August 2020 – Lauriane Lebrun, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Does your nonprofit have a dues-based membership program?  If not, you may want to consider it.  As Allison Gauss of Classy explains, a paid membership program “brings stability and reliable income to an organization.  With the uncertain nature of grants, sponsorships, and one-time individual gifts, many nonprofits are forced to operate without knowing how much revenue they will have three months, six months, or a year from now.”  When you have a reliable budget to work with, it’s much easier to invest in growing your programs, providing member benefits such as conferences and networking events, and generally doing more to fulfill your organization’s mission.

Taking the first steps to set up a membership dues program can be daunting, though.  If you already have a free membership program in place, you’ll likely have fewer decisions to make to get started, but there’s still plenty to consider.  Below is a checklist we used recently to help a client through this process.

Checklist for Setting Up a Dues-Based Membership Program

Initial Decisions:

  • Decide on membership levels and the criteria for each level
  • Decide on dues pricing and billing cycle options for each level
  • Decide on associated benefits relative to each level
  • Decide on member management software or alternative plan to manage membership data
  • Determine how membership applications will be submitted (online, by mail, etc.)
  • Determine what questions will be asked on the membership application
  • Determine membership approval process
    • Can members receive benefits right away, or do they need board approval first?
    • What are the requirements for approval?
    • Determine how new member data will be compiled for the board to review at meetings, if applicable
  • Decide whether or not automatic recurring payments should be required for membership
  • Determine renewal process / timeline – when will notices go out, etc.
  • Decide how renewals will be acknowledged (emails, packets, etc.)

Set Up:

  • Create membership benefits flyer and/or list for website
  • Sign up for membership management software or set up membership database
  • Create online and/or PDF versions of membership application
  • If automatic recurring payments will be required or utilized as an option: Create a recurring payment authorization form
  • Write copy for and set up automated renewal notices, if applicable
  • Write copy for and set up automated welcome/new member notices, if applicable
  • Prepare contents of welcome packets, if applicable

Follow Up:

  • Decide on membership termination criteria and process
    • How many days past due until a membership comes up for termination?
    • Will terminations be automated or at the discretion of the board?
    • How will terminated members be notified (letters, emails, etc.)?
  • Write copy for and set up automated termination notices, if applicable
  • Prepare contents of renewal packets, if applicable

In addition to all of the above, you’ll also need to figure out how to entice new members to join, how to welcome them when they do sign up, and how to keep them renewing year after year.  It’s a huge project, but one that can be mutually beneficial to both your organization and your supporters once you get it off the ground. 

For more tips and advice, check out the Recommended Reading section below or click here to get in touch with Lexian.

Recommended Reading:

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