Nonprofit Membership Programs: 4 Tips To Engage Members

ByGrassroots Unwired

Nonprofit Membership Programs: 4 Tips To Engage Members

When a donor joins your organization’s membership program, they are making a concrete pledge of loyalty and support. These members are in it for the long haul, and they pay recurring dues so they can have access to all the special opportunities, resources, and events that your nonprofit has to offer. Failing to provide these benefits can be a costly error. 

After all, these are your most passionate givers. They play a bigger role in your mission than a regular donor, and so they should be rewarded and engaged accordingly. This not only shows them that you recognize their commitment to the organization, but it also helps to encourage other donors to follow suit and join your membership program. 

We will address the key ways you can enrich the member experience, namely by working to:

  1. Optimize your member communication strategy
  2. Send out a member engagement survey
  3. Provide meaningful opportunities that interest members 
  4. Track your data and learn from it

To keep your members happy, it’s critical to engage them consistently, check in, and offer unique experiences. If you don’t prioritize your engagement plans, then you’re likely to face major member attrition. With a bit of consideration and strategic vision, you can not only avoid these pitfalls but make your own association program more desirable than ever. 

Tip #1: Optimize your member communication strategy

No matter what projects your organization is tackling, you must always find the time to keep in touch with members in a dynamic way. They depend on you for updates and announcements regarding the cause, and you run the risk of decreasing donor retention if your communications are unappealing or falter altogether. 

Take a look at your current communications and email tools to determine if you’re doing all you can to ensure your communications are optimized. Here are a few effective communication strategies to consider:

  • Routine check-ins. Donors are not customers, and your organization is not a bank. Simply checking in to see how members are doing can remind them why they gave in the first place and that your organization’s relationship with them goes far beyond the donation page. 
  • Segmenting donors by interest. This allows you to cater to each demographic in a more specialized manner. Once you start customizing content to resonate with certain segments, you’ll have even more relevant information to work with. You might find that younger members are receptive to one type of message, while another version appeals to older members.
  • Giving preferred communication options. Some donors may prefer fewer emails every week, or a different line of communication entirely. Respect these preferences, and you will be more likely to reduce non-openers by fitting into each individual’s regular communication channels. 
  • Showing ample gratitude. Your appreciation shouldn’t end with the donation receipt. Make the sending of meaningful thank you messages, gifts, and other displays of recognition a regular practice. 
  • Personalized email communications. Donors like to know that they’re more than just a face in the crowd. Addressing supporters by name and showing them that extra edge of recognition will make your donors feel like their gifts are both appreciated and being put to good use. 

While most of your communication methods will likely be virtual, in-person surveys are another way to meaningfully engage with members and collect data. A friendly face continues to be the most effective way to build personal connections with supporters, and mobile platforms have made it possible to effectively survey donors while on the go. 

To a dedicated donor, these simple acts of recognition and acknowledgment could mean the difference between future giving and lapsed membership. Communication is crucial to maintaining these relationships, and by implementing these communication best practices you stand a far better chance of growing your membership rates. 

Tip #2: Send out a member engagement survey

On the topic of communication, it’s not enough to simply be sending attentive messages to your members. They will appreciate the gesture, but you must ensure that this line of communication runs both ways. Identifying procedures to obtain member feedback is a strong strategy to optimize engagement and retain your donors

Surveys are a particularly good way to gain a direct understanding of your members’ needs. Whether it’s delivered through a social media platform, mobile events app, or email marketing tool, send surveys to poll your members. 

Of course, members may not always have the time or patience to complete routine polls. Make the most of their time by sending out polls after significant updates or milestones in their membership. For example, here are a few of the best opportunities with which to include an engagement survey:

  • After events. Whether they be fundraisers or networking events, events are the perfect time to check on attendee reception and collect worthwhile feedback. In the days after an event, ask members what they thought of the activity and things that could be improved. 
  • With membership renewal reminders. As donors consider whether or not they’d like to remain in the program, it’s a great idea to gauge their honest opinions about their experience as members. This constructive criticism is especially helpful if they decide to leave, giving you the chance to improve on your program’s biggest weaknesses. 
  • At the end of the year. The year’s end is a natural time for reflection. As the organization organically transitions into the new year, ask your members to take a moment to reflect on what your organization has offered them. 

