How to Create a Free Membership Website in Less Than a Day

Website & Technology September 26, 2022

Sonia Urlando

By Sonia Urlando

Introduction

There are two excellent reasons to create a free membership website for your organization: 1) to build a hub for member-only content and 2) to bring in some extra revenue!

 

Yet in spite of these potential benefits, the idea of building an entire membership website might be a little daunting. Who has the time and energy to figure out how to construct a whole new site?

 

But here’s a little secret: You can put together a membership site in less than a day. And here, we’ll walk you through the steps and tools you’ll need to do just that.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Before we dig into how to put together your own membership site, let’s answer some pressing questions you may have. 

What is a free membership site? 

A membership site offers your members their own dedicated online space. Membership sites often give members access to exclusive content (like educational courses, private coaching, an online forum where members can connect, etc.) 

 

Only members can join this kind of membership site—it’s typically not available to non-members. That’s why it can serve as a major perk that could convince prospective members to join your organization!

How do free membership sites make money? 

Even if access to a membership site is free (as part of becoming a member), building this kind of popular perk is a great way to generate revenue through:

 

  • Recurring membership dues

  • Additional revenue from special events

  • Additional revenue from premium content or access

  • Donations

  • Selling digital products (ex: templates, checklists, website themes, tools, etc.)

  • Sponsorships and/or affiliate partners

What do membership sites cost? 

One of the main factors you’ll weigh when finding the right tool to create your membership site is cost. And the price you’ll pay could vary wildly, depending on what you’re looking for. 

 

For example: Some tools charge based on the number of members or contacts you have. Other charge based on the kind of features you need, like ecommerce features or a mobile app.

 

You can expect to pay in the range of $10/month upwards of $170/month. Typically, you’ll pay for the service itself plus fees for the domain and to host your site. 

 

But if you’re on a budget, we’re here to highlight the free membership site builders you can use to get started quickly!

Some free options include:

 

  • WildApricot (get a free, 30-day trial)

  • Wordpress (some features cost extra money)

  • Webflow (free lite plan, but other features are paid)

  • Wix (free lite plan, but other features are paid)

  • Weebly (free lite plan)

 

These are just a few free tools, but we’ll dive deeper into each one and all their features below.

Membership site vs. subscription site: What's the difference?

Some people confuse membership sites and subscription sites (and even use them interchangeably). And while both feature gated content, the two do have some key differences. 

 

The first major distinction is that a subscription site is purely for revenue. Subscribers simply (like members) pay to get access to all the exclusive content on the site (think: Hulu or Netflix). However, unlike membership sites, those subscribers don’t get the chance to chat or interact with the people who create that great content (or even each other). 

 

As mentioned above, one of the main purposes of a membership site is to foster community. Members don’t just visit a membership site for content—they can also network with one another, have discussions, learn new skills and much more.

How to get started creating your free membership site

Research Your Audience

To create a free membership site, you’ll need to show your value to prospective members. And that means you need to give them content they can’t get elsewhere or solve a real problem for them. 

 

So, how can you do that? Do your homework on your target members!

 

Consider the audience you want to attract. Why will they be visiting your website in the first place? Your content won’t resonate with everyone who comes across it, and that’s ok. But you need to make sure that the audience you want to connect with connects with you. 

 

Figure out what problem you want to solve and do some market research to see what potential competitors already offer. Then connect with a few people who align with the kind of audience you want to attract. Send them a short survey to ask what offerings would resonate with them, what they’d pay for these kinds of offerings and what knowledge gaps they have.

Build a Membership Model

Creating a membership model helps you determine how much people will pay to join your site, when they pay (monthly, annually, etc.), and what they get in return. You can set your membership model with just a few steps:

 

  1. Determine your value. What can nonprofit membership give to your members, and how can you serve them in a way that aligns with your mission, vision, and goals?

  2. Clarify your offerings. Jot down everything you plan to offer members on your site— educational materials, an online community, job board, members directory, events or other resources.

  3. Build your membership levels. Most membership sites have at least two member tiers and sometimes that includes a free tier. You can organize these levels by number of benefits offered, payment schedule or type of member (e.g. individual, bundle/family, corporate, etc.).

  4. Finalize your benefits. What level of access and which benefits will members at each membership tier receive? 

Creating a Pricing Structure

It’s time to set your prices. Think about how much you’ll be spending to acquire new members for your site and maintain your offerings — your prices should not only cover that, but also generate a return on your investment. 

