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Last updated February 27, 2016

If you were a teenager before the advent of the internet or reality TV, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the concept of a celebrity Fan Club. And when I say Fan Club, I don’t mean a Facebook page where a simple click of the mouse makes you a fan. I mean the good old fashioned Fan Clubs where you snail-mailed a form you found in a magazine, and patiently waited for a reply.

For me it was Johnny Depp, back in the days when Johnny Depp was normal and his claim to fame was 21 Jump Street. I sent away the form, along with almost a week’s worth of paper-run funds, and then anxiously waited for my signed photograph, Johnny Depp badge and a certificate to say I ‘belonged’. Twice that year I received the ‘Johnny Depp Journal’ which told me all sorts of fascinating things like what Johnny liked to eat for breakfast and what kind of hair gel he used. Then when I renewed my membership, I got what seemed like an enormous poster to hang on my wall.

Why am I telling you this? Because the Fan Clubs of old are alot like the Supporters Clubs (or ‘Friends Of’ Clubs) which are set up to help non-profit organisations today. While I really, really liked Johnny Depp, I wasn’t sending away my hard earned cash to simply support him; I was doing it because there was something in it for me. In fact, truth be told, it was all about me.

The same is true for your Supporters Clubs. Quite different to a regular giving programme, a Supporters Club caters for people who know who you are and like what you do, but have yet to find a motivation to give. A Supporters Club is about tapping into the fringes of potential donors, and giving them a tangible reason to get involved. They are a great tool for capturing the ‘moderately interested’ and turning them into ‘raving fans’ for your cause.

For that reason alone I’m a big fan of Supporters Clubs, especially for small organisations that don’t have a strong regular donor base. It takes a little bit of effort to set them up right, but if done well, they provide fertile ground for future support.

When setting up a Supporters Club for your organisation you need to consider:

Who is most likely to join the club?
No matter what the benefits, not everyone will want to join your Supporters Club, so it’s important to identify your target market from the outset. Potential club members are likely to have some connection to your organisation or the cause you support. It may be that they have already had contact with your organisation in some way, but not necessarily. Potential members can have connections which are far more abstract.

For example, a Supporters Club for an organisation that addresses a women’s health issue, is likely to attract women as members, since there are many women that look up for their health and even take supplements from sites like http://kratommasters.com to remain healthy. Those women don’t necessarily have to be affected by the disease, or know anyone who is. The fact that the issue could affect them is connection enough.

Remember the most likely candidates for your Supporters Club are people who already know about your organisation and like what you do; they just need to be given the motivation to get involved.

What do potential members want?
Once you have identified who is most likely to join the club, you need to consider what benefits would be of most interest to them. As a Johnny Depp fan, a signed photograph was priceless, but I doubt a signed photograph of your Board Chair will have quite the same effect.

Depending on your organisation, benefits to your Supporters Club members could include:

  • Discounts at relevant stores and businesses
  • Pre-sale tickets to fundraising events and activities (or special seating once they get there)
  • Invitations to member-only events
  • A free product relevant to your cause eg. breast checking kit
  • Access to a special area of your website
  • Information about related issues

It’s important that these benefits are distributed throughout the year, so that members see value in the club on an ongoing basis. Having a regular club newsletter is also important to maintain contact and ensure supporters feel a sense of belonging.

How much will you charge?
When deciding on a membership fee it’s important not to undersell your benefits, while at the same time making it easy for people to get involved. Carefully consider the commercial value of what you are offering and take into account how much it will cost you to administer the club. Given that the Supporters Club is a fundraising tool, any fee you charge needs to actually make you money!

Keep in mind that anything over $50 is likely to require careful consideration from potential members. That’s not to say your membership should be less than $50 – in fact, quite the opposite. Membership to a Supporters Club can easily be $200 or more; it is the payment options which will make all the difference. Allowing members to pay their fee in monthly instalments will dramatically increase your chances of a good membership base, plus it will give you steady cash-flow throughout the year.

How will the club be administered?
Any sort of membership programme needs to be well administered so you can keep track of who’s who and what’s what. While it is possible to manage the club using basic Microsoft programmes, if you’re serious about growing the membership it’s worth using a more specific database system.

A simple google search will help you find a range of database options, but I recommend using one that is specifically designed for non-profits. Infoodle is a good place to start looking and you can check them out at www.infoodle.com .

How does a Supporters Club fit into your overall fundraising plan?
A Supporters Club on its own is a good way to generate some income, but it will have far more value if you consider how it fits with your overall fundraising plan.

A Supporters Club should never be seen as your ‘end goal’; instead it is just a stepping stone to more significant types of giving. By having regular, respectful communication with your supporters, you are able to develop the relationship to where they truly know, like and trust your organisation. Over time, the motivation will change from ‘what’s in it for me’ to ‘what can I do to help’.

Remember, at its heart a Supporters Club is a mechanism to turn the ‘mildly interested’ into ‘raving fans’ for your cause. To make the most of your Supporters Club as a part of your overall fundraising strategy, make sure you:

  • Use every opportunity to share success stories from clients and service users.
  • Give your supporters regular opportunities to deepen their support.
  • Provide supporters with material which raises the profile of the club eg. Bumper Sticker, T-Shirt

However you decide to create your Supporters Club, once established you need to maintain consistency and professionalism. Your club is a window to the rest of your organisation, so it’s not just a case of ‘giving it a shot’. Take the time to set it up well and you will undoubtedly reap the rewards.

Top Tips

  • People are unlikely to join a Supporters Club for an organisation they know nothing about, so spend some time raising the profile of your organisation in the community before you go looking for members.
  • People are more likely to join the club if they are given a personal invitation or request. Start by encouraging your trustees to join the club, and then ask them to invite their peers. When contacting people on your existing database, make sure you do it one-by-one and don’t forget to follow up.
  • Make it easy for people to join the club in the moment they decide to do so. Include your bank account details on your membership form so people can easily set up an automatic payment, or use PayPal to receive membership fees via credit card.
  • As your Supporters Club becomes more established, ask your members for feedback about the benefits on offer. What would they like to keep? What would they be happy to lose? And what would they like added? You may be surprised by how many of their suggestions and easy and inexpensive to put in place.
  • An annual membership drive can be useful, but it is important that you look for ways to maintain momentum throughout the year. Include member recruitment in your overall marketing plan.
  • Be aware that membership is not classed as a donation for tax purposes. That means your membership fee is subject to GST and the member is not eligible for a charitable tax rebate. Before setting up your club it is important that you talk to your accountant so that you have everything happening in the right way.

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