I was speaking with two contacts at a client of mine about their multiple membership programs. One of the programs they told me about had 1,500 individual members paying $100 each (which by my math is $150,000 annually). They were asking my advice on whether the program was priced correctly.

I asked, ” What’s the objective of the membership? $150,000 annually sounds pretty successful to me.”

The first replied: “Well, earning money isn’t the most important objective. Our goal is to expand the reach of the membership.”

The second replied, “That’s true, except at our last board meeting, the board was concerned that this membership class had not reached budget.” (It was $5,000 short against budget.)

My response: “Before we can measure success we have to know how we’re measuring it. There could be a single measurement, like number of members, or total revenue, or net revenue after expenses. Or it could be a combination of those and others. But there has to be some agreed upon objective against which we can measure our progress; otherwise we’ll never know if we’re succeeding.”

Several of my clients have moved to a free membership model. Their focus and objective is not to raise money (obviously) but to extend the reach of their influence, expand the base of their membership, and further their mission through free programs. There’s nothing wrong with that model, as long as the objectives are clear to everyone.