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Start & Grow Membership Programs: Proven Strategies for Main Streets & Downtowns Featuring Examples and Tools-You-Can-Use

Last Updated 4/30/2024Posted in Anchors, Tourism, Chambers, Main Streets, Partners, Webinar Recaps

Are you preparing to launch or expand a membership program for your Main Street Association, downtown area, or business group?

Here we'll explore valuable strategies that can transform the way you engage with your community. We'll guide you through the essential steps for launching successful membership or 'Friends of Main Street' programs, highlighting the tools that make the process straightforward and stress-free.

This post draws on our Membership webinar where we were joined by Aimee Byrd, Director of Fayetteville Main Street, who shared insightful lessons from the significant growth and engagement of their membership program.

Aimee shared a number of insights from her experience including:

  • Offer multiple membership levels
  • Use technology to save time, improve participation, and reduce mistakes
  • Consider expanding participation so the broader community can be a part of your story

Below we've distilled those insights and paired them with practical advice to help you tackle the common challenges of starting and sustaining dynamic community programs.

For simplicity, when we talk about "members" we could be talking about partners, supporters, sponsors or any other label you'd like to use - some of you cannot have "members" legally or based on your bylaws but you can have supporters. Regardless, this how-to is for you.

Watch the Launch or Grow Your Membership Plan Webinar Recording

Identifying Membership Plans

Membership plans are not one-sized-fits-all, they can be adjusted to serve your supporters and encourage larger local businesses to spend more.

Aimee mentioned, "We have 7 different levels of membership... We have everything from. We have a dollar membership for kid businesses, and that's a way for our kids to get invested in our downtown. All the way up to a patron level, which is $1000 dollars. So individual memberships, family memberships. You know, businesses, corporations."

Kid memberships are a great way to engage the community and the kid's families while providing multiple payment schedules can help different businesses with different cashflow situations.

Key considerations when it comes to your membership plans are:

  • Who? - This refers to the potential members of your program. It's essential to identify the different categories of your audience, such as individuals, small businesses, corporate entities, or other groups specific to your community. Each group has unique needs and reasons for joining, and your plans should reflect that diversity.

  • Why? - Understanding the motivation behind why different audience segments want to join is crucial. This will guide you in crafting membership benefits that are both attractive to members and beneficial for the organization. It's about aligning their interests with the mission of your Main Street or community program.

  • Value? - Value proposition is a two-way street. You need to articulate what members will gain from joining — this could be access to resources, networking opportunities, or support for their ventures. Simultaneously, it's important to clarify what value their participation brings to the organization and the community at large.

  • The Story? - Every membership plan should tell a compelling story that connects with potential members on an emotional level. This includes sharing the vision of the program, relatable examples of current member successes, and repeatedly communicating the community impact over time.

You can track members in a spreadsheet or other document however this gets tedious especially once you start to field renewals. Simplifying recurring billing for small communities is one of the main reasons we built a membership management feature into our software.

Aimee shared that "by November we switched over to the local platform, and we put all of those memberships that we had in the Excel spreadsheet over into the membership platform, and it was so easy. [We could specify the renewal date and] when the renewals came around they got an automatic invoice."

Membership Sales Considerations

A successful membership program is built on your sales efforts but it doesn't have to be complicated. It builds on your story, their impact, and ways to participate.

Embrace the ABCs – Always Be Closing: ‘Always Be Closing’ is a tongue in cheek reminder that every interaction with a potential member is an opportunity. It's not about aggressive sales tactics; it's about continuously sharing the vision, addressing their concerns, and guiding them through the decision-making process.

The Power of Walking and Talking: Personal connections are key. Engaging with community members through 'Walk & Talk' sessions allows for building relationships outside of formal settings. By taking discussions about memberships to the streets, you create a more relaxed atmosphere, conducive to open conversations and organic interest in joining your cause.

Learning from Examples & Calls-to-Action: Use real-life success stories and clear calls-to-action to demonstrate the tangible benefits of joining your membership program. Show prospective members how others have benefited, and make it easy for them to take the next step. Whether it’s “Join Now”, “Learn More”, or “Sign Up Today”, ensure that your call-to-action is direct, clear, and compelling.

Incorporating these sales strategies can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your membership drive. The included image of Michael Scott from 'The Office' humorously misattributing Wayne Gretzky's famous quote about taking shots is a light-hearted reminder that in sales, as in hockey, you miss every opportunity you don't take. Use humor, be persistent, and always look for ways to connect and close.

Types of Membership Value

You can deliver both tangible and personal benefits to members, this applies to business members and local supporters in the community.

Tangible benefits include things like:

  1. Presence and Prominence: Being included in the community calendar for events and potential customer engagement as well as upgraded business directory listings, featured, events, and more.
  2. Promotion: Sharing of members' sales, social updates, newsletter inclusions, and even ad placements on websites where applicable.
  3. Recognition: Acknowledgement of big employers and businesses as a part of the community, potentially through profiles or sponsorship opportunities.
  4. Programming and Resources: Offering discounts on events, and vendor participation that can help businesses save costs and gain exposure.

Personal benefits include:

  1. Community Impact: Opportunities to attract more customers, assist in hiring and recruiting, and contribute positively to the community's development.
  2. Alignment with Values: Members can associate with a program that reflects their values and supports the community, enhancing their reputation and customer affinity.
  3. Vision and Legacy: Contributing to the vision of the Main Street's future and being part of positive change, members get to be part of a legacy and something larger than themselves.

In all cases, they need to feel like their participation matters and they should feel good about it.

Watch the Membership Management Webinar

Launching and growing your membership program provides tremendous benefits to your community and empowers your organization to realize its purpose. 

The webinar included 4 main sections:

  • Foundational Elements
  • Types of value
  • Fayetteville Main Street’s approach / Q&A
  • Tools you can use today

    Finally, we spent a few minutes reviewing the role of cross-promotion and collaboration within your membership program.

    Watch the Recording of Launch or Grow Your Membership Program Now >>

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