Making your Membership Agreement the best it can be.

June 17, 2019

You might think that the main job of your Membership or Mastermind terms and conditions is to protect your legal rights, but that would be missing out on a wonderful opportunity for connection.  This document is the perfect place for you to set your intention for your community, prompt those who are not a good fit to self-select themselves out, manage expectations so everyone knows exactly what they are getting, set boundaries and ground rules, and allow for a graceful exit strategy.

Inspire them with your mission statement

You know why you believe in what you are doing, and your reasons for doing it, but do your members? In your marketing, you probably talked a lot about their pain points, and what they can achieve by joining your community, but I bet you have a bigger story – a more powerful WHY – that really underpins your purpose in bringing this group together. Spell it out for them!

Your prospective members may be joining you for any number of reasons. They may be attracted by you personally, keen to achieve the results you promise, or just seeking connection with a likeminded group. You often will have no way of knowing how much of your marketing they have seen, and how much understanding they have of what your mission is. Your Membership Agreement is a perfect opportunity to introduce your new members to your passion.

Starting your Agreement by setting out your intention for offering the service, also benefits you energetically. See yourself as calling in those who really need to work with you and helping them trust that you are committed to their highest good.

Weed out the Time Wasters

Let’s face it, no matter how carefully you niche your marketing, and how inclusive you intend to be, there are going to be people who are not the right fit for your membership. Taking their money and inviting them in may seem like a good idea at the time, but I promise you will regret it, a few months down the line, when you are sick and tired of dealing with their disruptive behaviour, incessant demands and complete lack of community spirit.

It can be really tricky to recognise potential problems before you have spent time with someone, but one of the first steps is to get super clear on what characteristics your ideal members share. Get out your blank paper and coloured pens and get brainstorming. Imagine a group that would really light you up to spend time with. List all the qualities that they bring to the table. Are they committed to change? Ready to take responsibility for themselves? Open to sharing and allowing themselves to be vulnerable? Don’t just generalise – get specific based on the purpose of your membership and what you hope to achieve – both for them, and for your business, and for you!

Now imagine a few rotten apples in that glowing scene. What kinds of attitude or behaviour would really sour your group dynamics? Are there classes of people who might be attracted to your membership but who really won’t get much out of it? Let them know. Are there things you don’t do, groups you won’t serve or issues that are beyond the scope of this community? Spell them out – lovingly, of course! Explain why this is not the best choice for them, and potentially, make suggestions of where else they should look (which could even include a reference to your one on one services, if appropriate).

Brilliant! But don’t stop there. Now I want you to go back through your marketing for the membership with this in mind, and make sure that everything you have written to attract people to this community is just as clear about who should not join you. The more effort you put into filtering out those who are not a good fit from the start, the less problems, refund requests and disgruntled complaints you will need to deal with down the track.

Provide Clarity and Certainty

So, your Membership Agreement covers the WHY and it covers the WHO… the next step is to let them know WHAT.

I recommend getting quite nitty-gritty about exactly what your members will receive. This is where you give them all the juicy details. However, there are a few things to remember when doing so.

First, be realistic in your commitment. Don’t promise them something will happen weekly, if your circumstances mean you will only be able to deliver it monthly. There is a time for being aspirational and there is a time for being practical. Your Membership Agreement should focus on practical certainties. If you under promise, you can have the delight of over-delivering.

Second, tell them what they need to know. In the honeymoon period of your membership, you might not mind having to answer 15 different requests for the zoom link, or the date and time of the next live call, or where to find the recordings or workbooks. Either give them the links and times directly in the Membership Agreement, or clearly explain where that information can be found. Then, accept the fact that many people are disorganised despite their best intentions! Take the time to set up Facebook Events and automatic reminder emails based on the information you have mapped out here, so the information will be sent to them from numerous sources, instead of everyone pestering you.

Finally, give them a really clear indication of how and when to contact you if they have questions. If you don’t want to be receiving text messages at 2am, or emails expecting an urgent reply on Sunday morning, let them know. Specify what your preferred method of contact is, what your office hours are, and what kind of turn around time you consider reasonable. Also, clearly spell out what kinds of question you are prepared to answer in the context of the membership, and what kinds of discussion need to move to a longer, more private session. It is perfectly ok to have limits, and to declare that some kinds of consultation are beyond the scope of the membership. If you don’t tell them, how are they going to know?

Set Everybody up for Success

Let’s talk about rules, next. As your membership develops and unexpected situations arise, you will need to tweak and expand these. However, here are some general topics that you will most likely need to consider.

First, and most importantly for your business, payment. When are payments due and in what format? What happens if someone fails to pay on time? Do you give reminders? What are the consequences if the failure is repeated? It really pays to sit down and decide on your Membership payment policy, so when inevitable problems arise, you only have to point to the Agreement and apply your standard procedure. Of course, the beauty of a standard procedure is that you can make the occasional exception to the rules where you feel that a discretionary decision is warranted.

Also, have a policy around price rises. For example, will the cost of the membership be reviewed and go up across the board at a certain milestone? Or will members stay at the rate they joined up at, for as long as they remain current members, but if they leave and come back the new rate will apply?

