How to Choose Nonprofit Membership Levels That Inspire Donations

Nonprofits are always looking for ways to encourage recurring donations. Many organizations solve that problem with membership programs. Before developing your membership program, you must define your goals and what you can offer in exchange for a donor’s membership.  You will have an easier time creating names for each level and finding ways to encourage…

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How to Choose Nonprofit Membership Levels That Inspire Donations

Nonprofits are always looking for ways to encourage recurring donations. Many organizations solve that problem with membership programs.

Before developing your membership program, you must define your goals and what you can offer in exchange for a donor’s membership.  You will have an easier time creating names for each level and finding ways to encourage memberships with your donor base once these details are finalized.

In this article, we discuss different types of membership levels and how they can help encourage more and larger donations. Let’s take a look at the contents of this blog –

  1. What is a Membership Program
  2. Nonprofit Membership Levels
  3. How to Choose Membership Levels
  4. How to Use Membership Levels to Inspire More Donations

What is a Membership Program?

A membership program may be the perfect option for your nonprofit if you have a tangible benefit to offer people in exchange for their donations. Some nonprofit organizations, like the YMCA, have an obvious need for membership programs. Others may have to look for unique and creative ways to encourage donors to become members.

Membership programs are beneficial to nonprofits because the funds from these programs can be added to an organization’s budget and counted on when creating an annual strategic plan. That does not mean an organization can be lazy about keeping these members engaged. Just because a member has given their yearly or monthly gift does not mean you should ignore them.

A membership program creates more engagement with your donors. Instead of asking for a donation out of the blue, your organization will continually communicate with these members. Often, nonprofits will send a newsletter to all members, keeping them aware of what is going on with the organization. This regular contact keeps your organization in their minds as they go about their day-to-day lives.

Membership programs should be tailored to your organization’s needs. If your only goal is to raise more money, you must keep that in mind when building your membership levels. What will encourage members to upgrade their membership? Why do people want to become members in the first place? If your goal with a membership plan is to create more advocates for your mission, you will need to develop a different type of membership program. To learn more about how to run a successful nonprofit membership program, visit our blog post on the subject.

Nonprofit Membership Levels

Membership levels can be usually broken down into two types: a single membership level or multiple membership levels.

1. Single Membership Level

A single membership level, often used with Home Owner Associations (HOAs), is used to build a community or advocate for the cause. Members pay their annual dues and are encouraged to take part in HOA activities and attend board meetings. They also benefit from perks like outdoor gardening services and community pool access.

Other single membership level organizations focus on creating solid advocates for their mission. This type of organization will focus on their donors’ passion for the cause and encourage them through activism ideas. An excellent example of this type of membership program is below:

2. Multiple Membership Levels

Nonprofit and for-profit companies use multiple Membership Levels to encourage more involvement from donors and customers. There are a few different types of multiple membership levels broken down by how they are split and promoted.

2.1 Tiered by benefits

The first example of a multiple membership level program is one tiered by its benefits to members. You may recognize this type of membership program from online service companies. Membership benefits and the cost increase as you rise up the levels. The hope of these types of programs is that as the consumer or donor learns more about the organization, they will want more perks and rise up the membership levels. Many for-profit companies start by offering free membership to consumers to give them a taste of what they could have. Depending on what your organization has to offer members, this may be a great way to encourage membership and long-term engagement.

The Korean American Coalition is a great example of a nonprofit that uses the tiered benefit membership levels to increase donor engagement.

2.2 Tiered by category or group

Membership levels tiered by category or group type offer targeted benefits for different kinds of people. These organizations may have a few large donor groups who are interested in their organization for various reasons. Nonprofits that use this type of multiple membership level program understand that a one size fits all program will not work. If your organization has a donor base that includes individuals, families, and businesses, you may want to look into this type of membership level program.

Check how Casa del Herrero seeks support from their community through different membership levels tiered by categories – Forger’s Guild, Blacksmith’s Guild, etc. All levels have their benefits included along with the corresponding membership fees.

Pro tip: You can include bulk membership levels and offer discounted rates for large groups of people joining at the same time. After-an-event can be the best time to offer discounts like this to families or businesses.

2.3 Tiered by billing cycle

Finally, organizations that do not have many different benefits but still want to develop a multiple membership level program can offer different levels based on when donors give. This type of membership program can be split into monthly, quarterly, and annual memberships. Give discounts for annual and quarterly memberships to encourage long-term engagement. The goal of these memberships is to keep members from quitting in the middle of the year.

Kruzn for a Kure Foundation has created 2 separate forms on their membership page to facilitate one-time donation as well as a monthly membership program. Their donors are provided with donor accounts that also make it easy for them to customize their plans. Similarly, nonprofits can create quarterly/ yearly membership forms to tier their membership by many billing cycles.

