One of the most difficult parts of launching a reader revenue program is determining the benefits you’re going to provide to those who pay. T-shirts and totes, happy hours, business discounts, oh my. It can be overwhelming. Which assortment of goodies will ensure that members are getting their money’s worth?

There’s something you may be overlooking. Your journalism provides that value, and for free-access websites the most sought after benefit is keeping your reporting accessible for all.

Let’s take the case of a client we’re currently working with to launch a membership program. This publisher wanted to offer member benefits including home delivery of their print edition and swag galore.

My fear? The publication is small, and managing print fulfillment — not to mention swag shipping — is an organizational burden that also cuts into the margin. If we’ve had the benefits convo, you’ve inevitably heard me ask two questions: 1) How do you plan to deliver that? and 2) How do you know they want it?

Fortunately, on question two, we have a way of knowing. This publisher in particular has had our standard survey running for months, and had hundreds of responses. We added more questions specifically about print home delivery and sent it out again.

I received the following email days later:

“Just 2 of them are interested in home delivery…Nobody was interested in T-shirts and shit. Wow.”

People want to support good work because it’s good, not because of swag. In fact, across all of our publishers the top answers in the survey question about what motivates support are nearly always the following:

  • “Offering the world something you think should exist”
  • “A sense of affiliation or belonging”

Merchandise is nearly always at the bottom.

That doesn’t mean your only benefit should be “keeping it accessible to all,” nor does it mean you shouldn’t produce swag. But if people are telling you that the reason they consider membership is to offer the world something they think should exist, you should have benefits designed to remind them of the excellent work they’re enabling.

Annual impact reports, members-only newsletters that reveal the challenges encountered in reporting, and regular virtual “editorial meetings” where you tease big projects that are in the works are some ways to reinforce the value of membership.

Oh, and they cost virtually nothing.

Are you brainstorming member benefits? I created a list of membership benefits from 173 membership news websites, documented by the Membership Puzzle. I’m going to keep adding to it, and if there’s anything I can do to make it more useful, do let me know.

Need more help? Email and we’ll get you what you need.