Introducing The Membership Guide, a practical handbook for launching and growing membership

The future of local journalism is being built with and for communities. 

The most successful modern publishers focus their editorial processes on building trust and meeting the needs of the communities they serve while creating revenue streams that draw on direct reader support. 

Membership is one of the exciting ways that news organizations of all types, across the globe, are building community trust and sustainability.

That’s why, today, in partnership with The Membership Puzzle Project, we’re proud to introduce The Membership Guide, a practical handbook to help news organizations launch, grow, and sustain membership programs. 

You can check out the guide now at MembershipGuide.org. The Membership Guide was created with support from the Google News Initiative. 

The research team is proud to share this resource with news publishers everywhere. The Membership Guide contains pragmatic strategies and tactics for how news organizations can develop and launch membership, plan their membership move, grow their membership program, and make membership stick. 

The strategies outlined in the Handbook are backed by MPP’s three years of research into membership models for news, Lenfest’s expertise in paid reader revenue strategies, advice from leading industry experts, and interviews with more than 50 newsrooms and organizations supporting journalists from around the globe. The tactics are accentuated by more than 30 case studies, which offer concrete examples of how publishers have executed these strategies. 

For example, you could check out our advice on how to create a solid value proposition for membership, then read how South African news site The Daily Maverick created its marketing roadmap and how The Tyee, based in Canada, executed a crowdfunding campaign.

The news organizations featured in The Membership Guide were selected because they have clear lessons to share with the rest of the industry about how to design, launch, and grow membership. The news organizations featured in the Guide are by no means an exhaustive set of publishers pursuing membership strategies or a compilation of the best newsrooms. The diverse set of newsrooms featured in the Guide provide a close look at the array of membership strategies in news. 

The featured newsrooms were chosen after an extensive audience research process. We interviewed individuals from more than 25 newsrooms to better understand and support their goals, challenges, and needs. (You can see our user research questions here.) This research also informed how our team built The Membership Guide website, to make it as easy and accessible to navigate as possible. 

You can meet the incredible research and product teams and read about how we made the Guide here

The Membership Puzzle Project and the Lenfest Institute intend for The Membership Guide to evolve over time. In the coming months, we’re going to work with MPP to update the guide with new sections on newsroom culture change, member-owned co-ops, and more. 

And we want your voice to be a part of the Membership Guide as well. The Guide’s Discussion section will serve as a hub for ongoing conversations and a place where you can contribute your insights and questions. 

We’re kicking things off with two exciting conversations this week: 

  • MPP Director Jay Rosen and Ashley Alvarado, KPCC/LAist director of community engagement, are conversing about “memberful routines.” The discussion will be live beginning at 10 a.m. EDT today and will close on Friday at 3 p.m. EDT.
  • Sebastian Esser, co-founder and former publisher of Krautreporter and co-founder of membership platform Steady; current Krautreporter Publisher Leon Fryzser; and Zetland CEO Tav Klitgaard will discuss how they designed their membership programs. They’ll be chatting through Friday. 
  • The product and tech team that built the Guide website will be chatting about their process and provide a peek behind the curtain of the creation Guide.

Together with Texas Tribune’s RevLab, we’re also offering a Membership 101 Training Course this fall as part of the Lenfest News Philanthropy Network. The five-week course will build on lessons featured in the Guide. Join us on Oct. 15 for a discussion with the Guide team about successful membership programs and learn more about how you can apply for the Training Course. 

When we began this project in January, we had no idea that we’d be launching The Membership Guide amid a global pandemic and a reckoning around racial equity in the United States. But we believe that all that has transpired this year makes membership — and this guide — more resonant than ever. 

In order for news organizations to sustainably serve their communities, communities need to be at the heart of news

We hope that The Membership Guide empowers news organizations to begin their membership journey.

Illustration by Momkai.

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