Guide to Setting Up a Membership Model

Guide to Setting Up a Membership Model
guide to setting up a membership model

Guide to Setting Up a Membership Model

How does your organization create value? What do you offer your wide audience base that keeps them returning again and again? And how do you maintain this relationship? Most nonprofit public-facing organizations, such as museums and galleries, depend on a membership model populated with passionate subscribers, invested in helping your organization thrive, while reaping the benefits you offer. 

In this article, you’ll find tips and tricks to building your own membership model, or making the model you may already have in place even more successful. 

What is a Membership Model?

At its most basic, a membership model is a revenue generation strategy whereby customers or subscribers pay regular dues in order to receive benefits from the organization in question. Examples of membership-based business models include:

  • Commercial businesses, such as Costco, etc.
  • Clubs, including gyms, golf associations, etc.
  • Professional cooperatives, unions, etc.
  • Nonprofits, including museums, foundations, etc.

Typically, nonprofit organizations offer tiered membership options at different price points to create accessibility and reach as wide an audience as possible. 

As an example, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art offers memberships which range from a $120 annual fee, to upwards of $100,000. Benefits at the first tier include unlimited visits to the museum’s exhibits, special events, and store discounts. At the higher end, members receive VIP entrance to art fairs, curator-guided tours of special exhibits, international trip invitations, and a host of other incredible advantages. 

A formal membership model most effectively contributes to the success of a business if implemented early-on. While yours might not be as extraordinary as SFMOMA, the establishment of an organized and accessible membership model will help your business thrive for years to come. 

The Benefits of a Membership Based Nonprofit Model

From the success of your organization, to the health and wellness of the community in which it sits, membership models come with a host of perks. 

  • Reliable income – The finances of your organization become relatively predictable and steady, as members pay annual or monthly dues.
  • Decreased costs of marketing – You don’t have to keep selling your organization to members who have already subscribed. Your members already love what you offer. That’s why they’re here! This means you can save your big marketing expenses for campaigns aimed at new and potential members.
  • Membership dataYour audience will tell you what they like, and what they don’t like. A membership model allows you to analyze and understand the needs and wants of your audience based on which events they’re coming to, what subject lines grab their attention, etc. This allows you to adjust your benefits to meet the exact requirements of your base, attracting new members while cutting costs. 

The Challenges of a Membership Based Nonprofit Model

The reliability of a membership model comes at cost: keeping the attention of your audience. 

Your organization needs to remain relevant, interesting, entertaining — this means a lot of work for your and your team. Membership based nonprofits must create and maintain enough value that its members will not only join, but renew their subscriptions every year. 

The idea of your organization and its causes may be enough to attract an initial membership base, but without ongoing and renewed benefits offered, it will never be enough to keep it. 

With research, patience, resilience, and money, your organization can found a successful strategy for creating value which attracts hundreds of new members each year, and maintains a healthy pool of subscribers. We’ll talk more about how to do this in the next section. 

4 Steps to Creating a Successful Membership Model

Know Thyself.

How do you expect to create value for your audience if you don’t know what your value is? Before you can move forward in creating a membership model for your organization, you must have a fluent understanding of what it is you do, and how best to go about doing it.

Some questions to ask yourself: what are the goals, visions, and mission of your organization? What membership model makes the most sense for this organization? What is our brand, and how do we maintain and communicate this? Begin by answering these asks, and go from there.

Coordinate with your Stakeholders.

Once you know who you are, you need to know what your audience wants. One thing you should identify in the initial stages of getting to know your organization is your target audience. What do they need? What are their values? How can you match their values with those of your company?

One strategy might be to survey your current stakeholders — audience, employees, volunteers, etc. — to see where you’re showing up, and where you’re falling flat. You can then adjust your design to meet their needs. Or, you might decide it’s time to find a new target audience.

Be Transparent.

Your members shouldn’t have to guess what they’re getting out of their subscription to your organization. There is little motivation to join an exclusive membership if one doesn’t have a clear picture of what one is receiving for joining. And there is no incentive to buy into upper tiers if the difference between a $20 subscription and a $200 subscription are not spelled out.

Perhaps the free memberships get invitations to special events ahead of time; the lower tiered memberships have unlimited access and free entry to special events, the upper tiered memberships have VIP entrance to all special events, as well as exclusive and private access. Audiences should know exactly what you offer, and how their membership will be of mutual benefit to both of you — so make this clear from the very beginning.

Keep it Up.

Your membership base is a living, breathing, changing thing, and it’s the responsibility of your organization to feed and care for it. Stagnation spells death for nonprofits, so researching, evaluating, and meeting the needs of your audience on an ongoing basis is critical.

  • Remain relevant — your organization should maintain a gleaming and user-friendly website, and keep up with technological advances. If you don’t, you risk losing your younger members.
  • Remind your members of your value — don’t let them forget why they’re subscribed to your benefits; keep them up-to-date on new events, changes in policy, and newly available assets.
  • Get creative with marketing strategies — untried methods of reaching out to potential members can yield some of the most exciting results. You won’t know until you try.
  • Evaluate constantly — what’s working? What’s failing? What are your audience members asking for? Keeping your finger on the pulse of your organization will help you maintain a solid strategy while also remaining flexible.

Final Thoughts: Guide to Setting Up a Membership Model

Done right, a membership model can help your organization to thrive. To make your job a little easier, ACME offers a ticketing and membership solution that is modern, flexible, and easy-to-use. To find out more, visit our website at

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