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Re-envisioning digital engagement for one of Canada's largest associations

The Water Environment Association of Ontario created a streamlined, user-friendly site to connect and distribute leadership among its thousands of members and many subcommittees.


  • 1,300
  • members
  • 16
  • committees
  • 1
  • integrated website

When Heather Tyrrell joined the Water Environment Association of Ontario as their new Chief Administrative Officer, she was handed a monumental task: to modernize and streamline an organization that is more necessary than ever in this era of climate change.

The Water Environment Association of Ontario is a diverse group of 1,300 technical and professional individuals working in the water and environment industries. Many members are engineers or utility operators working in municipal water services. Others hold political or administrative positions. All are passionate about the future of the water environment industry—an industry struggling with succession planning, dwindling public interest, and growing climate concerns.

Assessing the challenges

The strategic objectives Tyrrell received from the Board were to increase the WEAO’s membership, provide more value to existing members, and expand the WEAO’s influence in the industry. When she started working with NationBuilder-certified agency Arke Marketing, she knew she wanted to focus her efforts on the presentation of the WEAO, which at the time had a limited online presence, a finicky member portal, and a cluttered and outdated website.

  • Data_Sharing
  • Data sharing

  • Customers running their associations on NationBuilder use tag sharing to sync data between committees and headquarters.

More importantly, the internal WEAO site had a fragmented structure. Since the Organization is home to more than 16 committees, each needed its own secure hub for document sharing, event planning, individual calendars, meeting minutes, and communication. There were some committee members who weren’t members of the WEAO, while others were a part of several subcommittees. A complex calendar would be needed to include some—but not all—of the committee’s events, as well as organization-wide events. On top of that, memberships to the WEAO could either come from the organization directly, or through the Water Environment Foundation (WEF), their international umbrella organization, which also offered a number of other different types of memberships. It was almost impossible to tell who was coming from where.

At the time, the WEAO had been using MemberClicks, an Association Management System. While it worked well as a database tool, it didn’t offer the functionalities that the WEAO needed. All web changes had to go through an out-of-house webmaster, which was costly, slow, and inefficient. The system itself was cumbersome, and took time away from the WEAO’s small administrative staff.


Applying the solution

NationBuilder offered the functionality needed to meet the WEAO’s organizational goals: growing a membership, inspiring action and adherence, rallying behind a cause, and categorization, lead following, tracking, member directory, and a simple, easy-to-use back end interface. So, using NationBuilder, we created a user-first site design that was easier to navigate, interesting to use, and that moved people from visitor to member in as few steps as possible.

Their previous website suffered from a very distinct case of Way Too Much. Their Membership information was separated into four different pages, and each one contained at least one (but usually more) PDFs containing redundant, outdated, or unnecessary information. So, we scoured the site for the most pertinent information, distilled it down to just a few pages of copy, and re-wrote much of it in a newly identified ‘voice’ of the organization. We wanted to make the WEAO as clear, concise, and relevant as possible—and attractive to their core audience.


We redesigned their website with user experience as our first priority, making the navigation bar vertical, cleaner, and more intuitive. We also ensured every page was accessible in just a few clicks, that pages weren’t buried inside other pages, and everything was accessible from the nav bar. To simplify the WEAO-wide events calendar, we added micro-calendars for each of the committees, so they could add events and meetings that wouldn’t show up for other committees. Any events could be tagged so as to appear on the main calendar as well—no redundant events across calendars.

Before, all updates had to go through a webmaster, which was time-consuming and costly. Now, Tyrrell or her staff can easily make any necessary changes on the site. Tyrrell has full moderator capabilities, and we’re running training sessions to ensure their organization has the skills and tools necessary to independently use NationBuilder as they see fit.

Converting the committees

The WEAO’s committees were so enthusiastic about updating the site that many sent us their own specifications and requests for how they wanted their individual pages. Managing sixteen different microsites within the larger framework of the updated site meant that each committee page had to have the same set of tools, have a consistent look and feel, and still be useful for sixteen different committees doing a variety of different work.

