Memberships are a great way to build a solid audience base and create a steady revenue stream for your museum. Here are some ideas and thoughts about creating or maintaining a successful museum membership program:
Invite People. Believe it or not, some people are intimidated about joining a museum. They might feel they are not “smart enough” or “worthy” of becoming a member. Remember, what we do still has an air of elitism for some. Have your front line staff educate each visitor about your membership program when they pay admission. Don’t push it with a hard sell pitch – just have them list the benefits of membership and point out the location of the membership forms. Consider a phone drive, but be prepared for a lot of hang-ups! Soliciting members by mail is costly and usually doesn’t provide enough of a return for your investment. Your best bet is to encourage visitors to become members while they are in your building and are excited about what you have to offer.
Harvest Names. When people sign up for your programs or come to your events, ask them if they are members. Harvest their names and addresses and send them membership materials. Don’t forget those who donate artifacts to your permanent collection too. Send non-members an application with their Deed of Gift to sign and return.
Provide Incentives. Many museums will apply admission fees toward a membership if an individual or family decides to purchase a membership the same day after touring your facility. Offer a discount for current members who refer a new member to you. Run a promotion that includes a free gift from your Museum Shoppe or a “buy one get one free” or half price special for gift memberships.
Create Partnerships. Consider joining an organization that provides reciprocal admission with other museums and use it as a selling point for your own membership program. For example, the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) offers reciprocal admission to over 250 science museums worldwide. Visitors love the option to visit museums for free or at a reduced rate when they travel. Perhaps there are local or state groups you could partner with to create additional membership benefits.
Offer Perks. Let’s be honest. If people only wanted to support your museum, they would make a monetary donation and call it a day. Members expect something for their money. Not only should members receive free admission to your museum, they should have additional perks like a discount in your museum shop, special prices for programs and classes, and even members-only events.
Expand Family Memberships. For many museums, the family membership is the most popular category. Consider expanding your definition of “family” to include grandparents. Limit the family membership to two generations, but encourage grandparents to buy a membership to share with the grandkids.
Build Membership Levels. Higher membership levels are one way to encourage people to give more to your museum. In addition to standard individual and family memberships, create higher levels like “gold” or “celestial” by offering additional benefits. Offer an extra number of free guests, the opportunity to hold a private party or behind-the-scenes tour or other exclusive benefits. Be sure you only offer high level benefits at high level prices.
Revisit Your Program. After you have created a successful membership program, don’t forget to revisit your rates and benefits once in awhile. Perhaps there are additional perks you can add. Or maybe increased costs must translate to a membership rate hike. If you have to raise membership fees, don’t raise them too much at one time. Your members are your base, and you want to nurture their support. You may want to consider writing a letter explaining the detailed reason(s) for the membership fee increase.