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Membership programs and subscriptions have been on the rise in the past few years in both private and nonprofit sectors. For many companies, they are a source of recurring revenue, as well as a way to provide their customers with ongoing support in the form of goods, services, access to facilities or educational materials.
As for the not-for-profit sector, memberships can be an excellent way to not only build a like-minded community, but also to incentivise involvement within charitable organisations.
The idea behind most membership programmes is not very different from those of businesses – in exchange for donations in the form of membership fees, a nonprofit could extend additional engagement opportunities, services or sometimes even products to its members.
So, if you are thinking of starting a membership program, you might have a few questions, which we will try to answer in our new blog series dedicated to managing memberships. Today, we’re talking about what kind of organisations can create membership programs, what types of programs they can create and what benefits it brings in the long run.

Does my organisation have members?

According to the Charities Services organisation,
“For some charities it will be clear if they have members. For example, societies are membership based and will clearly have members. However, it may not be straightforward for all charities and some may decide that they do not have members. There are a few factors that will help you identify if you have members:

  • Members are a distinct group of people that are clearly separate from the general public
  • Members may have access to benefits, goods or services that are not available to the general public
  • Members can be involved in decision making. This will often happen at an Annual General Meeting
  • Membership commonly involves some form of contribution towards the charity – for example, membership fees, subscriptions, attendance expectation, or volunteering.”

Thus, most charitable organisations have an existing membership base, whether it is their visitors, friends, customers, supporters, sponsors, or volunteers.

What types of memberships are out there?

Most often a membership is tied to a certain period of time, and members are required to renew it on a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis. If it is paid, the price might get lower if someone joins for a longer period. Some organisations offer a lifetime membership opportunity, collecting a fee (if there’s one) only at the beginning when members sign up. Depending on the type of your membership program, you can decide whether it should be monthly, annual or lifetime.
In some cases, membership can be offered in a form of different packages. For instance, it can be available as a single, couple or family/household subscription. It can also come at multiple tiers depending on the level of commitment the members are willing to extend.
Finally, memberships can be paid or unpaid. Certain types of memberships are not tied to fees – as in the case of churches – but come with other benefits, such as being able to vote and participate in the decision making process. Other organisations offer a selection of lower, mid, and higher priced options to which their supporters can commit depending on what they can afford or are willing to give. Most people appreciate flexibility in pricing and packaging as it allows them to choose the best alternative even if their connection to your cause or their financial situation changes.

What are the benefits of membership programs?

The reason behind the growing popularity of memberships is that they unite people around a specific cause and create a like-minded community. For most of us, it is important to be involved in doing something good. Giving your supporters an opportunity to belong, to find friends who care about the same things they do, to join forces with others and create an impact – these are the best ways to keep your members enthusiastic about your organisation and its cause.
Memberships can also help you strengthen ties with your stakeholders. Growing engagement will, in turn, lead to stronger commitment.
Another advantage is being able to increase awareness of the work you are doing. The more established and successful your membership program is, the more likely it is that people will hear about it and share with others.
Having more members might translate into increased revenue and more sustainable funding for your charity, which allows you to serve your community better by carrying out your mission without worrying about finances for starting new projects and initiatives or completing existing ones.

Thus, the most important points to consider when creating a functional membership program are what role members will play in your organisation, what kind of exclusive benefits they will receive (discounts, special offers, early event registration, free tickets),  and how these benefits will be provided (coupons, vouchers, parcels, packages).
Hopefully, this was an informative post! Running membership programs can be a rewarding asset for any nonprofit organisation, providing multiple benefits from deepened relationships, better engagement and stronger commitment of their members to increased and more stable revenue.
In our article next week we’ll be discussing the tools you need for managing memberships efficiently!