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4 Steps to Creating an Effective Membership Funnel


Aside from accomplishing your mission and making the world a better place, welcoming new members into your organization is a great way to grow revenue and engage others in your work.

While tools like membership management software make it easy to keep your members satisfied, it’s up to you to attract new members with an engaging membership funnel.

What is a membership funnel, and how can you make the perfect one for your nonprofit? In this article, we’ll answer both of these crucial questions in a multi-step guide for establishing the perfect membership funnel.

Here’s what we will touch on:


What is a Membership Funnel?

The "membership funnel" is the nonprofit spinoff of the for-profit sector’s "sales funnel." Sales funnels are used by marketers to define the "customer’s journey" with the destination of the journey being the purchase of a product or service.

As a nonprofit, you’re often not really selling anything, per se, but rather inviting potential members to become a part of your cause. A good membership funnel is a multi-step process that starts with a potential member’s first encounter with the organization and ends with them joining it.

membership-funnel-launchSam is ready to launch his membership funnel!

Pro Tip: Don’t shy away from traditional business practices for your nonprofit! While your goal obviously isn’t profit, revenue growth helps you complete your mission as effectively as possible.

Once the new member has joined, you may want to focus on their member onboarding, which makes their transition into membership as seamless as possible. But before that can happen, you need to convert your website visitors into loyal members.

Here are a few tips for doing just that!


Step 1: Build Awareness

It’s impossible for potential new members to find your organization if they aren’t aware of its existence. The first phase of the membership funnel is creating awareness about your organization.

Awareness can be created through these four key concepts:

  • Paid advertisement

  • Social media marketing

  • Search engine marketing

  • Good old fashioned word-of-mouth

For our purposes, we’ll focus more on the first two techniques.

The awareness phase of the potential member’s journey is a very important one. This will be their first impression of your organization, so it’s crucial that you make it a good one.

Start with an awareness campaign. An awareness campaign is a concentrated effort to increase the visibility of your organization to the public. But how? 

The SMART system, created in the ‘80s, uses 5 focal points to help people accomplish any given goal. Let’s break it down in the context of an awareness campaign for your nonprofit.

  • Specific: Make a list of specific goals you want to accomplish. How many new members are you aiming for? Who is your target audience? How much will it cost to market to them? 

  • Measurable: Will you be able to measure how successful your efforts are? How will you measure this figure?

  • Attainable: Is your goal realistic? Or are you chasing something a little too ambitious?

  • Relevant: How will your efforts benefit you in the long run? Are your efforts relevant to the core mission of your organization?

  • Time-Bound: Setting a deadline for your goals to be accomplished will make its success much easier to quantify.

For the content of your awareness campaign, try to leverage the purpose of your nonprofit. For instance if your organization focuses on mental health, then you can create a social media campaign during Mental Health Awareness Month in May. 

membership-funnel-social-mediaNina is happy to know about the SMART system!

When relevant, you can piggyback on trends in a way that puts the spotlight on your organization or membership site. Also, if applicable, hosting virtual events like summits or webinars and promoting these events on social media have always drummed up attention.

When it comes to creating awareness, social media is your best friend. Platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram are key to organically spreading awareness about your brand.

If, however, you don’t have the time or resources to find organic exposure on social media, you can always turn to paid advertising to get the job done. Almost all websites today, including the social media giants, allow some form of paid advertisement. Nonprofits sometimes get discounted rates for advertisements. Google will even give your nonprofit free ad credits if you meet certain criteria!

You could pay to have your ad placed on websites and social media platforms in which your target audience is known to populate. Additionally, you can pay Google to insert your advertisement at the top of their search results for queries that are related to your organization.

If you don’t want to pay for a high search engine ranking, you can always use some SEO strategies to improve your organic search results and conversion rates. Find some keywords related to what your organization does and include them a few times on your homepage. Writing content about the keywords is another great way to gain exposure.

For example, let’s say your nonprofit focuses on preserving the polar ice caps, you should definitely have blurbs on your homepage about saving the ice caps and blogs about the science behind the ice caps melting. 

membership-funnel-contentPeter is excited to write great content!

This content, once it gets traction on search engines, will lead those who are passionate about climate change and the ice caps (and are thus reading about it), right to your organization.

Pro Tip: Make sure to keep the density (that is, how often the word is used versus the total number of words on your page) under 5%. This prevents search engines from flagging your site, since they’re always on the lookout for "keyword stuffing."

