I was browsing through an online group recently and noticed the same question repeatedly asked in a variety of ways:

  • What’s the best way to make money from my community?
  • How can I get people to pay for my membership?
  • If I offer a free membership, how will I get people to step up to a paid level?
  • Why aren’t people paying to join when they say they love it?

These questions don’t surprise me. I’ve seen people float in and out of my own community with the same pursuit. They want their membership to make money… and preferably, make it fast.

There was a time when the structure of online membership was a novelty. You could easily take a little content, post it behind a login, and people would pay to access the information. The approach worked equally well for associations, trade groups, entrepreneurs, nonprofits and hobbyists.

In fact, many of the successful memberships you see today got their start in those glory days.

Alas, those days are gone and the market has changed.

Today, you can get almost any information you want with a few clicks of a mouse… or just by asking your device a question. (Someday I’m going to count how many times a day my husband starts a sentence with, “OK Google…” to activate a search for some random bit of information.)

That means membership and the way you monetize it has to change as well.

So, what works now?

1) Not just information – IMPACT!

Members want more business? Don’t just tell them how – bring them together in creative ways that result in them new leads and growth opportunities.

Members want to improve their neighborhood? Don’t just give them a contact directory of people who live there – bring them together in ways that reduce crime, make common areas more beautiful and encourage relationship-building.

Members want to ease world hunger? Don’t just give them stats and donor receipts – bring them together in ways that help them create impact and see results.

Today, people PAY for impact, not for information. This requires that we are more creative, more engaging and more results-focused than ever before.

2) Indirect monetization

Sometimes we have to accept that it may not be possible to monetize a community directly by charging a membership fee to belong.

Luckily, there are great alternatives.

  • Your community could be a credibility-building gateway to other services that people would buy from you.
  • Your community could attract sponsors, allowing you to monetize through advertising space, sponsored posts or partner-level memberships.
  • Your community may be interested in purchasing products for which you make a commission.
  • Your community may pay to attend higher-end events.
  • Your community can collaborate with you to create products that will sell better.
  • Your community could be divided into smaller sub-communities on niche topics for which they will pay a membership to participate.
  • Your community could develop such a strong internal culture that you can sell branded merchandise to them.
  • Your community can be an attractive bonus for prospects who are considering hiring you for other things.
  • Your community could be paid for by someone else who is interested in the outcome you're working toward. (For example, a member's employer may be happy to support a membership that results in stress reduction or better attendance; a member's parent may be willing to pay for a membership that results in better grades or higher self-esteem; a grant funder may provide funds to support a membership that brings people together to help the homeless; etc.)

While I encourage my clients to be creative in monetization strategies, one VERY important thing to keep in mind is that your audience isn’t gathering to put money in your pocket.

Quite frankly, that’s not something that they care about at all. They only care about what they are getting out of the community.

I *know* you *know* this… but it's really easy to slip into purely thinking from the revenue perspective.

So, consider this just to be a gentle reminder not to overlook or shortchange my first point – creating real impact. You absolutely must have that first – or there is realistically no chance of finding solid monetization.

What are your thoughts around monetization?  Are you doing creative things in your own membership?  I'd love to hear what works… or what hasn't.

Share your thoughts in the comments.




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