While there are exceptions to every rule, I tend to steer clients away from offering free levels of membership.

I definitely understand the thinking behind a free level. It’s supposed to be like the little pink spoon that they give you at Baskin Robbins to taste test an ice cream flavor before you make your purchase.

The problem is that a free level is very rarely the equivalent of a little pink spoon. Instead, organizations try so hard to show value that they end up satisfying the prospect to the point that they really aren’t hungry for more.

If I can stand here at the counter and taste test what your organization does with my little pink spoon all day long, why would I pull out my wallet to purchase a cup or cone?

That’s the inherent danger that’s built into every free membership.

Some of you might be wondering if I’m being a bit hypocritical here? After all, don’t I offer a free Help Hub and a free weekly Crowdcast? Why would I offer those things if I don’t believe in offering a free level membership?

Quite simply, what you offer for free has to be strategically conceived.

It should do only 3 things:

1) show that you understand the problems that your prospective members face;
2) show that you’ve helped others overcome those problems; and
3) show that there is a path forward for this prospective member.

As soon as you allow nonmembers (or free members) to enter your community, attend your trainings, and consume other offerings, you begin eroding the benefit of joining as a paid member.

These are the types of things that we talk openly about when I’m working with a client to assess and potentially redesign aspects of their member experience. There are a number of ways that we can do that for your organization. If it sounds intriguing, the best way to start is to hop on a call and we can talk about what’s happening for your organization.

I’d love to hear about your experiences in this area. Drop a reply in the comments below and let me know.

If you’d like to catch the Crowdcast that I did recently on this topic, you can go here.

Have a great rest of your week! 

How I Can Support You:

When you're ready to do a deeper dive into the member experience that you're delivering so that your organization can grow more quickly and easily, I can help in 3 ways:

1) Strategy Only – where we map out your best approach to solve challenges and you implement on your own; or

2) Strategy + Team Support – where we map out your best approach to solve challenges and my team helps you implement;

3) Strategy + Group Support – where we map out your best approach to solve challenges and you work alongside other organizations who are working on the same thing.

The best way to get started is by scheduling a quick call.


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.