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6 Ways to Build a Mobile App for Your Association

13 min read

10 August 2022

Association mobile apps are springing up in the thousands. 

What was once the exclusive preserve of the biggest and most tech-savvy organizations is now within the reach of virtually any membership association. 

But what’s the best way to enter this field? That’s what we’ll explore in this blog. 


  • Mobile-first engagement is no longer a “nice to have”.  It is vital to creating an effective member engagement ecosystem
  • Members are on mobile and their device is where they turn to engage with content and colleagues vs the overcrowded and spam filled world of email
  • Mobile apps designed specifically for associations now make custom app building unnecessary and hybrid website or social media solutions obsolete
  • Association-focused app-building platforms like Clowder offer all the advantages of the other methods, with none of the associated downsides

Why Do Associations Need To Be On Members’ Mobiles?

The title of this blog kind of presumes that your association knows that it needs to be present on your members’ mobile devices…but perhaps you need convincing on “why” that should be before we start talking “how”. 

Well, according to MGI’s 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, the top reasons why people join membership associations are:

  • Networking with other people interested or involved in the association’s field (63%)
  • Accessing professional development and learning resources and opportunities (37%)
  • Accessing specialist information or news (32%)

According to Statista, 6.6 billion people in the world own smartphones - that’s around 83% of the entire global population. 

Association Mobile App - Smartphone Use 

And according to research by, the average American with a cellphone in 2022 checks it a staggering 344 times per day - from 262 times per day in 2021!

They also found that:

  • 80% check their mobile within 10 minutes of waking up
  • 83% report feeling uneasy if they find themselves without it
  • 52% say they’ve never gone more than 24 hours without using their phone

Printed material is costly and slow to produce, and is barely interactive. Email is an overcrowded channel that’s choked with spam (Americans receive between 80 and 100 emails per day). People are no longer tied to their desks and their desktops in the way they once were. 

Associations need to engage with members to ensure they get the value from the membership that will keep them paying their dues. 

In 2022, there is no better way of engaging people than through their mobile phones. 

And the best tool for doing it is a mobile app. 

In the rest of this blog, we’ll explore the pros and cons of six different ways that associations can use mobile to engage their members. 

Association Mobile App Method #1: Use An Association-Focused App Building Platform

Association mobile apps have a lot of specific needs, which are frequently not catered for straightforwardly by tools for building business, B2C, or other apps. 

Of course, it is possible to build a highly-targeted app for association members using one or more generic platforms - maybe incorporating a few bits of bespoke code to integrate tools. 

So, what are the advantages of choosing an app-building platform that has been designed specifically for associations and organizations with similar needs?

What’s Good About This Method

The key advantage that specialized app platforms have over generic ones is that they have been designed with the needs of associations and their members in mind. 

Clowder, for example, offers the following core modules:

  • News
  • Member Profiles
  • Member Directory
  • Messaging
  • Forums
  • Events
  • Resources
  • Advertising
  • Notifications (including Push Notifications, that are displayed even when the app is not open)

It also includes a backend admin platform that allows comprehensive content and user management - so that different tiers of members can access different resources. 

Association Mobile App - TADA app, powered by Clowder

One-click payment is also easy to set up: Clowder-powered native apps can store members’ details safely and securely, taking the hassle out of the renewal process. 

Clowder also offers integrations with some of the most important association software tools, including IMIS, NimbleAMS, Salesforce, Aptify, Microsoft Dynamics, and more. 

And Clowder is more than just an app builder. Every customer has a dedicated client success manager, who is responsible for understanding their needs, onboarding them, providing in-service advice and guidance, and serving as an ongoing point of contact.

Finally, because it’s being built with best-in-class technology and expertise, the whole business of getting your finished Clowder-powered app published by the app stores is a breeze!

What’s Bad About This Method

Well, if our reviewers on G2 are to be believed, not much! 


Association Mobile App - Clowder on G2

One point to note about Clowder is that at the moment, it caters only for mobile apps. So you’d need a separate tool to offer similar functionality through a website. But this is something that is being worked on right now!

When it comes to association-focused app builders in general, the main sticking points will be the range of preconfigured features offers, ease of integration with other tools, and cost. 

However, most acknowledge that every association has unique needs, and so will often be able to offer consulting or development services to cover any gaps. 

