Why Create a Nonprofit Membership Program? FAQ Guide


Guest Post by Andrew McWhaw, Inbound Marketing Team Leader at MemberClicks


If you’re part of the nonprofit industry, then you’ve likely bumped into a nonprofit membership program before. These programs create exclusive communities for a nonprofit’s most passionate supporters—and bring in sustainable funds for the organization.


However, if it’s your first time building a nonprofit membership program, you might be uncertain of where to start. It’s true that successful programs take time and effort to set up, but there’s no need to get intimidated! We’ve got the basics laid out for you.


Let’s explore what a membership program can do for your organization and your community. 


Why create a nonprofit membership program?

A robust membership program is an essential part of creating a valuable member experience. The exclusive perks, resources, and events you offer make all the difference in creating lifetime members.


Here’s what your organization has to gain from running a nonprofit membership program:


Ongoing income from member dues

Between fundraising, grant writing, and seeking out sponsorships, nonprofits do a lot of work to stay funded. Member dues are a stream of revenue that gives you sustained, predictable, and unusually unrestricted income.


Deeper relationships with your supporters

Think of a membership base as a private community for your superfans. When supporters commit to becoming members, you have space to foster deeper connections. This also gives you insight into what members really want—which helps you improve your program for future members.


New opportunities for supporter involvement

As mentioned, your members are your organization’s biggest fans. Your membership program is the perfect place for them to discover new opportunities to show their support. Give them opportunities to offer more to your cause, and you might be surprised how many people take you up on it.


An engaged member base can also save you time on volunteer recruitment and management for future campaigns and events.


A “captive audience” to connect with

Everyone’s had that moment where they wonder if their campaign and event promotion is just being sent into the void. Your membership community is an audience that you’re guaranteed to reach and who can offer direct feedback on your efforts.


Your membership management software (more on this below) gives you hard data on who is seeing your campaigns. The responses of your greatest supporters are an easy starting point to gauge how your communications might be received.


What forms can a nonprofit membership program take?

Your nonprofit membership program will look different depending on the structure of your organization. Choosing the right membership model is all about the services you offer.


  • Payment for activities, goods, or services. Clubs like the YMCA or a community theater typically structure their membership program this way. Think of this model as an entry fee for ongoing participation.
  • Access to resources, information, and community. For charitable organizations, membership is about connecting around a cause. This membership model offers access to a community. In exchange for dues, members can access exclusive events, private community spaces, volunteer opportunities, and educational resources.
  • Association models are a fusion of both of these models. As a hub of community for multiple businesses or nonprofits, associations offer concrete participation perks plus a bank of resources. This can include networking events, mentorships, professional development opportunities, workshops, and more.

Your members’ benefit perks should reflect your specific organization. If you’re curious about what sort of benefits your potential members would want, consider sending out a survey to past donors and active supporters.


What do you need to begin creating a membership program?

In order to get started on your nonprofit membership program, there are a few basics you’ll want to consider from the start.


Broad guidelines

Before you dive into the details, ask yourself the big questions:

  • What is your budget? How much can you afford to invest in your program before you start earning money back?
  • What are your membership program goals? Do you want to prioritize networking between members, building event participation, bringing in lots of profit, or something else entirely? All of these benefits are great, but getting specific (think SMART Goals) will set you up for success.
  • What is your membership model? Choosing the right membership model largely has to do with the size and type of organization you’re running. Depending on if you’re a club, nonprofit, or association, your needs will be somewhat different.

Perk packages and/or tiers

People love having the opportunity to choose how they get involved. Different members will have different needs, and if you can offer perks that appeal to a variety of people, you’re more likely to bring in a broader group of members.


There are a couple of ways that you can get this set up:

  • A standard, flat rate model keeps things simple on the backend but limits options for your members.
  • Perk packages let members shop for their ideal set of benefits.
  • A tiered model sets up levels of participation. For example, having Silver, Gold, and Platinum options offers higher-value perks for higher member dues. This lets people on a tight budget still participate while also offering the temptation to upgrade when possible.

No matter which model you go with, make sure that every single tier and package is valuable! Your structure won’t do much if your perks aren’t winning anyone over.


Software to manage and track the program

There are lots of moving parts in a nonprofit membership program. Setting yourself up with membership management software will greatly reduce the workload on your team.


The best software can help you:

  • Communicate with your members
  • Automate newsletters
  • Build out web pages and portals with a membership website builder
  • Integrate with your CRM
  • Securely process payments
  • Build a backend member database


If you’ve ever wondered how nonprofits managed to keep their membership programs running, dedicated membership management software is the secret.


Marketing strategy and collateral

If you want people to join your membership program, they have to know that it exists! Before your program launches, make sure you have a membership marketing strategy in place.


This strategy can include things like:

  • Your brand kit (logo, fonts, style guide, etc.)
  • An organized content calendar
  • Socials copy
  • An email campaign
  • Personal invites

You also want to have your marketing collateral in place, including:

  • Web copy and blog posts
  • Videos
  • Testimonials & case studies
  • Ebooks
  • White papers


Pulling in members fast is especially important if you are running an association. One of the primary benefits of joining an association is networking opportunities. The more members you have in your association at the start, the more valuable membership is!

Running your perfect nonprofit membership program

There are many ways to run a nonprofit membership program. When the time comes to start building your own, take a good look at what your organization has to offer and stands to gain. With a clear idea of your program’s goals and potential, it will all come together!




About the Author

Andrew leads the Inbound Marketing team for Personify’s MemberClicks and Wild Apricot products, helping non-profits, associations, and clubs discover the software they need to empower their missions. A veteran of the SaaS space, Andrew focuses on the use of data and analytics to create demand generation campaigns and content assets that speak to the most pressing needs of Personify’s audience.  When he’s not overseeing the marketing activities of MemberClicks and Wild Apricot, you can find him volunteering with his local residents association.

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