How to Use Membership Programs to Get the Most Out of Your Fundraising


With the advent of new technology, fundraising is undergoing a revolution. Gone are the days of door-to-door solicitation; in its place are online fundraisers and membership programs that make it easier than ever to raise money for your organization.

What exactly is a membership program? 

We explain this in detail throughout the article, but here is the short answer: membership programs are how organizations can provide exclusive benefits, opportunities, and experiences for participants, often at different membership levels, that aren’t available to the general public. In exchange, members pay the organization for their membership status on a recurring basis. 

Membership programs can be used in conjunction with traditional fundraising methods, like direct mail or telemarketing campaigns. However, if you have no idea how to start a membership program or do not have much money for marketing or advertising campaigns, setting one up might be an ideal way for you to start building a donor base without having to put too much time and expense into it at first.

In this article, we will cover:

Let’s go!

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Quick Reminder: What is a Membership Program?

A membership program is a way to organize your supporters and donors into groups based on their level of involvement in your organization. This can help you create and sustain relationships with them, keep them updated on news and events, and fundraise for all of your endeavors. Membership programs allow you to engage more volunteers, increase revenue, and most importantly, grow your community.

Membership programs, of course, provide a lot of benefits to members themselves. That is what motivates individuals to be so intimately tied to your organization in the first place.

To start, they bestow them with the opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves: a circle of people that share the same passion. In the case of charities, there is something really special about making a difference in a group of supporters’ neighborhood, or the world at large, that draws each of them in - and working together to do just that is an incredible feeling.

Second, it is fun! Most membership-based organizations host events frequently, and act as a substantial source of socialization in this respect. Members can learn new skills, meet new people, and even make some lifelong friends along the way.

fundraising-membership-programs-what-isTristan is excited to learn how membership programs can help his nonprofit!

Finally, membership programs ultimately give back to the community in which the organization is located by enhancing and strengthening it, in one way or another. Oftentimes the work of such organizations is aimed at helping those who need it most. 

Within the context of various types of organizations, memberships can take many forms, such as:

  • Nonprofit gym memberships (YMCA)

  • Trade Associations (American Hospital Association)

  • Specialized insurance or other financial services (AARP)

  • Thrift stores and donation collection (Salvation Army)

There are so many ways to set up your membership program for fundraising, so it can be tough to find the right one for you. Let’s dig into how they work and how you can set yours up with very little upfront cost.


How Membership Programs Benefit Fundraising  

When you are part of a nonprofit organization, you need to think about your fundraising strategy in a way that is different from other businesses. You are not trying to sell products or services, you are trying to raise money for a specific purpose or goal. And while there is no one right way to do this, one important thing that many nonprofits overlook is focusing on building a strong membership program.

Here are some of the ways a great membership program can support fundraising:

More Frequent Contributions

A membership program is like a subscription: people give at a certain interval each month or year to receive the benefits that come with subscribing. So your organization knows if you retain your supporters, you will always have this income. Beyond that, if and when you host fundraising events, you open up the gates for supporters to give more, more often. By building an ongoing relationship with your supporters, and keeping them in the fold so to speak, you increase the likelihood that they will give more, beyond their membership dues.

A Win-Win for Everyone

The best nonprofit membership programs encourage repeat giving by offering an exclusive member experience and discounts (such as members-only events) they cannot find anywhere else, making it easier for participants at all membership levels to support the causes they care about while receiving something valuable in return.

High Growth Potential

Membership programs help build a sense of community among individuals who share common goals or interests through events and online engagement channels like social media groups or email newsletters. This sense of community makes it easier for members to share stories about their experiences with others who might be interested in supporting similar causes (and therefore in making additional contributions).

Pro Tip: Increase your chance of gaining new followers and members by hosting peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns that are open to the public. Events fueled by members who involve their friends and relatives by word of mouth are an excellent way to build a community.

Builds Awareness and Interest in Your Cause

While this does not directly contribute to your bottom line, it is one of those things that separates the good nonprofits from the great ones. Building support around your organization is one thing, but to affect as much change as possible (and bring your revenue to new heights), building interest in your cause is a necessity.

The more awareness there is surrounding your cause, the easier and cheaper gaining new members will become (as you will have to advertise less). The fact of the matter is that for someone to become a member of your organization, they have to care about your cause. And for them to care about your cause, they have to know it exists. Building a membership means more and more people talking about it and sharing it on social media.

More Support at Events

Events generate money, buzz, and a sense of community, but only if people show up! Having dedicated members means it is easier to get RSVPs for your hottest events of the year.

Access to a Pool of Potential Contributors Without Having To Go Search For Them

This is huge: Having a pool of people who have given their time and money to support your mission means that asking for one more donation is as simple as hitting send on an email.

A purely donation-based model is a perfectly good way to operate a nonprofit, and even if you have members, you should focus on that as well. But having an already-dedicated group of people you can rely on for support makes things that much easier.

Of course, all of this is contingent upon you creating the right atmosphere in your membership pool. Luckily, you do not have to send out shots in the dark. Here are some best practices for inspiring generosity in your members.


3 Ways to Inspire Giving Among Your Members

Your members joined because they care about your cause, but without communication, the unfortunate reality is that your organization might slip their mind from time to time.

That is why it is key to communicate with your members in a way that inspires the spirit of generosity and feeling of community. Your membership program should not simply be a financial transaction for them. It should be, and usually is, a reflection of their personality and identity!

fundraising-membership-programs-ways-to-inspireEmily is ready to start inspiring her members!

Here are some great ways to encourage generosity and passion throughout your membership base.

Keep Members Interested and Engaged

The first step to a healthy membership model is maintaining interest so that members continue to show support for your organization and its mission.

Doing this can be a challenge, especially if you are not sure where your program stands with current members or if you are new to starting a membership program. Here are some simple ways you can maintain interest in your membership program:

Build a Strong Foundation

A solid foundation is the key to keeping members engaged with your nonprofit organization. This usually starts at the top: The leaders and key operators at the nonprofit (that is you) need to convey a sense that they are tremendously excited about the work that the membership program will enable them to do.

This will galvanize your first wave of members into being die-hard fans of the program, which is a contagious thing.

Be Consistent with Communication and Sharing Information

This will help keep everyone informed about and engaged in upcoming projects and happenings within your organization. It also helps encourage loyalty among members because it gets them excited about your work, and builds anticipation!

You should also provide all members with an easy way to give feedback as well as suggestions for improvement. Your members are, well, members of your team. Listen to them and make sure you take their opinions into account - that is the difference between an organization that pretends members are an integral part of their work, and shows them that they are.

Pro Tip: Some organizations give members access to board meetings, and even spots on the board. Before devising a membership strategy or building your membership model, it is important to decide just how involved you want your supporters to be - that is, whether you are comfortable with, or even encourage, them influencing your organization’s course of events.

Set Up a Tiered Membership System

Another way to inspire more giving and boost engagement within your membership program is to offer tiered memberships.

The term "tiered membership" refers to a nonprofit's decision to offer different levels of participation in their organization. The most basic tier is usually the least expensive option: anyone can join, and they have access to a certain amount of benefits the organization offers. But as members go up the ranks, their level of involvement and the benefits they get will increase.

For example, if a given person is a member of The Linux Foundation at the Gold level, they get all of the benefits that someone who has just signed up for the basic (or Silver) tier would receive. But they will also be able to participate in exclusive events with special guests from the community and network with other Gold members at meetups hosted by the foundation. As they move up higher tiers, those benefits will continue to grow. 

So how do tiered memberships boost engagement?

Tiered memberships give your supporters an opportunity to take their involvement in your organization from "casual" status to "serious" status. That distinction makes them feel more devoted to your organization, and more integral to ensuring it succeeds. They might then share that feeling with others who are interested in joining as well - perhaps with those at tiers below them!

