Is WordPress the right solution for Association websites?

Let me get straight to the point – WordPress makes a lot of things a lot easier. But sometimes it makes some things a lot harder.

It’s not WordPress specifically. I don’t blame the actual codebase. It’s just that we often say “WordPress can do just about anything you want it to do.”

And sometimes it’s true but misleading.

I’m talking about a particular membership site problem that WordPress struggles with.

Association websites.

The other day I was on a Clarity call being asked about an association site, and I started laying out all the things that this client likely wanted.

  • Memberships / Dues
  • Key accounts w/ Sub accounts
  • Rich profiles
  • Integrated tracking/reporting on accounts
  • Event Calendar
  • Event Tickets / eCommerce
  • Discounts for different members on events
  • Directories

When you look at the list, nothing screams out “WordPress can’t do this.”

But that doesn’t mean that everything is easy. Because it’s not.

See, in the WordPress world, membership is mostly a function of content protection. Sure, you can add some additional fields to profiles, but it’s not the core reason the membership plugin exists.

The problem is that this kind of membership site isn’t as worried about content protection as it is rich profiles with integration to other parts of the site.

The WordPress way often leads, in a good way, to plugins that do one and only one thing. But this becomes a challenge when you don’t want stand alone plugins – but instead want integration across all your plugins.

Sure, it’s easy to find an event or calendaring plugin. It’s a bit harder to find an event ticketing solution. But then to change the ticket prices based on membership level? More work. And then tracking which members attend an event -even more.

I’m not saying it’s impossible.

It totally is possible. But it’s work. And not always cheap – depending on how you want all of this integrated.

Sure you can create rich profiles, or a directory.

But the question I get is more like this:

Which membership plugins focuses on rich profiles, supports sub-accounts (corporate accounts with individual accounts for employees), creates a directory, gives members automatic discounts on event tickets, and tracks event registration and content viewing for reporting, while supporting outbound newsletters and other key emails?

The answer, in case you were wondering, is that no plugin does this.

No single plugin does everything (out of the box) for an association site.

Oh, and don’t get me started on collecting dues. Sometimes associations want to collect dues before the end of the annual membership.

So if you’re budget is a couple hundred dollars for a one-time plugin, or if you’re looking for something that will cost you less than $2,000 for the total site creation, hosting and management, WordPress may not be the best solution for your association site.

So what do you do?

You check out any of these options:

And my favorite: http://www.memberclicks.com/

Now, if you want to spend a lot more money, hit me up and I’m positive I can find an agency that will help you build your very own custom solution.

Because after all, if you can dream it, WordPress can do it.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission, at no cost to you.

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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