What skills do we need to staff membership?

If you’re starting a membership program, hiring new people does not need to be your first move. The research team encourages you to think in terms of skills first, then roles, then organizational charts (MPP has encouraged this kind of “skills-first” thinking before, in Federica Cherubini’s guide to making data-informed membership decisions). If you already have the necessary skills in your newsroom, you might be able to meet your membership needs by building an interdisciplinary membership team instead.

Below you’ll find a checklist of skills MPP recommends for building and sustaining a membership program.  The list is divided into four categories: revenue, marketing and sales; research, data, and analytics; engagement; and editorial.

The worksheet below further breaks them down by critical, important, and nice-to-have, meaning that you should only worry about these if you have extra budget and/or staff time.

You can use this checklist to carry out a skills audit and identify what you already have available in your organization. Not all of these skills will be necessary until your membership program reaches a certain size. When it does reach a certain size, it might be worth exploring automation of some of these tasks.

Membership Skills Checklist
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Revenue, Marketing, and Sales

  • Growth strategy
    • Design and execute membership drives, experiment with new formats to attract members, set revenue and membership growth goals
  • Digital marketing practices & techniques
    • Email marketing, social media marketing, content partnerships
  • E-commerce management & customer service
    • Benefits fulfillment, credit card processing, chasing lapsed members, processing cancellations and refunds
  • Experience with database management
    • Develop and maintain member databases and mailing lists
  • Business development
    • Business modeling: Business model generation, building revenue and cost projections, checking revenue and cost assumptions
  • Branding
    • Establish brand strategy, identity, and messaging 
  • PR and communications strategy
    • Secure other media coverage of your best work

Research, Data, and Analytics

  • Experience with analytics/metrics measurement
    • Track key performance metrics, identify data trends, create metrics reports, assess campaign successes and failures, identify best practices accordingly, report back to stakeholders
  • Product development and testing
    • Audience research: Designing and administering surveys and focus groups, interpreting audience data for audience segments and audience needs
    • A test-and-learn mindset: data-led decision making, A/B testing, user testing

Engagement

  • Community management
    • Respond to member queries, solicit member input, organize member surveys, moderate member discussion
  • Newsletter strategy
    • Design newsletter products, write and format emails, evaluate newsletter performance (*If newsletters are not a core component of your editorial and audience development strategy, then this is not a critical skill)
  • Social media strategy
    • Use social media platforms to engage existing members and reach new audiences
  • Comfortable being the face/voice of the organization
    • Ability to command the room, do deep listening, and facilitate conversation
    • Vulnerability; willingness to own up to mistakes
  • Events planning/organizing
    • Planning flow of activities, sourcing speakers, coordinating venues
  • Collaborative/cooperative decision-making experience
    • Organizing consultations, polls, and votes

Editorial

This checklist is specifically focused on membership-concerned editorial activities, not core activities. 

  • Excellent written communication
    • Writing copy for newsletters, social, and onsite member appeals
  • Able to effectively communicate [external]:
    • Organization’s mission
    • The impact of membership/what it means to be member-supported
    • Engagement initiatives (crowdsourcing, crafting callouts, drawing knowledge from members, inviting participation) 
    • The results of those initiatives (including key decisions)
  • Able to effectively communicate [internal]:
    • With editorial about revenue activities/campaigns
    • With editorial about member feedback
    • Analytics information

Once you have completed the checklist, consider:

Which critical and important skills are you missing? Could you develop these within your existing team, or do you need to hire for them? If the skills gap is contained enough, you might be able to hire a short-term consultant or outsource the work.

Where in your organization do the majority of the critical skills reside? In other words, where does the reporting line end? For the skills you already have on your team, take a look at where in the organization they are staffed. If most of them are concentrated on the revenue side, MPP recommends revisiting the question of whether you are trying to launch a thick or thin membership model. (Jump to “Defining membership”)

With a thin membership model, a revenue-side concentration focused on membership program management may work, although the research team would still recommend staffing community management with a strong customer service focus. If your newsroom plans to develop a thick membership model, consider how you could fill the gaps in the critical skills in engagement and editorial. These are the skills you will need to staff to manage memberful routines. 

If you’re a newsroom that does not have a membership program but does want to develop memberful routines, a focus on the critical and important skills in the engagement and editorial sections of the checklist can help build a robust framework to support these routines, without the skills needed for membership program management and/or growth. 

For more on the skills needed to staff membership, see: