In a challenging funding environment for charities and non-profits, the membership model is a powerful pathway to sustainability. The subscription model aligns your interests with your supporters and provides a source of funding that is more predictable than campaign-based donations and less bureaucratic than grant funding.
But how do you build a healthy membership base? This post looks at the best membership websites and unpacks the key takeaways from a range of membership site examples to help you craft a great experience for your members. We’ve posted elsewhere about how easy it can be to create a membership website using modern software.
RIBA is a global professional membership body driving excellence in architecture.
RIBA uses an image-based grid of the 6 main membership options. This makes sense when you expect people to already know they want to join. It is less focused on benefits and more on funnelling people to the correct type of membership.
ICE is a professional membership body that provides support to 92,000 civil engineer members.
The ICE membership page leads with a summary of the benefits of membership - “ICE letters after your name are a true mark of excellence”. It then goes on to break down specific benefits and provide social proof (i.e. quotes from members) to further demonstrate value.
Only after these three large sections does the membership page go on to list out the specific membership options.
English Heritage cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites.
English Heritage has a range of membership options but the core benefits are the same. This allows them to follow a similar pattern to ICE. They lead with a strong summary of the core benefits with a call to action to go straight to the transactional process. They then go on to itemise the benefits and flag up a sweetener deal (3 months free if you pay by Direct Debit).
The options for membership type are built into the transaction process which is held at the bottom of the main membership proposition page. This makes pricing very clear and allows a commitment to be made to a particular package without requiring a page load.
RSPB is the largest nature conservation charity in the UK.
The RSPB membership proposition is not as clear as English Heritage. Rather the membership pitch is linked to donating and is about general support for the organisation. The ‘Join & donate’ title for the membership proposition page captures the idea that these are compatible rather than mutually exclusive.
The Scouts is the UK's biggest mixed youth organisation.
The Scouts deal with a very broad range of stakeholders and they use ‘membership’ as a very broad entry path for a range of different people who wish to get involved or offer support. The ‘Join’ page is therefore primarily a signposting page that provides answers to common questions and a pathway to more information for three distinct groups (volunteers, parents and scouts).
Founded in 1812, the Oddfellows is one of the largest and oldest friendly societies in the UK.
Perhaps because of the broad remit of a friendly society (improving the quality of people’s lives through friendship, care and charitable support), the focus of the membership proposition is a clear articulation of the benefits of getting involved. Accordingly, the membership page is titled ‘Benefits’. This page is a long and carefully designed page that unpacks five reasons to join. It uses practical examples, friendly and professional images of people and simple icons to communicate lots of information without overwhelming the reader.
The page closes with a clear table explaining membership options and reiterating benefits through the pricing table.
The Liberal Democrats is a political party in the UK with over 100,000 members.
The Liberal Democrats homepage focuses on email list subscribers and donations. These are ‘higher in the funnel’ activities that require a little less commitment than becoming a member. This demonstrates a strategy where most members join in response to an email. The ‘Join’ page fits with this strategy by being very transactional. In fact the page is not even on the main libedems.org.uk domain and is instead a form that passes data directly into the LibDem’s Salesforce database. This could be a technical limitation rather than entirely deliberate but it demonstrates the email-led approach to membership recruitment.
Opposite the form is a list of key benefits and the header of the form suggests a simple two-stage process: add details, then pay.
The Ramblers is an association of walkers.
The Ramblers adopt a simple layout with pricing and options prioritised. The website design feels a little dated with a text-only approach but this does provide a simple and functional approach. The page design spends little time on persuasion, perhaps because much of the association’s marketing is done by in-person recommendations.
Greenpeace is an international environmental campaigning group. Here we look at their UK branch.
Greenpeace is another organisation that uses the terminology of ‘joining’ but the nature of the membership is very similar to donating as the focus is more on supporting the work of the organisation than getting particular membership benefits.
The Greenpeace website has links to both ‘Donate’ and ‘Join us’. ‘Donate’ is used to describe one-off donations and ‘Join us’ to describe regular giving. The donate page contains one option to give a one-off donation and a call to action to give regularly. Like with the Liberal Democrats, it may be that this division is more about technical limitations than website optimisation since the donate page points to one external processing site and the join us page points to an online direct debit processing system. If Greenpeace used a membership management system with integrated direct debit processing they may have presented this information slightly differently.