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Getting Started with Membership Cards

Jennifer Cote Avatar Jennifer Cote August 30, 2022
Table of Contents
6 min read

The most important part of an association is its membership. But just because they’re important that doesn’t mean you know them all by name… Or whether they paid their membership dues this year… Or even what kind of a membership they have.  Enter membership cards.

Membership cards are a little piece of digital or paper proof that a person is a member of your organization. They are particularly important for memberships that include access to physical locations like museums or botanical gardens or those which offer discounts at certain merchants.  

Interested in learning everything there is to know about membership cards? We’ll take you through what a membership card is and what to think about when designing yours.   


What is a membership card?  

The dictionary would tell you that a membership card is a piece of paper meant to prove you’re a member of a group and association.  

While that’s true, they’re also more than that. They’re a quick way for your members to access their membership benefits. They’re also an easy way for staff to verify membership. And they make people feel like they belong to a group.  

You can think of membership cards as little reminders of a member’s commitment to your organization every time they look in their wallet.   

Why you need membership cards  

Not all associations give out membership cards but many do. So, what are some good reasons for needing membership cards? 

  • Proof of membership if your members get access to things like exclusive venues or museums 
  • For associations that provide exclusive access or perks to members 
  • For associations who have partner institutions who give your members benefits 
  • To get membership discounts from participating businesses 
  • For easily verifying membership 
  • For that physical reminder of membership right there in their wallet 
  • To improve loyalty and repeat visits 
  • To track members’ use of their membership perks 
  • For your members to brag about being members of your great association!   

What is included on a membership card?  

So, you’re sold on membership cards. . . now what?  

It’s time to design yours. Here is everything you need to ensure you have on it – and some things you might want to include that are optional:  

  • Association name 
  • Association logo 
  • Member name 
  • Member contact info (optional) 
  • Membership type 
  • Membership number 
  • Any membership restrictions (if applicable) 
  • Membership expiry date 
  • Member photo (optional) 
  • Barcode, QR code, or magnetic strip (optional) 
  • Years the member has been a member (optional) 
  • Signature by issuing authority (optional)  

What are membership cards used for?  

You might be thinking that many membership cards just sit unused in wallets. But that’s definitely not the case! Having a membership card system can be an incentive for an association to create membership benefits that take advantage of that card. That means people might use it frequently.  

For example, let’s say your association is a museum. Your member might use their membership card to:  

  • Get into the museum during regular business hours 
  • Bring a friend to see an exhibit for free during a two for one membership night 
  • Get into members-only exhibition previews 
  • Access membership-only areas of the museum 
  • Get discounts at the museum store and café 
  • Take advantage of deals at local businesses that are museum sponsors 
  • Get free access at partner institutions like the local aquarium 
  • Access online discounts at a national art supply store 
  • To distinguish what kind of membership benefits they get if you offer tiered membership 
  • Get discounts at other museums when travelling to other cities 
  • And more!  

Your imagination and the deals you negotiate with partners and sponsors are the only things that limit how members might use your membership card. Because of that, some membership cards can feel like magic access all-passes to some of the best experiences in your organization. And guess what? Those memberships are more likely to have high retention rates. Think of a membership card as a key component in your membership strategy.  

Example of membership card use

Let’s say you attach your membership card to a barcode, QR code or magnetic strip, you can also track individual member’s use of your services or membership perks. Notice a group of people not taking advantage of their membership? You can target emails or other outreach to them to encourage them to use their membership by telling them about upcoming events, educating them about their membership benefits, offering them deals, or even having a staff member reach out to provide support or to engage them. After all, an active member is more likely to renew.  

That’s right. You can use membership cards to help you track who is likely to lapse on their membership come renewal time. And by automating the right outreach to them, you could increase their use of their membership without taking up much extra staff time. Which will increase your membership retention rate!  

Digital VS paper membership cards  

So, should you go analogue and send out a paper card or should you embrace the future and go digital? That’s a hard question to answer without details about your organization. Paper or plastic cards are great because people can keep them in their wallets and have them there when they need them.  

But many digital membership cards can now be stored in digital wallets! And many members already have bloated physical wallets.  

The good news, however, is that you can do both and let your membership decide which they want. Many associations are slowly shifting their membership to digital cards but allowing those who are more familiar with paper cards to keep using them. The best of both worlds! 

Click through to learn about MemberClicks’ membership management software tools, MC Trade and MC Professional.

Paper cards

Paper and plastic membership cards tend to be better for associations with an older membership, cards that require photos, and preventing fraud.

Pros of paper cards

  • Cheap 
  • Easy to create 
  • Can carry them around in your wallet 
  • Great for older members who don’t have digital wallets 

Cons of paper cards 

  • Can easily be lost 
  • Can be damaged 
  • Expensive to send out 
  • Can be costly to replace 
  • Younger members don’t like them 

Digital cards

Digital membership cards tend to be better for associations with younger donors, those focused on conservation, and to reduce costs.  

Pros of digital cards 

  • Cheap 
  • Hard to lose 
  • Save paper 
  • Save money 
  • Easy to distribute 
  • Can carry them around in your digital wallet 
  • Great for younger members tech-savvy members 

Cons of digital cards 

  • Can be deleted or lost in inbox 
  • Can be forged more easily 
  • Need to educate your membership around how they work 
  • Custom software sometimes needed 
  • Older members don’t like them 

How to distribute membership cards  

So, how do you distribute your cards once you’ve decided which kind to create?  

For paper cards, you can send out a new membership card in the mail when members renew with your membership package or thank you card. Or you can give it to them the next time they come to an event or your physical location.  

For digital cards, you can send them out when they register. In fact, you can automate the creation and dissemination of digital cards so the process is seamless for your staff and members.  

Creating membership cards with MemberClicks  

Did you know that you can create a section for printable customized membership cards in the Members-Only section of your Memberclicks website? It’s true!  

It’s just another great benefit of being a member. We’ve got some eye-catching designs and an easy-to-use template for all you ‘paper membership card’ loving associations out there!  

Wondering how it’s done? Find out here!  

Free Member Retention Guide

Ready to retain members and keep them coming back forever and ever? This guide will teach you everything you need to know about member retention. We cover all the basics, like the first steps to member retention and how to map out your member journey. From there, we dive a bit deeper into retention tips.