Profiling Your Members Will Improve Engagement

This week I’m teaching a workshop on historic house museum management with George McDaniel for the American Association for State and Local History.  It’s great fun working with people from all over the country because we learn so much from each other.

One of the most popular sections is membership (who doesn’t want more supporters?).  George uses his experience from Drayton Hall to demonstrate some techniques in the tour for showing “membership dollars at work,” which gets visitors so excited that many join at the end of the tour.  With members in more than 7,500 households in all 50 states, Drayton Hall must have one of the nation’s largest membership programs for an historic site, so their techniques work.

I provide a complementary perspective, using profiles to understand member motivations and interests.  In an exercise, I have the class combine a mission statement with a member profile to develop a membership program or activity.  I’m always surprised by the imagination and thoughtfulness of the resulting ideas, and participants agree that having a profile made it much easier to create a good program.  Here’s an example of a member profile:

Midlife Success is typically filled with childless singles and couples in their thirties and forties.  The wealthiest of the Younger Years class, this group is home to many white, college-educated residents who make six-figure incomes at executive and professional jobs but also extends to more middle class segments.  Most of these segments are found in suburban and exurban communities, and consumers here are big fans of the latest technology, financial products, aerobic exercise, and travel. 

Some people might find this vague and superficial, but for most historic sites, it’s a deeper level of understanding and provides distinctions among an otherwise amorphous “public” or “members”.  I’d rather have an organization improve their aim enough to hit the target now than wait until they have it perfect to hit the bulls-eye later.

For this workshop, I’m taking it a step further.  In the past I’ve used generic profiles and the mission statement from the Stowe Center, but this year we’ll be using Oaklands in Murfreesboro, Tennessee–our host site–as the demonstration.  Oaklands has allowed me to develop profiles based of their members so the class will have a real-life experience and Oaklands will have some smart ideas to try after we leave.  It’s a mutually beneficial situation (at least that’s what I’m hoping; I’ll let you know if I missed the target!).