What if members can’t afford your membership?

Aug 7, 2018

It happened again yesterday. Someone emailed me potentially starting a membership, but expressed concern that his target audience would likely have ‘budget’ issues.

The typical advice that you might hear is that you’re working with the wrong avatar – that you shouldn’t be trying to work with people who can’t afford you.

That advice feels a little too dismissive to me. After all, what if working with this audience is your big calling? What if it’s a need that is deeply rooted in your sense of personal and professional purpose.

This concern comes up quite often for my audience in particular because my clients tend to have big hearts, social awareness and a strong desire to make a difference. I often hear legitimate reasons why their target audience can’t afford to do business with them (or join a membership).

Several examples jump to mind immediately:

  • The college professor who feels called to work with college students who are stressed out and overwhelmed (with little money of their own);
  • The business coach who wants to help women in impoverished communities build marketable skills and viable businesses;
  • The social worker who envisions a membership that gives youth a supportive path through all the peer pressures that they face around them;
  • The community activist who believes that creating a neighborhood association can reduce crime and improve the quality of life in an area that is struggling.

The answer in situations like this isn’t a simple, “you need to find another avatar”. The answer is, “you need to find a different way to get paid”. That’s likely going to take some creativity.

The good news is that membership on its own can naturally be a more affordable way of offering your support. If you are a business coach that works with an audience that can’t afford your full rate, a membership offering could allow people to access what you do at a price point that works for them.

However, if even a reduced rate isn’t going to work, that’s when we have to look to other possibilities.

I’d look first at two specific approaches:

  1. Who else cares about the outcome that you’d be achieving for your members?The cost of a membership may well be worth it to a college student’s parents if the alternative is that the student loses a scholarship or financial aid.
    How about looking at how much each student’s tuition is worth to the school – would reducing the dropout rate by just a student or two make a huge difference in revenue?
    When working with impoverished neighborhoods, how much is crime costing the city?
    Are there businesses that could benefit from connecting with your members or with the outcome that you are trying to achieve?
    Are there other organizations that could strategic align to share costs and help you reduce what you’d have to charge?
  2. Is there a way to involve your members in revenue generation?Could your membership involve teaching skills to members that then could be marketed to others?
    Could you host an event that would be meaningful to members and to others who value the outcome that you’re working to achieve?
    Are there products that could be created by members that could be offered with some sort of revenue split?

The key in any of these situations is to look for win-win-win scenarios – something that helps you, helps the member, and helps the entity that has more financial resources.

I’d be curious to hear if this is an area that you’ve bumped up against and how you’ve approached it. Or if you’ve seen an organization that you think does this well.

Tell me about it in the comments below.


Joy Duling is Founder and CEO of The Joy of Membership.  Since 2005, Joy and her team have helped associations, trade groups and membership-based nonprofits run their programs more easily and deliver exceptional member care.

You can find FREE tools, tips and training to help you run and grow your membership organization in The Joy of Membership Help Hub.



Hey there.  I’m Joy Duling, Founder and CEO of The Joy of Membership.

Clients hire me to help them design and deliver exceptional member experiences. If you lead an association, trade group, or membership-based nonprofit, you can find FREE resources to help you run and grow your membership organization by visiting here: http://joyofmembership.com/help

I look forward to connecting with you there.