 

An effective pricing structure strikes a balance between what you members are willing to pay and what you need to cover your expenses. And it’s built on a strong foundation of great benefits. When your offerings are valuable to your target members, they’re more willing to shell out for them.

 

To build out your pricing, follow a few crucial steps:

 

  • Research similar membership sites (and their prices)

  • Tally up your expenses

  • Deliver value with your offerings

  • Consider your target members’ budgets (for example: If you’re targeting young professionals, don’t make your prices out of reach)

  • Consider offering promotions 

  • Weigh whether you should offer a free trial

 

For more help creating your pricing structure, check out our guide to setting membership pricing.

Create Your Organization's Brand

Your brand helps set your membership site apart. Cohesive branding indicates your site is professional and trustworthy. And branding also provides visual cues so your members know any communications are from you. 

 

You’ll need to consider and create a number of visual elements for your free membership site, including: 

 

  • Logo

  • Slogan

  • Color Scheme

  • Imagery 

  • Fonts 

Give Your Site A Name

What’s in a name? A lot, especially when it’s the first thing most people learn about you. It’s worth the time and effort to put some thought into your membership site’s name—it’ll pay off in the long run.

 

Your free membership site’s name should be memorable and grab your member’s attention in just a few words. 

 

Your name could be descriptive (i.e., Old Dominion Boat Club), based on the founder or celebrity, or geography of your organization (i.e. Bicycling in Greensboro).

Write Your Site Content

Now, it’s time to write the copy that will go on your site. While every membership site will be unique in its own way, you’ll need to write up content for a few key sections that include:

 

  • Homepage. This is where you’ll make your first impression. What info do you want members to see right away? That may be your main call to action (like “Join us now”). Many sites also include news, featured members, and upcoming events. An example of a great homepage is the Webb Mountain Discovery Zone.

  • About Us. Tell the story of your membership site. Include your mission, vision, and values, along with profiles of the founder and current board. An example of a great About Us page is the Greater Kendall Business Association.

  • Contact Us. Include all your contact details (email, phone number, physical address if you have an office). 

Create Your Members-Only Content

This is where you’ll create some of the valuable offerings that will draw your members in. You’ll put in some serious elbow grease in this section to ensure you’re creating exclusive content your members can’t find anywhere else. 

 

Your membership website ideas could include: 

 

  • Resources. This is where you’ll add all that great educational, training, and informational resources. This could include on-demand videos, webinars, industry training documents, educational courses, and more. An example of a great resources page is the Medical Library Association.

  • A members-only section. Here, you’ll host a section only members can access. You can include details for a private Facebook group, a forum, or a member directory. 

  • Events. If events are part of your offering, this is where you’ll post all the details! Create a calendar with the dates, times, and details of upcoming events for members. A great example is from Wayne County Chamber of Commerce.

Design a Non-Dues Revenue Strategy

While your members will certainly pay to access your site, it’s also helpful to create a strategy to bring in revenue outside of that recurring income. So, diversify your revenue with:

 

  • Special events for members and non-members

  • Selling physical and digital products on your site

  • Donations

  • Sponsorships

Decide on a URL

Now that you have a name and your membership site’s content, it’s time to pick your domain name. Generally, the URL for your site is similar to your name. So, if your name is Old Navy Boat Club, your URL might be www.oldnavyboatclub.com.

 

Or, your domain name might be an abbreviated version of your organization’s name. For example, Bicycling in Greensboro chose the domain of https://bikegso.org.

Choose Your Platform

To choose the right platform to build your site, you can take the following steps: 

 

  1. Research your options. Do your homework and make a list of a few tools that meet your needs (don’t worry, we’ll help you tackle this a little later in this article!).

  2. Create a shortlist and review. Make a list of your top 3 options and conduct in-depth reviews. Sign up for demos and free trials and try it out firsthand.

  3. Make a decision. Select your top choice, narrow down all its advantages, and run it by your board or executive directors.

Building your best membership site: What it should include

While all the best membership sites are a little different, they all have some common components. To build a successful site, start with these basic building blocks and then customize from there:

 

  • About us. The best membership sites tell the story of their organization. Include your mission, vision, and values here, as well as profiles of the founder.

  • Membership levels information. Provide a clear breakdown of your membership levels, pricing, and the benefits associated with each tier.

  • Members sign-up form. Top membership sites make it easy for prospective members to join the fold. Have your sign-up form in a place that’s easy to spot (like right in your website’s navigation bar!).

  • Online payment processing. Make it easy for members to pay for your amazing content! Use an online payment processor to take monthly dues, donations, and event payments.

