What is a Membership Model?


A membership model is a type of business plan where individuals pay a recurring fee to access the value an organization creates. It provides the design for different membership levels, revenue sources, marketing activities, events and conferences, and finances.

Some examples of organizations that use a membership model include:

  • Clubs (swim club, tennis club, gym club, etc.)
  • Professional Associations (writing association, engineering association, nursing association, etc.)
  • Nonprofits (foundations, churches, charities, etc.)
  • Businesses (online courses, Costco, Amazon Prime, etc.)

The top membership organizations often attribute their success to formalizing a membership model early on. If you haven’t created one for your organization yet, the sooner you do, the sooner you may realize:

  • Increased membership
  • Increased member engagement
  • Increased member retainment
  • Increased event attendance
  • A higher percentage of on-time dues payment
  • High revenue growth

In this guide, I’ve pulled together a detailed overview of how to create a model that best fits your organization. But, just like any management practice, if you don’t formalize, standardize, and commit to a set of procedures, you will end up with disorganization, no way of measuring progress, and no way of scaling growth.

If you’re unsure whether a membership model is right for your organization, below are some benefits of using one.

Membership Applications

Simplify the member application process:

Full Stack Zone membership management software fully automates the application process to help give your new members a great first impression. Cut out complicated paperwork by creating a  web-based, mobile-friendly  form  where applicants can provide all the information you  need and  pay online by credit card.

You can customize your member application form with multiple membership levels, discount codes and required administrator approval, and set up automated emails to welcome new members as soon as their application is approved. You can also offer group memberships for families, teams, and companies, allowing group administrators to manage their own members within your larger member base.


Membership Renewals

Automate your member renewals:

Chasing down people to renew their memberships can be frustrating and time-consuming. With Xyz, you can  automate renewal reminders and invoices and make your members’ lives easier with recurring payments for membership.

Cut down your administrative work by offering self-service options to members: they can renew their own membership on the spot by logging in to their profile. They can also securely update their own contact information, register for events and pay membership dues on their computer or from their mobile device.


Online Member Database

Share and update member data in real-time:

If you find yourself emailing membership lists back and forth with your team, Xyz could save you hours each week by storing your membership information in the cloud.  Volunteers and board members can access the same database online, and updates to your member records happen immediately, so  your  data is always up  to  date.

Getting started is simple: you can import your member information from a spreadsheet, customize the database to suit your needs, and you're ready to go!

Members-Only Pages

Engage members with exclusive content:

You can build member engagement by offering access to  exclusive member-only web pages, such as networking forums and specialized blogs. You can also customize which member levels or groups you want to access each page.


Membership Directory

Set up searchable online member directories:

Help your members connect with each other or the general public by using multiple member directories that are always up to date.

Whether you create a public directory of your members’  businesses, or build a directory only your members can see, you can control which information each directory shows. And whether your website is built in Xyz or another platform, you can easily embed mobile-friendly member directories on your website.

Membership Widgets

Embed membership functions on your website:

Add Full Tack Zone membership features to your website, no matter which website builder you use.

You can create a new website with our drag-and-drop builder, or add membership features to your existing website by embedding membership application forms, directories and event listings as widgets. These widgets stay connected to your Full Stack Zone database, so you can be sure the information is kept up to date automatically.



Benefits of Using a Membership Model

Below are some of the benefits when using a membership model:

  • Stable Cash Flow: Because members pay monthly dues, it’s fairly simple to calculate and forecast cash flow.
  • Lower Marketing Costs: Once you gain a new member, you don’t have to spend more money marketing to them again. This is the opposite of a product-driven business model, where you must keep advertising your products to the same market in order to sell them..
  • Lower Costs of Business: Since the value you create can be scaled for all members (networking events, online resources, etc.), your costs of producing products/services are lower than other types of business models.
  • Fast, Direct Feedback from Members: If your membership services are off, it’s easy to tell. Members will stop coming to events, stop visiting your website, and stop reading your emails. Plus members are more likely to share feedback with you, because it’s in their interest to keep the organization providing high value, especially for professional associations, since networking opportunities, certification, and education may may be tied to their career.
  • The Ability to Change a Community: I’ve seen many membership managers provide high-value resources (workshops, events, certification, etc.) to thousands of members, essentially uplifting a whole community of like-minded individuals. This is on top of all the networking opportunities exchanged through members.
  • Access to Exclusive Data: Organizations that build a community are able to track member behavior — which events they’re interested in, how often they open emails, etc. Understanding this data presents an opportunity to fine-tune your membership model to gain more members, reduce costs, and increase member retention.
  • Additional Revenue Opportunities: On top of member dues, members can also be sold merchandise (like hats and shirts), and will pay for events. If you have enough members, you can also gain sponsorship from companies wishing to advertise to your members.

