Membership fees

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Membership fees can provide a good source of regular income and can enable a similar feeling of ownership as selling shares, without having to share profits with those that buy into your organisation. This option is likely to be most appropriate when people will have regular contact or involvement with your project and will be getting something in return for their fee.

Developing a membership offer involves consideration of the following:

Meaning of membership. The first and most important step is to decide what people will get in return for their membership fee. The benefits of membership could involve, for example, the ability to purchase products and services, free access to events and resources, or entitlement to discounts and offers. Members could also be given governance and decision making rights.

Membership fee. Once you have an idea of what the benefits of membership are and what you are offering people, it will be easier to calculate a fee to charge for membership. The fee needs to be both attractive for the community, but also financially viable and beneficial for your project. You may want to consider offering concessions for those on low incomes or for group memberships, and incentives for joining or renewal.

Management of members. You will need to consider what the process will be for applying to be a member and for renewing memberships, and the details that must be provided in order to register. Having an application form which requires provision of basic contact details is a good place to start, and developing a database or spreadsheet to record members’ details will help to keep track of who has signed up. It is a good idea to arrange to have regular communications with your members through, for example, email updates, newsletters or open meetings. This will help members to feel more valued and part of your organisation. You could also develop a membership pack for new members to provide an introduction to the organisation and to explain the membership offer to ensure they get the most out of being a member.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Stroud Community Agriculture charge £2 per month for membership, which covers administrative costs of running their co-operative. Members can then choose to buy a veg share on top of this, which goes towards supporting the running of their community supported farm and the production of the veg. Members of low incomes can ask for a bursary when they join. There is no means testing for this – if someone asks for a bursary, they can get a reduction on their membership fee of £1 per month and the veg share can be discounted by up to 20% on request. Any larger reduction has to be approved by the core group. Bursaries are funded through members who choose to pay more than the standard charges per month, and through the organisation donating 1% of its turnover every year into the bursary fund. There is also the option of volunteering or working on the farm in exchange for membership as an alternative to paying the fees.

Source: The Story of Community Supported Agriculture in Stroud