Evolve to a better Membership

We often get asked by membership based organisations to review, establish or evolve their memberships...

We often get asked by membership based organisations to review, establish or evolve their memberships. By making memberships easier to understand and purchase you can increase your revenue and decrease the stress on your volunteers or administrators. So let’s go through some evaluation steps:

  1. Review why you have memberships
  2. Review why you have the structures of memberships
  3. Review and calculate the true cost of the membership
  4. Adjust your memberships to ease the burden on your volunteers, your members and get more money to your organisation
  5. Flexible and Simple

So let’s do this 👊

Review Memberships

Your organisation has memberships for a purpose. Probably to cover the costs of running communal events or activities. Ensure you calculate all of the costs involved with running the events — including your own sanity and the sanity of the volunteers around you. There is a price for you losing it!

Membership Structures

Often they’re an already established group so we ask how they arrived at their current setup. We find a huge number of variations

  • Annual memberships (beeeautiful and easy to handle👌)
  • Quarterly memberships (~25% as nice)
  • Rolling memberships (they start when the person pays)

These are somewhat easy to handle, we then move to the second tier in difficulty rating

  • Approval required before payment accepted — ugly for all parties involved, there is governance overhead, embezzlement issues if money is being taken up front (actually illegal in some countries 😳).
  • Initial administration fee for new members. Understood when there was paper based systems and physical cards involved. But the interweb usually unravels this argument quickly.
  • Membership fees based on questions answered. This is like choose your own adventure for how much you will be charged. It can be a very poor experience for the potential member as they end up at the checkout with a sour taste in their mouth.

There are a bunch of others, but you get the gist of it.

The true cost of a Membership

There are the obvious things to take into account. What will your market pay, what events do you want to run, what facilities or utilities do you want to leverage, what insurance do you need to pay. There is however something that is rarely spoken about, barely considered but the impact of not allowing for it can destroy organisations.

What is the current amount of administration time being spent on any of your memberships? With the average (debatable) value of a volunteer hour being ~$30. It becomes quite easy to start to understand if a complex membership is worth not only your time as the administrator, but also if it is worth the hassle as the potential member. There are so many other options for a member to undertake you need to be making it as easy as possible for them to signup and pay you. 🧐

The $30 per volunteer hour allows for a variety of things but you should also include costs involved in losing a great volunteer and time spent attracting and then teaching new ones — considerations rarely thought about.

Always look to adjust

So the first steps towards rolling over your memberships is to first reflect on the costs, the market and then simplify them. The 80:20 rule is as true about memberships as it is with other parts of your life. For the 2% of your members that have a gripe with it you can manually handle them — you now have an economic formula that you can use to work out the true cost of this 2%.

How many hours will you spend administrating the membership? This usually involves:


• Talking to the member
• Getting the cash/cheque/direct deposit from them.
• Walking it to the bank/reconciling it.
• Communicating to the member it’s success/failure.
• Repeating every x months.

2 hours x every 6 months x member
= $120 per member of volunteer time per annum.

I look to this type of thinking when government and organisations complain about not being able to to retain and attract new volunteers. Think holistically about how they are getting burned out.

Flexibility and Simplicity

Look to offer the most simple, straight forward ways for people to get in, purchase their membership and get out. The less you have to bother them throughout a year the better for all parties.

Do not get pulled back by legacy ‘but this is the way we have always done it’. This type of rhetoric is not helpful. Your organisation is competing for hearts and minds (and wallets) for members. They have an abundance of options for spending their time elsewhere like never before. Make it easier for them and your volunteers, it will also make it easier for you to administrate 👌


Isaak Dury
Nov 17, 2017 • 4 min read
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