The majority of museums receive over 80% of their visitation from people that live within 100 miles.   As such, we are all generally in the same community.  While there are six degrees of separation between any two people, in most communities, there are less than three degrees of separation between most of us.  We have shared life experiences, shared familiar places, know many of the same people, and live many of the same habits.

A mix of testimonials from people within your community that have made the museum a part of their lives will resonate with potential visitors and also reshape perceptions of your museum’s brand among people that have never visited.

All testimonials are beneficial, but the best ones talk about how your museum fulfills an essential human need in an individual’s life.  If a testimonial tells a compelling story, the reader can picture themselves having the same experience as the writer.  Ask testimonial writers to tell a story about why the museum is important to their lives as if they are telling a friend.

The following are a few single-line examples.  It’s ideal to have testimonials in your portfolio of all lengths; I’m only using these as examples of testimonials that paint a meaningful picture.

  • “The XYZ museum is where I go to spark my creativity. I leave rejuvenated every time.
  • “The XYZ museum is like meditation to me. It’s my place to be calm and refresh on stressful days.”
  • “I have a five-year-old and an eight-year-old, the museum has become our bonding place. They always look forward to Ms. Brown’s storytime.  ”
  • “I start every Saturday at the XYZ Museum, great art, passionate staff, and wonderful coffee. Also, the monthly history of Chicago talks are can’t miss.”

You want people to see themselves in the testimonials.  To achieve this, two things need to occur.  First, they need to feel an association with the person giving the testimonial.   They need to feel like the person giving the testimonials life is similar to their own.  Second, the testimonial needs to create a mental picture that matches their individual needs.  For example, if it is a mother with two young kids, she may respond to a testimonial from someone that talks about how much her kids enjoy the museum.  She needs to picture her kid’s laughing, smiling, and having a good (and safe) time at the museum.  It’s important to get testimonials from people representing all walks of life and to make sure they tell a detailed story that effectively encapsulates why the museum is a part of their lives.  While local ‘celebrity’ testimonials are important in bringing attention to your museum, they should be part of a broader testimonial strategy that mixes diverse perspectives that will resonate with diverse audiences.

Here are a few examples:

  • A few years back, a museum in Texas got a locally well-known and respected past Olympic athlete to talk about his support of the museum and why he attends regularly. The campaign brought in hundreds of new people that admired the Olympian and wanted to be more like him.
  • A local highly successful business person that was always in the news for her professional accomplishments did a testimonial campaign with a local museum. In the campaign, she connected her passion for museums to her professional success.  The campaign significantly shifted the community’s perception of the museum.  It started to see many more highly educated families come through the doors.  After a while, they started a Saturday morning talk series called “History and Tea,” which further expanded their reach.
  • A garden club made up of women mostly between 50 and 70 years of age did a group testimonial talking about their monthly visits. The campaign was effective because the 23 people in the garden club were connected to thousands of people in the community.

Your testimonial stories should appear sprinkled throughout your marketing materials.  You should keep long-form and short-form versions to use in different mediums and campaigns.  For example, at the bottom of an eblast, put a small story lead such as, “Why Mayor Smith is a regular at the museum” with a link to a longer story.  You can sprinkle them into most of your marketing communications:  Social media campaigns, emails, print ads, newsletters, and fundraising communications.

A Few Tips:

  • Start with a team brainstorm in which you list the first 50 people you are going to contact for a testimonial.  Start with your museums raving fans.  The people that definitely will say yes.  As you accumulate more and more, start thinking about specific supporters that are well known in the community.  While a lot is going on in the world, people are home right now, and they know museums need support.
  • When possible, always use a picture of the person giving the testimonial. Ideally, make it a picture of the person while at your museum.  Video testimonials are highly effective as well.
  • People will ask you to write their testimonial for them. I don’t recommend doing that as you will not be able to get to the heart of what matters to that person.  Instead, email them a list of brainstorm questions.

With the COVID-19 epidemic, acquiring testimonials is not the first thing on our lists right now, but we all need to make a big splash when we reopen, and testimonials will aid in that effort.

Article by Frank Bennett, originally published at

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