A guest post by Marleena Moore for Wild Apricot
We live in a subscription economy. From video streaming services like Netflix to monthly coffee clubs, membership models are a common way to engage with consumers.
Nonprofits of all sizes can leverage this same approach to catapult into a new stage of growth and long-term success. By tapping into nonprofit membership programs, organizations have the potential to expand their supporter base and develop a reliable source of revenue to support their mission.
New to the nonprofit membership realm? No worries! In this guide, we’ll answer some frequently asked questions about membership programs for nonprofits so you can make the most of this impactful opportunity. You’ll learn what makes a successful nonprofit membership program, how to set yours up, and ways to promote it. Let’s dive in!
What is a nonprofit membership program?
Membership programs for nonprofits involve providing incentives to supporters in exchange for ongoing charitable contributions. For example, a supporter may donate a $30 monthly membership fee to your nonprofit, which gives them special access to benefits like discounted event tickets, a members-only newsletter, and quarterly networking meet-ups.
A number of different groups can create membership programs, including:
- Professional associations
- Trade associations
- Parks and recreation agencies
Your nonprofit membership program fee structure and corresponding membership benefits will be unique to your organization and program goals.
What are the benefits of a membership program?
A nonprofit membership program provides tangible benefits to your supporters, but it also comes with several bonuses for your organization. Membership programs for nonprofits can allow your organization to:
- Generate steady, predictable revenue: Membership dues are paid in consistent intervals. Whether your members pay monthly, quarterly, or annually, a membership program lets your nonprofit better estimate its budget at any point during the year.
- Build a stream of unrestricted funds: Many grants or donations to nonprofits come with strings attached. You have to spend them on specific programs or activities. While a portion of your nonprofit membership program fees will go back into the program, you can use the remainder toward whatever your nonprofit most needs.
- Attract new supporters: In a world where people are inundated with advertisements and donation requests, a nonprofit membership program can stand out from the crowd. It offers a fun way for new supporters to get to know your work, find belonging within a like-minded community, and give back in a meaningful way.
- Strengthen existing supporter relationships: Retaining donors is far more cost-effective than recruiting new ones. A nonprofit membership program can lead to increased engagement from your current supporters that encourages their continued support and lowers your recruitment costs.
How do I create a nonprofit membership program?
Nonprofit membership programs have several key components. Below, we’ll walk through the three key elements to consider when getting yours started.
Determine how much and how frequently you’ll charge membership fees based on your understanding of existing supporters. For example, if your main audience is recent graduates, your membership fees should be lower than if you’re targeting CEO-level professionals.
Consider adding tiers to your membership program to add more flexibility for members. An easy way to think of this is having bronze, silver, and gold plans; bronze being the cheapest but most limited benefit-wise, and gold with the highest cost but also the most benefits. A tiered membership model can help boost engagement by meeting supporters at their current giving abilities while also offering opportunities for future upsells. Employing an online payment service will help you collect these dues with ease while also being convenient for your members.
To encourage supporters to sign up for your nonprofit membership program, you need to provide benefits that make the membership cost worth it. Some common member benefits include:
- Online membership discussion boards
- Members-only newsletters and other updates
- Special branded membership merchandise
- Discounts to your events or at partner businesses
- Networking events and conferences
Use your event software to make providing these virtual and in-person membership benefits like webinars, galas, and mixers a breeze.
Membership Management Software
Comprehensive membership management software empowers nonprofits to manage their membership programs with ease and efficiency. When selecting the right membership software for your nonprofit, look for these essential features:
- Membership database: This helps you keep track of members’ engagement levels and improve membership recruitment and retention rates.
- Dues processing: Aim to make membership payments as easy as possible with automatic processing and online management.
- Website builder: A strong membership website builder helps prospective members learn about your program and current members connect with one another.
- Data analytics and reporting: Be able to pull quick reports to gauge your program’s growth, see what’s working, and identify areas for improvement.
How can I promote my nonprofit membership program?
Once you’re ready to launch your nonprofit membership program, hit the ground running by promoting it on social media and in your email newsletter. You can even tease it a few weeks before your official announcement to build momentum for new membership sign-ups.
Additionally, it’s essential to create a nonprofit membership website so that prospective members can learn more about the program, sign up, and pay their membership dues online. New and current members can also use it to:
- Learn about your upcoming events
- Access exclusive member resources and benefits
- Network with each other
- Update their membership information
Using a Membership Program to Increase Engagement
Nonprofit membership programs are an excellent way to build a strong community of support that keeps your budget resilient despite the inevitable ebbs and flows of the industry. Remember that, to develop a long-lasting and successful membership program, it’s critical to prioritize the member experience. Plan to communicate regularly with members, show appreciation for their support, and refine your program to best fit their needs and interests.
Marleena Moore is the Marketing Manager at Personify for the WildApricot brand. Her goal is to create impactful content to empower nonprofits and associations in their mission-driven work.