Next, think about confidentiality. In your calls, circles and groups, it is likely that your members will feel called to share personal or sensitive information about themselves, their loved ones and their business (depending on the purpose of the group.) It is very important to have some rules around this, starting with a reminder that, while limited to members, it is still a public forum. Warn members to consider the context of what they choose to share, and present information with identifying details removed (especially if they are talking about their own clients, for example). Set up your expectations around respectful communication, which could include not being judgmental, not trying to fix each other or give unasked for advice and a requirement for them to be unconditionally supportive of each other. Above all, remind your members that what is said in the group stays in the group and that any breach of confidentiality will be dealt with immediately, attracting the most serious consequences.

Having firm boundaries for your membership does not make you a meanie! It increases the sense of safety for your members, allows them to trust you, and enhances the feeling that you are holding a sacred space for them. It is perfectly reasonable to state that unacceptable behaviour will mean a warning or termination of their membership, so you can shift repeat offenders out of your space. However, in order to ensure that your policy is fair, put yourself into your members’ shoes and consider having the penalties applied against you. How would it feel? What would your concerns be? Is there a way that you can address those concerns without compromising the comfort and security of the other members?

Let Them Go Gently

Which leads us to the final point, have a way to let them go! Memberships tend to be long-running, from month to month or year to year. Unfortunately, however, the circumstances of your members are likely to change over this time. As a result, a flat “no refund” policy may not always be the best choice.

When I talk about refunds here, I am discussing the refund requests that arise when a member voluntarily chooses to leave the membership before their allotted time. Your normal consumer law guarantees will still apply regardless, and you will need to offer refunds regardless if, for example, a member has a good case for claiming that it was not fit for their purpose.

You can generally reduce the likelihood of such claims by giving a trial period – offering a money back guarantee if they decide the membership is not for them within the first 48 hours,  2 weeks or month of joining (depending on what will give them a reasonable taste of the membership experience). This gives them an opportunity to experience what you are offering and again helps weed out those impulse purchasers who really shouldn’t be there. If you want to know more about your consumer law obligations, you can find out in this blog: Replace Repair Refund.

So, what can you do about members who decide to leave half-way through? You have a few options. You may choose to have a no refund policy if it is appropriate in the circumstances – and if you can explain your reasons in a way that makes sense and feels good to your members. For example, if your members are joining you to engage in transformative work that requires a long-term commitment to showing up for themselves, you can say that they are paying you to hold them accountable, among other things, and that is why there are no refunds. This only really works if you have a longer term payment – for example, if you have some members who have paid yearly, and some members who are paying monthly or weekly, it is likely to be an administrative nightmare to chase someone on a weekly payment plan for membership payments months after they have left the membership – even if they contractually agreed to pay for the whole year. There are ways around it, but it’s tricky, particularly if they feel they have no choice but to leave due to a change in their financial situation.

On the other hand, if the payment plan people can leave and not be liable for the rest of the year’s payments, it is unfair and discriminatory to someone who paid a year in advance to keep all of their money. The most common way around this is to say no refunds for your minimum payment term (whether that be a week or a month), to require a reasonable notice period, if they choose to leave (such as 30 days before their next payment is due) to give you time to make the administrative adjustments to their account, and to offer a pro-rata refund to those who have paid a year in advance, for the weeks or months they have not used.

You are also entitled to charge an administrative fee, which should be reasonable in the context of the cost of the membership. This fee is not intended as a penalty, but as a reflection of the actual costs to you of winding up their participation in the membership.

In conclusion

These are just some of the common issues that clients ask me about when we are consulting about Membership Agreements. One piece I of advice I always give is that you can’t provide your Agreement to them too often! It is a good idea to have a copy of the Membership Agreement easily available on your sales page, so they can read it before they choose to join. Don’t hide it, proclaim it proudly and invite them to explore how the membership runs in more detail. Whether your new members are ticking a box to say they accept the Terms and Conditions of the Membership, or are signing a full Membership Agreement, make the copy around that as welcoming as possible. Encourage them to actually read it by explaining that it contains important information about the membership that they need to know. It is more than just a formality! You actually want them to read and understand it, and to address any concerns with you before they sign up. That is why you wrote it in the first place. Lastly, include a copy of the Membership Agreement in the welcome email and your group files, so that they can easily find it again when they need to.

When you change or tweak the Membership Agreement – and you will need to over time, send a copy of it out to all your members, and replace the copy in the files. Tell them they have a few days or a week to get in contact with you if they have any concerns or questions about the changes, and that if they don’t contact you, you will assume they are happy to be bound by the new Agreement. If you are making major changes, bring it to their attention in a number of different ways so nobody feels like they are being ambushed.

If you approach your Membership Agreement in this way, you will find it is a wonderful method of increasing your connection with your members, ensuring the smooth running of your membership, and avoiding all manner of problems before they start.

How I can help

If you are ready to get started on your own membership or your membership legals need some loving, there is a Membership Agreement in my Contracts that Care range of supported DIY Packs.

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