Who Would This Work For?

Associations and other membership organizations that want to embrace the possibilities that mobile apps offer, but don’t want the cost, delay, and uncertainty of bespoke app development should choose this method. 

When developing an association mobile app, this approach offers the best balance of functionality, cost, speed, and ongoing support. 

Association Mobile App Method #2: Use a Generic App Building Platform

There is a multitude of tools for building mobile apps yourself, without code. 

We won’t dig into particular platforms in this blog. Instead, we’ll look at the pros and cons of this approach in general. 

What’s Good About This Method

As apps have become a part of everyday life, tools have sprung up to make them accessible to more and more groups and businesses. 

Just as services like WordPress commodified content management systems and made it possible for almost anyone to create and run a professional-looking website, no-code app builders are enabling people without technical skills to make mobile apps from prefabricated components through simple (often drag and drop) interfaces. 

There are many to choose from: some offer more functionality than others; some offer more freedom of design than others; some are easier to use than others. And of course, prices vary - although they are all much cheaper and faster than bespoke development. 

What’s Bad About This Method

These tools are not built with the needs of associations in mind. 

So it’s like cutting your hair with the scissors on a Swiss Army Knife - it’s possible, but it’s quicker, easier, and liable to yield better results if you use an instrument that’s specifically designed for the task!

For example, apps built this way are unlikely to have access to native integrations for other tools that are essential to associations - such as Association Management Systems (AMSs) and Learning Management Systems (LMSs). 

That means developing API solutions, so “no-code” is not always an accurate description.

And because these are inexpensive, off-the-shelf tools, support is often self-serve and generic. That can mean you’re left to your own devices when things go wrong. 

Who Would This Work For?

If mobile engagement isn’t central to your membership retention strategy - that is, if a mobile app is just a “nice to have” extra for your members - you can build a nice-looking application that supports some of the functionality you expect to see in an association app (forums, news feeds, etc).

But if you’re looking to build an app that will engage your members, build loyalty, and grow your revenue, it’s better to look at specialist solutions. 

Association Mobile App Method #3: Custom Bespoke App Design

If you’re looking for the ultimate in mobile app experiences, then enlisting expert app developers to build one for you from scratch can be an option. 

But is it worth the often-extremely high cost? Do you run the risk of paying someone to reinvent the wheel for you?

What’s Good About This Method

You can have precisely what you want! Whether it’s bespoke functionality or the perfect look and feel, there will be a developer or an agency that can deliver. 

What’s Bad About This Method

Custom development is by far the most expensive option. 

It’s also the slowest. 

And it’s probably the riskiest as well:

  • Not all developers can deliver what they say they can - so picking the right partner is critical
  • Garbage in, garbage out! You’ll have to be very careful in giving clear instructions and specifications of exactly what you need, or else you may get something else entirely
  • The more bespoke the technology, the greater the likelihood that you will end up locked in with the people who developed it, dependent on their help for maintenance, patching, and updates

Who Would This Work For?

Bespoke app development is best suited for those biggest and richest associations that have highly distinctive functionality requirements that are not provided for by the app building platforms we’ll look at next. 

Even in those cases, it’s often going to be preferable to use a selection of off-the-shelf tools (eg Shopify for eCommerce) and only develop from scratch those elements where you’re providing something genuinely new. 

Association Mobile App Method #4: Repurpose Your Website

OK, this isn’t really a way to build an app. 

An app is a downloadable application that is installed onto a mobile device, while a mobile website is an optimized version of your main website that is accessed through a browser. 

Does a mobile-responsive website do the job for associations in 2022?

What’s Good About This Method

The best thing to be said about this method is that - most of the time - it’s going to be very cheap to implement. 

The vast majority of website building platforms provide built-in no-code tools for producing responsive mobile versions of sites that are optimized for large, landscape format screens. 

What’s Bad About This Method


  • Inferior UX - The more complex your website, the more challenging it will be to present navigation options in a user-friendly way on a small mobile screen. Users will often find themselves confronted with impossibly tall pages or - even worse - the need to scroll horizontally as well as vertically
  • Slow loading speeds - Native apps store data and files on users’ devices, meaning that they can load up and render content far more quickly than a browser-based website can
  • No offline functionality - Taking the last point further, conventional browser-based websites don’t work offline. Native apps can 
  • Lack of visibility - Apps can add an icon to device users’ home screens for direct access. Websites can’t

These are just some of the reasons why the overwhelming majority of mobile internet usage is carried out through apps rather than browsers. Check out these statistics from eMarketer:

Association Mobile App - App vs Browser

Who Would This Work For?