So that covers the first layer of the member funnel: creating awareness. But now that your audience is aware of your organization, how will you convince them to join it? Let’s move on to the next step:


Step 2: Sparking Interest

After you get someone’s attention, it’s time to turn their curiosity into a genuine interest in your organization. If your ads, or SEO campaign, are the spring pad, your visitors need a good landing mat.  That landing mat is your website, which should focus on converting visitors from curiosity to interest, to passion.

The first page someone sees after clicking an ad or search result is called a "landing page." Having a solid landing page is very important for conversion.

Depending on the context of the link, any given website can have numerous landing pages. An ideal landing page efficiently conveys the "value proposition" of your organization immediately.  A strong value proposition shows the website visitor exactly what they’ll get for their time, attention, and money.

Now, a for-profit’s value proposition focuses on the benefits of their product or service. For a nonprofit, which often doesn’t have a product or service, the value proposition needs to be a little different.  Focus on the benefit you provide with a donor’s money, whether it’s feeding the homeless, saving an endangered species, or powering medical research. Everyone wants to be a good person, so emphasize the good that you do!

membership-funnel-value-propositionOliver is imagining his dream website with a strong value proposition!

A study sponsored by Microsoft concluded that most people decide in the first 10-20 seconds whether or not they will close a web page, or keep reading. The same study cites the Weibull Hazard Function of mechanical engineering, specifically the concept of Negative Aging. I know, I know, that was a lot of jargon. But hang in there with us, it will be worth it!

In engineering, negative aging describes a phenomenon in which "the longer a component has been in service, the less likely it is to fail." The Microsoft study found that website visitor attention exhibits a pattern of negative aging.

All of this means that you have 10-20 seconds to get your website visitor’s attention. If you succeed in doing that, the longer the visitor stays on the website, the more likely they are to stay there and interact with it in some way. In other words, website visitors are divided mostly into two groups: those who click away quickly, and those who go on to become loyal members.

This all starts with your home page. You can think of your home page as an "elevator pitch" from you to the users. You don’t have very long to make the pitch, so you need to be very efficient when you do. 

Use the landing page to clearly and quickly communicate who you are as an organization, what you stand for, and that the reader can be a part of it. Show your users how you can provide them with value.  If you have a product or service, show why it’s the best!  If you’re funding a cause, demonstrate why it’s so important.

In order to maximize and maintain awareness, it’s a good idea to generate an email list for people interested in your organization. Here are some steps to nailing it on the first try:

1.) Communicate who you are and what you do.  This is usually done both in your marketing and on your home page

2.) Get their email address. How? By offering something in exchange! There are so many ways you can do this, but the most common are:

  • A whitepaper

  • Webinar

  • Video

  • Podcast

  • An E-Book

  • A newsletter

The goal here is to provide value for your visitor, so spend a little time curating some content that really demonstrates your position as a thought leader!

3.) Create an email marketing campaign that piques your user's interest. More on this in the next section!

membership-funnel-emailCorinne is brainstorming ideas for her next email campaign!

Remember that you’re not necessarily trying to get your visitor to become a member of your organization right off the bat, you’re just trying to plant a seed of interest. This is particularly important for nonprofits: visitors on your website are there for the cause, rather than for the sake of your organization. Give them a reason to support the cause, and they’ll come to you when they’re ready!

The goal of your landing page should really be to convince users to sign up for your email newsletter. From there, you can nurture these leads into members with a little bit of email marketing magic.


Step 3: Nurture Leads into Members

Now that you’ve gained the interest of your visitor, they’ll hopefully be compelled to join your email list. This is where you can really transform an interested person into an active member of your organization.

The third phase of the membership funnel is to nurture your leads into members. A lead is a person whose contact information you have and who has expressed interest in your organization. They’re a great resource for email marketing since they tend to just need a little push in order to take action.

Through email marketing or an effective pop-up, you can share educational info with your audience that keeps them interested in your organization, and keeps your organization relevant to them.

Pro Tip: Email marketing helps keep your organization top-of-mind for your leads, meaning they’re thinking about your cause throughout the day.

Once you’ve generated an email list, it’s time to get started on issuing a newsletter.  While this isn’t the best option for every organization (for example, if your revenue is almost all large corporate sponsorships), newsletters are a great way to nurture leads into passionate members or donors.

membership-funnel-nurtureSalma is ready to nurture leads into great members!

