Optimize Your Membership Application Form in 6 Simple Steps

Jeff Gordy

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The membership application form is the bridge between casual supporter and devoted member.

In order to secure new members and grow your mission through a membership program, you’ll need to set up an application that captures all of the essential information and allows you to get to know your prospective recruits on a more personal level—all while keeping it simple enough that they don’t get overwhelmed.

While drafting the perfect application form is no small task, we’ve got the know-how to make it easy as can be. Here, we’ll walk you through the science behind creating an effective application for both your organization and your applicants.

We’ve broken down our discussion into 6 components, all of which should play a part in your application layout:

  1. User-friendly experience.
  2. Membership details.
  3. Personal information.
  4. Preferences and interests.
  5. Payment options.
  6. Follow-up communications.

Not quite ready to start accepting prospective member applications? Take a minute to look over our guide to membership programs first!

Now, let’s get going—your potential new members are waiting!

User-Friendly Experience

1. User-friendly experience.

Before you can begin building your application, we should first establish the most important (yet overlooked!) aspect of any well-crafted application form: its design and user-friendliness.

For an example of why this component is so crucial, let’s paint a picture of a potential scenario.

Perhaps you’re a long-time supporter of a nonprofit organization and would like to increase your involvement by joining their membership program. You decide to search on the organization’s website for an application but can’t find anything. Frustrated, you turn to a search engine and are eventually redirected to an application page that doesn’t seem to have any connection to the organization itself.

You sift through two pages of questions, and by the time you’ve made it to the end of the process, you’re still not sure what membership can actually grant you, but you’re very familiar with the “standards” that are expected of you.

It’s time to finalize your membership fee payment, but since there’s no clear affiliation with the nonprofit, you’re skeptical to submit your credit card information. Annoyed and disheartened, you leave the application page and move on to another task. Maybe you’ll come back another time, but for now, membership just isn’t worth the hassle.

So, what’s the problem with this situation? That’s right—almost everything! 

While this example might seem like a snowball of problems for the organization (and the poor prospective member!), all of the issues described here can be solved with one simple fix: creating an intentionally user-friendly application experience.

Let’s break this problem down into 3 main areas:

I. Accessibility

No matter how well-designed your application is, it won’t matter if no prospects can track it down! First and foremost, you should feature an easy-to-spot link to your application form on your website’s membership program page (or dedicated membership website, if you have one).

Additionally, you should include links to your membership application in other communications, including emails, newsletters, social media pages, and even direct mail. By following a multi-channel marketing approach, you’ll be sure to maximize the number of prospective members you’re able to attract.

II. Design and Content

Your membership application should be straightforward and simple for applicants, and it definitely shouldn’t leave them exhausted. Though your application length will vary depending on how intensive your screening process is, you should aim to keep your application on the shorter side.

Clearly indicate which questions are a must and which fields are optional. Additionally, include check-boxes and drop-down menus to keep your form as effortless as possible.

In terms of design, simplicity is key. That said, you’ll want to ensure that your application form is consistent with your organization’s branding. When supporters aren’t sure if they’re interacting with your organization, they’re much more likely to abandon their application midway through.

III. Tone of Voice

Your constituents make your mission possible, so always show them an attitude of respect and gratitude. Communicate with your prospective members in a friendly tone, and avoid using harsh language when referring to membership requirements or criteria. Be positive!

Just as you should do with your design, it’s a good idea to reflect your organization’s brand in terms of content, too. Outline the value of joining such a program, and be specific about the benefits therein.

You want your members to feel good about joining your group, so start your relationship on the right foot by creating a pleasant application experience.

The Big Picture: Your application process should be a positive experience for your supporters. Design your application to be as straightforward, user-friendly, and welcoming as possible.

Membership Details

2. Membership details.

Now that you’re confident your form is easy to find and complete, let’s get down to the details of what you should include in the body of the application.

The primary goal of your membership application is to collect the necessary information to move your supporters into your membership program. But information collection is a two-way street, and before you can receive your applicants’ information, you’ll need to provide them with some details about your program.

If you don’t provide any information about the membership itself, it’s highly unlikely that your prospective members will actually complete the application process!

Near the beginning of your application, outline basic membership details, including:

  • Membership levels and associated fees.
  • Membership requirements and expectations.
  • Membership terms, including duration (e.g., yearly renewal, lifetime membership, etc).
  • Membership privileges and benefits.
  • Membership application process next steps (e.g., committee approval, application review timeline, etc).

You should clearly lay out as much of the membership experience as you can from the beginning, since you don’t want members to be surprised by what’s to come.