If your association has a very small budget or has never tried any mobile initiative before, this is a viable way of testing the waters for a minimal commitment of cash and time. 

It won’t do much to drive engagement, but it may give you evidence as to what your members would really like to see. 

Association Mobile App Method #5: Use Existing Social Media Apps

So this approach is based on an app - just not one you’ve built. 

Social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn provide many of the features you would need in your own app. They already have billions of regular users, familiar with the platforms. 

What’s Good About This Method

Let’s take Facebook as an example. With 1.9 billion daily active users, 98.5% of whom use a mobile device to access it, the chances are most of your members already have the app installed. 

By creating a private Facebook Group for members, you can piggyback on all the functionality the platform offers, for free. Key features for associations include:

  • News feed of posts for members
  • Discussions in the comments
  • Facilitates member networking through the main Facebook platform
  • Organize and promote events

What’s Bad About This Method

You’re at the mercy of the social network! 

  • Terms and conditions can be changed at any time
  • Advertising revenue goes to the platform, not your association
  • Even high-performing Group posts have an average organic reach of just 5.2% on Facebook
  • Privacy and data concerns - growing numbers of people are unwilling to give the big social media networks unlimited access to their lives
  • Minimal scope to customize - you have very little control over the UX that can be provided to members
  • Community management can become overwhelming

Using a social network app in place of your own membership app denies you opportunities to offer in-app purchases and renewals, content personalization, perks in reward for engagement, user access segmentation, offline access, and many of the other features that will drive engagement. 

Who Would This Work For?

A social media community can be a valuable asset for an association. They can be a great way to raise awareness and to turn supporters and interested parties into members, but they rarely offer an experience that can - in itself - provide enough value to acquire and hold onto loyal, paying members. 

Use this strategy as a precursor or a complement to building an app - but don’t suppose it’s a viable alternative. 

Association Mobile App Method #6: Build A Progressive Web App

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) combine elements of regular websites and native apps, to deliver (hopefully…) the best of both worlds. 

What’s Good About This Method

Although PWAs are still browser-based, they have the look and feel of native apps. They have some big advantages over mobile websites:

  • They can work offline, via installed Service Workers
  • They allow users to add an icon to their home screens for direct access
  • They adapt automatically to any screen they are displayed on

They also have some advantages over native apps:

  • They don’t have to be downloaded - making them more accessible and lighter on memory usage
  • They don’t need to be approved for publication by app store distributors
  • They tend to be faster and cheaper to develop

What’s Bad About This Method

The features you can provide through a PWA depend on the browser it’s accessed through. 

The details of what does and doesn’t work on each are fairly complex and not worth going into here. The point is, with a PWA it is difficult to ensure that all users receive a consistent experience. 

Nor do they support some features that native apps do:

  • Access to calendars and contacts on the mobile device
  • Near-field communications - a popular function for associations in their event apps, for locating fellow members at busy conference venues!

PWA performance also tends to be slower and more memory-intensive than native apps, because of the hybrid nature of the software. 

Who Would This Work For?

While PWAs have a lot to recommend them, it’s hard to see what benefits they offer for membership organizations over native apps. 

They’re certainly superior to the last two options, but does the lower cost justify the restricted functionality compared to a native app?

The Bottom Line

An association mobile app is a must-have for organizations to stay engaged with their busy members in 2022. 

While there are many different ways to establish a presence on your members’ mobile devices, native apps offer the broadest functionality, the best performance, and the widest range of ways to engage. 

For organizations that have very clear, well-defined requirements like membership organizations, generic app builders may not offer enough flexibility and support. But the cost and risk involved in bespoke development will rightly put many off. 

Using a platform like Clowder, which has been specifically designed with the needs of membership associations and their apps in mind, offers the best way to engage, grow, and monetize your membership. 

If you’re looking to build an association mobile app, why not book a demo of the Clowder platform and see what it has to offer?


Written by Alexa Kade