Membership Tiers: How to Encourage Member Upgrades

Using membership tiers is a great way to maximize your association’s revenue. Learn about setting up tiered membership and encouraging your members to upgrade.

Members are the core of any association, both as the main audience for mission-driven efforts and as a source of revenue. Building a happy member base is a top priority for associations, but it can be a challenge to please a diverse group of members who join associations for a variety of professional and personal reasons. A tiered membership program can help create a flexible, tailored offering that satisfies members who want different levels of involvement or have budgetary constraints.

What is tiered membership?

Programs with membership tiers allow your association to offer unique packages of benefits to members. Each package or tier is priced differently to provide offerings for any budget, and those with the most benefits require the highest dues. While tiers are typically structured around the amount of value a member will get from the package, they can also be based on the member’s career stage with students and recent graduates starting at lower-cost tiers.

The benefits of membership tiers

Membership tiers are a great way to give your members the flexible experience they want while also achieving your broader organizational goals.

  • Boost revenue: Using membership tiers gives members more ways to join your association, which can unlock extra revenue from those willing to pay for more benefits, or allow potential members with a smaller budget an entry point with your organization. This is especially important during times of changing economic conditions and global crises.

  • Improve member retention: Tiers can also increase member retention by improving member satisfaction and offering them new options. Tiered membership gives members the flexibility to choose from plans with different benefits and opportunities, based on how much they’d like to invest in the association.

  • Increase member engagement: Tiered models also open up the opportunity to deepen engagement through upgrades as you offer more ways to get involved.

To encourage members to upgrade, you’ll need to connect with them on a personal level. Using a membership management platform, you can gather key data about members and segment them by demographic information, years of membership, experience in your field, and more to identify strong upgrade candidates and improve your messaging.

Let’s get started by discussing how you can use these pieces of data to understand each member’s journey through your organization and motivate them to upgrade and get more out of their membership.

Understand your members’ journeys

Understanding your association's membership journey is an essential part of strategically attracting new members and encouraging them to join. An initial membership journey is the path someone takes between becoming aware of the association and joining as a member, but it doesn’t stop there. You should also study the paths existing members take between becoming a member and completing a desired action (like upgrading to higher membership tiers).

Being able to map out this path is critically important for finding the most effective strategies for encouraging upgrades and member retention. Knowing how members come to you and engage with your offerings helps you tailor the experience for both potential members and existing ones who are are willing to upgrade. Understanding a member journey makes it easier to find roadblocks in the sign up or upgrade process, then resolve them for a more seamless experience that your members will appreciate.

For example, let’s say a nonprofit is looking for ways to encourage donors to increase their donation amount and they know most donors give by clicking through to their online donation page. As noted in Bloomerang’s guide to donation upgrades, an effective strategy in this context is to incorporate suggested donation upgrades to donors. However, this strategy likely wouldn’t have a large impact if the typical donor journey involved mailing a check to the nonprofit. Ultimately understanding a member’s journey is about aligning your communication with their habits and preferences to make the process as seamless as possible.

If you know that most of your members engage with your association online, you might add similar upgrade buttons to your association’s website. If you have a robust email marketing strategy, consider adding calls to action urging members to upgrade or links to resources about the membership tiers. It’s all about meeting your members where they are and making the path to these valuable actions smoother.

Create additional value

When you ask members to upgrade their membership, you’re also asking them to spend more to be a member. To justify this ask, each of your membership tiers should include benefits and added value that build on what the previous tier offers.

Here are a few ideas for adding additional value to membership tiers:

  • Discounted or free merchandise

  • Early access to event registration

  • Exclusive newsletters

  • Small group meetings with influential members of your field

  • Access to mentorship programs

  • Libraries with free access to research, studies, and other resources

  • Discussion groups with other upper-tier members

Getting the word out about these benefits can be the largest hurdle for many associations. While you should have them readily available to any prospective or existing members perusing your website or member portal, consider holding hybrid or virtual meetings to give members who are interested in upgrading a summary of the benefits and take any questions they might have. You can also extend free “trials” to those who attend these meetings as an incentive, allowing them to get a taste of the benefits before committing to upgrading.

Provide opportunities for deeper engagement

To motivate members to upgrade, you’ll need to provide opportunities for them to build a strong sense of community, network with peers, and collaborate with association leadership. When members make deep connections with others and feel like they belong, they are more likely to stick around and invest additional time and money into being a part of the association.

Here are a few strategies you can use to get members involved behind the scenes and motivate them to connect with fellow members:

  • Request their input: Ask what things members would like to see more of (like educational resources or conferences) or ways that you could improve each membership tier’s offerings. Then, use their responses to add benefits to your membership tiers that make them want to upgrade. Consider asking for more general suggestions like events, topics, and guests they’d like to see in the future to provide a better overall member experience.

  • Encourage discussions: Provide members with a discussion forum they can use to connect with each other, ask questions, and express opinions. Motivate your members to participate on these discussion boards by reminding them to contribute during meetings, explaining the professional benefits of participating in discussions, and sharing links to forums for convenient access.

  • Support a worthy cause: Give members a sense of responsibility by putting together member-led communities that organize fundraising initiatives on behalf of the association. Working together to support a cause related to your field can help make your association feel like a united community and foster teamwork among members. Remember to share any communications from those you support like thank-you letters and emails with members to encourage them to hold future fundraisers.

With the help of your association management system (AMS), it will be easy for you to implement these strategies at your association. You can leverage your AMS to track participation data to see which members participate most often and would be most receptive to upgrade conversations.

On the other hand, you can also track which members have low levels of participation and could be at risk of leaving. Then, you can begin to proactively use your lapsed member protocol to encourage them to remain members of your association. Membership tiers also give you a new tool for reducing churn — reminding at-risk members that they can always downgrade their membership level and re-upgrade when the time is right.


Membership tiers not only benefit your association by driving increased revenue, but they also help you learn more about what members truly want out of their engagement with your association. When you leverage a tiered membership program with your AMS, you can learn more about members, give them their desired experience with your association, build long-lasting relationships, and strengthen a vital revenue stream for your organization.

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