Understanding Data Base Structure for Association Web Sites

One VERY useful skill to have when doing association web sites is to understand database structure and field purposing.

For a member database, an association may have multiple purposes for data fields on their website.  It may serve as contact information for the association, by email, postal mail, phone and text.  It can serve as a payment basis for membership, either for new members or for renewals.  It can serve as a pricing structure for event registrations or other items.  It can serve a distributive purpose for multiple pages, to show committee members, provide a membership directory, or members of the Board.

One goal of association management software is to allow an association to connect these data fields that may be used for separate purposes in order to better streamline future endeavors.   This could be for marketing of events, or the management of education opportunities, or analysis of dues structure – the options are considerable.  But the association with leadership that provides the ability to “connect these dots” has a much greater ability to succeed in tougher times.

One key to remember is that there are limits to the relationship between a database field and how it can be used on the web site, and those limits are generally set by the designer and the database structure.  If your website is set to show the data of a field in your online database, formatting and quality matter.  So it makes sense to think things through when designing such a site.

It also means that making a database or design change may not be that quick, because it requires something thinking through.  For example, you may have a field that is first name last name as just one field, rather than two.  And then you may realized you want two fields, one for first name and one for last name, for website customization purposes.  That’s all fine and good but it is critical to make sure than everything else that refers to that original field also be changed – this could involve orders or subscriptions or mailing addresses or email list merges or many other purposes.  You can make a mess if you do it without considering the repercussions. 

Associations that have membership sites should try to understand their data relationships on the website.  Web site designers should try to help their association clients understand those data relationships as well.  It will prevent frustration and uncomfortable expectations of the site if everyone is on the same page.