Can we explain and pitch membership to our audience members?

If you’re launching a membership program, you’ll need to educate your readers on why you’re asking for their support, and why now. Get out in front of people. Explain your membership strategy to them as simply as possible, and take note of what things they find confusing or ask a lot of questions about. In other words, you need to learn how to tell your membership story.

Honolulu Civil Beat’s Ben Nishimoto told Membership Puzzle Project that their transition from a for-profit subscription model to a nonprofit membership model required significant public education.  

“People have a hard time understanding why we’re different from the local for-profit newspaper. Most have always seen journalism as a product and not as a service, and it’s hard to drive that messaging when we’re the only local nonprofit media.” 


How Honolulu Civil Beat rebranded itself to be “friendlier”

Positioning itself as a disruptive outsider was not a good fit for an organization about to launch membership.

Making this case begins with identifying your value proposition. If you can’t succinctly, clearly explain what value your organization provides to your community and what role audience members play in your impact and sustainability, you will struggle to make a compelling appeal to audience members to join or participate.

In other words, you can’t just do professional-quality journalism. You have to serve a demonstrable public interest, and answer a community need. (Jump to “Discovering our value proposition” for advice on articulating that.) Your launch is a powerful moment to tell that story. (Jump to “How do we tell a good launch story?“)

In some countries, the concept of paying for news is still new, and you’ll have to explain not just why your journalism is worth paying for, but why journalism is something people should pay for at all. Before committing significant resources to a membership program, you might test people’s willingness to support your work with a crowdfunding campaign. This is a particularly common tactic among member-driven newsrooms in Latin America, such as Mutante and La Silla Vacia, both in Colombia.