Why nonprofit charities and membership work together so well

The Jacques Pépin Foundation had been "working together towards a community” long before their membership launched.

Jacques Pépin Foundation

When the Jacques Pépin Foundation (JPF) was essentially forced into looking for new revenue streams, creating a membership community seemed ideal. But funnily enough, their charitable mission meant that they already had been “working together towards a community” for several years anyway.

Jennifer Quigley-Harris, Membership, Partnerships and Engagement Director at the JPF, shares how the foundation expanded the community of people that are directly involved in the mission by launching a membership.

“Since the foundation’s early days, our primary fundraising was through in-person events. When the pandemic hit, those obviously came to a grinding halt,” says Jennifer.

The Jacques Pépin Foundation supports other nonprofits around the country that teach culinary skills to those that have been hit by barriers to employment – homelessness, low literacy, or substance abuse issues. Those organizations offer free culinary training that help their participants gain employable skills, develop a sense of purpose, and take steps to find careers in the food industry.

community servings Jacques with Community Servings in Boston

In 2020, the JPF team had already committed to their annual grants program. To be able to maintain the grants program, the JPF needed a new source of revenue.

The Foundation launched a membership site, based on a series of cooking videos modeled after Jacques’ social media pandemic cooking video series – Cooking at Home. The JPF Membership’s main benefit, access to Cook with Jacques Pépin & Friends, a video recipe book, was a 2021 Webby Award finalist.

This Video Recipe Book is a series of cooking videos by Jacques and other well-known chefs to support the work of the Foundation. There are videos from dozens of celebrity chefs plus a couple from students, staff, or alumni from the organizations and that the JPF awards grants to.

Jacques makes tortilla pizza

Membership now is about a third of the JPF revenue. This takes the pressure off their in-person gala dinners and other fundraising. “Originally, the Membership was set up to be a bit of a band aid for lack of revenue during the pandemic. But now it is a huge part of who we are”, Jennifer says.

Charitable mission, global education

Jennifer explains that the membership works very much in tandem with the foundation’s mission. “JPF Members all learn culinary skills, because the main thing that they get as part of their membership is access to the Video Recipe Book. Membership is directly tied to our mission to support culinary arts education, because we also provide that kind of education to our members in a fun way.”

jacques-pepin-cooks-home-clams-oysters Jacques cooks clams and oysters © Eric Vitale

The membership allowed JPF to expand their donor base significantly, because entry to membership starts at just $40 a year. “For less than $5 a month, you can donate to the foundation and support the organizations we support, but in return, you receive full access to 200 different cooking videos, including ones from Jacques, that help you learn a few new tips and tricks in your own home kitchen.”

Membership has expanded the JPF donor base because anybody can help support the training organizations that are in each of their backyards. ”Because there's one of these culinary skills programs in every state – it’s a very local thing for our JPF members to support even though we're a national foundation,” Jennifer says.

Starting a conversation

For a nonprofit looking to start a membership, what advice would Jennifer offer?

“Be mindful that you need to nurture a membership program. It's a conversation and it is about building a community. It's not just about raising revenue,” she replies. She recommends that nonprofits think about the advantages not only to the organization’s fundraising efforts, but also to engagement. Successful memberships will take up mindful time and will require dedicated staff members to be there for people entering the membership.

fifth-anniversary JPF Annual Gala The fifth-anniverary JPF fundraising gala © Ken Goodman

She highlights crucial tasks such as teaching members how to navigate the site, communicating about renewals, and setting up the ability to send gift memberships. She adds: “With a nonprofit membership, the goal should be to create something larger. It’s not just people paying a fee to belong to something – it is creating community of people who care about others.”

A formal membership platform naturally worked, because the idea of community was already a part of the JPF culture anyway.

“I honestly think that's what's made our membership successful,” she explains. “We expanded the community of people that support us and that are directly involved in our mission. Anyone can contribute to the JPF mission and feel like they belong to something larger.”

Gathering everyone around the table

“Creating meals fosters a sense of community, whether that's just in your own family, or with your neighbors, with your friends, with your relatives,” Jennifer says. I note that the JPF is fostering a community (online membership) around fostering a community (uniting people to support locally based organizations that help others).

One of things the JPF team is most proud of is that sense of community, “from a micro level at every member's kitchen table all the way to macro level where we are supporting amazing grassroots organizations that help people get jobs and have gainful careers and steady income.”

Jacques_BillingsForge ken goodman Jacques with Forge City Works in Hartford © Ken Goodman

Jennifer concludes: “One of Jacques’ famous quotes is ‘We're all equal in the eyes of the stove’ and that’s the beauty of the JPF membership community we've built. We provide content that all our members can view, get inspired by, and know that while they are learning something, they are really helping others.” – It’s something that people the world over can benefit from.

More information

To read more about the Jacques Pépin Foundation, go to jp.foundation.

Have an audience?

Customers like Mythical (28+ million subscribers) rely on Memberful to power their membership communities.

Get started for free