While the above benefits are good for an organization, membership models also create an easy way to increase member happiness by catering to their exact needs, more of this is explained below.



Keep your members’ data safe, and let them know what you do to protect their data.

As your association grows and collects personal information about your members, you can’t afford to protect your member data. To protect your member data and reduce risk, we recommend considering membership software with the following qualities:

  • Transparency – Your membership software should provide you with insight, information, and documentation into its system performance and security to promote your trust and confidence in its service.
  • Best practices for data security – To prevent unauthorized access, your AMS should support data security best practices, including two-factor authentication, login IP ranges, adjustable session timeout thresholds, custom domains, and the latest authentication and encryption protocol Transport Layer Security (TLS) for browser encryption.
  • Comprehensive user permissions – Your system should allow only your organization to access its data and allow your administrator to restrict access so that your employees can view and edit only the data they should be able to access in the system, depending on their role with your organization.
  • Data recovery – To safeguard your data, your membership software should protect your data from simple data storage errors, catastrophic failures, and everything in between. Also, your system should not hold your data hostage: you should be able to export your organization’s data when you need it.
  • Compliance – The most secure technology providers maintain compliance certifications and attestations to validate their security. It helps to start with good governance.

Consider Membership Benefits

Consider the member benefits you offer to your nonprofit members.

 Show your members some gratitude by:

  • Offering members-only newsletters and discounted subscriptions to your publications.
  • Providing special access, like early event registration, free raffle tickets, or extended bidding time.
  • Hosting member community-building activities, such as special events or meetings.
  • Giving exclusive discounts to products, services, or event tickets.
  • Presenting members with a physical or digital membership card.

Market Your Membership Program

As a nonprofit, you know that promotion is a central part of moving your mission forward. Likewise, if you hope to attract new members, you’ll need to develop a marketing strategy for your membership program.

With all your marketing efforts, it might be easy to get lost in the membership drive process, but don’t lose sight of the value of your membership program.

Rather than simply selling your supporters a product, you should be inviting your most invested donors into an exclusive, mutually beneficial experience.

As you put together a promotions plan, keep the following tips in mind.

  • Target Audience
  • Choose your target audience wisely, beginning with those donors who would most likely be interested in your programs. Use your software to find donors who regularly volunteer, attend fundraisers, and participate in advocacy.
  • Multiple Channels
  • Use a multi-channel marketing approach to get the word out on all platforms, from direct mail to social media. Begin by advertising the benefits of your new program in your newsletter (and make sure to include a link to sign up!).
  • Membership Application
  • Keep your membership application form simple and straightforward to reduce abandonment midway through. Don’t forget to prominently display your application on your website, in emails, and on social media.

Communicate regularly

Keep communication lines open with regular newsletters, invitations to membership appreciation events, and information on volunteer opportunities. Use your membership management software to send batch communications to specific member lists or interact with members one-on-one.

Does membership software work with other types of software?

Some do. It’s important to check with your membership software provider to see what integrations they offer. XYZ, for example, is a nonprofit CRM that integrates with membership management software like xyz. That means your membership management data will flow seamlessly into your CRM and any other tools you have integrated.

What should I look for in membership management software?

When researching membership management software for your organization, it is important to look for software that is user-friendly. Especially for small nonprofits who are just delving into the automated world of collecting, using, and storing data, you do not want a program that is so complex that those who you put in charge of managing it get overburdened by it.

Find a software system that features an easy-to-navigate dashboard. Employees of your nonprofit, as well as your members, should be able to get into the system and find the information they are looking for with ease. You also want to make sure you are not investing in a software system that has too many bells and whistles for what you will realistically use the software for. A large nonprofit requires a much more complex system than a small nonprofit; you can always upgrade to a more robust system in a few years once your organization grows.