Museum Membership Ultimate Guide

No matter what lies between their walls, museums cannot exist without their members.

Your members are more than just financial support for your institution; they’re also your best ambassadors. They spread the word about the amazing programs and exhibitions they love, which brings even more visitors and potential members through your doors.

Like most museums, you may be challenged to strengthen these relationships with your current members and encourage others to join your membership program.

Read on to learn how the most successful membership programs improve year after year to deliver exceptional value and build loyalty. Plus, get tips on supporting your program with a strategic team and powerful museum membership software.

Learn how to craft the perfect museum membership program with our ultimate guide!

THE BASICS OF MUSEUM MEMBERSHIP

The philosophy behind successful museum membership programs is to build long-term relationships.

The Philosophy of Successful Museum Membership Programs

As the most basic level, museum membership programs earn money for institutions by offering participants special benefits in return for a membership fee.

But the most successful programs look long-term at enhancing relationships between the institution and its supporters.

In addition to bringing in sustainable revenues with membership fees, a well-planned and -executed membership program can lay the groundwork for future expansion and improvement projects. This long-term view is a key component of a successful membership and growth program.

Avoid these common pitfalls of museum membership programs.

Common Pitfalls of Museum Membership Programs

It’s easy to get so involved in the day-to-day matters of your membership program that you temporarily lose sight of your museum’s larger strategic objectives.

One of the most difficult challenges is balancing the need to make members feel recognized and valued with your organization’s long-term growth goals.

Great membership programs provide more than free admission and discounted classes — they deliver a flexible and creative range of enticing benefits that build a deeper sense of community and connection for existing members and encourage new memberships.

Allow your museum membership program to grow by investing in integrated museum software.

Allowing Your Museum Membership Program to Grow

To grow your membership numbers every year, you need a solid strategy to support every aspect of your membership program’s growth.

Strengthening membership programs requires membership management software to help identify, design and deliver the member benefits.

The best museum membership software supports expansion by automating common benefits, such as member discounts and priority registration. An integrated museum software solution can also provide flexible support for a range of new and exciting benefits unique to your institution that help recruit and retain members.

EVALUATING YOUR EXISTING MUSEUM MEMBERSHIP PROGRAM

1. Crunch the Numbers

If you’re not starting a museum membership program from scratch, you’ve already collecting important data, such as the number of members and households at each membership level; attendance records for daily admission and special events; program registration information; and gift shop sales to members.

By tracking and analyzing who becomes a member and how their memberships are used, you can identify the benefits and programs that members use most often (and least often). Data like this can also help you decide to plan to drop, modify, or add benefits.

You may find yourself wishing you had important data that your museum doesn’t currently collect. For example, if member discounts in the gift shop aren’t linked to the member records, you can’t gauge the success of the overall merchandise discount program or identify the items that members are most likely to purchase.

2. Send Out a Survey

In addition to quantitative data about your museum membership program, it’s important to have qualitative data as well. This information can help you evaluate the individual and person reasons why your members join your program.  

The best and easiest to find out why members participate is to ask them! Construct a short online survey to gather their opinions about what programs and benefits they like and dislike, as well as what they’d like to see in the future. In addition to providing valuable insights, member surveys can strengthen relationships by showing your members that you value and act on their feedback.

It’s also important to find out why nonmembers who visit or participate in your programs don’t choose to become members. Is it the price? The benefits? Lack of knowledge about the program? Again, you won’t know if you don’t ask.

3. Hold a Focus Group

Even if you’ve already sent out a survey, there are a few key reasons that conducting a focus group to supplement survey responses should be part of your strategy.

Many people express themselves better in person out loud than in writing, especially if they rushed through an email survey. A focus group also gives them a dedicated period of time to focus on giving you the best answers, and it gives you the opportunity to ask follow-up questions that a survey couldn’t have asked.

To make sure your focus group participants know how much you appreciate their time and thought, don’t forget to reward them with a gift, a special tour, or admission vouchers.

BOOSTING REVENUE RETURN FROM YOUR MUSEUM MEMBERSHIP PROGRAM

Recruiting for Your Museum Membership Program

Time-Limited Promotions

Humans are procrastinators by nature. We need deadlines to motivate us to accomplish a task.

When you offer special promotions for new members, placing a time limit on them will encourage more people to pay attention and sign up.

These special promotions could be anything from a discount on the first year’s membership fee to extra tickets, a gift shop voucher, or a free meal at the cafe.

Special, time-limited campaigns rely on effective marketing. Make sure your museum software can facilitate email campaigns, direct mail campaigns, and other efforts to get the word out.

Time-limited promotions are great ways to recruit for your museum membership program.

Upsell Options

When a visitor to your museum or web site makes a purchase, show them how much they’d save if they had a membership.

Invest in membership software that allows you to share the actual amount that a member would save and that makes it easy to add a membership and its benefits to the purchase. This feature should be integrated into your web site for online sales, as well as with your point-of-sale (POS) and mobile POS for in-person upsell at at the admission desk, gift shop or anywhere else on your site.

In fact, membership sales on a mobile POS lets you take advantage of your visitors’ direct engagement. When someone is immersed in your museum’s exhibits or programs, they’re likely to be most receptive to a membership offer.

Upselling memberships at checkout is a great way to recruit for your museum membership program.

Gift Memberships

Especially as the holiday season comes around, you should consider allowing patrons to purchase memberships for their friends and family. Of course, you can facilitate gift memberships year-round, but the end of the year is a popular time for large gifts like a museum membership.

Letting visitors buy each other memberships lets you grow your program to people who you might never have considered asking to join!

Getting the gift of a museum membership also shows the recipient just how important your museum is to their friend’s life, which will encourage them to support you, too.

Plus, keeping track of which of your patrons end up gifting membership to their friends will help you identify your most engaged supporters.

