Your Only Guide to Build a Nonprofit Membership Program

Published on July 4, 2024

Nonprofit membership programs offer invaluable benefits to organizations and their supporters, fostering a symbiotic relationship that fuels community engagement and sustains impactful missions. 

They offer supporters a sense of belonging and ownership in the organization’s goals. In return, nonprofits gain a dedicated base of supporters who contribute financially and through advocacy, volunteerism, and spreading awareness. 

This reciprocal relationship strengthens the nonprofit’s operational sustainability and enhances its ability to achieve long-term objectives and make a lasting difference in the community it serves.

Nonprofit membership: Why do you need one? 

nonprofit membership representative
Representative image. Source: GiveCloud 

For many nonprofits, a membership program can be valuable for engagement, revenue generation, and building a supportive community. Critically, a large and active membership base can enhance the nonprofit’s credibility and influence with stakeholders, including funders, partners, and policymakers.

Why should nonprofits have members? Here are some advantages: 

  • Stable revenue: Membership programs can provide a consistent and reliable source of income through annual or monthly fees. Members are more likely to donate additional funds beyond their membership dues.
  • Loyalty and support: Members are more engaged and loyal to the organization – since they perceive a social benefit to being part of an ‘exclusive club.’ They can become advocates and ambassadors, spreading the word about the nonprofit’s mission and activities, and are more likely to attend events or engage in activities. 
  • Data collection: Membership programs allow nonprofits to collect and analyze data on their most committed supporters, enabling more targeted and effective outreach. Based on the behavior of the members, everything from the theme and topic of events to the best times to ask for donations can be fine-tuned. 
  • Decision-making: Members, much like citizens of a nation, can become powerful voting and management resources, helping the nonprofit decide how to use its funds, what issues to raise, and how to run the organization. 

However, there are some factors nonprofits must consider before launching their membership program. 

  • Management: Many nonprofit and charity membership programs launch a ’shared’ management system, in which paying members vote in board members to run the organization. This is especially true when membership expands to large numbers and the nonprofit seeks large donations. Having a say in running the nonprofit becomes a major attraction to becoming a dues-paying ‘formal member.’ So, the founders can lose ‘control’ over how the organization is run.   
  • Administration: Managing a membership program requires administration, marketing, and communication resources. This includes investing in appropriate software for managing memberships, sending reminders and RSVPs, and engaging with members. This increases overhead costs—up to 40% of all income—but that is not bad. 
  • Retention: Much like donors, retaining members requires ongoing engagement, recognition, and demonstrating impact. Nonprofits must continuously recruit new members and grow the membership base, which can be more time-consuming than a ‘once in a year’ pitch to a foundation or sponsor. 

Nonprofit membership: How do you plan a membership program?

Once a nonprofit determines what it wants to achieve with its membership program (increased revenue, greater engagement, advocacy support, management, etc.), it can develop a ‘target audience’ and understand what potential members value from a membership program.

A well-structured membership program should offer clear value at each level, aligning benefits with the interests and needs of different segments of your target audience. Your nonprofit can attract a broad base of supporters, engage them effectively, and retain them over the long term, thereby ensuring the organization’s sustainability and growth.

Structure of the membership program 

A nonprofit membership program should be structured to appeal to every section of society at various levels. This means the membership program must have different levels, each costing different fees but with major differences in benefits. 

nonprofit membership structure

Let’s look at the levels in detail. 

Management of a nonprofit 

This is relevant only if the nonprofit is creating ‘formal members’; however, this is usually true for private organizations with specific causes—for example, a veterans association, a museum, helping tackle homelessness, etc. as opposed to public charities collecting donations for various causes. 

This structure allows the nonprofit to accept large donations in exchange for a say in management. This kind of nonprofit membership will also offer voting rights only to members who fulfill certain obligations and can have an elected board of directors. 

Though not for everyone, offering this system through a nonprofit membership allows the organization to spread responsibilities among a larger core of members and make group decisions in line with what the members want.  

Multi-tier membership (non-management)

A second level of membership the nonprofit can offer is a multi-tier membership in which the benefits are matched by monthly or yearly fees. 

While the nonprofit does have a ‘normal’ membership that comes with certain benefits at a certain cost, it can also have a gold or platinum tier membership, with higher fees, that gives members access to exclusive events, monthly magazines, or other digital content like a podcast and personalized attention like gift cards, certificates, personal letters of thanks, etc. 

A multi-tiered membership allows people to enter the program with a lower monetary commitment. The nonprofit can then work on onboarding them to a higher membership level through outreach and marketing. 

This does help convert a percentage of people who would otherwise not be open to paying the higher fees. 

Entry and student-level membership 

Every nonprofit membership program must have a cheap and discounted membership to help get their ‘foot in the door.’ 

Students and casual members of the public need to have a low barrier to entry without showing much monetary commitment. Such ‘entry-level’ membership must have certain perks available only to them, which can be more valuable from a peer group or networking point of view – like a membership card, discounts in some affiliated shops, or discounts for event tickets. 

The idea is that they join because it sounds nice and has a few benefits. They are then attracted to higher membership in time by seeing the advantages the other tiers get and by effective marketing from the nonprofit.

It also helps the nonprofit build up a large and valuable ‘base’ of members it can reach out to or mobilize through outreach.   

Benefits offered for nonprofit membership

While the benefits any nonprofit organization offers its members will differ, here are the main benefits it can offer members broadly. 

