Many nonprofits that rely on attendance for earned income—including zoos, aquariums and museums—generate substantial revenue through their membership programs. Members essentially “pre-pay” for their admission; visit frequently, contributing additional revenue through food and retail sales; and serve as an invested audience that contributes to program and special event ticket sales.

However, many organizations overlook their members during year-end campaigns, assuming that they have different motives for supporting an organization (great benefits!) and are not inclined to provide support beyond their membership dues.

If you are making this assumption, you may be missing out. In addition to providing contributed income, a dynamic membership program can help your organization identify potential donors for mid-level and major gift support, as well as for planned giving purposes. Membership can also represent an individual donor’s entry-level giving.

Over time, and through effective stewardship, many individual members will generously and frequently contribute money to be used toward operating, program, mission and capital needs. As with any donor solicitation plan, be thoughtful about how you communicate your needs to members and how you ask for their support.

If you’ve already begun your year-end campaign and have not included members in your solicitation plans, there’s still time. Consider testing a portion of your membership base that includes:

    • Long-term members: Look at members who have been on your file for more than three to five years, regardless of their past giving and current giving capacity. These members are invested in your organization and are your best prospects not only for year-end giving, but also for cultivating additional gifts throughout the year.
    • New members: Let members know right from the start that your organization relies on individual support to succeed and that members, as part of your organization’s “inner circle” or “family,” will always have the opportunity to contribute to your mission and good work.

Membership programs are critically important to your nonprofit’s ability to serve the community and fulfill its mission. Your member communications should be frequent and should include messages that educate members about your mission, status and goals as a means to cultivate their support in more ways than one.