Here’s how you can create a successful email newsletter for your current and potential members:


The first thing to establish is a consistent sending schedule for your emails. Too often do organizations make the mistake of over-sending. Don’t you get annoyed when your email inbox is flooded with marketing emails, constantly pitching products and demanding your time and money?

Don’t be that organization, the one that overloads their audience with emails, which leads to unsubscribes and diminishes any interest of potential members. Instead, stick to sending one e-mail per week, at least to start. You can play with this a bit to find your sweet spot, but overloading leads with emails tends to reduce open and click-through rates.

Pro Tip: "Open rate" is the percentage of your email recipients who open your email.  "Click-through rate" is the percentage of people who click your call-to-action and go to your website.  A call-to-action is a button or message in your email that prompts the reader to do something.

The one-email-per-week schedule works because it’s a happy medium between over-sending and under-sending. Two emails per week keeps your audience engaged while respecting their time and attention span.

The best days of the week to send your email rank in this order:

  • Tuesday

  • Thursday

  • Monday

  • Wednesday

  • Friday

Don’t bother sending emails on the weekend, because few people will check and actually interact with emails on these days. They're too busy with their latest netflix binge (I know I am).

Next, the best times of day to send emails are:

  • 10:00AM

  • 2:00PM

  • 5:00PM

These hours tend to coincide with peoples’ work days. Sending at 10:00AM is ideal because most people with 9-5 jobs will have been at work for an hour at that point, so they’re still at their desk but bored enough to start idly checking emails.

membership-funnel-email-scheduleAnthony is writing down the best days and times to send emails!

2:00 PM works because it’s usually an hour or so after a lunch break. After lunch, most professionals will take some time to refocus and settle back into their work. Usually, people check their emails while doing this.

This is the most optimized timing for sending emails. If you follow a schedule along with these guidelines, you just might find your emails getting much more engagement.


Next, you need to make quality content for your emails. Content starts with the subject line. Ideally, a marketing email should have a personalized subject line. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, email marketers have found that personalized emails earn more engagement.

People would rather be greeted by name than by an awkward blurb saying "Dear customer," or "Dear member." On top of that, many organizations make the mistake of sending their newsletter emails from an account with an alias that simply matches the name of their organization (for example: or something of that nature).

This seems like a reasonable decision, but it turns out that email readers would rather hear from a real person than a blatantly automated CRM. Take advantage of this consumer preference and personalize your emails (for example:

Send your newsletter emails from an account that uses a person’s name for the username and a face for the profile picture. Refer to your recipients by name in the subject line. If you have an email marketing tool you can usually do this by importing names into your email list and then using a variable to insert each lead’s name for their given email.

For the rest of your email’s content, each email should start with a hero image of some kind. A nice, high-quality image with a caption or overlapping text that summarizes the point of the email in seven words or less. This is known as the tagline.

membership-funnel-conversionSimon is happy his emails have great opening rates!

Every email should have a witty tagline and a visually appealing image accompanying it. 

Next, create a compact article-like section that teaches something relevant about your organization to the reader.

Perhaps you can promote one of your upcoming events, share an inspirational story about an employee or member, show your audience an interesting study related to your niche, or share your expertise in a news article, or video format.

Instead of constantly asking your audience to join your organization, create value for them by sharing important information while subtly informing them why joining your organization is a great idea.


Step 4: Keep Going

At this point, you should have a fully-functional membership funnel, but perhaps not a perfect one. While it’s not possible to convert 100% of your advertisement clickers, website visitors, or email subscribers into members of your organization, you can always improve your methods.

The best way to measure how well your funnel is working is to collect data from your audience. 

membership-funnel-surveyEmily is ready to collect information from her members!

If you secure a membership, ask your new member how they found your organization, and what made them join it. If a potential member decides not to join, ask them why. Constantly probe your marketing funnels for weak points, and test out new tactics, until it’s producing results that you’re happy with.

It’s not possible to please everyone with your advertising, landing page, and email marketing, but you can approach perfection by monitoring the wants and needs of your target audience.


In Short

Did you get all of that? We know it's a lot, so feel free to bookmark this page and use it as a guide as you work on your funnel.

It’ll take some time to get the right funnel for your organization, so don’t feel discouraged if your first try isn’t very good. The only way to have a great funnel is to make a few bad ones first!


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