  • Exclusive Content: Access to special reports, newsletters, webinars, or publications. This includes impact statements and special letters on holidays or birthdays. 
  • Event Access: Invitations to members-only events, workshops, and networking opportunities. These can be the most attractive offerings to members who value the social standings offered by attending these events.  
  • Discounts: Reduced fees for events, merchandise, and services.
  • Recognition: Public acknowledgment on the nonprofit’s website, annual reports, or special events.
  • Participation Opportunities: Priority access to volunteer opportunities, committee roles, or leadership positions.
  • Membership Cards: Physical or digital membership cards offering proof of membership and associated perks.

Fees you can charge for nonprofit membership

Source: metmuseum.org

Membership fees for nonprofits can vary widely based on the type of organization, the benefits offered, and the target audience. This variety helps attract a broad spectrum of supporters and ensures the organization can meet its financial and engagement goals.

The goal should range between $15-50/year for students and entry-level, to $200-400/year for normal members, up to $1000-2000 for lifetime memberships.   

To give you an idea about the fees, here are a few examples of famous nonprofits: 

Sierra Club

Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Individual Membership: $110/year
  • Dual Membership: $210/year
  • Family/Dual Membership: $230/year
  • Supporting Membership: $600/year
  • Sustaining Membership: $1,500/year

National Association of Social Workers

  • Regular Membership: $190/year
  • Reduced Fee for Retired Members: $75/year
  • Student Membership: $60/year

Nonprofit membership: Recruitment and Marketing

Nonprofits often say increasing membership is one of the most commonly faced challenges. How to increase membership in nonprofit organizations? Consider these tactics.

  • Leverage your current membership base: Encourage your current members to bring someone along when they attend your events and to share your marketing materials, such as social media posts, promotional videos, and newsletters. 
  • Generate leads from data: Collect your website visitors’ emails in exchange for a takeaway, such as a checklist or tip sheet, and send them updates. Then, nurture them to sign up for a membership.
  • Partner with other organizations: It is best if your partner runs promotions on your behalf as an extension of their services. For example, a winner of a contest your partner runs would get a discount for your membership program. 
  • Membership renewal process: Most of your members may not remember to renew their membership or may not hold it a priority. Reminding them of the value your membership brings, along with a renewal reminder, would enable them to take action. 
  • Incentivize memberships: More often than not, an attractive incentive like a gift card, discount on the following exclusive event fee, or membership fee itself can give that extra push to signing up. 
  • Host open events: Open events would give your potential members a better idea of what it would be like to join your nonprofit. Do follow up with the event attendees with a membership pitch through email campaigns, texts, or phone calls.

CallHub’s solutions are designed for nonprofits to increase their memberships and retain them. From communicating and acquiring members to nurturing them in the journey to convert them to donors, CallHub has you covered.

To see how CallHub can help increase membership in your nonprofit, sign up for a free trial today!

Nonprofit membership management software

nonprofit membership CRM software
Source: Bloomerang

Using software allows nonprofits to operate more efficiently, improve their stakeholder engagement, and effectively manage their resources. By automating routine tasks, providing better data insights, and facilitating communication and collaboration, membership software helps nonprofits focus on their core mission and achieve greater impact.

Here are some key features nonprofit membership software needs to have:

Membership Database

Database software allows nonprofits to maintain an organized and easily accessible database of members, including contact information, membership status, renewal dates, and engagement history. These are known CRMs, and they help segment your members based on demographics, interests, and behaviors to send targeted messages. Some examples of CRMS are Salesforce for Nonprofits, Bloomerang, and DonorPerfect

Impact Measurement

Collect and analyze data to measure the impact of your programs and initiatives, helping to demonstrate effectiveness to stakeholders. Generate custom reports to meet the needs of different stakeholders, such as funders, board members, and regulatory agencies.

Automated Renewals and Reminders

Automate membership renewals and send reminders to ensure continuous engagement and reduce manual work. Automate welcome emails for new subscribers, reminders for upcoming events, and thank-you emails for donations.

Accounting and Budgeting

Use accounting software tailored for nonprofits to manage budgets, track expenses, generate financial reports, and ensure compliance with accounting standards and regulations. This also helps provide transparent financial reporting to stakeholders, including donors, board members, and regulatory bodies.

Marketing (Emails, Texts, Phonecalls)

Send targeted campaigns to members, donors, and volunteers to keep them informed and engaged. Use data from CRM software to personalize emails, increasing engagement by addressing recipients by name and referencing their past interactions.

Volunteer Database

Keep track of volunteer information, availability, skills, and interests. You can also schedule volunteer shifts, coordinate activities, and communicate with volunteers effectively. Additionally, nonprofits can track volunteer hours and recognize contributions to motivate and retain volunteers.

Relational Organizing

With Relational Organizing, volunteers spread the message to their own networks – friends and family in their contact groups. They identify potential members and persuade them to support the nonprofit. 

CallHub’s Relational Organizing tool lets your volunteers reach their contacts through any channel. 

By segmenting your audience based on their engagement level, you can target them with the right message and channel to nudge them in the right direction.

In conclusion, nonprofit membership programs are not just about financial support; they are about forging deep connections and creating a community of passionate advocates. 

By nurturing these relationships, nonprofits can amplify their impact, innovate more effectively, and adapt to changing needs with the support of a committed membership base.

Feature Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay