Beginner’s Guide to Setting Up Different Membership Types


Understanding how to set up your membership types helps you get the most out of your membership model. If done correctly (i.e. you offer the right benefits, to the right people, at the right price), you can expect a generous increase in member subscriptions. Many members lead to a greater social impact and, therefore, a more successful mission! 

On its surface, this process is simple. However, like many things that appear straightforward, setting up membership types involves a series of smaller details and considerations that may not be apparent at first glance. Fortunately, we’ve laid them all out for you in this article! 

Here’s what we’ll cover:


Difference Between Membership Programs, Levels, and Types

When it comes to setting up your different types of membership, it’s important to understand that there are differences between membership programs, levels, and types.

The type will stem from both the membership program and the membership level structure of your organization. Because each one plays a crucial, and separate, role in designing a variety of memberships, sponsors need to understand the differences

  • Membership Program

The membership program is the broadest of the three concepts. It refers to an exchange of money in return for member benefits. For example, a tennis player pays a monthly fee to a tennis club in order to use their facilities. 

There are different membership models you can use to structure your program, but each one is based on how the organization intends to interact with its members.

  • Membership Levels

Membership levels are the next step, and represent the structure of privileges. Once you’ve decided on the type of benefits you’ll offer to your members, and what they will give you in exchange, it’s time to grade or structure your membership levels. 

This is essentially a way to suit a variety of specific demographics through customization. 

For example, you may have a persona-based membership to give more free access benefits to students. Or you may have a status-based membership, where your senior members are entitled to more benefits than new members. 

  • Membership Types

The third and final step in the process is choosing a type of membership. Once you’ve built out the structure and differentiated between your various memberships via levelling, you will want to build out the finer details of each package. This is the membership type.

types-of-membership-differenceOliver is examining the differences between membership
programs, levels, and types.

A part of this process is outlining the exact benefits your members will receive at each individual level of membership in the hierarchy. 


How to Set Up Your Different Types of Membership

There are a few different things that you’ll have to consider in order to have a fully-developed series of membership types that you can present on your website. 


First up, we have benefits. Outlining the specific benefits is arguably the most crucial stage of the membership design process. The benefits of each type need to match the needs and desires of your demographic. 

To accomplish this, you need to view your organization through the eyes of your target audience. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why would I sign up if I were a potential member?

  • What do other, similar organizations offer?

  • What is my budget for member benefits?

  • What does this person need? 

  • What are they looking for when they come to my organization?

With this information, you should have a better idea of which privileges will appeal most to your ideal member. Privileges can be as simple as the opportunity to network, a discount on educational resources, reduced fees for select local community services, or even professional advocacy. 


When we mention criteria, we’re referring to the criteria your members need to be able to purchase a certain membership type. For example, if you’ve chosen membership levels according to a persona, you’ll need to outline what precisely constitutes a "student" or a "professional". 

As your membership program evolves, you’ll find that you’ll be able to define more criteria, but in order to match your members against these criteria, you will need to ask them some important questions. Consider including questions in your registration form that capture demographic data, areas of interest, areas of expertise, years of experience, and other relevant information. You can even differentiate between volunteers and donors. 

types-of-membership-criteriaMatt is making sure to match his membership
criteria to his target audiences!

For example, a national association of nurse practitioners may want to differentiate based on a person’s career chapter, e.g., students, new practitioners, 10+ years practitioners, and practitioners currently in retirement. Distinct member benefits can be offered to reflect the needs of each group. For example, students would be eligible for student membership while new practitioners might receive discounts on annual membership dues, and regular practitioners continuing education credits. 

Pro Tip: For organizations with specific acceptance criteria, or criteria that vary based on membership type (like trade association membership), consider using applications as tools for pre-registration. Pre-registration allows you to gather necessary information prior to accepting payment from prospective members to ensure they meet the admission requirements and verifies they are charged appropriate rates for membership. 


Once you’ve clearly outlined the benefits and criteria for each type of membership, you can then decide what you want them to be called. Keep it simple and effective. 

Remember, these are the titles of the packages that your members will see browsing the website. The name should describe either the benefits they’ll receive or the criteria they must meet to purchase that type of membership. 

The name must also make sense with how you grade/structure your memberships. For example, names like "affiliate membership", "associate membership", and "student membership" are appropriate for a persona-based leveling system. 

For a status-based leveling system, you may choose to have memberships called "Fellow Membership" or "Honorary Fellow Membership", for example. 


Pricing is often the most difficult part of the membership structuring process. There are two big reasons for this:

  • The price has to meet your fundraising goals

  • The price has to be representative of the benefits your members are receiving

Achieving a balance between these two things is crucial to setting a price that will satisfy both the organization and the member. To strike this balance, you should go through the following process:

  • Find out how much you’d have to receive to cover the costs associated with membership. 

    • For a sports club, your responsibility would be covering the daily costs of running your facility (e.g., energy bills, maintenance, labor, and rent) divided by the number of members. If you are growing rapidly, use an estimate of intended numbers in the near future. 

  • Consider your involvement in the onboarding or post-onboarding process of each member. If leaders or staff need to be heavily involved, don’t forget the addition of labor. 

  • The next stage is a little trickier because it isn’t so clear-cut. You should do an analysis of benefits and try to assign a value to them. This will make up your surplus funds on top of any donations. 

cost-benefit-analysis-toolEllie knows that a cost-benefit analysis is a 
great tool to determine the pricing of your membership(s).

Pro Tip: Don’t sell yourself short in this area. If members assign enough value to a service, benefit or privilege, they will be willing to pay for it. Be confident! Demonstrate that you know your own worth. (Within reason, of course). 

Other things that might help you set up a price list: 

  • Benchmark against different organizations of your size

  • Set a percentage of program expenses you would want to be covered by dues-related revenue

  • Work with a consultant or experienced membership manager to do a membership analysis


How to Present Your Membership Types as Packages

Once you’ve navigated all the ins and outs of your different types of membership, it’s time to present them to your target audience. Membership types are most often presented on a website as a list of packages, much like what you see when shopping online. 

There are a few things to consider when presenting your packages, to make sure that the choosing process is as simple as possible for members. Keep the following points in mind:

  • Membership types need to stand out

  • The name should have a brief and clear description of the benefits as well as who the membership is for. Try to keep this to three sentences.

  • Order each type in accordance with the leveling system (e.g. Beginner, Intermediate, and Expert.)

A great example of well-presented membership types can be found by looking at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). They offer a number of different membership packages with various fees based on the services provided. Two specific types are:

Occupational Therapist

Open to professionals with a certification to practice as an Occupational Therapist. $225 per year or $18.75 per month. Full Member Benefits

Occupational Therapy Assistant

Open to professionals with a certification to practice as an Occupational Therapy Assistant. $131 per year or $10.92 per month. Full Member Benefits

Note: for a full list of how AOTA lists their types and benefits for those in the Occupational Therapy field, check out their website.

types-of-membership-presentEva is feeling good about presenting her membership
types after checking out some examples!

As you think through how to set up your membership program, or how to refine an existing program to include discrete levels and types, remember to consider your target population. Within that population, you likely have distinct groups of people looking for different benefits. By making full use of membership types, you can cater to each cluster’s particular needs, allowing you to reach more of your overall demographic. Offering a one-size-fits-all program may not grow your organization as quickly as a thoughtful, targeted approach!


In Short

Your members are unique individuals, so your membership structure should reflect that! Differing membership types, levels, or tiers give members goals to shoot for, points of pride and discussion, and unique benefits depending on their needs.

Having different types of memberships is also a sure way to make your members more appreciative of their place and role within your organization!


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