How to Choose Membership Levels

When creating a membership program, it is essential to target it to your organization’s donors and goals. The first step is to track your current members or recurring donors. See what appeals to them and when they are inclined to give. Researching how your existing donor base has reacted in the past will give you an informed idea of what will work in the future.

Once you have a good idea of what catches your donors’ eyes, you can choose the type of levels, names, and costs involved in your membership program. Remember to always make it seem like a win-win to your donors. If you’re always talking about donations and your cause, people would be less likely to sign up for membership.

Here are a few simple tips for creating and maintaining membership levels that work –

  1. Create levels that provide a valuable experience to your donors/members. It could be anything from the ability to spend time with the beneficiaries to inside news to member-only events or dinners, etc.
  2. Look for ways to make members feel recognized, at every level. Use a virtual donor wall, take members’ feedback on a regular basis, thank them publicly during events, invite them over to the ground to see the impact themselves.
  3. Offer discounts on membership fees, shopping coupons from neighborhood stores, or other special benefits to encourage people to opt for higher tiers.
  4. Let donors pick their own benefits and pay a fee for the perks they choose. That way you can engage them in the membership process and increase transparency.
  5. Give members a welcome kit at each level of membership. Make the contents branded and close to your mission. Simple items like branded goodies, your brochure, some coupons, free entry tickets to your events, etc will do.

Donorbox helps nonprofits of all sizes create customized online membership forms. You can add a membership form with your organization’s unique branding, set donation amounts, and titles for each level in only minutes.

How to Use Membership Levels to Inspire More Donations

Memberships are an excellent way to add dependable income to your annual budget, but it does not mean you can ignore these donors once they have joined. A membership program is a way to encourage more involvement. You can urge members to rise up the membership levels or become volunteers and advocates for your organization. There are several ways you can do this.

1. Market Your Membership Program

The first step to building your membership program is by enticing more membership. You can do this by marketing your program and its benefits whenever possible. An easy way to do this is to add an option to become a member with every solicitation you send out. Ask your donors, volunteers, and event attendees to become members of your nonprofit every chance you can get.

You should not be the only ones to appeal to these members. Use your board and volunteers as advocates for this type of solicitation. They will likely have a better response anyway since it is not coming directly from the organization.

Another way to encourage membership is with testimonials from other members. Organizations like Kruzn for a Kure include a page on their website with personal testimonials from their members to share why they decided to become members and what it means to them.

2. Offer Member-only Events

Who doesn’t want to feel like a VIP? Offer the chance for members to be one of the only people to attend a special event or hear a speaker. This can excite donors and entice them to join your membership program.

Some members attracted to this type of benefit may also want to be involved in the decision-making process for your organization. You can give these members access to restricted sites at your location and set up meetings with your board chairperson or executive director. Offer these benefits only to your top-level members. The goal is to turn these members into major donors or planned giving donors.

3. Publicize Members

Donors love to be thanked for their gifts. A thank-you makes people feel special and appreciated. It also has the extra benefit of encouraging more donations. Posting the names of your organization’s members in your monthly newsletter or on your donor wall will give donors that public appreciation they desire.

4. Offer Discounts on Memberships

In some locations, the YMCA has been very successful growing its membership program by offering discounts to new members and the members that bring them in. YMCA gives a 20% discount for a year to both. Other organizations provide free memberships to entice donors to try out the membership program before officially signing up. People love a deal, so nonprofits who use this type of appeal may see a quick rise in their membership programs. Remember that if you are not offering a reason for members to stay, they will quickly regret their membership and potentially be turned off of your organization entirely.

5. Provide Perks Close to Your Mission

Donors or people who convert into members are not only doing so for the benefit. They’re emotionally attached to your cause in the first place. So when you give them perks that are close to it, members feel included in your mission. That’s highly likely to inspire more donations.

For example, a fun day spent with marginalized children or a chance to come and visit animals at your shelter. Or the ability to serve food to people themselves. Or anything aligned with your mission. Make it enjoyable for both your members and beneficiaries. A day spent happily while also witnessing the impact will elicit a long-lasting impression from members.

It’s easy – just remember what your members are with you for. You have to make them feel valued and benefited every step of the way. Thus, your donations will also increase.


Membership programs can be an excellent way to encourage long-time involvement with your organization. Your nonprofit’s members are likely your most active and passionate donors.  Convince them to give more, volunteer, and advocate for your organization. As a nonprofit fundraiser, it is your job to create a membership program that works best for the organization and your donor base.

Donorbox offers new fundraising tips and resources for nonprofits every week. If you are interested in learning more about our services, visit our website for more information.

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Kristine Ensor is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience working with local and international nonprofits. As a nonprofit professional she has specialized in fundraising, marketing, event planning, volunteer management, and board development.

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