Finding the best membership model for your nonprofit

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By: Rob Jordan | 7.26.16

Memberships are not as simple as they appear. After working with nonprofits for fifteen years, I’ve seen this term used in many ways, almost all of them different. Some organizations use the word to describe anyone that donates money. Others reserve the term for individuals that give a particular amount. Then of course, there are membership tiers. The definition below is the typical outline for transactional membership. It’s the one our clients use most often:

Belonging, either individually or collectively, to a group. Members are required to pay a fee to join or participate.  Special privileges or benefits are entitled to members although not all members may have the same rights and privileges.

Membership Fundamentals

With this definition we can establish three fundamental questions:

  1. What fee will you charge for membership: this may be a tiered pricing based on donation or an outright fee
     
  2. What privileges are you going to offer people once they become members: do they receive information, recognition, products, or a combination of the three
     
  3. How long will you permit people to remain members: will you require annual renewal, renewal after five years, or are members members for life?

The theme of these questions is that a member needs to do something in order to get something. You’ve got to give to get! Donate a certain dollar amount (Not any dollar amount) Members could  pay a fee, log a certain number of hours, achieve a goal, or take an exam, and once their task has been completed, they get something (often ‘membership’ status) in return. Saying someone is a member simply because they donate is not an effective use of the word; simply calling them donors would be more appropriate. This is a common mistake and dilutes the value of what your membership represents. Members want to be special, allow them that distinction!

Membership Engagement Model

These are the fundamentals of any membership program, and they’re essential for leveraging your membership program to encourage donation and grown brand awareness. Once you’re able to answer these questions with clarity, you’ll be much better suited to building a system to track membership relationships.

That said, there are two types of membership engagements: Push and Pull. Push implies that all communication with the member will be sent to them. They won’t be required to log in or find information within a portal. Pull, on the other hand, requires the member to log in to a portal to receive messages or adjust their profile.

Here’s a chart that will help you determine which model might be most appropriate for you:

Solution Requirements

Push

Pull

Mass Email

Yes

Yes

Ecommerce

Not recommended

Not recommended

Event Management

Yes

Yes

Doc Share

Yes

Yes

Doc Management

No

Yes

Log in required

No

Yes

Online Community/ Chat Rooms

No

Yes

Online Donations

Yes

Yes

Form/ Surveys

Yes

Yes

*CRM is required for both solutions. CRM and CMS is required for Push Model. Overall the Pull model is roughly 5 times more expensive than the Push.

Membership Tracking Models

There are two types of membership tracking models: Recurring and Tagged. Recurring models track the membership experience over time. For example, it can see if your member was once silver and is now gold. A Tagged model only tracks if someone is a member or not. Typically this method is used for organizations that have simple membership processes and lack the resources to maintain a more complex membership management in their organization.

Here’s a chart that outlines the features and benefits of each membership tracking model:

Feature

Recurring

Tagged

Manage history of members previous tier (i.e. gold, silver etc).

Complex

Simple

Reporting

Complex

Simple

Data entry

Complex

Simple

Integration

Complex

Simple

Adoption

Complex

Simple


When building a membership management platform, it’s important to note that the more complex your membership process is, the more time intensive it will be to build and manage. If you wish to utilize a Pull engagement with a Recurring Model, expect that the project will be complex and may take significant time.

 

There are some awesome solutions that facilitate membership functions exclusively. However, they can often be difficult to integrate with your database due to their complex architecture. If managing memberships is an integral piece to your organization and you’re interested in learning how to better facilitate the process, let us know. We can help guide your journey by finding a solution that is best for your budget, time, and goals.

 

Ask us about memberships

 


 

 

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