How To Create A Subscription Website For Nonprofits

September 4, 2022
8 minutes
A white page with the word "Subscribe" in teal sits on a teal background with teal shapes on the right hand side.

Gone are the days of buying Microsoft Office and owning it forever. Also gone: Swinging by five different hardware stores to find those very specific pliers you need. Nowadays, we live in a subscription website world, where the automated monthly payments flow in exchange for a variety of goods and services. From Netflix and New York Times content to Green Chef and Stitch Fix goodies, subscription websites are where it’s at. And as a nonprofit, you, too, can tap into this trend. Please join us on a joyous journey through the wondrous land of subscription living and giving.

What is a monthly subscription website?

Once upon a time, a monthly subscription website was any website that required users to pay a recurring monthly fee in exchange for exclusive content. Today, this business model also includes services that are locked behind a paywall, such as Amazon’s speedy delivery system or Birchbox’s monthly beauty boxes. And lest we forget: Subscription websites are a type of membership website, and subscription programs are also called recurring giving programs in nonprofit land.

Here’s why and how to create a subscription website for your nonprofit

As a nonprofiteer, you already know the value of recurring donors. If you want to take that recurring giving program to the next level, a subscription website is the logical next step.

Here, we’ll walk you through the why, how, and whatfor of creating a subscription website. And of course, you can always check out Funraise’s subscription site tools to make the whole process a breeze, so we’ll give you the DL on that, too.

Without further ado, here’s how to set up a subscription-based website:

  • Make the decision
  • Plan your subscription program
  • Determine your audience
  • Choose a subscription platform
  • Build your subscription site
  • Maintain your program

1. Decide a subscription website is for you.

Let’s flip that: Why wouldn’t a subscription website be for you? Let’s see... it takes time to come up with a plan, a recurring program requires priming and marketing, and you have to dedicate time and resources to cultivating your recurring donors. Honestly... it sounds like any other fundraising campaign—plan, market, and follow up. The difference is that it results in more than just a one-time lump profit.

Long game, people; think long game.

2. Plan your subscription program.

And here we are, at the first step: Planning! Do you want this to be a small group of really engaged supporters? Maybe a huge pool of small-dollar donors. Or a bunch of people passionate about one specific aspect of your programming. Start by teasing out your ideal situation—maybe even write out a fantasy subscription scenario—and then work backwards to the starting point.

3. Get to know your target audience.

Looking back at the previous step, a large part of your planning depends on your audience. And not just the audience itself, but what you’ve got planned for them. Whether it’s loads of engaging content or a newsletter each month or VIP tables and water bottle service at the next fun run or personalized impact reports, search out donors who respond to your mission, your community, and your offering.

4. Choose a subscription fundraising platform.

There’s just one real choice here: Funraise! Funraise believes so fiercely that subscription programs are necessary for nonprofit security and progress that we’ve made our fundraising platform, CRM, and retention tools free for nonprofits like yours that want to start and grow recurring communities.

5. Let the building commence!

Now that you’ve got Funraise, let’s get your subscription program started! You may want to just add a gorgeous and easy donation page for this specific project—you can expand to a custom subscription site later.

1. Choose an inspiring subscription program (or two!)

We’ve included some gorgeous, fun, and successful for-profit subscription programs below, as well as some bad-ass, uplifting, thriving nonprofit recurring giving programs elsewhere on our blog. Take a look and get inspired to take the best elements of the best programs to be your best.

2. Add your brand

Funraise makes this one easy! Add your logo, colors, content that’ll educate and evoke emotions, images, video, and anything else that you need to tell your nonprofit’s story.

3. Embed an awesome donation form

Again, easy with Funraise. Basically, you need a specific donation form to tie into this particular program. Have it default to monthly giving instead of a one-time gift, have the ask string reflect your subscription program levels, and if this subscription program is supporting a specific program, set the allocation to acknowledge that. Don’t forget to customize your donation confirmation emails with all the necessary info, like the name of your recurring program, the date that the monthly donation will be billed, and a way to update credit card info, opt out, or increase the monthly donation!

4. Include sweet extras

It’s definitely not necessary, but it never hurts to send a sticker to your supporters! If you’re going to provide exclusive content, give potential members an example or overview of what they can expect. And if you’ve got specialty swag*, offer it for purchase, orrrrrrr show donors that they can get additional goodies just by upping their membership level!

*Wait, did we just hear you ask about the tax implications of swag? While we’re glad you brought it up, we don't want to give advice about the tax implications of goods because it amounts to legal advice and we are definitely not lawyers. But we can definitely remind you that depending on your country, city, or state, as well as the value of the item you're giving away and type of nonprofit organization you are, you should know your rights and limitations around your nonprofit's ability to give out swag and sell merchandise. Please take the time to research or consult an expert in nonprofit tax and legal regulations.

5. Test and test again!

Never, ever, EVER start a program, publish a page, or promote an event without testing, testing, getting someone else to test, and then testing again. You’ve been warned.