  • Members-only area. This section is where you’ll host exclusive content, educational resources, a forum, or training videos. For the best membership sites, these gated resources are the main draw for members!

  • Integration with your membership management software. An all-in-one tool will have a website builder that integrates seamlessly with a contact database, marketing tools, and event management tools.

Features to look for in the best free membership site

The best platforms to create your membership site will allow you to easily create a comprehensive website, along with some key features like an events calendar, member resources, news, blog posts, and social media integrations. Above all, you should be able to use the platform on your own without knowing anything about design or coding.

 

Beyond those crucial features, here are additional things to consider when vetting your options:

 

  • Membership database management. You should be able to easily add and manage your contacts, members, and event registrants.

  • Email marketing capabilities. With an integrated email tool, you can easily segment your members and send transactional emails, thank-you emails, or marketing emails from the same platform. 

  • Other communications tools. While email is crucial, are there features that allow you to get in touch with your members in other ways? Think text messages and a dedicated app for your site.

  • Handy automation tools. Look for features like automatic updates to member profiles (because no one likes manual entry) and automated emails like reminders for members, confirmations, and transactional emails.

  • Events with online registration. If your offerings will include online events like webinars or IRL events, look for a tool that allows attendees to register online.

  • Easy-to-use website builder. You shouldn’t need to know how to code to build a site from scratch. So, look for a tool that makes building a site easy (and make sure it’s mobile friendly!).

  • Members-only content. Make sure your tool of choice makes it easy to gate your membership content.

  • Donation and payment processing. Online payment processing features take the headache out of receiving and tracking payments for your membership site.

  • Cost-effective options. Does your platform offer low-cost (or even free!) packages to keep your costs under control? 

  • Great support. Make sure it’s simple to get the kind of help you need, when you need it. That can take shape as live chat, training resources, or even coaching to help you create the membership site you envisioned.

11 free membership website options

While there are plenty of paid tools to create your membership website, you have almost a dozen free options you can lean on instead. Each has its own pros and cons and unique features, and we’ll walk you through them here.

 

1. WildApricot

Summary: WildApricot is an all-inclusive solution for organizations to create and host their site without any coding knowledge, all while managing their members, donations, and events on the same platform. 

 

Features:

  • Membership management

  • Email marketing

  • Event organization

  • Mobile event check-in & payments

  • Unlimited member emails

  • Online store

  • Special member pricing

  • Automatic invoices

  • Recurring payments

  • HTML coding customization

 

Pricing/plans: Paid plans start at $48/month

Length of free trial: 30-day free trial

 

2. Weebly

Summary: Weebly is an easy, no-code website builder which, unlike other site builders, doesn’t take days to learn. Just like other drag-and-drop website builders, Weebly allows users to create professional-looking sites in a matter of minutes. 

 

Features:

  • HTML coding customization

  • Email marketing

  • Event management (for extra $$$)

  • Member management (for extra $$$)

  • Recurring donations

  • Wordpress integration

  • Designer-created email/newsletter templates

  • Online event registration

 

Pricing/plans: Paid professional plans start at $15/month

Length of free trial: Basic features are free

 

3. MembershipWorks

Summary: MembershipWorks is a web-based membership system that can integrate with your existing website through HTML or a plug-in. Alternatively, MembershipWorks can host and manage your website. 

 

Features:

  • Membership management 

  • Member database

  • Event calendar and registration

  • Member directory

  • Member-only content

  • Online payments

 

Pricing/plans: Paid plans start at $35/month (up to 300 contacts)

Length of free trial: Free up to 50 contacts

 

4. Memberful

Summary: Memberful offers multiple features that help organizations launch and maintain membership programs (and accompanying websites).

 

Features:

  • Create any kind of subscription plan

  • Optimized checkout

  • Dashboard analytics

  • Easy member management

  • Choose what you pay and one-time payments

  • Upgrades and downgrades

  • Transactional email

  • Staff accounts

 

Pricing/plans: Paid plans start at $25/month

Length of free trial: Building your site is free in test mode

 

5. Thinkific

Summary: Thinkific is a highly rated platform used to create, market, and sell your own online courses or membership sites. The platform has revolutionized how individuals earn and learn online by building an all-in-one platform designed for both course creators and their audiences 

 

Features:

  • Easy to use website themes

  • Fully integrated e-commerce

  • App store

  • Bulk enrollments

  • API access

 

Pricing/plans: Paid plans start at $74/month

Length of free trial: Users can launch one product/site for free

 

6. Teachable

Summary: Thinkific is a highly rated platform used to create, market, and sell your own online courses or membership sites. The platform has revolutionized how individuals earn and learn online by building an all-in-one platform designed for both course creators and their audiences 

 

Features: 

  • Integrated website and builder 

  • Custom domain 

  • Direct integrations 

  • Includes Facebook, Google Analytics, Sumo, Segment, Mailchimp, ConvertKit, and Zapier Triggers. 

