Without a doubt, there's one question that every single nonprofit faces. "How do we keep our members happy?"
Of course, there are a bunch of related questions. Questions like:
- How do we get new members to sign up?
- How do we deliver value to the members we have?
- How can we charge members enough to keep the lights on?
If you're involved in leading a nonprofit, you know these questions all too well. And whether you feel like you’ve got a handle on them, or whether you’re trying to play whack-a-mole with every single membership problem that arises, you need to keep your members happy.
Really, there are some clear and well-known elements of a successful nonprofit membership program. The thriving nonprofits all do some of the same things, while the struggling ones are missing these things.
In this article, we'll talk about 14 things that make great nonprofit membership programs. Many of these aren’t difficult, and you can implement them this week. But get these right, and watch as your membership grows and thrives.
If you want more support in building your online community, come join OUR Mighty Community for free and meet other new and established community owners! We’d love to meet you. Join for free!
In this article…
1. Big Purpose
One of the mistakes a lot of nonprofits make is forgetting who they are there for. It's especially true if you are compassion driven. There are so many challenges out there, you might feel compelled to try to solve them all or do too much.
That's why, successful membership programs have a Big Purpose. Their leaders know exactly what the program is about, including the Ideal Members - which we'll talk about next.
When designing membership communities, we like to put together a Big Purpose Statement. This statement helps you remember who you are, and what it is that you give your members.
It looks like this:
If you can develop a clear Big Purpose that drives your organization, it will help you filter out some of the noise.
2. Ideal Members
The next mistake some membership organizations make is to think that they want anybody and everybody as members. It's tempting to let anyone with a pulse join or get involved, especially if you are hurting for membership.
But this is actually dangerous. Diluting your members will split your focus, and give you even more people who are unhappy because they were never focused on one common thing in the first place.
Ironically, your organization can grow by saying "no" to some types of members.
The very best way to do this is to have what we call an Ideal Member. This is the exact person who will benefit from your community.
When you are trying to identify this person, don't just think about demographics. Think about their hopes and dreams, where they came from, or what challenges they have.
We have free training on finding your Ideal Member in our Mighty Community.
3. Create community
We believe in a great membership program. But there's a reason we do the work we do here at Mighty Networks. We also believe that tech, used well, can enhance our ability to be happy humans. And one of the things humans have always done is created communities.
Communities of members are spaces where people get value just by showing up. You can combine all the good stuff you offer your members with the fact that they will get friendship out of the deal too.
Yep, one of the things we find the most about online communities is that people come for a perk but stay for the friends.
An amazing membership community built with the best membership site software means that you don't even have to do all the member engagement. In fact, when you lay the groundwork and bring people together, members will help and serve each other! You get to spend less time worrying about whether you are offering your members value, and focus on doing the other stuff you want to do.
4. Choose the right tech
As a follow-up, one of the best partners you will have in building an online community will be your tech solution: powerful membership software for nonprofits.
A good nonprofit membership management solution should give you options to invite people, sell memberships, track who's in and who's out, and look at analytics to see what's working.
And what we've created with Mighty Networks is a powerful, cultural software platform that mixes content, community, courses, and commerce. Mighty's flexible Spaces bring together membership forums, messaging, live events, love streaming, courses, and more, all under your own brand. You can get your own totally branded app if you want. We do that too.
5. An immersive new member experience
What's the most important part of your membership experience? It might actually be the first few hours, days, and weeks.
One of the hardest things about growing your membership is moving those new members from being passive observers to engaged community members. Passive observers will quit. Engaged community members usually don't.
So, your goal is to get your members engaged. And one of the best ways to do this is with an exciting and structured new member experience. Basically, this means customizing your new members' entry into your membership community, with lots of prompts, questions, and opportunities to engage. We've even gamified this into a checklist for new members to go through, that you can customize.
We also have training for new member experiences, free in our Mighty Community.
6. A transformation
We touched on this above with the Big Purpose Statement. But when you are trying to think about the elements of a successful membership program, think transformation. Too many organizations think that serving their numbers means info dumps of emails, handouts, booklets, reports, and anything else they can possibly create.
But actually, one of the best ways to provide value to your members is to help them transform. Think about a transformation you can take your members through. Imagine where they will be a year from now because they bought a membership, or spent some time with your organization.
