What benefits should we offer members?

Your benefits are a key component of how members will experience your membership program. They should align with your membership value proposition, as well as what audience research told you potential members value about their membership. Membership Puzzle Project’s step-by-step membership program design process can help you assess that.

Once you know what your audience members value about membership, you can begin choosing what benefits to offer. Based on interviews with dozens of newsrooms, the Membership Puzzle Project divides membership benefits into 10 categories. 

  • Exclusive access, such as member-only newsletters, events, content, website features such as comments, and enhanced opportunities to communicate with the journalists
  • Early access, such as opportunities to access content or sign up for in-demand events before they open to the general audience
  • Influence, such as the ability to vote in key decisions, which is common in cooperative models
  • Discounts on items such as event tickets and to local businesses and institutions
  • Online community, such as a members-only Slack or Facebook group and commenting
  • Ad-free browsing, such as the ability to log in to the site and read without ads or access to an ad-free version of a podcast 
  • Ability to grant access, such as the ability to share stories that would otherwise be behind a paywall or to share your membership with others
  • Swag, such as branded tote bags, stickers, and clothing items 
  • Short-term topical benefits to incentivize sign-ups and renewals at that time, such as a time-limited swag item or the opportunity to have your contribution matched 
  • Opportunity to support other mission-aligned organizations, including other news organizations, such as bundled memberships

As you choose which benefits to offer your membership program, keep in mind that it needs to be desirable and feasible. Who is this element of the membership program for? What does this element of the membership program cost you financially and in terms of staff time? 

Don’t overload your membership program with benefits. You are not designing a corporate rewards program. A couple benefits that you know are desirable because you’ve conducted audience research are going to be more valuable to your members than eight scattershot ones. MPP found that benefits can increase the appeal and retention of your membership program, but they’re rarely the main reason potential members join.

El Diario in Spain offers five benefits with membership: ad-free browsing, early access to stories, commenting, events with other El Diario members, and discounts and special promotions. All five are mission-aligned and feasible. (Courtesy of El Diario)

If you have more than one tier, MPP also cautions against changing the benefits too frequently from one tier to another. It’s a lot for a potential member to process. One additional benefit for each membership tier is fine. 

Time-limited benefits can be effective, particularly when tied to a community moment. During its spring 2020 membership drive, which began as coronavirus was taking hold in the U.S., VTDigger temporarily stopped offering its typical benefits and instead arranged for a local company to donate a cloth mask for every donation VTDigger received. The pivot away from its typical benefits was a smart move that recognized that its typical benefits, such as swag, would have seemed tone deaf and been difficult to fulfill during the coronavirus pandemic.


How cloth masks powered VTDigger’s spring 2020 member drive

Coronavirus reached the U.S. as VTDigger approached their spring 2020 membership drive. They knew swag was out of the question.