6. Publish and promote

It’s go time! Get those newsletters, website banners, social media posts, and search and social ads going! And to prime the pump, ask a few of your most loyal supporters to sign up first and get the FOMO going.

Why use Funraise’s subscription page for your nonprofit

Setting up a subscription website for your nonprofit sounds pretty darn good, doesn’t it? On the other hand, it can also be a lot of work. Enter Funraise, with its effective recurring donations tools that make building a subscription page a snap. “Why Funraise?” you may ask. “For sooo many reasons!” we definitely answer. Here are just a few of them.

Get started with a monthly subscription program today—Create a free Funraise account.

1. Branding just for you

Funraise makes it easy to highlight your brand and tell your story through branded donation pages. Add your logo, choose your colors, and select your images to create a customized, eye-catching subscription page.

2. Build a site with ease

Sure, you could teach yourself WordPress, build a subscription site, find the best plugins, and learn the ins and outs of coding, all while doing your day job. But if, like us, you’re short on time and big on impact, Funraise can save you many an hour and headache. A bit of strategizing, a few clicks, and you have a five-star recurring donation subscription page ready to go.

3. Totally terrific templates

Website design is an art and a science, and at Funraise, our staff is a bunch of creative rocket scientists. (Well, not literally, but they’re still really great.) We’ve created tons of gorgeous templates for you to choose from, from the almighty home page to virtual events. You can go from subscription-site zero to subscription-site hero in a flash.

4. Darn delightful data

A pretty page is awesome, but an impactful aaaand pretty page is even awesomer. Build your subscription page with one goal in mind: increasing donor giving. That’s why we provide all the information you need to steer your monthly recurring subscription strategy. You can easily find all the data fit to print and create reports to track your progress.

5. The perfect giving experience

All in all, Funraise is all about subscription-based websites that make you and your donors happy. They’re easy to build, easy to use, and easy on the eyes. What’s not to love?

Building a subscription-based website: key elements

While your subscription web page is a great place to showcase your creativity, there are certain key elements that every membership website should include. When you start building a subscription-based website, check the boxes below. Then, feel free to add all the bells, whistles, and glitter you want.

1. A donation platform that works

It isn’t the most glamorous, but choosing a donation platform that works is vital to a successful subscription site. If your donors can’t get those recurring payments going in a couple of clicks, chances are they’re going to sign off. A couple of things to keep in mind: Make it mobile-friendly, and give folks the option to pay however they want, be it PayPal, Stripe, credit card, or sea glass (it’s pretty!). Sidenote: Funraise has you covered for both those areas.

2. Exclusive content

People love subscriptions because they’re getting something special—something they can’t get anywhere else. So, you need to offer them some high-quality, members-only content. Let’s say your nonprofit’s life work is to give makeovers to homely capybaras. A worthy cause! Your content could include a webinar about the best makeup products for capybaras, an online course on capybara fur-styling, and a monthly podcast featuring a different capybara guest each month.

3. Options, tiers, and levels

Just like a subscription business, your nonprofit subscription site should offer donors a variety of membership options. For example, Hulu offers ads or no ads—and no ads comes at an additional cost, but of course. You, too, can customize your subscription options with different levels and accompanying benefits. In particular, consider branding your subscription service with a catchy name, and then having a separate name for each membership level. (Pssst: This is where email segmentation comes in extra-handy!)

4. Nonprofit software behind the scenes

Sure, we can learn a lot from Amazon’s business model, but you’re a little different because you’re a nonprofit. That means you’ll reap many benefits from using nonprofit software to build your site. Nonprofit software with subscription page features has the functionality to support your unique needs, from donation forms to fundraising events.

5. The best user experience

If you want your subscribers to come back month after month and year after year, you need to optimize the donor experience for monthly giving. Set the default gift to monthly, give new subscribers a warm welcome after they log in, and bid them a fond farewell at checkout. Make your content accessible, celebrate new subscriptions, and personalize as much as possible. In other words, make it seamless, folks.

6. A communications cadence

Your subscription-based website should feel like a must-access members area, and your communications need to echo that. Tailor your email marketing with regular subscriber-only updates, using automated emails to ensure you stay in touch. Additionally, you can send surveys and useful links, and always emphasize their impact—and how much you appreciate them.

7. Easy integrations

It sure would be a pain if your awesome subscription site didn’t work with all the other programs and services you know and love! So, make sure you use a platform that allows you to integrate your shiny new subscription service website with your email marketing service, payment processing service, and more.

8. Membership perks

Finally, when you make a subscription website, you want to consider membership perks. In addition to that delicious exclusive content we discussed, what else are your members getting? For example, Amazon users get Prime video access. So, maybe members get access to a community forum where they can interact with other subscribers in an online community. Or maybe they get to name a rescue gerbil at your shelter. It’s all about going that extra mile.

Benefits of a nonprofit website subscription service

Before you sink too much person power and brain power into your website subscription service, you probably want to know what all the hubbub is about. What’s so darn great about subscription websites anyway? A lot, actually. Let us break it down for you.

