Just to toss some Hive history into the ring:
When the we were first working on organizing the space we were meeting in Taza coffee house. The original membership fee was established based soley on the expenses after we found the Spring grove warehouse for the hackerspace. With the # of members and the amount of the rent + insurance it ended up being calculated that the membership fee needed to be $100 / month. I was a UC student at the time, and although I was lucky enough to have a coop job, there was no way I could have afforded $100 / month. I argued strongly for a reduced student rate and we established it as $35 / month and labeled it the "Contributing" membership.
We also setup a wiki page documenting some ideas for determining the membership fees: http://wiki.hive13.org/Membership_Fees
The $100 / month full and $35 / month ‘contributing’ membership held for about a year and a half. There were several problems with this scheme. While we remained solvent, not many people can afford a consistent $100 / month, so our rate of new members just barely balanced out the rate we lost members. As for students, even I started to feel a pinch at $35 / month, and that was with working 6 months out of the year full time.
The other problem we ran into was each member was paying $100 / month, and we could barely afford to buy tools & supplies for the hackerspace. Aso, since the members were paying so much to just use the space, they did not have any funds left over to buy new tools for the space. Despite this, we still managed to slowly build up a stock of tools and equipment.
Eventually we decided to try an experiment: New members could sign up at $50 / month and if we could get enough new members, everyone could drop down to the $50 / month price point. As for students, as much as they don’t believe it, they tend to have more free time then people with full time jobs and we thought it was important to have as many people involved with the space as possible. The $35 / month was a burden for some students, so we dropped it down to $13.37 to make it more of a ‘token’ fee. Not free, but enough to cover some basic costs, and enough people at $14 / month does add up.
This ended up slowly building up some momentum for the space. It took a bit of time to get moving, but people at $50 / month were more likely to stick around, so while the membership rate was still slow to increase, we also had better retention of existing members. Further, it is a cascading effect. The more people we can retain at the space, the more people who will want to join the space.
At this point there are still several people who pay the old $100 / month level, they do not really get any additional benefit, but they continue contributing at that level because they want to keep supporting the space.
Going back to the wiki page that has the following formula for membership fees (with minor edits to reflect current reality):
Dues = [Total_Expenses + Spending_Cash - ($13.37 * EliteCount)] / FullCount
Using the following numbers:
Total_Expenses = 1275.93 / mo
Spending_Cash = 400 / mo
EliteCount = 20
FullCount = 29 (This is lumping the 4x $95 and $100 members into ‘full’)
We get the following formula:
[1275.93 + 400 - (13.37 * 20) ] / 29
= 48.57 / month
So, assuming we want to have $400 / month in spending money to improve the space, then we are right at the membership level we need. Depending how we want to tweak the ‘Spending_Cash’ variable, the needs of the membership change.
As for the current predicament around memberships, I do not really see an equitable and universally enforceable way to split the full membership tier into $50 and $25 categories without causing strife. Especially if we keep the ‘Elite’ category as it currently is defined (no voting, no door code, only $10 off classes and ‘use of the space’ which we give to almost all guests).
My suggestion would be for us to cut our loses, grandfather any current members in their current status (existing elite members with 24/7 access keep it) then enforce the existing rules that any new member who is not a student is added at the current agreed ‘full membership’ rate.
Or we can try the same thing we tried when we dropped the membership to $50. New members can join at new, lower rate, then once we hit a critical mass, all memberships drop.