What does being a member of a nonprofit mean?

Membership is very loosely defined in the dictionary as being part of a group. If you have a condition that others have, does that make you a member of the group? Do you have to actively make a choice to join a group? If you have a nonprofit organization, do you want members? Do you need a nonprofit membership? What is the difference between members and followers, or friends on a site such as facebook?

Membership implies a Shared Interest:

For most nonprofit organizations there is a distinct mission and goal, whether it is the environment or education or heath issues. Members share those goals, so technically, those who have those common interests are in fact members of a group. How organized and official is your membership? Does your organization need to show numbers of members to interested parties such as donors or advocates?

What do you expect your membership to do? Are they expected to participate, be active, volunteer, or are they more passive? What is the difference between a member of a nonprofit organization and a follower?

Acquiring and Keeping Nonprofit Members:

This is a challenging question for many nonprofits as time, energy and resources are needed to grow and maintain a membership base. There must be perceived value for making the choice to become a member for both the organization and the member. Benefits, premiums, special access to resources and events make a paid membership attractive; however if what you offer is more open in the exchange of opportunities, then perhaps a structured membership will not serve you best.

For the effort it requires to engage someone and intrigue them enough to pay a membership fee, it is also important to realize that those members must be maintained over time. Acquiring a member is one thing, keeping them is another. Significant effort must go into keeping the interest and support to those who have supported you with timely communications, involvement opportunities and recognition. Without care and feeding of members, nonprofit membership organization may find themselves having to develop a membership Ponzi scheme, always looking for new members to replace the previous ones.

Have a True Definition of Nonprofit Membership:

Take the time to determine if a paid membership is necessary for your mission and goal; and if so, plan with the idea of what is will require to attract and keep members. However, it may not serve to have paid requirement if the ongoing and routine membership communications can’t be provided at more than a basic level- followers may be just fine for you.

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