1. Raise more funds

In nonprofit parlance, a subscription website sets you up to get more recurring donors. Recurring donors give more money than one-time donors; thus, a membership site means more monthly donors means more money for your cause. Math!

2. Predictably raise more funds

A subscription-based model lets you collect donations regularly, so you can better predict future revenue and plan for what lies ahead. With one-time donors, you’re constantly juggling new donors and lapsed donors and conversion rates and all that (very frustrating) jazz. With a subscription site, you can subscribe to budgetary peace of mind.

3. Increase donor retention

Once a donor signs up for your subscription program, you’re going to be chatting with them at least once a month. Whether you’re thanking them for their commitment, updating them on some new premium content, or just checking in, recurring donors mean more engaged donors, and engaged donors stick around, upping that donor retention rate. And if you include perks, like special events, with your subscription service, you’ll get to know your members even better.

4. Put the “fun” back in “fundraising”

A lot of subscription sites are popular because they’re just plain fun. Getting an assortment of artisan candy delivered to your door every month? So fun! What about a packet of adorable stickers? Even funner! Sometimes, we need to spice things up. Create a quarterly themed subscription box, start your own podcast, or start a subscriber blog. Whatever you do, have fun!

Get started with a monthly subscription program today—Create a free Funraise account.

7 awesome examples of subscription websites

Now that you’re on the subscription site bandwagon, you just need some stellar subscription website examples to get started. From for-profit giants to local nonprofits, check out these must-emulate subscription business models.

1. The Planetary Society

The Planetary Society membership page, with levels and the headline "Find your place in space".

First of all, “Take your place in space” is just a great slogan. The Planetary Society’s membership site is clean, clear, and inviting, featuring multiple monthly membership levels, each with a catchy name. Subscriber privileges include e-newsletters, invitations to special events, a personalized membership card, and (perhaps most importantly) your name sent to space on select space missions.

2. Barkbox

BarkBox homepage

BarkBox’s subscription boxes include a themed collection of quirky toys and tasty treats for your furbaby each month. They know how to build buzz and build community, encouraging their subscribers to share photos of the grateful recipients on social media and responding to every comment on their (adorable) Instagram account. We also like their add-ons, which make sense for their audience—like a monthly doggo dental kit.

3. The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy membership benefits

The Nature Conservancy has a plush subscription website, offering monthly donors various tangible and intangible membership benefits. The site highlights the ease and effectiveness of subscribing; plus, subscribers receive regular updates on how they’re making a difference, receive the Nature Conservancy Magazine, and get an annual calendar. We also love that subscribers are called Conservation Champions—way to forge a community of nature lovers, folks!

4. New York Times

The New York Times subscription page

We still miss fumbling with our oversized paper NYT (we’re old), but the subscription version is pretty great, too. NYT offers quality content you can’t find anywhere else. There are two price points, and subscribers can opt in to receive daily newsletters in their inbox, all of which invite you to reach out directly to the author or editor with questions or comments. They also offer gift subscriptions and add-ons, of course.

5. Decocrated

Decocrated subscription options

Decocrated delivers seasonal decor to your door four times a year, but the subscription services don’t end there. We love their eCommerce members shop, which proudly states, “As a perk of being a Decocrated subscriber, you get full access to our members-only shop with décor items curated for every room in your house at a great discount!” They also have a loyalty program that gamifies the experience by giving members points and rewards for shopping or following them on social media.

6. Nomadic Matt

Nomadic Matt subscription perks

Nomadic Matt is all about traveling on the cheap, and Nomadic MattPlus, the site’s subscription program, promises access to exclusive content, books, and discounts. They focus on joining a “premium community” of like-minded travelers, including social media access to a members-only Instagram and personalized email updates. Members get access to planning guides, blogger and writer courses, and travel discounts. Plus, they hop on the eCommerce train with a members-only T-shirt, just for the heck of it. If you want to cover all your subscription bases, look to Nomadic Matt!

7. Native Fish Society

Native Fish Society subscription perks

Recurring donors to the Native Fish Society get a whole lot of great perks! In addition to print and e-newsletters, they get lots of swell swag. This includes ball hats, steel pint cups, and access to exclusive raffles for outdoor gear. They also offer an annual subscription option, where the perks are based on how much you give each year.

Get started with a monthly subscription program today—Create a free Funraise account.

Why and how to build a subscription website: Key takeaways

Now that you’re an expert on why and how to start a subscription website, it’s time to get building! Here’s a quick review of what we’ve covered:

  • A subscription website offers exclusive content or perks to members, fostering community, increasing donor retention, and allowing you to raise funds predictably.
  • The best subscription sites provide value for subscribers and organizations alike. Subscriber perks might include premium content, exclusive webinars and tutorials, members-only events, print materials, and swag.
  • Having different membership levels with different benefits is a great way to personalize the experience for your subscribers.
  • In order to build a great subscription program, you need a great website. Many organizations use WordPress with membership plugins, but you can save yourself time and money by using a platform tailored for recurring giving programs.
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