No matter how confident you are in your ability to please members and launch engaging events, collecting donor feedback is never a bad idea. Offering a platform for their opinions provides one of the best litmus tests for how members truly feel about their membership. 

Tip #3: Provide meaningful opportunities that interest members

While members are passionate about your nonprofit’s mission, the bottom line is that they will only continue to pay dues if the program is worth more than the cost of entry. A member’s experience should be different than an average donor’s, and allowing them access to special events that celebrate their support helps to ensure that it is continued. 

Interactive program events such as luncheons, galas, and game nights are great ways to give members something fun to look forward to and connect them with one another. This creates a stronger sense of community and encourages retention among these special supporters. 

Unfortunately, these kinds of in-person opportunities are not always possible. This is where some membership programs have struggled the most this past year. As physical events are complicated by the pandemic, how can you provide engaging opportunities for your members?

Fonteva’s guide to going virtual provides a few ingenious ways to combat the challenges of our new situation. For example, rather than canceling a planned activity and losing out on that opportunity for engagement and revenue, transition it to a virtual space and take advantage of the unique benefits of the technology. 

This might mean turning a member lunch into a virtual paint-and-sip, a charity gala into a masquerade-themed online auction, or a bowling night into an interactive game show. It’s simply a matter of finding the right event platform to accommodate your needs and exercising a bit of creativity. 

Other opportunities for member engagement, both on and off the internet, could include:

  • Unique learning experiences and resources. Providing entry to special lectures, reading series, and other enrichment activities to stimulate personal learning are all great ways to incentivize member participation. 
  • Special committees. Members are passionate about your cause, and they likely have a lot to say about new ways that you could spread your message. Foster groups that allow members to take a larger role in project development and planning. 
  • Networking opportunities. Again, give members the chance to meet one another and forge their own connections within the program. The more personally connected they are to each other and the organization, the less likely they are to leave. 

Considering the recent struggles we’ve faced as a global community, it’s more important than ever to engage members with resources. Show your supporters that you are not only still thinking of them, but that you are prepared to face any challenge with bold, dynamic, and entertaining solutions.

Tip #4: Track your data and learn from it

Now that you’ve thoroughly integrated the experiences and responses of your members, it’s time to consider a far subtler kind of feedback. Data tracking is one of the most effective tools to improve overall engagement. The digital activity of your members speaks volumes about what events and content are truly performing well. 

You may be asking yourself, “when should I be tracking data?” The simple answer is always. Your membership platform should be constantly, actively collecting data, allowing you to analyze both short-term activity and broader trends in long-term member engagement. 

Now the question becomes “what kind of data is most relevant to organizational development?” Your best strategy is to follow key performance indicators (KPIs) across all your major platforms to gain insight from membership program data. 

KPIs are strategic business metrics that your association can set to measure your progress towards specific, quantifiable goals. A number of major KPIs to consider would include:

  • Social media engagement. Pay attention to how many followers you lose and gain, the level of post engagement, the number of profile tags or references, and which of your posts get the most attention.
  • Email engagement. The most important metrics here are email open and click-through rates, which members opted to receive your newsletter, and how often members respond to your correspondences.
  • Events. Consider tracking how many people registered, total attendance, how people found out about your event, the type of tickets people have bought, and more.
  • Online gifts secured. Online gifts, how often members give, how much is given, and similar KPIs should be your focus. 
  • Website page views. Be sure to track website visits, page views, and membership platform activity. 

If you notice any of these KPIs change or fall dramatically, then you can better know the improvements you can make to your membership engagement strategy. 

Of course, these metrics may sound confusing or overwhelming, particularly for newer or smaller nonprofits. However, there is an entire market of nonprofit software and services that can affordably and effectively facilitate your entry into data tracking. 


While you should appreciate all of your donors, it’s important to extend a bit of extra gratitude towards those who have gone above and beyond to support your cause. Of course, these devoted supporters are investing in a level of engagement that is sometimes difficult to meet. 

By tracking the pulse point of member opinions, remaining attentive and responsive to their needs, and facing the challenge with insight and originality, your own nonprofit should be well on its way to maintaining an efficient and engaging membership program. 

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