With the Membership Puzzle Project we want to offer useful resources for journalism organization staff, freelancers, and consultants as they create new membership programs and/or revamp existing offerings. We’re especially eager to show examples that demonstrate meaningful two-way knowledge exchange between news sites and their members. We’re showcasing sites whose interactions with members benefit organizational sustainability and make for better journalism. These tools are works in progress, and we hope that you will provide additional examples and feedback throughout the course of our research. 


The Membership Launch Handbook

This living document is a collection of articles, worksheets, and exercises for each step of the membership process, from figuring out how to involve your audience members in meaningful ways to choosing a company to process membership payments.

It is evolving as new resources are published, and we’d love to hear what additional resources you would find helpful.

Membership Models in News Database

This database presents information on wide-ranging news organizations and the ways they engage their audience members. You’ll see that it includes sites big and small as well as high variance in the social contracts between organizations and members. In the notes column, you’ll find coverage and case studies about organizations’ membership programs, and we hope you’ll share pieces that others might benefit from, too. We present the database for easy browsing on the topics that most interest you, and it’s acknowledgedly incomplete. We hope you’ll suggest other organizations that are relevant to this data set.

We’ve noticed a few commonalities across these organizations in the ways they organize themselves, operate with their members, and in how members participate. Read this post for more information on how we’re thinking about this work-in-progress tool. We hope to continue to build on this database with your additions and feedback.

Membership in News Literature Library

Please find our compilation of academic and industry articles on historic and current interactions between journalists and the audiences they serve. You may also be interested in these resources:

Please share your suggestions for additional literature through this form.

Membership in Public Radio Database

This database presents information from a sample of 50 public radio stations’ sites across the United States and internationally. We reviewed each station’s website as a prospective member might to understand how stations define membership (and, in almost all cases, financially quantify it). You’ll notice differences in how stations attract and retain members as well as in the ways that individuals can contribute as station volunteers. Please see this post for a more detailed discussion of findings.

You’ll see stations ranging in size and scope and find moderate variations in their membership framing. We hope you’ll suggest other stations that are relevant to this data set. 

Methodological note: Our researcher determined clarity of information according to how easy it was to locate membership information as a new visitor to the station's site and the level of detailed information provided. Sites that she ranked unclear had no available membership information. Sites that she ranked somewhat clear used language interchangeably or included vague descriptions (or, in a handful of cases, included other notable inconsistencies). Sites she denoted as clear or higher provided information that was easy to find and quickly understandable. Sites that she ranked very clear stood out: these sites used especially concrete information on their membership pages and/or included unique features, such as diagrams reflecting costs incurred to produce specific reporting. 

You'll see that thickness of membership evaluations ranged from non-existent (0) to very strong (4). Most stations fell somewhere in between. This was the most qualitative category included in the database, and our researcher evaluated what available information suggested about how members are communicated to.  The difference between not strong (1) and somewhat strong (2) depended on whether members had opportunities to participate beyond donating money to the station. 

The “volunteer engagement” assessment relied on our researcher’s review of a) the language stations used to attract volunteers, b) the designation of volunteers as members/non-members, and c) the number of ways that volunteers could participate beyond financial giving.