Will they be better at doing their jobs? Lead happier lives? Have a new skill or have mastered something that matters to them?
Don't provide information, provide transformation.
7. A solid marketing strategy
Most membership organizations need some sort of marketing strategy. But you don't have to overthink this. We talked about some of the basics above. If you know who your Ideal Members are and the Big Purpose of your organization, you're halfway there. You now know exactly what your members want.
The marketing part of the equation is about showing your potential members that your organization is the right place for them to be.
There are a lot of different ways to acquire members. Some organizations love webinars with an upsell, some run ads and build funnels, some host live events, and some count on word-of-mouth advertising from their existing members. None of these things are wrong. What matters is, how do you feel most comfortable reaching potential members? Try that first!
And find what works for you and stick to it. Often, it's better to try one or two membership acquisition channels and focus on doing them really well than to try to do everything.
8. Regular touchpoints
Your members need to hear from you. Probably not every day, but enough to remember that you're there and to feel like a part of your organization. This is one of the reasons we talked about community above. There's nothing like a community for helping people feel connected and engaged.
Plan different ways to have regular touchpoints with your members. It might mean you send out a regular newsletter or email blast weekly or monthly. You might hold a monthly meeting, networking event, or happy hour. Whatever you choose to do that fits your style, make sure you are consistent. A successful membership program isn't built in days and weeks. It's built in months and years of consistently showing up and learning how to serve your members.
9. Live events
Live events, whether virtual or IRL, can be the highlight of a lot of nonprofit membership programs. Getting together with like-minded people is always a great thing.
So whether you want to do a yearly conference or a weekly live stream, find a way to bring the passion and energy of live events to your members. You will see a huge lift in how well your members know each other and the connection they feel to your community.
10. Try quests
This year, we've been seeing some awesome engagement in our Mighty Networks from what we call quests. A quest is when your membership goes on a journey of transformation together. Spread out over a period of time, with lots of touch points and support, and a clear end goal, quests are a great way to help nonprofit membership programs serve their members.
We think about quests as four things:
11. Offer a course
No matter what your nonprofit does, there's a pretty good chance part of your mandate is educating people. From poverty reduction to anti-racism to local business chambers to religious organizations, most nonprofits have something to teach. (Yeah, we know that we mentioned courses under quests. But stay with us here…)
If that's true for your nonprofit, try offering a course. You can host it for free, and just make it a member benefit. Or, you can offer it for sale and help support your expenses. Either way works. Don't forget, if you want you can pre-record it. But a cohort course is also a great way to engage people, and it lets your members ask questions and learn in real-time.
12. Easy membership management
One of the surprising ways that you lose people in a non-profit membership organization is really just that people disappear. It's not that they plan to leave. it's not that they are angry and they quit. Often, life gets in the way and people just forget.
One way to keep your members around long-term, on the technical side, is to make sure that membership management is easy for them. If they have to go and manually re-register every year, for example, chances are people may not make that step. Make member management automatic, with self-serve options and lots of help if they need it.
13. Prompt members who are missing
Life gets in the way sometimes, and often taking the time to check in on members you haven't heard from in a while can go a long way. Checking in with people reminds them that they are valued and part of the community.
You can also use your analytics on your membership software to see who's not logging on and who is. This makes it a bit easier to track.
14. Learning and adapting
Last but not least, keep on learning and adapting. Running a successful nonprofit membership program isn't something that happens overnight. If it was, more nonprofits would be thriving. But if you've taken a look around, you know that a lot are struggling.
One of the things that stymies many nonprofits is the curse of feeling the need to do things the way they've always been done.
Avoid this trap. The best way to run a successful nonprofit with membership will be to keep on learning and adapting. Do more of what works. Leave the stuff that doesn't work behind. And don't be afraid to experiment.
Ready to start?
We hope that walking through these elements of a successful membership program has encouraged you. While it's not always easy, thriving membership organizations are amazing things to be in and run. This means that it's worth it to figure it out.
If you're looking for software to host your own nonprofit membership program, come try Mighty Networks! With comprehensive membership features, built-in forum, a course platform, messaging, live streaming, native events, and more, it's the perfect place to build.
We also build totally custom, white-label apps with Mighty Pro. So if you want your own membership app in the Google Play and Apple store, schedule a call with us! Otherwise, you can try Mighty Networks free for 14 days, no credit card required.