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How to build a strong membership program


THE TAKEAWAY: A membership scheme isn’t a quick fix for any group. Your scheme may take a number of years to break even, let alone make a profit. It should therefore be seen as a long-term investment. As such, your forecasts, plans and budgets should be projected over at least three years.




1. Planning

Your marketing to members must be part of your marketing plan, and your marketing plan must be compatible with your strategic plan. Marketing actions must be relevant, affordable, achievable and measurable. If you fail to plan you’ll probably fail, and even if you do muddle through you’ll never know how you managed it or how you can do it again.

2. Appoint a membership co-ordinator

Pick someone local who knows the terrain and the local networks. If a board member can do it, well and good; if not, consider giving the volunteer co-ordinator a seat on the board. Their area knowledge will help identify targets and a good local reputation will build your credibility.

3. Set, revise and review targets

Don’t do this just once. Targets for memberships should be set every year. Targets can also be multi-layered, looking at different demographics – geographic location, gender and age. If your association has a broad nationwide appeal, consider targets for each federal electorate. Electorates have approximately the same population, so penetration will be easy to benchmark. Look to increase your membership each year.

4. Put membership on the agenda

Include membership growth on the board agenda about four times a year to ensure that the issue isn’t overlooked and that credit is given to the work of whoever’s responsible for it. While other forms of fundraising can fluctuate wildly, a consistent membership base will provide a base amount of dollars that you can count on each year.

5. Set a membership season

If your organisation has a set July-to-June membership period, nominate April and May as the member hunting season (“Duck season!” “Rabbit Season!” “Member Season!”). Get your volunteers to work extra hard on memberships – it’s only for a few weeks, and “14 months for the price of 12” is a good slogan if you’re trying to encourage early sign-ups (if it’s financially feasible).

6. Hold on to old members

A member saved is a member earned. Be sure that you know your retention rate from year to year. If it’s less than 90%, investigate. Get on to lapsed members and ask them their reasons for leaving. Try to boost member services. Cultivate your base.


BOOKS: This checklist was taken from The Complete Community Fundraising Handbook, available for purchase here.