Difference Between a Membership and a Subscription

Have you considered membership sites for nonprofits?

Starting a membership site is the perfect opportunity for nonprofit organizations that want to build a base of loyal supporters. Membership websites are the catalysts that draw in supporters that help fund, plan, and organize the yearly operations of successful nonprofits.

What’s best, a membership site provides your nonprofit with a no-strings-attached way to build a healthy annual income that you can count on year in and year out.

In theory and in practice, a membership site is simple: The program gives people an opportunity to contribute something (usually money) to an organization. In return, they become officially affiliated with the organization for as long as they remain a member.

Membership fees for nonprofits are normally paid on an annual basis, though monthly memberships are common as well.

In most cases, paying members will receive certain privileges, benefits, or added advantages over non-members. In other words, becoming a paying member of your nonprofit membership site will give them “insider” status.

Starting a membership website can help breathe new life into your nonprofit by:

  • Providing you with a stable and predictable source of revenue
  • Helping members more fully identify with your organization. This strengthens their advocacy and support of what you’re doing
  • Establishing authority and credibility with stakeholders and nonprofit funders

Even better, every time you gain a new member, the cost of renewing them drastically decreases. This is a much better way to raise money than trying to appeal to one-time donors.

So how exactly do you start a membership site for your nonprofit?

Let’s take a look.

Is Patreon the Best Way To Run a Membership Site for Nonprofits?

From its early days in 2013, Patreon appealed to nonprofit trustees because it presented a way to build a substantial revenue stream by allowing individuals to become paying members.

Successful nonprofits that jumped on Patreon’s popularity quickly realized that the best way to get new members was to give them insider status and exclusive information that only paying members had access to.

And it worked.

Today, Patreon still promises nonprofits:

  • A way to grow a nonprofit community in a sustainable way
  • A way to earn monthly pledges that allow you to know how much revenue you’ll be bringing in each month
  • An opportunity to better engage with the supporters that matter to you the most

The problem has always been that, by relying on Patreon for membership income, nonprofits needlessly put their own success into the hands of a third-party entity. That means that you’re subject to all of their Terms and Conditions, even if you don’t take the time to read or understand them.

In recent years, Patreon has been known to censor content or remove membership sites if they don’t fully align with the Terms and Conditions. When that happens, all of your paid members, and your revenue, can be deleted in a moment’s time.

What’s more, it’s difficult to properly brand your nonprofit when you’re operating under the umbrella of Patreon to build your memberships. For the most part, all Patreon membership sites look the same. 

Surely in 2021 there must be a better option for building a paid membership site: One that gives you:

  • Complete freedom of how you present your nonprofit to the public
  • Full ownership of your own content
  • Every cent of your membership fees, without taking a percentage as a “convenience”
  • Complete control of the content you create
  • Simplicity of use, while showing your commitment to your members
  • The ability to interact with members in real time
  • A public-facing level of professionalism that Patreon can’t match

The solution is to launch your own membership site. And it’s not as difficult as you might think.

Why Your Own Membership Site Works Better

Running your own membership site gives you complete freedom to operate your nonprofit exactly the way you choose.

And it can be more profitable than using Patreon.

When you sign up with Patreon, you’re given a template of how your membership site is going to work. This includes how it looks, how much you can charge for memberships, how often membership fees are charged (Patreon’s standard model is a monthly membership, but they do allow you to change to yearly memberships), and how you’ll receive them (after they deduct their fees).

Basically, you’re working within their chosen parameters. And while you have the freedom to create any kind of content that you’d like, you certainly don’t have a lot of freedom in how you present the content to your members.

Running your own membership site gives you complete freedom to build your brand from the ground up. You’ll never need to rely on a third-party platform that can change their rules or disappear at any time, for any reason.

How Do I Launch My Own Membership Website?

Today, almost 40% of the Internet is powered by the WordPress content management system (CMS).

And there are many good reasons for that.

  • WordPress is 100% free and open source
  • There are thousands of free and premium plugins and themes that can help you turn your site into almost anything you can imagine, including a nonprofit membership site
  • Anyone, even someone who lacks the most basic CSS or HTML knowledge, can easily build a WordPress website in minutes
  • WordPress website security is simple when you use a plugin such as iThemes Security Pro
  • WordPress is incredibly versatile
  • Google gives WordPress a 99% rating for SEO-friendliness

To start building your site, all you need to do is secure your own domain name, download the free WordPress open-source software, sign up to a reliable WordPress website host, and run their one-click WordPress installation.

From there, you can begin searching for a free or premium theme that fits the desired mood of your membership site. While there are thousands of themes to choose from, Kadence Theme is one of the best options out there. It gives you premium theme features in a free solution, and you’ll be effortlessly building your new site in minutes.

