Everything You Need to Become an Expert in Nonprofit Membership!

Membership November 18, 2022

Sonia Urlando

By Sonia Urlando

Want to build a community and boost your revenue? Then it’s time to become an expert in nonprofit membership programs!


From growing your following to brainstorming member perks to setting up a great website, we have everything you need to know.

What is a membership program?

A membership program is a business plan where nonprofits provide members with benefits and perks in exchange for a recurring fee. While all of your supporters can engage with your organization, your members pay dues in order to get that extra value.


Successful nonprofit membership programs bring in a healthy stream of revenue and build a community of dedicated members!

Should my nonprofit start a membership program?

When you’re figuring out how to start a nonprofit, you might find yourself wondering if you should set up a membership program.


The answer is a resounding YES if you:


  • Want to include dues as a nonprofit revenue stream

  • Have the right person to lead the program

  • Have board buy in

  • Believe it will further your mission

  • Already have a strong community

Types of Nonprofit Membership Programs

Depending on the structure of your organization, your membership model might look a little different!


Here are a few examples of different types of membership in nonprofit organizations:

Trade Associations

In trade associations, members are either corporations or very wealthy individuals. In exchange for higher fees, members of trade associations have more influence when it comes to decision-making.

Professional Associations

In professional associations, membership is for people who share a profession. The dues they pay give them access to perks like networking opportunities, professional development and job boards.

Clubs

For clubs, members pay dues to gain access to different club activities. For example, members of a volleyball club are essentially paying to use the space and its supplies. Membership also gives people a community to play with!

Members-As-Donors

The members-as-donors model is classic for nonprofits. Donors pay a regular fee which gives them access to nonprofit membership benefits, thus making them into members! Typically, they don’t get a very large amount of internal influence in the organization.

Members-As-Consumers

Members-as-consumers programs are specially designed for community building. The fees are low (or even free!) and the program encourages members to spread the word in their networks. The revenue boost comes once the community is built!

Members-As-Advocates

For members-as-advocates programs, the primary focus is furthering the nonprofit’s cause. Sometimes dues are involved, but mostly members offer support through taking tangible action, such as volunteering. The membership program gives them the tools and structure to mobilize.

How to Create a Nonprofit Membership Program

A membership program is sounding pretty good, right? All that’s left to do is make it happen!


Here are the steps you need to get you started with your nonprofit membership program:

Identify Leadership

We won’t lie—making a strong membership program takes some work. The first step in launching any project or campaign is to identify who’s in charge of it.


Choose a team member who:


  • Knows your mission inside out

  • Understands your supporters’ needs and interests

  • Is super organized


When all the smaller tasks pop up, you can count on the team leader to delegate.

Create a Strategic Plan—and Goals

As we mentioned above, there are all types of membership in nonprofit organizations! Going in with a strategic plan will help you set clear goals that keep your eyes on the prize.


Start by setting yourself a timeline and a target number of members you’d like to bring in. Once your vision is feeling clearer, bring it to your board of directors for additional input and approval!

Build Your Members' Benefits

Setting up valuable nonprofit membership benefits is one of the most important parts of making a program that rocks!


Some options you could use include:

  • A community resource hub

  • Blog and video content

  • Access to events (or discounted tickets!)

  • Job boards

  • Education and training sessions


Run your benefits by your board and your volunteers for additional ideas.

Identify Membership Levels + Fees

Give your donors an element of choice by offering distinct nonprofit membership levels with different perks and price points. Every level should be valuable, but make sure the benefits increase as they go!


Naming the tiers can be as simple as going with “bronze, silver, gold”—but you can also get creative with your membership level names for a bit more fun.

Choose Membership Management Software

Once you’ve brought in your new members, you’re going to need some membership management software to engage them and keep them happy. Whether it’s building a member database, automating emails or organizing those event perks, the right nonprofit membership software will reduce your workload.


WildApricot comes with all of these necessities, plus:

  • A responsive mobile app

  • A built-in payment processor

  • A website builder

  • Easy WordPress integrations


Sign up for your 30-day free trial today and see why we were voted the number one nonprofit membership management software six years in a row!

Create (or Modify) Your Website

Your website is where prospective members get their first impression of your program. If it looks janky, or worse, not secure, you just might lose them at the door.


When you’re working on your site, pay attention to:

  • Consistent and attractive branding

  • UX and readability

  • Big bright buttons that lead to your membership form

  • Security

Keeping up with the top nonprofit website features turns your website into the gate to the Emerald City! Get your supporters knocking at the door.

Market Your Program

There’s not much use in building out a membership program if no one ends up seeing it! Plan out a marketing strategy to get as many eyes on the program as possible. 


This could include a:

  • Social media campaign

  • Free park event and barbecue

  • Partnership with a local business

  • Dedicated memberdrive drive

Look up some membership drive ideas for nonprofit organizations! Many nonprofits have done this work before you—don’t feel pressured to reinvent the wheel.

Build an Onboarding Program

You don’t want your members to join you and then ask “...now what?” Set up an onboarding program that welcomes members into all you have to offer!


Some of our favorite onboarding strategies are:


  • Welcome emails and/or paper packages

  • Social media welcomes

  • Mentorship programs

  • Personal invites to events


A warm welcome goes a long way towards donor retention!