  • Public API 

  • Developer-friendly API to help you connect to any tool or data you need, and display your courses and content on any website 

  • Advanced theme customization

 

Pricing/plans: Paid plans start at $29/month

Length of free trial: No trial; Free plans include limited features and costs $1 + 10% for each transaction through your site built on the platform.

 

7. Squarespace

Summary: Squarespace’s templates are visually appealing as well as functional and easy to navigate. The website builder is a cross between drag-and-drop and HTML coding to edit functions, although most basic edits can be performed with the click of a mouse. 

 

Features:

  • HTML coding customization

  • Cheap hosting

  • Online store

  • Wordpress integration

  • Email marketing 

  • Automatic invoices (for extra $$$)

  • Recurring donations

 

Pricing/plans: Paid business plans start at $33/month

Length of free trial: 14-day free trial

 

8. Wix

Summary: Wix’s website maker is intuitive, user-friendly, and well-built. Users with coding experience can edit the site’s HTML codes, making it very customizable if you know what you’re doing. 

 

Features:

  • HTML coding customization

  • Member-only areas (for extra $$$)

  • Wordpress integration

  • Email marketing (for extra $$$)

  • Designer-created email/newsletter templates

  • Online store

  • Online event registration

  • Automatic invoices (for extra $$$)

  • Online donation

 

Pricing/plans: Paid business plans start at $28/month

Length of free trial: 14-day free trial for premium features

 

9. MightyNetworks

Summary: With a Mighty Network, you can bring your courses, memberships, and offers together in a powerful community under your own brand on iOS, Android, and the web. 

 

Features: 

  • Paid memberships 

  • Online Courses

  • Live Cohort Course Creation

  • Analytics & Member Data

  • Zapier APIs & Workflows

  • Your Own iOS & Android Apps Available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store

  • Branded App Notifications

  • Exclusive Mighty Pro Web Branding

  • Strategy and Migration Services & Support

 

Pricing/plans: Paid plans start at $33/month

Length of free trial: 14-day free trial

 

10. Kajabi

Summary: Kajabi is a platform that makes it simple to create all kinds of content to showcase what you know best, including online courses, coaching programs, podcasts, memberships, and more. 

 

Features: 

  • Webinars & Events

  • Ready to Use Templates

  • Assessments (Quizzes & Surveys)

  • Automations

  • Unlimited Landing Pages

  • Unlimited Marketing Emails

  • 10,000 Contacts

  • 1,000 Active Customers

 

Pricing/plans: Paid plans start at $119/month

Length of free trial: 14-day free trial

 

11. Podia

Summary: Podia is a no-code platform that makes it simple to build websites, sell courses and digital products, and host communities.  

 

Features: 

  • Email marketing

  • Chat support

  • Community

  • 1 download

  • 1 coaching product

  • Draft courses

  • Draft webinars

 

Pricing/plans: Paid plans start at $33/month

Length of free trial: Users can create a free website with limited features

5 steps to create your membership website free with WildApricot

As Capterra’s top-rated membership software, WildApricot is a great platform to leverage to create your free membership website. More than 32,000 organizations already trust WildApricot — and we’ll walk you through how to set up your own website using WildApricot.

Step 1: Start a Free, 30-Day Trial of WildApricot

 To get started, sign up for your free trial. To access your free trial, simply enter your info and click Activate your WildApricot account.

Membership Website

Congrats, now you’ve started your free, 30-day trial! This means that you will have all the access to all the functionality that all paid clients receive for 30 days.

 

At the end of the 30 days, you’ll be notified that your trial account is about to expire (unless you upgrade). To activate your free account, simply let the trial expire. WildApricot will automatically turn your trial account into a limited free account that lasts as long as you need it to. 

Step 2: Take a Tour (Or Skip It)

Once your account is activated, you’ll have the option to get a walkthrough of the platform. If you choose to, then you'll be taken through an easy setup guide that will help you hit the ground running.

 

If you skip the guide, you’ll go straight into the back end of your new WildApricot website. For the purposes of this tutorial, I’ll take you straight to the back end of your WildApricot website.

optional-setup-guide

Step 3: Navigate to Site Pages

Once you’re in the back end of your WildApricot website, navigate to Website > Sitepages in the menu. This will take you to the website editor where you’ll see the pages of your pre-loaded website (which you can completely customize later).

