Adaptive Management and Membership Models

Adaptive Management and Membership Models


By David Allen, Development for Conservation

For the past few weeks, I’ve been exploring the five-year value of new members.

I’ve received data points now from eleven different organizations. THANK YOU! to all who have participated.

The range of experience is from $139 to $817. The median is about $400. The question I’d like to explore this week is so what?

The thing about KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators), or metrics, is that the exercise of collecting the information is not the point. Using information to modify your behavior is. Here, we are called upon to think like a Range Ecologist: Act, Measure, Learn, Adapt. It is only valuable if you allow what you learn to affect your behavior next time.

So how can we use what the five-year value of membership is telling us? Let’s use the median value of $400 per member to:

Justify the cost of marketing. It costs me $$ to recruit a member right now. The value of that member is $400 after five years. This is very probably scalable. The more times I input $$, the more times I can output $400 after five years. Marketing is money that is difficult to “sell” in budget discussions, and especially so when we’re looking at one-year returns. Looking at five years returns can help.

Predict how much money I will have five years from now. We used 2013 as our test year and counted how much money those members gave between 2013 and 2017, over a total of five years. If I repeat the membership count for the years 2014-2017 and multiply by $400, I can get closer to predicting how my revenue might shift every year. In particular, if my recruitment dramatically spikes or drops off one year, I will be able to predict how that might affect my fundraising five years from then.

Model how many members will be necessary to raise a certain amount of money five years from now. I need to build the capacity of my land trust to raise money to the $$$ level. Therefore, I need to recruit “$$$ divided by 400” members every year. And if I can recruit that number of members this year and sustain that recruitment effort for five years, I will be able to raise $$$ per year thereafter.

Test the efficacy of various recruitment strategies. Does it matter how a member is recruited? Are project members different after five years than members recruited from events? How about social media? Direct mail?

Test the efficacy of various retention strategies. We know that the largest drop-off in giving is between the first gift and the first renewal. Improving that retention rate might be the single most significant thing you can do to affect the five-year value of membership. So what works? What is worth the investment of time and money? Taking this a step deeper, what is the five-year value of first renewals?

Here’s one thing I can document absolutely: The closer your members feel to being a part of your mission, the larger the five-year value.

Different organizations handle this in different ways, but paper (tangible) newsletters, periodic acquisition appeals that call upon members to give toward a specific project, and active programs that bring people and nature together (field trips) – these things matter a lot.

And now you can quantify it.


If you start digging into your own data, I will be very interested in your stories and insights. What are you discovering? What are you learning?

And how are you allowing it to change your behavior?


If you haven’t sent me your five-year numbers yet, I’m still interested. The email address is David (at) DevelopmentForConservation (dot) com.

Have a great week!






Photo by Maria Shanina courtesy of


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