Hayley: You want to introduce a Membership Program---presumably for the Annual Fund Campaign. You have a base of current donors. Good idea to proceed in this way, because such philanthropy-driven and recognition-based membership programs are proven and effective tools used to convert prospects into donors and to increase the size of gift. They are one of the most useful tools fund-raising managers have. Such programs can work with corporate and even foundation donors, but let’s stick with where the program works best, and where most of the money is to be found. Individuals.
Here is how I suggest you proceed:
(1) Be reasonably certain that the proposed membership gift levels will be at amounts reasonable and equal to your organization’s donor base potential. There would be no point in listing desired membership donations at levels where there would be no chance to attract such gifts, or to attract enough of them at any level. It depends on what is found to be the potential which could be realized by the number of donors in a respective gift category. For starters, you could work with a preliminary and tentative gift table along the following lines:
$50 to $99
$100 to $249
$250 to $499
$500 to $999
$1,000 to $2,499
$2,500 to $4,999
$5,000 and over
The next steps:
(a) Compile an A to Z listing of all current donors (and lapsed donors back to about three years if you had no idea why the lapse).
(b) Tally the previous donations according to the above gift table, and see how many previous gifts fall into each of the membership gift levels. For example, you might count 30 within the $100 to $249 level, etc. This now gives you a clear picture of the spread of your donors to the range of the gift table.
(c) From that same listing of previous donors, indicate the previous gift amount of each in a column. Another column adjacent will have a heading of “Suggested Asking.” Following each donor’s name, have a blank line to allow a fill-in for the next campaign’s asking amount.
(d) With a few people “in the know,” rate each and every donor as the group agrees to either suggest you seek the same amount for the new campaign, or hopefully, you will enter increased amounts. For those donors when ratings are not known, you arbitrarily raise the proposed suggested asking to the next level. You can see how this works from an exhibit I have posted on my website. The concept works, regardless your actual numbers:
--- Memberships Campaign Gift Range Chart
or use ...
(2) Now you compile a listing of new prospects from any and all sources, but staying within reasonable bounds regarding their possible care and concern and resulting interest in your organization. I am not talking about a Direct Mail effort to mostly unknown, and uncaring individuals, especially those out of your area of service.
(3) While all gifts are welcome, appreciated and important, the latter only to a point, however---if you can help it, I would avoid listing a level below $50. Maybe it looks good to have, say, a Student or Senior level at $25, but the number of such gifts needed to make a dent in your campaign’s need, and the expense to process such gifts, should lead you away from that low membership level. Of course, you will accept any gift with sincere appreciation; just don’t solicit them.
(4) Many organizations are able to use membership level names in keeping with the type of organization. But, for the most part, you can work with simple names. Donors giving at a certain level to the Annual Fund receive the appellation of Friend of (organization name). The title can be inflated at specified giving levels by having categories of friends such as Contributing Friend, Supporting Friend, and Sustaining Friend. For very large gifts you can create distinct categories such as Benefactors League, Founders Society, and President's Circle, etc.
(5) Far too many organizations develop such membership programs, announce them and put solicitation material in the hands of donors and prospects with no suggestion to the receiver regarding a desired level of their giving. That’s why I insisted on the rating process above. It does no good to establish membership levels, then to not ask for a specific amount:
--- Rating and Evaluating Prospects: Whom Do You Ask For How Much
(6) Next comes the development of your Membership Campaign solicitation material. You can obtain examples from other organizations. We always did that.
Have membership level names and economically-driven “perks” offered in cumulative fashion, so each new level will have something different, but the donors, as they are positioned on their respective levels, get the items or benefits preceding.
The personal value received by these members is recognition and association, but there is no reason to be shy about providing “perks” appropriate to their level of contribution. For arts and cultural organizations, this might be easy to do. However, social service, education, healthcare, or community development organizations are not without the opportunity to offer tangible manifestations of appreciation of their own. Invitations to dinners and receptions at trustees’ homes or clubs can be enticing benefits for donations of say, $500 or more. Another possible show of appreciation might be to have a corporation sponsor a membership program and host a luncheon honoring selected major donors and key volunteers. But, you don’t always need to give such tangible benefits.
In my experience, the best “gift” you can give to Membership Campaign donors is to let them know that their gift to the organization has made it possible to do specific and meaningful things for the community, such as: six months of a scoutmaster’s service to inner-city children, a week of computer training for a welfare mother to help prepare her for employment, an education outreach program enriching the lives of 100 students, etc. So, be creative, with what the EyeCare Foundation can do.
(7) Begin the recruitment of your volunteer solicitation team. Get a leader.
--- How To Recruit Your Volunteer Fund-Raising Team
Determine from the gift table the prospects you should have solicited personally, those who will receive a mailing and a phone follow-up, and those at the lowest levels to receive a mailing only.
I have more about Membership Programs as follows:
--- The Name Is The Game: Memberships And Named Gift Opportunities
--- Annual Campaigns: Once A Year Every Year
Note at the end of my Memberships article the four links to support resources to your new program, such as the Gift Table, Meeting Agenda, Solicitation Letters, and Membership Benefits and Privileges.
Go to it! You can do it, and when conducted correctly, the Membership Campaign has great potential.