Add Discounts for Certain Demographics

Identify the demographics that matter most to your organization. This may be obvious, but it is important to make sure you have a good grasp of who will benefit from any discount you provide, and who will not. For example, if you are running a summer camp for children, you might offer discounts to low-income families so that everyone can enjoy the magic of your program, thereby supporting inclusivity for members across all income levels.

This not only shows that you care and are paying attention to your beneficiaries within your own communities, but it also incentivizes people in that demographic to become members!

Enter Members into Competitions, Games, or Contests Where They Can Win Awards

Making things fun with games or contests is a great way to keep the spirit of joy alive within the community surrounding your organization, and it is no secret that happy, joyous people tend to be more in tune with their generosity.

There are several types of campaigns that can be both enjoyable and amusing:

  • Put up a sign-up sheet for your members at your next event and have them write down their names. Choose a name at random the next week to determine who won the prize. The prize could be anything from donor wall recognition to a new car (if you have the funds).

  • Host cookouts or barbeque dinners where members can play outdoor games (horseshoes, cornhole, etc.) while celebrating the work your nonprofit does.

  • Host a trivia night where your members get points for answering questions about your organization, cause, or anything else of interest.

  • Create a Facebook group where people can post photos of themselves doing something related to your cause, like volunteering at an event or wearing something from your store. The person who gets the most likes wins!

These little games make people realize that being a member at your organization is not just about doing the right thing, but having fun too.

Spread The Word

Many of your members may not even know that they can give, but generosity can be contagious. If one member sees another member give generously to your organization, they might want to do the same. How can you expose them to such generosity?

Provide proof with success stories – share videos, photos, and testimonials from people who have been helped by your organization. This gives the public "social proof" of the difference you’re making in the lives of others.

Share the impact of their generosity on others – for example, if a donor makes a gift that pays for someone's hospice care or provides meals for dogs in shelters.

Pro Tip: When sharing content about your supporters, always be sure to get the permission of those who have given. Some people wish to remain anonymous.

Ask other members to share their stories with others – encourage them to talk about their experiences with their friends and family so that their generosity can inspire others as well!

Let Your Members Into The Operation

Finally, one of the best ways to inspire giving among your members is to let them into the operative forces behind the organization itself. This lets them know that while their financial contribution is critical, so is their creativity.

fundraising-membership-programs-ways-to-inspireMatt is letting his members in on the operation!

Nonprofit organizations are often run by volunteers, who donate their time and energy with the expectation that they will be given a voice in how the organization operates. But how can you make sure they feel like they have a say? Here are some tips:

1) Make sure everyone knows that their input matters. Listen to them. Even if it is not exactly what you want to hear, it is still important.

2) If you are going to make big changes, take time to explain why and what it will mean for the future of your organization. Make sure everyone knows the decision is about ensuring your nonprofit continues to thrive for years to come! Let your members vote on such decisions if necessary.

3) Involve everyone when possible: from those who volunteer at events to those who run them, make them integral to the decision-making process so they feel like their voice is being heard!


Final Thoughts

A fundraising membership program is one of the most powerful ways to push your nonprofit to the next level. Whether you are a trade association, thrift store, or insurance agency, memberships develop a loyal base of supporters that can give your organization a foundational baseline of revenue, while simultaneously strengthening support for your cause.

Inspire giving from your members by maintaining their interest, spreading the word, and letting them into the operations side of things. It is also a good idea to look into membership rules for nonprofit organizations, so you can make sure you are staying compliant with your tax status.

Remember to communicate with your members often, so your cause stays at the forefront of their mind.

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💡What is a membership program?

A membership program is a transaction in which a member pays a due, and receives some sort of benefit in exchange. Find out more. 

🔑 How do membership programs directly impact fundraising?

Membership dues can contribute significantly to your bottom line, but a membership program can also galvanize your pool of supporters in to donating more in amount, in frequency, and in diverse types (such as time or in-kind donations.) Find out more. 

📝 How can you inspire giving among your members?

The three most important and effective ways to inspire giving among your members is to maintain their interest, spread the word about the program, and let your members into your operation. Find out more.  

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