see if business practices or current integrations should be changed, upgraded or updated to best align with the new system. This should be undertaken before setting up your membership software. In most cases, your new WordPress plugin will make possible what wasn't achievable before. One process upgrade example is the change from fixed renewal dates to more profitable rolling renewals.



Start your process by identifying what type of membership plugin you need


Generally, membership plugins fall into two categories - those that are for membership organizations and those for content creators. You should be able to tell the ideal customer for any given plugin by looking at the feature list. Many membership plugins will have features that overlap both models, but will be stronger in one area. Look at a plugin's lift of features to differentiate them. 

  • Membership organizations such as chambers of commerce, not-for-profits, societies, trade associations, clubs and professional groups are often looking for features like membership directories, event registration and invoicing.
  • Content generators like coaches, bloggers, subject matter experts and those with educational or course content are looking to sell access to their content (although membership organizations also like to restrict content to members only as well). Content generators will often want the ability to offer sell digital downloads, drip content and deliver courses online.



New billing options may not align with member expectations

Longstanding organizations and those with corporate members may be used to taking payments offline by check or on a one-off credit card basis. Membership software integrated with a payment gateway allows for more profitable auto-recurring billing. For some organizations, auto-recurring billing may be the only option they want to offer.


Under the right circumstances, auto-recurring billing is great!
  • It creates the least amount of friction as the member doesn’t have to log in to add in credit card information to renew. Less friction equals a higher retention rate.
  • Removing checks from the process puts money in the bank account sooner and reduces staff or volunteer time (and possible error) in entering check payments.
  • Consumers are already used to paying for memberships to services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime on a recurring basis with a credit card.



Sometimes auto-recurring billing isn’t a good option when used exclusively.
  • Some corporate members may require the option to pay by check.
  • Organizations with older members sometimes may have members who do not trust entering credit card information online. They prefer to pay by check.
  • For organizations that have had other payment options in the past such as check or one-time credit card payments, only offering one option may leave members feeling negative about less choice.
  • Some prospective members may balk at having their card charged for an indefinite period of time and might prefer one-time credit card option so that they’ll be reminded to consciously decide whether they want to renew their membership.


If members are already on auto-recurring billing, things can be tricky.

Consult with your prospective membership software customer support to learn the best approach. You might have to ask members to enter their credit card numbers again, but at a minimum you must stop the old gateway and membership system from charging and sending notices.


Solution: Don’t fight member expectations

Build a WordPress membership site with a membership plugin that accommodates the ways members expect to pay. Connect the plugin to a payment gateway or processor like, PayPal Pro or Stripe that accommodates both one-time and auto-recurring payments. You can opt to discontinue taking checks at some point in the future; it may be a good idea to delay changes in billing options when you are introducing a lot of other new things with your new membership platform


Transitioning to new communications methods can be hard

Your communications team will need to be able to send out event announcements, promotions, newsletters and more by email and possibly other methods. Perhaps you currently send emails through your existing membership software or an email marketing system like MailChimp or Constant Contact. You’ll need to either need to export these subscribers into your new WordPress membership plugin or you’ll need to find a plugin that integrates with your current email marketing platform.


Solution: Choose an email marketing platform that stands alone, but also integrates with your membership plugin

All membership software sends out transactional emails like past due notices, but no membership plugin is as robust as a popular email system with a wide user base. Maintaining a separate email platform from WordPress and your membership management software allows you to have more flexibility in the future if you decide to change content management systems or membership plugins. You’ll be able to have a more seamless transition because:

  • Integration makes sure that new members get added to your email list(s).
  • Past messages, subscriber data, statistics and reports will be kept.
  • Use any email templates you already have created.
  • If you use a stand-alone email marketing platform, you reduce the amount of new technology staff will need to learn now (if it is the same) or in the future (if you transition to another plugin down the road that integrates with that email platform).



Avoid separate plugins for key features

You can find separate WordPress plugins to handle event registration, community calendars and purchase controls, but a good membership plugin will bring the functions you need together. Here are some problems that can occur when a membership database is separate from other key functionality:


Example: A networking group wants to sell tickets to its monthly meeting, but members should pay less than other attendees. Their event registration plugin doesn’t talk to their member database. The group loses revenue when non-members pay the cheaper member rate.


Example: A chamber of commerce has a group calendar plugin where members can post events, but staff has to check to see if each submission is from a member before approving the event.


Example: A coach wants to sell advanced training to her clients, but only those who have already purchased another product are eligible to upgrade. Her shopping cart plugin doesn’t have a way to do that.


Example: An executive director of a nonprofit needs to present a monthly financial report to his board. With separate plugins for events, shopping carts and membership, he has to pull data from each plugin, which takes a lot of time and is more prone to error than unified reporting.


Solution: Look for an all-in-one WordPress membership plugin

While it makes sense to delegate email functionality to a robust service provider, these other features are better when integrated. A member’s activity in registering for an event, making a purchase or filling out a form can be tied to their record in the member database. Many organizations and content creators appreciate this type of member database that offers CRM features.

Amy Hufford is a Technologist at MembershipWorks. She has worked in nonprofit technology for more than 20 years and has experience with a variety of donor and membership software platforms.

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