Membership Models


Clubs and SIGs have many variables to consider when determining the membership model that best serves their diverse constituents, market size, and organizational needs. While some clubs and SIGs employ dues-free membership approaches, others employ paid membership models to generate revenue to support their organizations’ mission and activities. Given that membership management itself can require considerable administrative resources and expense, it’s important to consider your organization’s overall picture and engagement goals when determining whether a dues-based, dues-free, or hybrid membership model will work best for your organization. 

  • Dues models provide a relatively predictable funding base and provide members a way to remain “active” and feel connected to the community even if they don’t regularly participate in programming. At the same time, these models require administrative support and may require a more developed value proposition to attract members, particularly more recent alumni who affiliate via dues-based organizations less regularly than do older alumni. 
  • Dues-free models eschew membership dues, instead generally relying on profit from events fees and or sponsorships to cover their financial needs. Proponents find that by not charging dues, they’re able to place more focus on engagement and participation and that it removes a barrier to entry for younger alumni, while requiring more intentional event strategy to ensure that financial needs are met. 
  • Hybrid models provide for both dues- and non-dues-membership options. These memberships may be determined based on year of graduation (with more recent grads and/or, less frequently, retirees not paying dues while other members do) and/or level of benefits. These models allow alumni to join at a level that works best for them, and may require more significant strategic planning around value proposition, tiered pricing, and benefits.


These resources are designed to help club and SIG leaders explore their membership model options and determine the best approach for their organizations: 


Membership Model Navigator

This Membership Model Navigator was created by club and SIG leaders and other alumni volunteers as a rubric for clubs & Shared Interest Groups looking to determine (for new organizations) or reassess their approach to membership vis a vis their engagement goals and financial realities. The tool aggregates your answers to a number of questions regarding your club or SIG to provide recommendations for which type of membership model(s) could work well for your organization. The higher the number associated with a model, the more relevant that structure is for your organization based on the answers you provided.


Membership Case Studies 

While no two organizations are the same, it can be helpful to consider other groups’ approaches when determining what might work best for your club or Shared Interest Group. Below are a range of examples shared by fellow volunteer leaders to inform your thinking. 


Dues-Free Models:


Dues Models:


Hybrid Models:


Membership Matters Sessions

2019 International Leadership Workshop

Clubs leaders explored how and why organizations take different approaches in defining who is a member of their organizations and how these approaches are reflected in community dynamics and organizational bottom lines at the 2019 International Leadership Workshop. Panelists included leadership from the Harvard Club of Cyprus, Harvard Club of France, Harvard Club of Japan, and Harvard Club of Spain. See the session slides. 


2021 Membership Matters Virtual Session

Volunteers shared various membership models employed by Clubs and SIGs, explored considerations in choosing the best framework for your alumni community, and discussed how the pandemic has impacted membership matters.

Watch the recorded session

See the session slides

Review the discussion notes from the breakout room discussion