Automate Your Renewals

Really—automate your renewals. Tracking someone down to renew is about as much work as recruiting new members! If you make it easy to be a part of your membership program, your members will be happy to stay.

Send Member Surveys

Checking in is never a bad idea! Send out surveys to ask your members about what’s working for them, as well as what areas could use improvement. If the same comments keep coming up, you may have found a gap in what you have to offer.


Make whatever adjustments make sense for your nonprofit membership program. Your members will be happy to receive what they asked for and to know you took their recommendations seriously.

Keep an Eye on Competitors

Again, you are not the only nonprofit out there who is working with a membership program! Check out what your competitors are up to, and brainstorm on where you could improve on their ideas. 


Successful nonprofit membership programs are the ones who tap into their supporters’ needs  and interests. What better place to look for that information than in similar organizations to your own?

Grow Your Program

The nonprofit membership program you begin with is just that—a beginning. Just as your organization will grow and evolve over the years, your program should grow with it.


Above all, never say “this seems like enough members.” Your membership program is both a source of revenue and a space for community, the two most essential parts of fulfilling your mission.


Be sure to set up nonprofit CRM software that keeps those relationships thriving.

Exit Interviews with Lapsed Members

When people question how to increase membership in nonprofit organizations, they sometimes forget to check in on why people might not stick around. Getting new members is great, but fostering member stewardship is even more important! Membership programs are only a consistent stream of income if the donations remain consistent.  


Check in with your lapsed members through email or survey, and see if they left because:

  • Regular donations were too expensive

  • The perks did not feel useful

  • They lost interest in your mission

  • Another reason!

 Whatever information you get can help you improve your membership program. 

Nonprofit Membership Software: Where to Look and What to Use 

You already know that a robust membership program needs to come with nonprofit membership software.


Here are the software must-haves:

Membership Application

There is no membership program without an application! Design an attractive application form  easy to get to on your website (buttons, anyone?). 


When you're setting up membership forms for nonprofit organizations, be sure to keep everything branded and easy to read. You don't want people to give up midway through applying!

Email & Text

It's essential to be in contact with your members, but it simply isn't possible to send them all individual emails and text messages. Get yourself nonprofit membership management software which can automate and schedule mass emails, ideally in segmented lists!

Automated Renewals

Remember how we said that automated renewals are important? This is exactly where an MMS  comes into play! Your members can set-and-forget, and you can save time by not needing to chase anyone down  for renewals.

Online Payments

Did you know that 82% of Americans use online payments? With those numbers, it's no secret that you'll be missing out on donations if you stick to paper payments.


Be sure to use secure payment processing so people know they can trust where their money goes.

Events Registration + Management

If you're planning on running virtual, in-person or hybrid events (and you should be!), then you're going to need some event management software. The right software can help you manage ticketing, payment acceptance and digital communication.


Planning an event is already a lot of work—why not cut out the tedious parts?

Donation Processing

Donation processing tools are about more than just collecting donations. They should also help  gather donor information, offer tax receipts and stay in contact after the fundraising has ended. This is an essential tool if you’re trying to turn donors into members.


This might seem like a lot of different tools, but the good news is you can find them all in one place!


WildApricot has all of these tools and more, along with the customer support you need for any questions that come up. If this is your first time setting up a nonprofit membership program—or you’re simply trying to level up on the one you have in place!—we’ve got your back.


Sign up for our 30-day free trial today!

How to Increase Membership in Nonprofit Organizations

So you have your membership programs set up… but things are stalling. Don’t get frustrated! There are a couple ways you can boost those numbers.


Holding a membership drive is a targeted push to bring in more members. Set up a campaign dedicated to give your program visibility, and remember to use those SMART Goals.


Giving your members benefits a facelift is always a good move. Your supporters care about your mission, but they’ll be more likely to become members if the benefits are valuable. Don’t guess what people might like—send out a survey and ask!

FAQ

Here are answers to a few frequently asked questions about nonprofit membership programs:

What's the difference between a member and a donor or supporter?

Nonprofit members pay dues to receive perks through the membership program, and have voting rights in the organization.


Donors give the nonprofit either one-time or recurring donations, but are not members of the program that gives them perks and rights.


Supporters share the nonprofit’s message, and might be a part of something like the nonprofit newsletter, but do not provide financial support.

Where do I find my state's requirements for members?

The Model Nonprofit Corporation Act is a great place to find federal requirements for members. For state requirements, it is best to consult with a legal professional!

What's the difference between being "members" of a nonprofit and a part of a nonprofit membership organization?

As we mentioned, members pay regular dues to gain access to member benefits and voting rights. Being a part of the organization is more like a job—staff and board members make and carry out the decisions that members might vote on!

What's the difference between membership and non-membership nonprofit organizations?

A membership-based nonprofit gives the members voting rights on the organization’s key issue. Non-membership organizations leave those choices in the hands of the board of directors.

Making a Membership Program that ROCKS

With a strong plan, the best tools and the right mindset, you’ll be on the way to making an awesome nonprofit membership program in no time! Tap into what it is your members want, and you’ll be sure to bring in a better and brighter community.



The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!

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