Improving the life membership

By Joel R. Johnson

“I’m a Life member going on 10 years.”

“I’m a lifer 20 years.”

“I’m 35 years old but I’m also a Life member.”

“TU Life member since ‘86.”

“I’m a life member, but I give every year.”

I often hear words like these when visiting chapters and Trout Unlimited events across the country. In fact, every time I’ve met a TU life member, whether at a regional meeting or streamside, I’ve been struck by the look of pride and accomplishment on their faces when they tell me they’re a “lifer.” Most often, I’ll pause and pull up a chair because I know I’m in for a treat. I’m sure to be regaled with an epic “David vs. Goliath” story of how that member and his or her chapter restored a stream that seemed beyond repair, a hilarious and inspiring fish tale, or maybe even a fond memory of the founding of a TU chapter.

Life members come from all walks of life. Most have been volunteers for years or are leaders in their chapters and councils. They are keepers of history, but they also stand up as examples of a life-long commitment to the protection of trout and habitat. They are casting teachers and stream clean-up organizers. We have nearly 20,000 life members in the TU family, and many continue to give even after they become life members. More than two-thirds of our life members continue to give year after year to TU because they live our mission and know our job is never done. Twice each year, hundreds of passionate TU members become new life members or give to the life member campaign. Some TU members save up to become life members; others upgrade to celebrate special occasions or mark anniversaries.And we know a life membership is more than a rod or a plastic membership card. It’s a very personal gift to TU to mark a permanent commitment to conservation.

How we say Thank You

Over the years, the fee for a life membership has changed. The cost was recently raised to $1959 in honor of our organization’s founding year. Though it was the first increase in several years, it’s not just a price increase. We upped the value of this membership – it’s special and we owe it to our current life members to keep pace with the times. We made the decision to make sure that every TU life premium is as special as our members. We are now working hand-in-hand with our chosen fly fishing manufacturers to bring you a custom-designed one-of-a-kind life rod made in the USA. We wrote about the collaboration between TU and Orvis on the latest life member rod recently in TROUT magazine. We’ve decided only to work with manufacturers who share our conservation commitment, which is why you won’t see just any rod. And though these choices and customizations raise the retail price of the rods and reels, our manufacturing partners generously provide a discount to TU. From the reel seat to the thread wrappings to more premium choices in the campaigns, we think it’s the least we can do for the member who has committed so much to TU.



How we make it easy to become a Life Member

While we’ve increased the value of a life membership, we’ve also made it easier to become a life member. We now offer payments in installments, and on occasion, a bonus gift for signing up early and online. For those members who own enough fly fishing equipment (seems impossible, but it does happen) we offer the life membership without the premium at a lower fee upon request. For those members who can afford it, we offer a discounted Life membership if they pay all at once, just one more way we make life membership obtainable.

So what’s next for our life membership program? We’re exploring pricing, and offering additional member benefits to our life members for different levels of gifts up to $10,000. We’re also looking for opportunities to gather TU life member stories to be shared with the rest of our volunteers. We will be sharing those stories with other prospective life members in future campaigns. Lastly, we will continue to collaborate with the very best fly fishing manufacturers to collaborate on new life rods and reels that will be worthy of being called a “life” rod.

To our current and new Life members, we can’t say thank you enough for taking the step to become a Life member. To learn more about becoming a Life member now, please visit this link on

Joel R. Johnson is TU’s chief marketing officer. He works from our Arlington, Va., headquarters on the banks of the Potomac River.



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