I’ve had several conversations about member programs over the last few weeks. Some museums are discussing adding benefits to their membership as a retention measure as they either have been closed or are still closed.  In today’s article, I’m going to discuss a few things to consider before deciding to ‘add benefits’ to your existing member program.

People become members of nonprofits for a variety of reasons. Member motivation is a more extended discussion than I will get into in this article, but at a basic level, the concepts below are the most common:

  • Commitment to the mission / personal attachment to the cause
  • Commitment to the communities cultural assets,
  • Social Status/exclusive access to high profile events,
  • Belief in the organization’s leadership team/belief in impact,
  • Want to be part of something important larger than themselves.

When analyzing the effectiveness of a specific member program, three things are almost always true. (1) The nonprofits messaging is always mission-driven. (2) At least some of the bullet-points above play a part in the promotional effort. Depending on the museum’s brand and unique characteristics, the most and lease relevant will fluctuate, (3) The tangible takeaway’s are never the primary sales pitch in the organization’s materials. They are typically more of an after-thought.

When discussing increasing current member benefits, an assumption is being made. You are assuming that the only reason, or primary reason, that people are choosing members of your museum is for the benefits to them as consumers. There are a few reasons I’m going to recommend shying away from this train of thought. First, if this is true, it’s challenging to sustain. Long-term sustainability ultimately will come from commitment to the organization’s mission and work, not from consumables; if consumables drive your membership program, you have a few looming concerns. First, when you’re current supporters own most of the items, they are less likely to renew. Second, if you continue increasing the consumables level benefits, you run into a trap because it’s difficult to take back consumable benefits after you have increased them.

If your organization is having discussions about potential changes to a member program, consider the following before adding tangible incentives:

  1. Start with Mission – Ultimately, museum membership should be about supporting the museum’s mission. All of your member newsletters and other communications should center on the theme ‘the mission work continues.’ Since your doors are not open (or were not for some time), members need to hear stories about the programs you are running, the importance and impact of your continuing work, success stories related to the mission, and overall importance of the mission. If you have an online youth interactive class, make sure you have pictures of projects and language that ties the project back to the mission. If you have active zoom programs, talk about those successes. All of your efforts should loop back to the importance of the mission and remind people that the work continues.
  2. Activity Continues – This point is similar to number one, but it’s important enough to reemphasize, make sure that all of your ongoing programs, re-imagined programs, mentions in the media, or anything else that shows activity makes it into your member communications. Many of your members think that once your doors closed, all work stopped, making them understand that you are still doing the work they support, and you still need their involvement as much as ever. Look for ways to create or promote third party proof such as testimonials, program successes, media mentions, pictures from successful events even if they were digital events. Third-party proof is integral in relaying impact, especially during this time in which what you do is less tangible.
  3. Send a CEO/Director letter or eblast to members – 2020 is a unique time that requires atypical communications. If there is ever a time when senior management should be personally touching every supporter, this is the time. If you can afford to have this be a physical letter, I recommend it. If not, send an email from the CEO/Director specifically to your members. If you send a regularly occurring newsletter, make sure you lead it with a message from your director for the rest of 2020 (and possibly more). These types of communications give donors a piece of mind during this volatile time.
  4. Go Crazy Over-board on personal touches. – Most of you know I’m a Museum CEO. Here are a few things I’ve been doing to create personal touches with current members. Include a hand-written note on every digitally printed letter sent ‘from me.’ Write and send post-cards every day. Call more significant supporters simply to see how they are doing. Don’t ask them for anything; just see how they are doing. If I hear that a supporter is in the building, I take time to say hello. Some of you may think these measures are extreme or you are too busy for this level of involvement, I would argue that this level of participation is a requirement in these times. If you have good personal touch ideas that could benefit others, please leave them in the comments below this article.

If you take one thing away from this article, put the brakes on adding member benefits until you have a conversation about other tools you can use.

Closing Note – I recommend every museum look at their member materials at least every few years and analyze the language, messaging, structure, and pictures used. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. When people read our materials, what comes to mind, and what are the takeaways?
  2. Is this what we wish to convey?
  3. Do our member materials match the funder profiles we have created?

Article by Frank Bennett, originally published at WorldClassMuseum.com 


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