How to Increase Membership in a Nonprofit Organization (Examples Included)

5 min read
April 15, 2021
Ronnie Gomez headshot
Ronnie Gomez
Content Marketing Manager, Neon One

“How do I get more members registered and increase membership in my program?” 

While this seems like a simple question, we’re sure you know that the answer is not-so-simple. Sure, there are tons of suggestions out there on how to ramp up new member acquisition, but when trying to apply them to your organization, things can get a little fuzzy. 

We want to help you, so we came up with some new ideas you can try. Here’s a sneak peek:

  • Idea #1: Host an Open Event
  • Idea #2: Offer a Referral Perk
  • Idea #3: Partner with Local Organizations 
  • Idea #4: Make Joining Easy

Keep reading to learn more about how you can put these into action (with examples from organizations just like yours!). 

Here’s how you can increase membership in your nonprofit organization

Idea #1: Host an open event

People join membership organizations to connect with others that share a common interest. Let non-members get a glimpse at what your organization has to offer by hosting an event that’s open to the public. 

The key here is a balance. You want to have a few of these events to demonstrate your value, but not too many, or that value gets weakened. After all, why pay membership dues if you can just keep going for free?

An example of striking this balance comes from one of our Neon One clients, OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates. They have opened their annual convention to the general public, while saving priority seating for members and paid attendees. 

This provides their current members with value (in the form of reserved seating and priority treatment) while opening the doors to prospective members. 

Takeaway: Open a handful of events up to prospective members so they can experience what your organization has to offer. 

Idea #2: Offer a referral perk

Word-of-mouth referrals are the primary motivator behind 20-50% of all purchase decisions. If you really want to encourage your members to spread the word about your organization to their friends, sweeten the deal with a referral perk. 

Your perk is dependent on what your organization can reasonably offer. The most common option is a renewal fee discount in the 15-20% range. 

A great example of a working referral program comes from the YMCA of Middle Tennessee. They created the Better Together Member Referral Program, which gives both the current member and the new referred member a 20% discount on membership fees.

Takeaway: Capitalize on your existing members by incentivizing them to refer your organization to a friend. Offer an exclusive deal for each successful referral. 

Idea #3: Partner with local organizations 

Partnering with local organizations that serve a similar mission can be a mutually beneficial way to increase your visibility. 

Start by creating an outreach list of ideal partnerships. Then send them a quick message outlining what a potential partnership might look like, and how you both could benefit. 

You don’t need to elaborate on the full plan, as that is something you’ll probably come up with together. Instead, include the key bits of information that will entice them into setting a meeting. 

The Golden Gate Restaurant Associate, a membership group that provides benefits to the San Francisco restaurant community, partners with a number of external organizations that serve the overall local hospitality sphere. 

These partnerships create valuable connections for all organizations involved through the power of cross-promotions. 

Takeaway: Reach out to similar organizations and offer ideas for collaboration. Use your existing audience as an incentive for other organization’s to share theirs. 

Idea #4: Make joining easy 

This may seem like a no-brainer, but creating an online application process can do wonders for your member acquisition efforts. 

Give your membership program a prominent spot on your website’s navigation bar. That way, people looking to join don’t have to waste any time tracking it down. Remember, the better your user experience, the more likely prospects are to turn into members. 

Check out the Women in Toys website, for example. This collaborative community (and Neon One client!) is the leading global networking community for professional women working in the toys, licensing, and entertainment industries. 

Women In Toys Screenshot of Website

If you visit their website, you’ll notice their membership tab has all the relevant information needed to join their organization. This includes an application, a list of benefits, and additional information about membership tiers. 

Takeaway: If you want to create an online application for that converts, make sure it’s easily accessible from your home page. 

You’re all set!

We hope these ideas gave you enough inspiration to get out there and attract some new members and increase membership. 

And if you want more membership resources, check out the links below:

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