10 Essential Ingredients of a Successful Membership Organization

1. Deliver real value:

  • Do local journalism that matters.
  • Solve community problems, don’t just identify them.
  • Communicate with your audiences, not at them.
  • Develop (and continuously improve!) products and services that highlight unique local journalism of the highest quality.
  • Connect audiences to you and to each other.

2. Utilize a funnel approach (and scorecard):

3. Get everyone involved:

4. Get the tech stack right:

5. Make decisions based on data:

  • Recognize that your gut instinct is valuable and important. But develop a hypothesis-driven culture and continually challenge your own assumptions with data. Understand that the right data can make you smarter, faster and more effective.
  • Stay laser-focused on key performance indicators (KPIs) that actually matter.
  • Keep track of progress against those KPIs and share them with everyone.
  • Test and learn religiously.
  • Make quick decisions, without lots of layers of approvals and bureaucracy. Fail fast, fail cheap.
  • Recognize that growth doesn’t happen by accident; continually improve based on data/insights and testing results.

6. Obsess over the UX:

7. Maximize return across the demand curve:

  • Be deliberate in your approach to pricing/packaging/bundling/tiering to convert audiences of all kinds into paying users, including one-time donors, recurring members and high-dollar supporters.
  • Identify all the ways in which you can generate value — financial and otherwise — from your audiences.
  • Recognize that, while improving, the notion that journalism is a philanthropic cause is not widely known. It takes considerable effort to explain to regular news consumers that journalism should be considered in the same light as after-school programs and fine arts institutions.

8. Treat members like the gold they are:

  • Provide compelling and appropriate member-only benefits (note: this doesn’t necessarily — and often shouldn’t — mean physical “swag.”)
  • Be good stewards of membership dollars and be transparent about what membership dollars fund.
  • Genuinely and routinely thank loyalists and longtime supporters, in whatever ways make sense for your organization (personalized appeals, snail mail, email, on-site shout-outs, member-only gatherings, etc.)

9. Bring your community together:

  • News-driven: Topic deep-dives, public forums, live debates, conversations with public figures, conversations with journalists and others.
  • Social: Trivia nights, happy hours, comedy events, purely fun activities.
  • Fundraising: Ticketed events, black-tie galas, silent auctions, etc.

10. Listen and truly take action:

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Consultant/advisor working at the intersection of journalism and sustainability. Previous: Product, strategy at NYT; publisher at Texas Tribune. @HeyTimGriggs

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Tim Griggs

Tim Griggs

Consultant/advisor working at the intersection of journalism and sustainability. Previous: Product, strategy at NYT; publisher at Texas Tribune. @HeyTimGriggs

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