5 Steps to Starting a Membership Program for Your Nonprofit

5 Steps to Starting a Membership Program for Your Nonprofit

Support is crucial for the continued success of your nonprofit organization. To effectively engage and connect with your supporters, it is essential to meet them where they are. For nonprofits, one way to do this is by creating a membership program.

An effective membership program can offer a boost in engagement and support by better connecting your supporters with your work. Through your program, donors can pay membership fees in exchange for benefits such as free branded merchandise, exclusive events, and a network of like-minded supporters brought together through your work.

This approach gives your nonprofit the opportunity to develop a more sustainable revenue stream and retain your supporters by bringing them into the fold. Ready to get started? Here are five steps to start a membership program for your nonprofit.

1. Define Your Purpose

Before you can craft a membership program that works for your organization, it’s important that you have a clear purpose going in. Take the time to evaluate how both your nonprofit and its supporters can benefit from the program.

Define a driving goal that aligns with your mission. Some thought-starters might include:

  • Boosting fundraising results
  • Creating a tight-knit community of supporters
  • Educating people about your cause

As you begin to build your membership program, ensure that your organization is aligned with its supporters so that you can give them the best member experience possible.

Assess whether your organization’s resources and priorities align with the interests and needs of your supporters. This valuable information will provide essential insights as you start your membership program.

2. Create Your Membership Model

A membership model will look different for every organization, but here are some steps you can take to get started:

Understand your organization and mission.

Before you can build your model, you’ll need a clear understanding of the value your organization offers and the benefit you’ll bring to prospective members. That means establishing your nonprofit’s mission and goals.

Decide on your offerings to stakeholders.

With your organization’s vision in mind, it’s time to get clear on what you offer to members, sponsors, employees, and other stakeholders who all rely on your work.

Ensure your organization’s mission is aligned with stakeholders.

Survey stakeholders like members, staff, and sponsors to ensure that your nonprofit’s vision and goals are aligned with theirs. Use what you learn from these findings to either adjust your organization’s vision accordingly, or to target a new group of stakeholders who are better aligned.

Select the best membership structure.

With a better understanding of your members and other stakeholders, you can now choose the most appropriate structure. This might mean paid memberships and memberships with different levels, including:

  • Bronze
  • Silver
  • Gold

Or, you might have memberships for different groups, such as:

  • Individual
  • Couple
  • Family

But remember, if you’re setting up a paid membership structure, it’s crucial to consider the return on investment. After all, attracting new members can cost you, and you want to ensure that you have the funds to provide them with all the member benefits they may have joined for.

Keep the marketing ball rolling

Once you’ve created your membership model, you’ll want to make sure you keep all of your current members engaged and keep building a case for new members to join. Keep on top of your marketing communications by reaching members where they’re most likely to hear you, such as through your organization’s newsletter, website, or social media channels.

3. Choose Membership Management Software

Efficiently managing your organization’s member data is crucial for creating a membership program that serves all stakeholders effectively. That’s why it’s imperative to choose membership management software that is compatible with your organization’s needs.

When searching for the right membership management software, here are some essential features to look for:

  • Website design: Create a website from scratch or embed widgets and other features into your existing site.
  • Membership application form creation: Make applying easy with customizable web forms.
  • Tracking and processing membership dues: Keep track of invoices in-program and give members the choice to set up recurring payments
  • Automating member communications: Commuting with members is a full-time operation; cut down on time with automation.
  • Collecting data in member profiles: Keep track of member demographics, contact information, and level of engagement.

By choosing the right membership management software, you can strengthen your relationships with members, enhancing their engagement and fostering a thriving community.

4. Promote Your Nonprofit’s Membership Program

Now that you have built your membership program, it’s time to focus on promoting it and getting prospective members on board. Promoting your organization’s membership program is essential for converting supporters into active members.

Make use of the valuable insights from your donor profiles to tailor your communications and target current supporters who are more likely to become members. With this data, learn where your supporters are most active and spread the word across multiple marketing channels. Those might include:

  • Social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)
  • Your nonprofit’s email newsletter
  • Direct mail

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to communicating with prospective members, using targeted and strategic promotion will allow you to meet them where they are and make converting donors into members a seamless process.

5.  Determine How to Engage and Retain Members

Having successfully launched your organization’s membership program and acquired members, the key to your program’s long-term success is in retaining those members.

One effective strategy is to craft a comprehensive member communication plan that facilitates ongoing engagement. Your plan should include regular interactions with members so that your organization can gain insights into their interests and needs.

By understanding their motivations, you can tailor activities, events, and opportunities to align with their preferences, increasing the likelihood of their continued involvement.

Equally important is continuously appreciating your members and making them feel valued. Show your gratitude by recognizing their contributions and efforts through personalized gestures, such as sending thank-you notes and organizing member appreciation events.

By nurturing a sense of belonging and appreciation, you cultivate a supportive community that encourages long-term member commitment.

To ensure long-term success, it’s crucial to optimize the member experience and journey. By aligning your nonprofit’s membership program with your supporters’ interests and needs, you can foster a thriving community that is committed for the long run.

Remember, the key is to continually assess and adapt your approach to provide the best member experience possible. Following these steps, you can start a membership program that will make a lasting impact.