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When the Daily Maverick launched its membership program, Maverick Insider, they had two goals: make membership as inclusive as possible, and make it easy for those who could provide financial support to do so. So they eschewed membership tiers and implemented a “pay-what-you-can” model, with one key benefit that incentivized those who could afford to contribute more to do so.
Why this is important
The design of your membership program sends clear signals about who it is for. Tiers can help nudge members toward certain financial levels and add predictability to your financial modeling, but they can also bring a level of exclusivity that is discordant with a commitment to equity and inclusion.
The Daily Maverick sought to address this tension by using a pay-what-you-can model for their membership program, Maverick Insiders. Well-designed defaults and benefits nudge those who can afford to pay more to do so, helping the Daily Maverick continue to meet its membership revenue targets.
What they did
When the Daily Maverick launched membership in August 2018, they launched the pay-what-you-can scheme with a slider tool on their membership landing page. Although members could select any amount above R75 (about $4.50), they sought to influence members’ selection by setting the default to R150 (about $10). That was the most common selection among early members, followed by the minimum of R75, or less than $5. (That was the lowest the payment gateway company would process recurring billing contributions.)
This decision was partially informed by the donations drive they ran a few months earlier. The average recurring contribution during that campaign was 100 rand (about $8). The Daily Maverick hypothesized that R150 (about $10) was a reasonable ask once the benefits and community of membership were offered in exchange.
In addition to providing an easier payment process, the Daily Maverick also believes that the pay-what-you-can model helps put their membership in a different category than subscriptions, addressing the issue of subscription fatigue. Tiers are less common among charitable causes, and the Daily Maverick sought to frame joining as charitable support for a free press and equal access to information.
“It taps into a different part of the brain – and budget,” CEO Styli Charalambous writes. “Research shows that the average American household has $30 available for subscriptions and within that space, enough for just one news subscription. And that’s wealthy American households. But people can and do support multiple good causes that resonate with them. We wanted to convey our cause that was worthy of support alongside the Society for the Protection of Animals, National Sea Rescue Institute, or educational development programmes.”
A few months later, the Daily Maverick had a chance meeting with the head of business development for Uber in Africa. Charalambous pitched Uber on the idea of using Uber vouchers to encourage the acquisition and retention of members. They settled on R100 in Uber credit every month to every member contributing R150 or more every month.
It wasn’t a no-brainer decision – the Daily Maverick knew that its members were not interested in being a part of a corporate reward program, and didn’t want Maverick Insiders to become that. All of their other benefits were connected to the Daily Maverick’s journalism. But events were a critical part of their membership strategy, and this seemed like a valuable way to make it easier for members to get to events.
For Uber, it was a chance to achieve greater brand awareness and ridership as they entered the South African market.
When the Daily Maverick first launched the pay-what-you-can model, about 50 percent of their members chose the pre-selected R150 option – a percentage the staff was happy with.
The addition of the Uber benefit, however, was a game changer. It worked, almost instantly. According to CEO Styli Charalambous, the number of people contributing R150 or more a month jumped almost immediately to 90 percent with the addition of the voucher. Daily signups also increased by about 30 percent, with monthly sign-ups consistently topping 300 people.
Although it wasn’t a no-brainer decision for the Daily Maverick to offer this benefit, it was a no-brainer decision for most members to opt into it. If they were likely to use Uber at least once a month, they would actually save money by increasing their contribution to R150
What they learned
People won’t give the bare minimum, even if they can. One of the assumptions that goes into the design of membership tiers is that people will give the minimum amount they have to give to get member benefits, so there needs to be a floor. The fact that at least 50 percent of the Daily Maverick’s early members (pre-Uber benefit) opted for the suggested R150, rather than the minimum R75, disproved that assumption, at least for the Daily Maverick.
Key takeaways and cautionary notes
Be smart about your nudges. A well-designed, well-targeted discount or reward can help nudge members toward the contribution level that you need to be sustainable, but choose these benefits carefully.
“We have been careful not to be pulled into the discount offer space,” Charalambous writes. “We made this single exception and it worked, but we have not offered any other membership benefits that don’t relate to the [Daily Maverick] experience in some way. We are not a corporate rewards program, we are a cause, and the membership programme should reflect that.”
- Styli Charalambous, Medium: “Launching a membership program: Lessons from the frontline”
Disclosure: Membership Puzzle Project has provided support to the Daily Maverick’s membership program through the Membership in News Fund.