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Building an Effective Membership Model

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

Your organization probably has its tried and true favorites when it comes to fundraising and volunteer opportunities for supporters. But what if there was a way you could maximize engagement among your stakeholders while increasing your revenue? Building an effective membership model can help you do exactly that!

Nonprofits have membership models for many reasons—fostering a community in support of your mission, incentivizing long-term relationships, and increasing donations. Regardless of reason – a membership model can bring a true sense of community to your organization. Your organization is built on a foundation of social impact, and bringing a community along that journey with you amplifies your efforts.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the Membership Cycle. Use this framework to evaluate your nonprofit’s existing membership model, or to build an effective membership model for your organization!

The membership cycle starts with Awareness & Attraction. This is where your existing audience, customers, or potential stakeholders learn more about your organization, the benefits of becoming a member, and how they can become a member. The key here is to make it easy for people to know who you are, what you do, and why becoming a member is right for them.


Offering members-only benefits are a great way to turn supporters into lifelong champions and members of your organization. Make the benefits appealing, easy to understand and easy to use, and importantly, ensure membership fees are in line with the membership benefits.


Your audience is already drawn to your organization by their shared passion for your cause or objectives, so you usually don’t have to convince them why the work you do is important. They already want to help, they just need to know how! Make it easy for potential members to seek out more information and complete registration, and take advantage of multi-channel marketing opportunities like social media, your website, and local community events.


When determining the cost of your membership on a monthly or annual basis, consider the benefits from a members perspective. Do they know what their money is going towards? In addition to covering the costs of your membership benefits, you may allocate additional membership revenue in many different ways: running or boosting a campaign, developing new programs, or supporting your office’s operating expenses just to name a few. Figuring out these objectives beforehand will help you calculate a membership fee that’s both reasonable for potential supporters while still being profitable for your organization.

The second step in the membership cycle is Engagement. At this point, your members should regularly have opportunities to engage with your organization outside of their service benefits, and should be participating in those opportunities.

People inherently love to be part of something “special” and offering your members a sense of exclusivity is key. Here are 10 ways to engage your members that won’t break your budget:

  1. Send out a members-only newsletter offering early access to event registration or exclusive resources and materials not available to non-members.

  2. Add a members forum to your website (or a Facebook or LinkedIN group) and offer exclusive resources and opportunities for connection with each other and your organization.

  3. Host team-building activities to build a sense of camaraderie and community among your members. (If you’re in the Cleveland area, Soul@Work offers incredible programs that will bring you closer together while building the capacity for creative problem-solving!)

  4. Host a well-respected guest speaker related to your field.

  5. Host a workshop on popular personal and professional development topics that would appeal to your membership base.

  6. Create opportunities for your members to showcase their own skills to help other members.

  7. Find opportunities to recognize your members for their commitment and support regularly.

  8. Send your members hand-written cards on their birthday.

  9. Feature a member as a guest speaker or workshop host.

  10. Host an annual event recognizing your members and allow them to bring a guest – creating an opportunity to expand your member community!

Keeping your members might be the most important part of an effective membership cycle. Membership retention is hard, and requires good customer service. Your members should recognize the value in their memberships, and feel personally connected to your organization.

Remember that membership is intended to be beneficial for your organization and its members, so keeping the needs and motives of your members top of mind will help to ensure that your membership program is meeting – and exceeding!- the expectations of its members.

Keep the lines of communication open by keeping your members in the loop with important updates, exclusive offers, and opportunities, and remind your members of your gratitude by recognizing and thanking them for their involvement. It is easier than ever to keep your members updated with automated emails or text messages, but don’t underestimate the power of a handwritten note. Using an intern or a volunteer to hand-write and sign thank you cards for your members can make this more logistically reasonable, and will go a long way in showing your members that you appreciate their involvement and support! Some organizations even have their members write notes to other members thanking them!

The next part of the membership cycle, stemming from retention, is Renewal & Referral. Every time membership renewal comes up, you risk losing members. Your members are confidently and consciously choosing to remain a part of your organization on an annual basis, and they are referring others to be a part of your community!


Make renewal as easy as possible and remember:

  1. If it makes sense, have your memberships auto-renew. You can attach a discount up front for memberships to automatically renew.

  2. Renewal letters should be sent prior to the expiration of the existing membership.

  3. Renewal requests should come immediately after (by mail or in person) a successful membership engagement.

  4. Many organizations send out renewal letters in bulk towards the end of the year, but sending renewal letters out on a rolling schedule based on individual member renewal dates will increase your chances of successful renewals.

  5. Make the decision easy by including a reminder of membership benefits and highlighting successes from the previous year, and keep the process easy for your members by including the links or tools they need to renew instantly.


Receiving prospect referrals from your current supporters can be one of the most powerful ways to bring new members into your membership! When your members build awareness and attraction for your organization – you are tapping into the single most effective awareness building vehicle – word of mouth.

Personal referrals instantly increase the credibility of your organization and the benefits of membership because the information is being delivered to prospects from a trusted source. It is absolutely critical that you follow up with referrals as soon as possible after the referral is made! If your members are also donors to your organization, laying the foundation for a long-term, mutually beneficial and prosperous relationship is much more important than receiving a one-time donation. Consider implementing a donor referral system to structure your efforts, or use a multi-tier membership model to incentivize referrals for your existing members.

The membership cycle is an ongoing process that should be re-evaluated regularly. Building an effective membership model is a great way to construct long-term relationships with existing and potential champions for your organization while encouraging unique and meaningful opportunities and involvement! Download your copy of The Membership Cycle from Sangfroid Strategy today!

Sangfroid Strategy works with organizations to help them learn from where they’ve been, define where they want to go, figure out how to get there, and bring their team on the journey with them!


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