This dynamic is probably the easiest way to understand the distinction between yesteryear’s donor and the modern donor. A generation ago, people just wrote checks. Today, they want to be members of your organization (even if they wouldn’t put it that way themselves).

One of the things we routinely help our clients do is build membership program or giving clubs. They require extra work and maintenance, but they are unimaginably better for donor retention. Members (as opposed to just donors) talk you up to other people, volunteer, give in much higher amounts, and stick around. Here are a few things we look for in a good membership program:

(1) A brand and exclusivity

What is this club you’re asking people to join? It should be simple, memorable, and compelling—not just “The John Doe Organization Membership Club.” It should feel special, and people should feel special when they’re in it, because they are a part of something wonderful. People who can’t join should wish they could—and figure out who those latter people are and find other ways to get them in the pipeline or get them involved!

We had a dedicated supporter of a client who always came to their events, always talked them up on social media and helped drive support, but couldn’t give much money herself—so I invited her to a very special members-only event as a thank-you to let her know we noticed.

(2) A mission

See above! Why are people joining? Is it just to give you money? Or does their membership actually help you do something important (or even let them have a hand in it)?

Art museums have been doing memberships like this for ages. Take a page out of their book. People don’t really join clubs any more—unless the club has a cause.

(3) Members-only benefits, events, and access

One of the most significant things you can do through a membership program is make them a part of what you’re doing. Some thank-you events are appropriate; and some smaller-group opportunities to hobnob with staff (or even “celebrities” in your field) are important. If you’re a national organization or have thousands of members, employing regional chapters and the power of technology (e.g. a group videochat with the CEO) can allow you to do this at scale. Bottom line: if I’m a member, I should feel like I have the inside scoop; like I really am a part of this. By segmenting and creating opportunities for people to engage with you in batches, you’d be surprised how easy it is for a ton of your members to get face time with your team. And keep using your creativity to find ways to show them you appreciate them.

A next-gen CRM is crucial here so that you can keep track of everything—and please do not invest in a new CRM without talking to us; nearly all of them overpromise and underdeliver.

(4) Public awareness

Do people know who your members are? Find ways to make their membership public so their friends know, and find ways to tell your members’ stories (like on social media) so that everyone knows! On another side of this coin, those members-only opportunities above (if they’re public knowledge) create a constant lineup of possible entry points.

One membership program we’ve created offers seminars and lunches with “celebrities” in the field to their members. They get an average of five new members (with an annual commitment!) with each one (a minimum of $500!). And if there are leftover spots, they sell tickets for the remaining ones, which raises extra money and gives a few non-members a glimpse of why they should join.

(5) A social component

I already alluded to this a couple times, but people give more money and more often when their friends are doing it with them. The success of crowdfunding campaigns illustrates this, but it's actually much more useful in the long run than for those short-term things--because relationships build longevity, drive turnout, lessen pressure on paid staff to be members' entire connection with the organization, and lead to more satisfied donors.

If your members talk about the latest organizational news when they get together on their own, when they're bringing in more members because they want their friends to share their experience, when new initiatives are being born out of your membership ranks without your having to prompt anything...you're really nailing it.

Get in touch with us to talk about building you a membership program, and other ways we can help you grow.