Category Archives: Membership

Brucemore Encouraging Membership with Members

Detail from Brucemore's membership brochure.

Detail from Brucemore’s membership brochure.

At last week’s workshop on historic house management in Iowa, I discovered that Brucemore, a historic house museum in Cedar Rapids, is encouraging membership with testimonials from members.  Inside a tri-fold brochure (pdf), three members—an artist, volunteer tour guide, and a neighbor—share what they like about Brucemore and how it’s made a difference in their lives and the community.

Angela Billman, Actress, Brucemore Member

When I was 14 years old, my family took me to the Classics at Brucemore to see Romeo and Juliet. The experience introduced me to Shakespeare, outdoor theater, and inspired me to become an actress. The estate enriches the community in so many ways and inspires people every day.

It’s a clever idea because it shifts from the site promoting itself to members promoting the site.  It’s people connecting with people, not a faceless organization talking to the general public, which is the most effective way to raise funds and build membership.

Notice, too, the contemporary graphic design that uses sans serif typefaces, photos placed at an angle, tint blocks, textures, and three-dimensional elements (such as the paperclips).  This moves it away from the Times Roman typeface, fixed grid of photos, and goldenrod paper that’s far too common at house museums.

If you’re revising your membership brochure, you might want to consider these techniques to make your content and design more attractive and engaging.

Is it Time for a Membership Program Tune-up?

Museum Membership Pyramid QuestionOne of the basic ways to raise funds for museums and historic sites is through membership. It’s particularly valuable because those funds are unrestricted and pay for utilities, insurance, office supplies, maintenance, and yes, even salaries–those essential expenses that usually don’t excite donors.  We hope that most members will renew, thus increasing revenue while maintaining expenses, and a few will become more engaged and eventually become donors who contribute the funds that really make a difference.

On the other hand, membership programs are a continual management challenge for non-profit organizations.  The expense of maintaining a basic membership rarely covers the cost of administration (the printing and mailing of member newsletters, membership cards, and renewal notices).   Complicating matters is that it doesn’t seem that people want to be “joiners” any longer–membership  in all types of organizations, including unions, service clubs, professional associations, political parties, churches, and even bowling leagues has fallen.  If the membership piece of the pyramid is getting smaller, that means the number of donors will fall as well.

Museums and museum associations are rethinking membership to overcome these challenges by exploring some new directions and possibilities, including:

1.  Enlarging the pool of potential members (and other supporters).  Begin with a preliminary step of gathering contact information for as many potential supporters as possible.  Some may become members who pay annual dues, others will pay admission to attend events, and some will support a cause with money, time, or talent.  The Dallas Museum of Art went so far as to Continue reading

Building Membership Relies on Research

Curate Your Own Membership at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Curate Your Own Membership at the Whitney Museum of American Art

The November/December 2013 issue of Museum, the magazine of the American Alliance of Museums, includes two helpful articles on membership, which is typically the fundamental fundraising program for historic sites.

In “Join the Club,” Daniel Grant describes several museums that have successfully broken the traditional “give more/get more” membership structure.  The Whitney Museum of American Art nows offers a Curate Your Own Membership program, which includes Continue reading

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 Continue reading

HBR: To Engage Your Visitors, Keep it Simple

"To Keep Your Customers, Keep it Simple" by Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman (Harvard Business Review, May 2012)

The May 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review arrived a little early to my mailbox, but I couldn’t stop from sharing a great article on engaging customers in business world that can easily be translated to engaging visitors and building support for historic sites and museums.  In “To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple,” Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman note the paradox of today’s promotional techniques:

Companies have ramped up their messaging, expecting that the more interaction and information they provide, the better the chances of holding on to these increasingly distracted and disloyal customers.  But for many consumers, the rising volume of marketing messages isn’t empowering–it’s overwhelming.  Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage.

This conclusion is based on multiple surveys of more than 7,000 consumers which were then compared to interviews with 200 marketing executives representing 125 brands.  Their pointed out that what consumers what and what companies think consumers want didn’t correspond to each other, or in biz speak, it’s a Continue reading

A Six-Stage Strategy for Engaging People

Engaging people is one of the primary responsibilities of an historic site, although we might call it membership, attendance, advocacy, support, fundraising, or “resources development” (yup, that’s what it was called at one place I worked).  Expanding and growing engagement is usually focused on direct and simple efforts, such as working on individuals to give increasingly greater sums or putting out more announcements to increase attendance.  Results are usually sporadic, rough, and unpredictable.

Engagement Pyramid by Gideon Rosenblatt.

I recently learned of a thoughtful strategy from Gideon Rosenblatt, the former executive director of Groundwire, a company that helps environmental organizations connect, inspire, and mobilize their communities.  He lays out engagement in a spectrum of six stages from Observers to Leaders and each has a decreasing number of people involved.  This is best illustrated as a pyramid, with the large group of Observers at the bottom and the small group of Leaders at the top.  He’s found that each group has a specific mindset and communication preference, and therefore, organizations can effectively engage Continue reading

Welcoming New Members: Examples from the Field

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As part of my year-end giving, I decided to join four different history organizations (one historic site, three historic preservation organizations).  I support the mission of every organization I joined–there’s no attempt to embarrass them here–but I also wanted to see how a new member and unsolicited gift was received.  In this tight economy, every organization seems to placing a great emphasis on growing membership and support, so it’s useful to learn what others are doing.  Admittedly, this is just a limited experiment, but for each one I downloaded their membership forms from their websites, filled it out, and then sent it in with a check for the basic individual membership level all on the same day in mid December.  So far, I received responses from three of the four organizations (and they arrived about a day apart) and here’s how they compared: Continue reading