3 min read

What is memberful design and how can it help your organization grow?

Grow community, spark movements, and build your brand with these powerful principles.

3 min read

Here’s a question for you: How often does your team think about community? Maybe it’s every day — or maybe it’s just once a year, when you need photos of constituents to fill the pages of your annual report.

It’s never too early or too often to focus on the people that surround your mission. These are your natural advocates, your loyal supporters, your cheerleaders, and your inspiration. They share an identity, and a purpose — even if that purpose doesn’t yet feel clearly defined.

That’s where memberful design can help. By following its seven principles, you can quickly identify the purpose you share with your fiercest advocates. Then you can grow this community, inspire them, and keep their attention for the long-term. Let’s get started.

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What is memberful design?

Simply put, it’s a series of principles that can help your organization identify, connect with, and build communities — communities that identify with your mission and want to help you achieve it.

Your organization doesn’t have to have a membership program or subscription service to benefit from this. We’ve learned that any organization can use the best practices of member-driven initiatives to build better products, services, and healthier businesses. We’ll get into that more below.

Over time, by focusing on creating long-term, mutually beneficial relationships between your organization and your community, you’ll strengthen your business and build your brand. Your team will also develop a memberful mindset — or the understanding that if you truly involve your public and empower them to contribute to a shared purpose, it will lead to better products, a healthier business, and a more satisfied community.

What are the memberful design principles?

They’re straightforward tips to help you find, connect with, and build a relationship with your most important communities. You can read them in full here, and an abbreviated version below.

  • Make sure members understand your mission: When you can clearly define your purpose and show how others can share it, you'll begin turning a passive audience into passionate contributing members.
  • Give members transparent benefits that they actually want: Clearly communicate what people will receive when they join your organization, and ask them what would be valuable to them.
  • Show people at the center of your organization: Make sure your organization has a human face and is approachable in a low-threshold way. Be ready to start a conversation and a two-way relationship with your public.
  • Be respectful of your members’ attention: Simplicity of design, transparent messaging, and a cohesive, thoughtful experience can let your members focus on your shared purpose without distraction
  • Give members a seat at the table: By encouraging feedback, you broaden your perspective and deepen your understanding of your own work.
  • Offer insights and updates about things that matter to your members: When you communicate, your content is based on your members wants and needs — not those of the organization.
  • Empower members to become ambassadors: Make sure members can easily share your mission within their own communities, tell your story, and invite others to join in.
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How can memberful design help solve my organization’s problems?

These design principles can help all kinds of groups, from startups launching a new service, to cultural institutions evolving for the digital age, and even storied, established household names.

No matter your business focus, every organization needs individuals to spend money, time, and attention to support your mission and your bottom line. Not just once, in passing, but repeatedly, and over time.

That means building a loyal, committed audience. Whether that looks like repeat customers, monthly subscribers, brand ambassadors, volunteers — these are people who identify with your cause and want to help bring it to life.

And in return you can give them what they value, from sharp insights, to beloved products, to relevant information, all backed by a community they can be a part of.

What makes memberful design different from other design schools of thought?

We often focus on users — but putting the individual at the heart of your strategy can be limiting. In fact, it can even blind you to the power of your broader community. Here’s how:

At a basic level, no one don’t want to be thought of as a ‘user’, with all the dark connotations that word implies. We’d rather think of ourselves as, well, people, who take part in things we enjoy, by choice. As an example, think about any brand you truly love. It’s likely you love them because you identify with their purpose, not their addictive algorithms or shiny interface.

Secondly, user-centered or human-centered design focuses first and foremost on individuals. That can limit our viewpoint and mean we often miss broader trends. In the design community, we interview users to validate our decisions or deepen our understanding. Of course, there’s no way to interview everyone who interacts with your brand. But you can broaden your lens to see a bigger picture by giving your audience a seat at the table and shared ownership of your mission. In return, you hear more from more of them.

Lastly, a user is a customer, a member is part of your movement. Membership creates identity — and people are more likely to act on behalf of causes they identify with. We know that most people want to be a part of something larger than themselves. Through memberful design, you make that something your purpose — and give your members a chance to make it their own.

Where does the concept of memberful design come from?

The genesis of this philosophy has its roots in the Membership Puzzle Project (MPP), an initiative our team at Momkai helped co-found. Momkai is also a co-founder of De Correspondent, the third-largest membership-backed journalism platform in the world. As part of that initiative, we were curious to learn how to best motivate people to act together for something they believe in.

New York University researchers Jay Rosen and Emily Gould founded the Membership Puzzle Project to answer this question. They wanted to learn if membership-backed newsrooms could grow sustainably.

While the roots of this philosophy come from journalism, at Momkai we’ve used memberful design to create lasting, durable initiatives across the spectrum.

We’ve seen the memberful approach work with organizations like Hymn, a digital stage for original happenings launched during the midst of the Covid pandemic lockdowns. Members were happy to support artists in a unique way, and served as ambassadors by inviting others to join.

We’ve also used this approach to successfully create a home for 1.2 million members of the Royal Dutch Football Association, giving them the tools to share information and updates on and off the field.

We’ve even seen this work with organizations like the Oncode Institute, a cancer research center we launched in partnership with Her Royal Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. Together, we created a knowledge community, one in which leading scientists work toward common goals: helping more cancer patients survive, improving quality of life for those afflicted, and ultimately curing the disease.

All of these groups, and many more, have partnered with us to use memberful design to successfully build their communities, grow their brands, and create long-lasting initiatives.

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How do I get started?

Ready to make your organization more member-focused and reap the benefits? Great! Create an action plan for your organization during a one-day memberful workshop. Reach out to Alex, growth director at Momkai, to discuss how this could help make your business more effective.

What do you think?

If you’ve made it this far, we want to hear from you. Take the Memberful Design survey and let us know what you like, what you love, and what you want to hear more about. Thanks for being a part of this community.

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