How to Build a Donor Tribe Using Membership as a Tool

donor tribe

As a nonprofit, you are always looking for new ways to expand your donor base. Consider using your membership as a tool to build this foundation. Establish lifetime value for your organization by creating deeper engagement and greater giving through enhanced and exclusive benefits. Build a ‘tribe’ of loyal and supportive donors by making their membership experience truly unique.

Below are step-by-step suggestions, based on best practices, on how to make this happen.  

Step #1 – Focus on bonding donors together for a common cause. It is our responsibility as fund developers to inspire our members to want to join our cause. Show the worthiness of your cause, how it helps the community or what solutions your organization is providing to society. Capture this in your offerings to donors.

Step #2 – Review the value of your membership program. The methods for a thriving membership model are changing with the times and organizations need to take a fresh look at their membership. The membership program should provide members with specific privileges or perks not available to non-members. Understanding the true drivers of membership will help to retain members in the long run.  

Step #3 – Evaluate membership tiers to ensure that each additional level provides a more valuable experience than the tier below. Look beyond the transactional membership benefits (e.g., discounted admission, guest passes, etc.) and focus instead on the experience. Transformational membership benefits create unique experiences for members, concentrated on the new things they can feel or do tied to an organization’s brand. While many members might be seeking to gain from transactional benefits, loyal donors are looking to invest in the experience. They want the opportunity to feel like they truly belong to a “tribe” of like-minded individuals.

Step #4 – Consider alternative options in designing your membership tiers. Innovative membership structures, such as a programs customized to member interests, will drive membership levels and, more importantly, increase donor retention. Personalize your membership offerings to appeal to individual needs by offerings selections above and beyond the core benefits package offered to all members. Allow the flexibility of personal preferences to drive their experiences and let members engage in ways that are meaningful to them. If their needs on how they want to interact with your organization are being met, they are more likely to renew.

Step #5 – One of the most important membership tools to utilize in establishing a stable following is a cumulative Giving Society. These can be structured to include level, monthly, major, and legacy donors. Consider the following recommendations when creating a Giving Society program to ensure these members feel like part of the “club”:

  • Offer “High-Tier” exclusivity with attractive incentives in the form of experiences. Host exclusive gatherings and receptions to inspire giving society prospects. Offer these members unique privileges, such as special recognition opportunities (e.g., annual report listing, plaques, etc.), access during off-hours or access to sites restricted to others, special event seating, or free classes or events.  
  • Establish a process to identify and solicit new Giving Society members. Develop personalized outreach while addressing member segments for potential society prospects or level upgrades, build a membership recruitment component into existing and future special events and solicit members through other existing programs (i.e., Annual Fund special appeals or major gifts program).  
  • Develop an annual renewal process focused on maintaining retention, upgrading, and preventing membership lapsing.
  • Develop an effective campaign to promote giving society membership with a consistent message through effective materials and publications, social media and an online presence.

Think expansively about how these membership options can take your fund development program to the next level. Use these tools to cultivate and steward a tribe of supportive members, providing them with a place to belong. These are the very same steps that have resulted in successful fundraising efforts for my clients.

donor love and loyalty

Author information

Robin Cabral

Robin Cabral

Principal at Development Consulting Solutions

Robin L. Cabral, MA, CFRE has over twenty years of experience and millions of dollars raised assisting non-profit organizations as a development professional overseeing all aspects of fund development from annual funds to capital campaigns and donor communications. Her impressive non-profit career includes positions of Director of Development and Marketing throughout the Northeast including as a regional and worldwide Director of Development.

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