How Do You Differentiate Your Membership-Based Organization From Other Groups?

How Do You Differentiate Your Membership-Based Organization From Other Groups?

If you’re planning to start a membership-based organization or already are involved in helping administer the affairs of a group like this, you’re probably focused on setting your group apart and attracting new members based on the strength of your commitment to what you do. If you’re not sure how or whether you can “cut through the clutter” of other groups that look somewhat similar to yours, consider these aspects of organization identity and how they can help you stand out.



Your practical vision

If you’re thinking, “Well, that’s obvious. That should be the biggest single differentiator among member-based organizations,” you’re right. But not every group thinks in practical terms about how to explain and communicate what they’re all about in ways that separate them from other groups that look superficially similar.

For one thing, membership-based groups get lumped into big general categories based on equally generalized assumptions about their focus. If you’re involved with a social cause, you’re essentially stereotyped based on that overall type of motivating issue, which becomes especially ironic if your organization strives to counteract stereotypes and misperceptions in the first place. If you’re a car club, you get categorized in with all the other automobile-oriented groups, regardless of whether they focus on the same aspect of car collection that you do. (That’s like lumping the Mopar fans in with the blue-oval folks or the bowtie crowd.)

So how do you avoid falling into false categories based on an overgeneralized set of assumptions about what you do, let alone truly inaccurate characterizations of your group’s intent and goals? The best ways to keep yourselves apart from that type of simplistic categorization involve two essential aspects of your organization’s identity.

First, you need clearly differentiated vision and mission statements that not only explain your focus in executive summary terms but also show how to keep you separate from other groups. These can look like trivial oversimplifications, but when they’re written thoughtfully and authentically, they get to the heart of the reasons your organization exists.

Second, you always set yourself apart by what you do and, for that matter, what you refuse to do. What actions do you take? What forms of action do not fit with your plans and outlook? Another group that may look similar to yours on a trivial examination may rely on completely different forms of action to pursue their objectives. The answers to these questions about purpose help define your group, your plans, and the ways in which you succeed.

Location, location, location

Some groups quickly differentiate themselves because they clearly appeal to a membership located exclusively in one geographic area. For example, a sports-oriented organization may draw its membership only from people who live in a specific city, county, or state, and may refuse membership to people outside that area. That’s often because organizations of this type engage in competition with groups and teams in their local market area. It’s unrealistic to expect a competitor who lives 3,000 miles away to travel to what are essentially local pickup games.

But within the sports-related category, groups based around their love of a particular sports team, such as a professional basketball or hockey team, may draw their members from any and everywhere. After all, you don’t have to live in the same city to be a fan of the same team.

The distinction between groups that look beyond a specific geographic area for membership and groups that stay within their own turf becomes even more important depending on the types of activities in which these groups engage.

In person, virtual, both, or none of the above

Some groups—especially those with a locally geographic focus—center their activities around in-person gatherings and face-to-face meetings. In fact, these types of events may be the primary or even the sole reason these organizations exist.

Groups that extend their membership recruitment beyond a specific geographic area are more likely to stage virtual events simply because of the cost and complexity of in-person events among a far-flung membership. They may put their face-to-face event efforts into a big annual or biannual event that draws together members from across the country or even around the world. Some of these membership-based groups hold how-to seminar events that run for multiple days and become annual points of contact for members of a specific profession.

Some organizations with a local-market focus rely on virtual events so they can conduct more frequent meetings or get togethers than would be easy to stage for otherwise busy people. They may hold monthly or semi-monthly in-person events and weekly or twice-monthly virtual events. The combination of event types enables them to accomplish their goals and still keep the majority of their full membership engaged.

Beyond these types of event schedules, still other groups hold no events at all. This can be fairly typical among groups that exist to support and admire a musical group, sports team, or other set of celebrities. Many of these organizations neither expect nor plan to meet.


Membership-based organizations can differentiate themselves from one another very clearly by their focus on members who fit a specific demographic profile. For example, athletics-related organizations may provide competitive opportunities for children of a specific age group. Organizations that appeal to older adults may not exclude younger people, but simply may not attract them because the nature of their activities does not appeal to that younger demographic. Gender identity also can be a point of focus for membership-based organizations.

Again, there’s a big difference between excluding people based on demographics and appealing to people based on those same attributes. If your organization plans to focus on a specific demographic, think long and hard about how you appeal to those prospective members so you don’t present the impression that you’re all about excluding certain people in a narrow-minded way.

Whatever the focus of your membership-based organization, you can support your cause as well as your activities and your members themselves all the better when you develop a well-designed, fully featured website. If you’d rather avoid website software providers that don’t relate to your membership focus, let alone the nature of membership-based organizations themselves, Membershine has the tools and the experience to help you make your group’s website a resounding success.

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