As more news organizations look into the possibility of membership, we caught up with the News Revenue Hub, an organization that knows more about it than likely any other in the industry.

The hub, which is helping organizations of all shapes and sizes launch and sustain membership programs, offered a glimpse into what’s working, what to think about before jumping into membership and why it’s such an exciting time to be considering this form of engagement with readers.

Here’s our interview with the hub’s CEO Mary Walter-Brown:

Tell us a little about the News Revenue Hub and who you are doing work with today.

The News Revenue Hub is a mission-driven nonprofit organization that helps news outlets develop and manage reader revenue programs. Currently, we are serving more than 30 client news organizations from around the country, ranging from hyperlocal sites in New Orleans, Berkeley, Bethesda and Brooklyn to regional sites in Mississippi, Hawaii, New Jersey and California, and sites reaching a national and global audience including The Intercept, The Center for Public Integrity and Politifact. We’ve helped all of these news outlets launch and manage successful membership programs. Specifically, we provide the back-end technology stack and front-end consulting to help them develop a deeper relationship with their readers that promotes longterm financial support.

In 2018, we helped our clients raise $4.5 million in secured donations and another $2 million in pledged recurring donations that are slated to come in from committed donors over the next two years.

Who are the successful companies with membership and what’s their secret been?

Every one of our clients has experienced success in launching membership programs. One of our smallest clients raised $90,000 in their first year and our most successful client brought in over $1 million. We have found that news organizations that are particularly successful at membership share several key personality traits. They are receptive to new ideas, willing to test and iterate theories, avoid analysis paralysis, think about revenue potential at every turn, and are interested in reducing complexity. Some great examples are the Honolulu Civil Beat, Rivard Report, Voice of San Diego and Politifact.

If someone is thinking about launching a membership program, what are the sort of things that they should think about or their company should be doing, before they decide to jump in?

News organizations that want to foster successful membership programs must be serious about building and maintaining a relationship with their readers. We’ve found that audience loyalty, not sheer volume of unique users, is the best predictor of a fruitful membership program. One of the most effective ways to develop loyalty is through solid newsletter products where a reader can connect with the organizations in a very personal way on a daily or weekly basis. This means that news outlets must be committed to developing those products. They also must be comfortable communicating with readers in an honest and open way about their business model and the need for readers to support them. Lastly, news organizations considering membership should have support and commitment from the top, down. Membership programs can’t just be considered a business development project. It requires the entire organization to embrace it.

Why do you think certain audiences have reacted so well to membership?

I think certain audiences are more conditioned to support public service journalism. Certainly, audiences that are longtime public media supporters are more familiar with the model and more willing to support news outlets. However, across the board, we’ve found that audiences will invest in news organizations they value and trust. It’s all about building a relationship with the reader and explaining their role in supporting the reporting.

Anything happening at News Revenue Hub or that you might be working on in the future that you’d like to tell us about?

Beyond membership, we are involved in several projects in the digital news sector, including an exciting partnership with WordPress and Google called Newspack. We are also conducting several research studies like this New York City digital news landscape analysis we conducted last year.