 

Membership Website

 

Step 4: Restrict Access to Pages

On your Site pages, click Add page to add a new web page to your website. Alternatively, you can also edit an existing page.

Membership Website

 

 

Once your new page is added, scroll down to the sub-menu item called Access Levels. Here you can see an option called Restricted. Clicking this option will restrict the web page to members only.

Subscription website restrict access

 

You’ll also see options to restrict the web page however you like: By admin level, member level or by member group.

 

How to Create a Subscription Website

Step 5: Set Up Membership Levels 

 

Navigate to the main menu again. Go to Members > Levels.

 

Membership Website

 

WildApricot already provides three sample membership levels: Professional, Regular, and Student. You can edit these levels to suit your needs (including price, access, recurring payments, registration requirements, etc.), or create new ones.

 

Once you’re done, you can notify prospective members of your new membership website where they’re able to register and pay for online membership.

7 membership website examples made with WildApricot 

To give you a sense of what’s possible, we’ve compiled a handful of examples of membership websites created using WildApricot. Use these as inspiration while building your own!

1. Pacific Group Golf

The Pacific Golf Group brings together lovers of the links in California. Golf lovers on the West Coast can join to hobnob with one another, read up on the latest trends in their FORE magazine, and play in one of their upcoming tournaments.

 

PGG does a great job of outlining the benefits of joining their membership site. For a nominal fee of $75, golfers get a bimonthly subscription to FORE magazine, access to the SCGA Directory of Golf, a handicap index for comparison, and many other advantages.

2. Old Dominion Boat Club

The Old Dominion Boat Club offers membership to sailors and sailing enthusiasts out of Alexandria, VA. And this boater’s group does an excellent job highlighting its many upcoming club events on the membership site’s homepage (tacos and trivia, anyone?), as well as highlighting all the requirements for prospective people to apply for membership

3. Bicycling in Greensboro

 

 

Bicycling in Greensboro is a member organization that aims to transform greater Greensboro in North Carolina through advocacy, education and service into a more bicycle friendly community. 

 

The BIG membership site does a stellar job outlining its mission and values, while also highlighting all of its many community programs. 

4. Propeller Club Port Norfolk

 

 

The Propeller Club of Port Norfolk has more than 300 members from all facets of the maritime transportation and logistics fields. The club hosts a number of networking events throughout the year.  

 

This easy-to-navigate membership site not only lets members know what events are coming up right on the homepage, but they also offer a summary of recent news and links for more information.

5. The Hunting Hills Swim Club

 

Hunting Hills Swim Club is a family-oriented community swim club located on the outskirts of Catonsville in Baltimore, Maryland. Founded in 1958, it’s also the oldest privately bonded community funded swim club in the United States.

 

The Hunting Hills Swim Club offers a wealth of helpful information on its membership site, including crucial details about the pool (hours and rules), upcoming events, how to sign up for membership, and even an FAQ section.

6. Comox Valley Tennis Club

 

The Comox Valley Tennis Club (CVTC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to expansion of tennis in the Comox valley in B.C., Canada. The club organizes leagues and tournaments for its members and hosts open events where players from other communities are invited to participate. 

 

The tennis club provides a members-only forum and even member-exclusive content like blog posts and a newsletter.

 

7. ATV Association of Nova Scotia

 

The ATV Association of Nova Scotia is a membership association of ATV enthusiasts in Nova Scotia, Canada. And its membership website not only provides maps for riders, safety information, and an FAQ section, but also details on member discounts and an online store where they sell their favorite products.

Start your free trial of WildApricot

So, what’s included in your free WildApricot account? With your free trial, you’ll get:

 

  • Number of administrators: 1

  • Max contact database size (members and email contacts combined): 50

  • Single file size limit: 100 MB

  • Total file storage limit: 100 MB

  • Online or recurring payments: No

  • Custom domain name: No

  • Banner ads appear on the top of every website page

 

 After you grow your free membership site to more than 50 members, it’s easy to upgrade to a paid account. With this upgrade, you can also take full advantage of WildApricot’s comprehensive membership management software, with handy features like:

 

  • Allowing beyond 50 members and contacts

  • Giving access to more administrators

  • Accepting online payments and donations for memberships and events

  • Automating recurring payments for member dues

  • Using a custom domain name

  • Increasing your file storage limit

  • Removing the banner ads from the top of your website

 

To get started with your free, 30-day trial of WildApricot, just click here.

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