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Want To Set Up a Nonprofit Membership Program? Here’s What You Need To Know

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Launching a nonprofit membership program can be a great way to get – and keep! – your donors and supporters engaged with your organization and the work you do. They can also provide a lot of value for your nonprofit. After all, those membership fees will come in as unrestricted dollars, to be used in the ways you need them most. But membership programs can be tricky to get off the ground if they aren’t thoughtfully planned and executed.

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Here are five things to keep in mind to successfully launch your nonprofit membership program.

1. Choose a nonprofit membership structure.

The way you structure your nonprofit membership program will determine a lot about the way it runs down the road. You can choose from informal, public interest, or formal memberships. Informal membership structures are the most common for program-driven nonprofits. They can be broken down into three basic categories:

  • Members-As-Donors, where membership is based on a certain donation status that can recur at regular intervals;
  • Members-As-Consumers, where members are participants of a program or receivers of a service for low or discounted fees; or
  • Members-As-Advocates, where members are integral parts of the program, volunteering their time, skills, and expertise.

2. Determine your goal.

When deciding between a Members-As-Donors, Members-As-Consumers, or Members-As-Advocates structure, you’ll need to ask yourself several questions. Namely, what’s the point??A membership program is a commitment for everyone involved – both on the organization and member sides. So what value will it provide for various groups of stakeholders? A survey or small focus group of current program participants and supporters can be helpful in determining what would appeal to potential members.

3. Set your membership fees.

Once you’ve determined your structure and the unique value-add of your nonprofit membership program, you’ll need to decide how much to charge as a fee. To begin, think about your monetary goal for the membership program, and divide that by the number of members you think is both likely and manageable for you and your staff. Divide your goal by your target member number, and that will give you a good idea where you’ll need to set your fee. Be sure to consider what’s feasible for your average donor, as well.

4. Make sure the process is easy and the benefits are clear.

Once you’ve determined your value-add, fee, and the perks your members will receive for joining, it’s time to develop compelling copy to make sure it’s all clear and appealing! Keep the signup process as easy as possible. Only collect the information you’ll need most immediately, and make sure your application is easily accessible via your website and other digital communications. Keep paper versions on hand for in-person events and conversations. Don't forget to follow up right away! This is a great time for an email welcome sequence specific to new members.

5. Keep getting better.

Membership programs aren’t “set it and forget it” models. The best ones engage in regular evaluation and continuous refinement to keep members engaged. Dedicated staff and nonprofit membership program software can go a long way toward keeping your program running smoothly and successfully for the long haul!

There’s more! Get access to the extended version of this article and lots of other great resources by joining THE LAUNCHPAD – the NPO Centric’s membership program brings regular tips, tricks, and best practices to nonprofit leaders across the country. We'd love to have you join us.