3 Benefits of Using WordPress For Your Membership Site

WordPress is your best option for building a membership website because:

1. It’s Easy To Learn and Use

Even if you get stuck, there are countless subjects covered in the WordPress Help Forums that will answer your simplest or toughest questions with ease.

2. One Easy-to-Use Plugin Transforms Your Site Into a Professional Membership Site

This is where the WordPress membership site magic happens. 

No, you don’t need to code all of the operational details needed to turn a standard WordPress site into a membership site. All you need to do is download and install the Restrict Content Pro plugin.

Immediately, you’ll have a full-featured, powerful membership site that’s ready for you to customize in any way you see fit. What’s best, it will integrate seamlessly with almost any WordPress theme.

Restrict Content Pro will allow you to:

  • Lock away all of your exclusive content, while giving access only to your paid members
  • Offer discount codes based on a percentage or flat rate discount
  • Automate email communication with members
  • Create as many subscription packages as you’d like
  • Easily manage all of your paid memberships
  • Create reports that help you grow your membership numbers

With this plugin, your WordPress site immediately becomes a membership site. And, potentially, your main source of revenue.

3. You Brand Yourself With Your Own Domain

Would you rather send interested members to patreon.com/mynonprofit or mynonprofit.com when you promote your paid membership website?

Which one do you think better establishes your organization’s credibility and authority?

The answer is simple: Your own domain name.

4 Reasons Nonprofits Should Sell Memberships

Now, let’s take a look at the key reasons you should start selling memberships for your nonprofit.

Memberships Provide Stable and Reliable Income For Your Nonprofit

Sponsorships, grants, and one-time individual gifts come with a lot of uncertainty. Because of this, most nonprofits have to operate without knowing how much revenue they’ll be working with in three to six months.

This makes planning for the future a sometimes-dangerous proposition.

With a strong membership program, however, a nonprofit can more easily plan expenses and programs with their recurring membership revenue stream. Barring an unforeseen disaster, you can expect that most recurring members will continue to renew. In fact, the retention rate for nonprofit member/donors is around 70%.

This is well above the rate of recurring one-time gifts.

Recurring membership fees add up to greater overall contributions and a much higher lifetime donor value.

Membership Sites are a Great Way To Build a Community

For nonprofits, recurring revenue isn’t the only advantage to running a membership model.

As Roberta Matuson, a Forbes contributor, says, “The Membership Economy is also about community.”

The relationship between you and your members will be much closer than it is with one-time donors. When you communicate well, provide insider status, and genuinely show your appreciation for your members, they’ll become much more devoted to your cause.

Your Members Get Immediate Value

Immediately after a member signs up with your program, your relationship begins. You can begin the relationship with a prompt, heartfelt, and (whenever possible) personal thank you.

This will mean a lot to your new members.

Make sure that you provide a ton of great content (articles, videos, blog posts, etc.) and impactful updates behind your membership site’s paywall (exclusive to paying members only). When you do, all of your new members can start digging into your content right after they sign up.

This helps get them excited about what you’re doing, and will inspire them to get more involved in the cause.

Remember, memberships work best if you deliver real and tangible value.

Your Biggest Supporters Want You To Succeed

Have you spent a lot of time interacting with the supporters who believe the most in your cause? Do they ever share with you how much your work has meant to them?

The people who support your nonprofit want to see you succeed. And they know that without revenue, you won’t be able to continue operations.

After you start your membership site, you’ll quickly learn that many of your biggest supporters will become members because they want to further support your cause. You just have to give them the opportunity to become paying members by launching your membership site.

Keys to Success for Nonprofit Membership Sites

Keep these principles at the forefront of your mind as you begin to grow your paid membership numbers using WordPress and the Restrict Content Pro plugin:

  1. Clearly define your membership program
  2. Make it quick and easy to sign up
  3. Announce and market your membership program
  4. Mindfully create up to three membership levels, each with increasing benefits
  5. Paid members are always looking for new content. Make sure you let them know when they can expect it (i.e. daily at 8am, every tuesday at 5pm, every first of the month at midnight)
  6. Routinely interact directly with your members. It means more to them than you may realize
  7. Invite members to exclusive Q&As and other events where you’ll be live and present
  8. On your membership site, provide paid members with a way for them to interact with each other and have conversations
  9. Don’t charge too much or too little for a membership. Research other nonprofit membership sites to find the sweet spot
  10. Utilize email drip campaigns to keep in close touch with your members
  11. Be in it for the long haul

Start Your Own Nonprofit Membership Site Today

Obviously, profit isn’t the goal in the nonprofit sector. However, recurring revenue is an incredibly effective tool that helps nonprofits grow and fulfill goals.

Starting a nonprofit membership site is one of the best ways to help your organization reach new levels of success. Get started today with the Restrict Content Pro plugin for WordPress.

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