Plus, if your organization does have higher standards on whom you’ll accept as part of your membership program, outlining those requirements from the beginning will save you (and your prospects) a lot of wasted time.

The Big Picture: Give your constituents a clear picture of what it’s like to be a member of your organization before they complete their application. Be straightforward and descriptive.

Personal Information

3. Personal information.

What’s the point of an application if not to find out more information about your potential new members?

If you want to continue a relationship with your applicants, you’ll need to collect their basic contact information (including name, email address, and mailing address). Your application form can also be a great channel for collecting other biographical data as well, including date of birth, phone number, marital status, and more.

Personal information doesn’t stop with the basics, either. To round out their application and give your team a better picture of who they are, applicants may also provide relevant background, such as:

  • Profession.
  • Education.
  • Organizational affiliation.
  • Certifications.
  • Past membership, if applicable.
  • Names of references and/or sponsors, if necessary.

For some types of organizations (especially professional associations), this history is particularly pertinent to determining the applicant’s membership status.

If you have certain membership expectations that relate to these questions, you should mark them as requirements for completing the application. On the other hand, if you’re just looking to get to know your applicants a little better, you should leave them optional.

Note: this data shouldn’t disappear once you’ve granted your applicants full membership status! If you’re using application forms that are built by your membership management software (or can be integrated with it), all of this information should flow into your member database for future reference.

The Big Picture: The main function of your application is to collect information from your prospective members. Make your form as detailed as you need, but remember not to overload your application with required fields.

Preferences and Interests

4. Preferences and interests.

While we’re on the subject of getting to know your supporters, don’t be afraid to use your membership application form as an opportunity to begin creating well-rounded member profiles as well.

Think about it: to really know someone, you should know more than just their address, birthday, and preferred first name, right? Getting to know your constituents is no different, so open up the floor to more qualitative questions on your membership application.

Since these applicants will (potentially) be members of your organization soon, you should give them a place to share their interests. You might include optional fields, such as:

  • Communication preferences.
  • Volunteer interests.
  • Preferred level of involvement (including committee opportunities).
  • Member opportunities they’d like to know more about.

When you compile this information in your member database, you can use it to inform your relationships with these members later on. No longer will you have to worry about targeting the wrong groups of constituents—you’ll have all the insight you need from the start! 

The Big Picture: Why wait to begin creating comprehensive member profiles? Get to know your members from the get-go by asking them about their preferences, interests, and personal histories on your membership application.

Payment Options

5. Payment options.

You’ve collected all of the necessary information and answered all of your prospective new members’ questions; now, it’s time to seal the deal. The final step to securing membership is to accept your new recruit’s first membership fee. 

If your membership application is located exclusively online, you’ll need to make it easy for your prospects to complete their transaction by immediately submitting a payment online.

Depending on your membership management software, you may already have a number of options for accepting online membership fees (some of which even include automation features to handle fee renewal as well).

No matter how you process payments, you should clearly spell out the available options for your applicants. Let them know if you accept payments by:

  • Credit card.
  • Debit (eCheck) payment.
  • Mail-in check.

As with any other type of donation, the more options you offer for giving, the more likely your donors are to find a method that’s convenient and comfortable for them. Maximize your options by working with a payment processor that’s flexible and reliable! 

The Big Picture: Clearly communicate accepted payment options to your donors so that they can complete their transaction in a convenient, secure manner.

Follow-Up Communications

6. Follow-up communications.

You might think the process is over, but it’s actually far from it! Where the application process ends, the membership process begins.

After you’ve received the application, you’ll want to send an instant follow-up message that lets the individual know their paperwork has been received and is on its way to the next phase of the process. If you have a review process, remind them of the next steps and give them an estimate of how long this will take.

Once the applicant has officially been granted membership status, don’t hesitate to welcome them aboard! Let them know how excited you are to have them as part of your membership program, and quickly provide them with engagement opportunities to get them started.

Many software platforms have automated acknowledgement or membership confirmation communication options, but you’ll probably want to customize these messages to fit your organization.

It’s a good idea to include a personal touch, too, so consider having a leader of your membership team (or a few members themselves!) reach out to your newest recruit to welcome them and begin building member engagement.

The Big Picture: Once you’ve processed the application and awarded membership, follow up with your newest member and thank them for their involvement. Make sure they feel welcome and excited to be a part of your organization!

Membership applications are your very first engagement opportunity with your organization’s members, so don’t underestimate the importance of creating a valuable application form!

By following these tips, we’re confident you’ll be able to secure new members, collect useful information, and ensure a future of strong engagement and community within your membership program.

Want to take your membership program even further? Take a look at these amazing additional resources:

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