Many groups talk about their ‘members’, but just who, or what, constitutes membership? The dictionary defines a member as a person who is part of a group or company or nation. That is a pretty broad definition and includes many variations.
For your nonprofit, what is a member? Is it someone who has donated to your organization or someone who has visited and left their email address at your site or someone who wants to volunteer? Did someone pay to join you?
Do you charge dues, and if you do, what are the benefits of membership?
A Special Club
Memberships can be a very large nebulous thing, or a very strict and close group. Being a member of the single, exhausted mom club is easy and widespread. Being a member of Yale’s Skull and Bones or the Bohemian club is the opposite, those groups are very secretive and select.
What does membership mean to you and your organization? We may all, or most of us, be members of the human race, but to what other groups do we belong? And how important is being a member of your group? Do you expect anything of your members, for example, for them to access one another and create a community? Are they to donate special funds for certain projects or operating costs? Are they to project advocacy work?
By defining what you wish a member to be to your organization, and then defining what your organization can be to your member, you can more clearly decide how to approach the issue of who becomes a member, how they become a member and what your future together will look like.
As you determine the goals and activities for your nonprofit, you can more clearly decide what kind of group you represent, what your ‘membership’ would look like and how best to maintain and develop that community. Many folks enjoy a sense of belonging and membership, whether more in name than action. If you seek action and activity from your members, recruitment will be different looking than if membership is passively receiving information and notices.
Fee -based memberships imply a specialness and a sense of inclusion to an organization. Your member has chosen to support your work with membership dues and in return will anticipate benefits. What you can make available to all, and what you select for member benefits will also help to build a strong support community for you, with joined members or those coming along for the ride.
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