Membership Management Guide: Part Three

September 20, 2021

By Mitch Colleran

Software Developer / Founder at @JoinIt, membership software NGOs & SMBs.

View other posts by Mitch

This post is part of a series! Interested in the whole thing? Click here to download our Ultimate Guide to Membership Management.

As we go through these topics, you’ll see a theme start to develop: membership structure. This term covers all the variability we see across membership-based organizations. It’s impressive how something as simple as “membership” can have so many different meanings. 

We’ll try and cover all the nuance, but let’s take a simple one to start: membership renewals.

An inherent assumption about membership programs is that there is (1) something for a member to (2) join for some (3) duration. Of those three variables, let’s focus on the duration component in this chapter and, more specifically, on the payment cadence.

At Join It, we speak with customers daily. One of the first questions asked is about the types of memberships that they plan to offer. 90% of the time, this leads to a conversation about how long the membership will last. Monthly? Annually? Lifetime?

Once the pros and cons of a membership’s duration is fully vetted, the next consideration is always if the membership will automatically renew, or will it expire at some point? These are what we think of as recurring or non-recurring memberships.

We call it “opt-in vs. opt-out,” referring to the action (or inaction) that a member needs to agree to for future payments. Should your members be required to opt-in to another round of membership, or would it make more sense to opt-out when their previous membership reaches an expiration?

As always, no size fits all, but it’s worth evaluating each group’s benefits and disadvantages. 

Opt-out / Recurring / Auto-Renew Memberships

  • Advantages
    • Improved revenue for organizations: Members are more likely to renew if they don’t need to make a decision
    • Simplicity for members: Set it and forget it
  • Disadvantages
    • Possible frustrations: May be frustrating members if they are charged unexpectedly, especially for those on strict budgets 
    • Extra steps: Refunds for unintended payments can be administratively cumbersome, depending on your payment processor

Opt-in / Expiring Memberships

  • Advantages:
    • Easier buy-in: Lower perceived obligation from first time members can lead to a higher initial purchase rate
    • Easier upsells: Expiration dates are an excellent time for members to upgrade their memberships
  • Disadvantages:
    • Forgettable: Memberships may accidentally expire, leading to confusion around anticipated member benefits, like event discounts
    • Additional steps: More administrative follow up with members may be required as they are notified of upcoming renewal dates and expiration notices 

If you’re undecided, we typically recommend running a test with the opt-out, recurring approach. It’s easier for the members, as well as your organization’s administrators. Notably, for any monthly membership, the recurring approach is much better in almost all circumstances. These can be easier to think of as subscription memberships. 

On the other hand, expiring memberships work very well for more traditional members that view payments more like member dues. These people may prefer to be informed of the upcoming expiration and might appreciate reevaluating their participation.

In either case, just be clear in your membership description! Members will always appreciate communication around membership payment cadence.