Membership Dues: Why You Need To Charge Them And When To Start

So you are starting a group (or maybe you already have one going) and you are not sure if you should charge Membership dues or not.  I can help.  

When I first launched my social group, Membership was free.  Two years later I moved to a new platform that allowed me to have two Membership levels: Basic (free) and Premium (yearly dues).  Three years later I moved to another platform and decided that everyone needed to pay a one-time free.  Currently, I am still on the same platform and to be a Member of my social group, you MUST pay a one-time fee of $19.99.  Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each.

Free for All!

Pros: There is really no barrier to join.  If you are just starting out, and you have less than 500 Members, this is the way to grow your Membership quickly (read more at the bottom of this posting)!

Cons: Spammers and trolls will join.  You’ll have to kick people of your group just to discover that they’ll create a new identity and sign right back up.  You will also end up with a lot of inactive Members for whom you’ll be planning events (based on their survey answers). Furthermore, you will be missing out on a revenue stream.

Leveled Membership

Pros: No barrier to join if you have a free option. Dues paying Members will bring in revenue for your group, and will enjoy some perks that the free Members do not receive.  Perhaps those paying dues will be offered free entrance into events or discounts on events.  Maybe your website will allow them access to certain areas, like forums or Member to Member email.

Cons: Depending on your platform and the perks you provide, those who pay for Memberships may be hard to track.  Also, you will want a good platform that notifies people when their Membership is about to expire and ideally auto-charge them when it is time to renew.  In addition, depending on access to your website features, you may still run into the same “cons” I listed under “Free for All”.


Membership Dues Required

Pros: Great revenue source.  This will most likely keep out spammers, trolls, and undesirable Members. You may also attract high quality Members (those who feel invested in your community and are ready to participate online and attend events).

Cons: Some people may not join because of the dues.  You will have to figure out what price Members will pay. With my organization, once I decided to make Membership a one-time fee, I started off at $9.99.   After MANY people joined and paid, I increased it to a $19.99 one-time fee.  This is ideal because to most, paying $19.99 is a no-brainer (so they don’t bounce off my website), but it also brings in great yearly revenue!  In past years I have made anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 per year JUST by collecting Membership Dues.


WHEN to start charging:
Do not launch a new group and start off with a Membership fee. No one wants to pay to be in a group that has one other member, or even just five other members.   Do yourself a favor anddo not charge membership fees until the group is thriving. By thriving, I mean: people are joining weekly or even daily, you are hosting events (if you are event based), people are attending events, people are chatting in the forums, etc.  The more Members you have, the more valuable your group is from the perspective of non-members. Remember, when I transitioned to a Membership plan that charged dues, I started at a $9.99 one-time fee and I didn’t raise it to $19.99 until I had 2,000 dues paying Members.  

@GrowYourGroup - Are These 6 Things Missing from Your Website?I , Laura Occhipinti, founded New Jersey Young Professionals in 2004. I have 5,000+ dues paying Members on my Ning website and 11,000 Young Professionals on my mailing list. You can download a copy of My Favorite Tools (Hint: The BEST ones are FREE). 

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