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How do we meaningfully involve members?

When, and how, should members be consulted about decisions, and how does that fit with membership as a revenue strategy? The balance of expectations, transparency, communication, and shared ownership can be a delicate one that requires careful tending. Emily Goligoski of The Membership Puzzle Project rounds up advice about building and reinforcing member relationships from an international complement of news organizations who are building the membership playbook.

The Correspondent announced in early April that it would not open a New York City office after its smash-hit crowdfunding effort.  Perplexed, new members fired back on Twitter. That conversation prompted public reflection from founder Rob Wijnberg in an interview with Neiman Lab, and a flurry of analyses linked in this resource.

Many new members have given the entirely membership-dependent news organization another chance. Emily Goligoski, Research Director for The Membership Puzzle Project, used this moment to surface the fundamental question about how member-driven news organizations bring members into their strategy and workflow, and how news orgs should respond if they breach member trust.

[M]embers anywhere can feel misled when they don’t see the trust and transparency they expect. [Controversy around The Correspondent’s office locaton]’s also about the challenges of mass communication–and the practicalities of involving people at scale–that member-focused organizations have to navigate. There aren’t clear historical expectations for members of journalism sites about how they or site staff should behave.

Goligoski poses that question to ten different practitioners and returns with a few gems, nicely summarized by Matt Kizer, founder of WTF Happened Today.

When you’re member-funded, you’re obligated to ask for permission when shifting course, because you work for your members – you’re in the relationship business.

The whole piece is a reminder that for local, member-funded news organizations, listening is as important for sustaining support as reporting.

Note: since we added this resource, The Correspondent has shut down. Read more about the implications for consumer revenue strategies and reader trust here.