Best Practices: When to use the LGL Memberships setting

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The LGL Memberships setting, which tracks active membership dates and membership levels, allows you to record whether someone has a current/valid membership to your organization. It is intended to be used by organizations that offer memberships as part of a membership program or part of their bylaws, meaning the member is receiving some value in exchange for their membership payment and/or may have responsibility for voting in the Board of Directors each year.

It’s important to be aware that memberships in LGL are completely separate from gifts and do not include or relate to any monetary information such as gifts or other transactions. The Memberships setting was designed to be used by membership organizations for these purposes specifically, giving you the opportunity to manage both paid memberships as well as complimentary memberships and lifetime memberships. 

This article will help you determine whether it’s useful, from a data tracking perspective, for your organization to use the LGL Memberships setting.

Should your organization use the LGL Memberships setting?

Over the years, we have seen the LGL Memberships setting being used in situations where it may not be needed, resulting in unnecessary work that could be avoided by leaving the setting turned off. 

Some organizations that could leave the setting turned off may refer to their donors as “members” and opt to use that word to describe constituents who are actually simply “donors” or “supporters.” These organizations are not running a membership program in any official capacity. If someone can be a member of your organization by making a gift, or if you think of “member level” as indicating a constituent’s level of giving only, we recommend reevaluating whether using the LGL Memberships setting is adding value for you versus simply tracking giving data for your donors.

How memberships work in LGL

Little Green Light treats the payment for a membership separately from the membership itself. It is therefore possible to add members who didn't pay for the membership. Common examples include: 

  • “Family” memberships where each constituent in the family has the full benefit of membership but not every constituent has a gift record
  • “Gift” membership paid for person A or person B, or given by the Board (person A has the full benefits of what membership means without any gift to go along with that membership)
  • “Lifetime” membership granted by a Board or some other mechanism (the recipient has full membership benefits without any need for any gifts for their lifetime)

If instead you are only tracking the level at which donors are giving, see the Options for tracking donors as members, if you are not a membership organization section for some available ways to track these donors.

When to use the LGL Memberships setting versus simply tracking giving

The LGL Memberships feature is designed for your organization if:

  • You are an organization that manages traditional membership programs with family memberships, lifetime memberships, and/or gift memberships 
  • You admit members to member-only events based on membership status regardless of giving, communicate with members about member benefits, print membership cards for discounts and access, and so on. You may hold annual meetings for members to allow voting on organization business such as Board makeup. Members may receive parking passes or guest passes
  • Membership levels and dates are vital for each person and provide access and/or privileges to members; they are also used for building renewal reminder mailings
  • Membership revenue is important, but it is not connected to each person. For example, membership payment might be made by spouse/partner A, but spouse/partner B has a membership card because spouse/partner A paid for a family membership. Spouse/partner B has no actual giving but does have soft credits, so no revenue is present in your database for spouse/partner B
  • Your organization uses a campaign titled "Membership", which represents a substantial portion (perhaps a third to a half) of your annual revenue (that money is exchanged for membership benefits). Annual fund donations are clearly separated because those do not pay for membership benefits and represent another substantial portion of revenue
  • Your organization needs to analyze/report on membership numbers outside of gift data (e.g., analyzing total number of members across individual membership levels)

The LGL Memberships feature is not designed for your organization if:

  • You are an organization that is managing giving tiers or giving societies but chooses to describe them as “memberships” instead
  • You do not hold annual membership meetings or have a way to provide lifetime or gift memberships, etc. Membership dates are interchangeable with donation dates for every constituent. If person A donates, they are a member. If person B does not donate (or just has soft credits), they are not a member
  • Communication plans are based on donation history and are not tied to membership levels/dates
  • There are no membership cards for access, no parking passes, no discounts at the organization gift shop, and so on
  • You track multiple active memberships for a constituent (these organizations often experience difficulty with LGL Memberships because it is designed to track one active membership at a time)

This T chart may help you easily determine if the LGL Memberships feature will work well for your organization.

Options for tracking donors as "members", when you do not need the Memberships functionality

Choosing not to turn on the membership setting when your organization doesn’t need that functionality can eliminate unnecessary work and save time. Luckily, there are also a few great options available for tracking gifts you may consider (but LGL doesn’t define as) "membership" gifts. 

Here are some options we recommend using to track these donors when you do not need the official LGL Memberships functionality. 


You can use a campaign and name it Operations or Endowment (see Organizing your campaigns, funds, events, and appeals for more information). Be sure you code each applicable gift with the appropriate campaign. To find “members” who gave to the campaign, you can simply search on that campaign from the Constituents tab. Your search results will contain the “members” who gave to it.

Gift tiers

When you are tracking the level at which donors are giving, you can use gift tiers to accomplish this. You’ll then be able to run reports to see which of your donors are included in each tier. 

Constituent lists

You can create constituent lists, which can be set to auto-update nightly. This is a great way to maintain a constituent list containing those who have given $50+ in the current year, for example.