Nonprofit Membership Programs: A How-To Guide

If you’re looking for new ways to keep your supporters engaged, consider launching a membership program. Both parties benefit here, as member fees can provide long-term financial support for your organization while supporters receive additional engagement opportunities and special perks.

Use these six steps to get started.

1. Choose your type of membership program

Keeping your supporters’ best interests in mind, decide on a structure and strategy for membership. Determine the end goal of your program and let that shape how you interact with your members—are they more likely to be donors, consumers or advocates?

Members as donors: This is the most common type of membership program, where members pay a fee to gain status, benefits and the satisfaction of knowing they’re supporting something good.

Members as consumers: This model has less to do with fundraising and more to do with community-building. The hope is that low fees will allow people to reap the benefits of your services, and, in the process, you can build a strong network of supporters.

Members as advocates: To most nonprofit advocacy groups, growing their cause is a larger priority than fundraising. This type of program relies on a more abstract exchange of benefits, where members offer up their skills and voices and the organization provides a formal way for them to use them.

Choose one of these models—or combine them—to best serve your organization’s needs.

2. How much should you charge?

Base your decision on where members’ money will go. It could be fundraising, developing a new program or campaign, office maintenance or any other element of your organization that needs financial support.

First, set an overall yearly goal and determine how many members you’d need to reach that goal at a given membership rate. Or, you can create different membership levels that come with different perks depending on how much each person pays. You may also attract more members if you offer a monthly payment option, especially if your annual fee could send supporters running for the hills.

3. Determine the benefits for you and your members

The next step is creating special perks for members to keep them coming back every year. These extras will vary depending on the purpose of your organization, but discounts, special access to events, member-only newsletters and exclusive meetings are a good place to start. Be creative and don’t forget to give them a physical member card to make it all official, too.

On the same note, you can create expectations and guidelines for your members that strongly encourage them to engage with your nonprofit on multiple levels. Your members, in a perfect world, will consistently donate their time, talents and treasures to your organization to provide continuous support.

4. Create a management strategy

Since your memberships program will likely be running simultaneously with other programs and campaigns, it’s important that you elect a leader (or a team of leaders, if your organization is large enough) that’s devoted specifically to managing it. This person or team’s duties will include keeping track of applications, subscriptions and important member data. You can put them in charge of recruitment and marketing for the program, too.

5. Choose a management software

Then, once you’ve found your people, find an effective membership management software to keep them organized. This list by fundraising experts at Double the Donation gives reviews of their top 16 choices. These platforms not only create a streamlined database of member information, but also help automate renewals, payments, donor communications and more.

If you already have a constituent database, you may be able to seamlessly merge your membership program into it. If not, be sure to find a membership software that integrates with it to avoid unnecessary manual labor and human error.

6. Recruit and retain members

You’re almost ready to launch your program! Now, there’s just one thing missing: members. How do you not only find them, but keep them renewing their subscription year after year?

To lure in new members, target those who have already shown interest in your cause through donating or volunteering. When marketing to this audience, capitalize on the fact that membership has benefits for both parties. Use words like “exclusive” and “limited,” because no matter how genuinely altruistic your members’ intentions may be, people inherently love the feeling of having special privileges. Communicate your membership benefits often on all your social channels and, finally, make your application as concise and straightforward as possible.

The same goes for getting current members to renew—make them feel special and constantly remind them of the reasons they joined in the first place. With intentional communication, abundant gratitude and a simple renewal process, they’ll be sure to stick around. Make it about more than just the perks, too. Members should feel like their support is a crucial element of your organization’s success.

Though they may not be ideal for every nonprofit, membership programs are a great way to cultivate long-term donors that engage with your nonprofit in unique, meaningful ways.


Hannah Trull

Hannah is a Content Strategist for Nonprofit Hub. On top of being a regular blog contributor, she serves as the social media manager and writes for all other content channels.

March 4, 2019

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