Staffing our membership strategy

Who in your organization is going to do all the work recommended by this handbook? What are the human resources needed to get membership off the ground, and sustain it successfully?

There are no simple answers to these questions. There are dozens of variations on membership-connected job titles, from membership manager to director of development to audience growth specialist.  

There are also variations in where membership sits within an organization. In some organizations it’s an executive-level position, while in others managing membership is just one of many tasks handed to someone with a broader title, such as engagement editor. 

Membership-connected roles can sit in editorial, audience growth and engagement, or revenue. Where these roles sit has implications for your membership strategy as a whole. A role reporting into revenue is likely to have a fundraising focus, while a role reporting to editorial will be more concerned with engagement. 

Membership responsibilities can also be diffused throughout an organization. MPP believes that if your organization is pursuing a thick membership model, membership should touch multiple parts of a news organization and can’t be fully contained to one role, or even one department. 

In recognition of this variety, MPP refers to the newsroom employees who work on membership as membership-concerned staff. Tow’s Guide to Audience Revenue and Engagement defines this as: “Professionals who focus some or all of their job tasks around talking with and working with members and other supporters… including copywriters, community managers, web developers, fundraisers, project and program managers, designers, and user researchers.”

Whatever version of membership you aspire to, MPP recognizes that hiring for any kind of extra capacity is often a non-starter for small newsrooms. For single-person news operations, which are increasingly common, staffing for membership can be extremely difficult.

All of this makes staffing membership a major stumbling block for any member-driven newsroom. 

Because staffing can be a challenge, this section begins with a focus on membership skills. It has suggestions for which skills are critical for a member-driven newsroom, and which are nice-to-have. It also differentiates between which skills (and tasks) are needed to manage your membership program, and which are needed to manage your memberful routines. This section also offers advice on deciding how much time your newsroom should dedicate to each of these categories.

Once you’ve identified the skills you need, you can think about what roles you need and where your membership-concerned staff should sit in the organization. By the end of this section, you may find that you don’t need new people, just new ways of working with the people you already have. If you realize that you do need to hire someone after all, starting from skills rather than roles will help you write a job description that more accurately captures your newsroom’s needs.

In this section, MPP will provide:

• A skills checklist for the set-up and management of a membership operation
• A framework of ongoing and periodic tasks for managing membership work
• Job descriptions for membership roles in practice
• Troubleshooting advice to help you tackle common problems in staffing membership