We built a custom API that allowed individuals to upload PDFs to their committee pages, shared only between members of that committee. Members could comment, add notes, and share ideas regarding uploads. Essentially, the committees had their own online forums for knowledge sharing, which was incredibly important to the committees for maintaintaining documents that are common and necessary—like agendas and meeting minutes, file sharing, and official documentation.


Decluttering the database

One of the biggest services the WEAO provides is an annual conference called the Technical Symposium & OPCEA Exhibition, and managing registration for this event was near-impossible under their previous system. We wanted to simplify the ticket-buying process, but whatever system we devised also needed to be flexible for discounted or members-only tickets and simple enough for any employee of the WEAO to set up.

  • Membership_Management
  • Membership management

  • Associations and large organizations use memberships in NationBuilder to engage with and cultivate their communities.

We made it so that any member should be able to add an event to the organizational or committee calendar—the Chief Administrative Officer would just need to approve it before it appeared. Within an event, members could add ticket types using a tagging system to categorize them. For instance, tickets tagged with “YP” would only be available to logged-in members who are part of the WEAO’s Young Professionals group. There were also tags for members-only and general admission. Any purchaser could only see the ticket types that apply to their personalized NationBuilder profile, reducing confusion and clutter.

Member profiles are a big part of why NationBuilder works so well for organizations. The member database system is robust and streamlined, and provides a wealth of data for any member or site visitor. When a member or visitor interacts with the WEAO online, whether it’s through social media, using a contact form, or even sending an email—it gets logged in NationBuilder. This information is used to provide better service to members, track adherence and bounce rates, and better analyze the WEAO’s strengths and weaknesses going forward. With this system in place, we had the data we need to start evaluating how to better meet the WEAO’s goals.


Personalizing the member portal

The member portal was the last feature we integrated into the site, allowing members to log in and see personalized messages (automated and sent depending on the data in their NationBuilder profile) such as notifications for upcoming events, or membership renewal reminders.

Within the portal, members could upload and apply to jobs directly within the site (after approval from Tyrrell), and with that, the WEAO became the go-to place in the industry for access to job opportunities. We added a similar functionality for volunteer positions as well, which are usually added by the WEAO itself for conference positions, administration, and more. It was easy to see new opportunities and to apply to them, all within the portal.

Members can now upload pictures to their own personal profiles within the site database and access their own committees easily, with a pop-up button on their home dashboard. This level of personalization means that members can feel engaged with their personalized WEAO profile, but still maintain their professional appearance within an industry organization.

Sharing content with the world

Finally, we brought the WEAO into the twenty-first century with a blog and social media presence. A large part of the WEAO’s member value is that they’re a hub for members to get information regarding what other municipalities are doing. A problem for many water environment professionals is that they’re often working within small, siloed departments and have little communication with other municipalities, They rarely, if ever, get to share solutions, problems, or information with other professionals across the industry.


The blog helped to bridge that connection, or part of it, by passing on what other members are doing, tips on networking across departments, and other information relevant to professionals in the water environment industry. Their newly created social media accounts, consisting of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, then became our front-line information sharing tool. A barrier for many people to see what’s going on at the WEAO is simply the fact that they have to go seek it out themselves. With a social WEAO, now that information just shows up on their feeds.

Celebrating the results

We launched the site just in time for WEFTEC 2016, a conference held in New Orleans in late September. Many members were excited about the site, claiming it was easier to use, faster, less cluttered and more modern than the previous site.

Since launching the site we’ve seen a spike in memberships, and the system has received rave reviews from existing members. Tyrrell is pleased about the degree of control she has over the site, as well as how easy it is to move around and change information without breaking the site or having to contact a webmaster.

This story is brought to you by Arke Marketinga NationBuilder-Certified Agency based in Toronto, Canada.
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