Letting visitors gift memberships is a great way to recruit for your museum membership program.

Linebusting

Some nonmembers are encouraged to join a membership program when the benefits are immediately apparent in the moment.

One such moment that you can use to demonstrate the value of your membership program is while your nonmembers are standing in a long admissions line.

Set up a membership booth when you’ve got long lines for a special program, and invest in mobile POS systems so your museum staff can sign up your visitors no matter where they are in line.

Linebusting pays off both for the people who are signing up to be members and the people who aren’t because it helps the line move faster. Shorter lines for everyone makes all your visitors happier!

Linebusting is a great way to recruit for your museum membership program.

Retaining Participants in Your Museum Membership Program

Providing exclusive first looks at new projects will make your membership program worth it to your devoted patrons.

Special Member Access

Giving members “backstage” access to special events or offering an early sneak-peak at your newest exhibitions makes your members feel exclusive.

On the ground level, your members will love a members-only express line at the front door, especially if you run a children’s museum or you get particularly busy during certain times of the day or year.

Members-Only Hours and Events

Nothing makes your members feel special quite like breezing past your front doors before or after normal working hours.

If you have the means, regularly organizing members-only events is another great way to retain members. They will start to look forward to the same events every year to see their friends and any new elements you’ve incorporated into the events, like special guests or performances.

Discounts for Events and Programs

Members likely already get free or discounted admission to your museum during normal working hours, but offering lower prices for special events and programs can bring even more engaged supporters on board.

Think about your museum camps, educational series, and other popular, recurring events. Incorporate special member benefits such as early registration and discounted tickets.

Free Gifts

A classic membership perk is a free gift. The most effective gifts are useful and branded so that your members will actually take them out in public where other people can see them. Free advertising!

The most common low-cost gifts are stickers and magnets with your museum’s logo or mascot. All ages can put these on their laptops, fridges, car windows, or bumpers. Other popular choices are pens, t-shirts, coffee cups, baseball hats, and plush toys — all branded for your museum.

Engaging Communications

Members should look forward to communications from your museum, from birthday cards to regular newsletters or the occasional special notices. You can also include additional discounts beyond the membership benefits they already enjoy.

Make sure that you distinguish these communications as member-only, by adding phrasing like “Exclusive for Museum Members” near the heading or the discount codes. That way, members know why they won’t receive them anymore if they let their membership lapse.

Reconnecting with Lapsed Membership Program Participants

1. Automatic Renewal Emails

Automatic renewal reminders are your first line of defense against lapsed members.

Set automatic reminders (complete with a link to the renewal payment online form) to go out to members at appropriate times of year, like around the holidays or the beginning of the year. And don’t forget to send more than one reminder to make sure the message doesn’t get buried.

Automate these messages with communications software that allows you to schedule emails based on custom fields in your member profiles.

2. Physical Renewal Letters

Once a member has lapsed out of your program, you have to put forth more effort to pull them back in.

Sending a physical letter instead of an email conveys how much you value the member’s support for your museum. That personal touch can go a long way, especially for members on the fence about renewing.

Renewal request letters tend to be more effective when they focus on the member, referencing specific events they’ve attended or campaigns they’ve donated to. Do your research to personalize your request!

3. Museum Staff Outreach

If those strategies don’t work, don’t give up! Bring in your most personable staff members to finish the job.

Sometimes, a member has to hear from a staff member’s mouth just how much their membership means to the institution. A phone call can be very persuasive, as can an in-person meeting for longtime members that lapse from your program.

Your museum software solution can help staff members reaching out to lapsed members by providing them with all the information they need to make a compelling call.

MAKING THE MOST OF MUSEUM MEMBERSHIP SOFTWARE

Benefits of Museum Management Software

Membership software helps you streamline the member's experience.

Streamline member experience.

If you take on membership management without an integrated software solution, you’ll find difficulty delivering benefits.

Museum software makes your membership program easier for you to manage and your members to enjoy

For example, integrated museum membership software can automatically apply member benefits to gift shop purchases with one scan of their membership card.

By staying organized with membership software, you can pay more specialized, individual attention to your members.

Engage members as individuals.

Remember that your museum members are your staunchest supporters and deserve to be treated as such.

With software, you can segment your membership base and enter information about your supporters’ interests.

Storing everything you know about your members in your software’s member profiles makes it easy to reach out to them about events and special programs they would be interested in.

Your fundraising efforts will benefit from the detailed member profiles hosted in your membership software.

Raise more for your museum.

Museums are nonprofits, and as such, they rely on donations to fuel operations.

You can accept online donations through museum software, from a designated giving page to targeted email fundraising campaigns.

Software can facilitate the actual financial aspects of accepting donations through secure online platforms by pulling payment information straight from your member profiles.

Features of Museum Management Software

Integrated Member Benefits

Museum membership software keeps all your member details in one place.

When your members register for a program or buy a t-shirt from the gift shop, membership software can automatically apply their discounts.[

Custom Messaging

You don’t want to send the same messages to your lowest and highest level members.

Software will help you segment your supporters and craft custom communication strategies for each group.

Mobile Membership Cards

Membership cards aren’t just fun to flash at a dinner party — they’re useful for identifying your members at events.

Some museum membership software solutions allow members to print their own membership cards at home or download them to their smartphones.

Automatic Renewal Reminders

It’s important not just to bring members into your program but to keep them there year after year.

With museum membership software, you can configure automatic reminders to encourage patrons to renew or upgrade their accounts.

Flexible Pricing Models

You might want to offer special discount codes, time-based special rates, or buy-one-get-one-free offers.

With museum membership software that integrates into your purchasing solution, you can apply these pricing changes easily.

Custom Membership Hierarchy

You’ve set up your membership levels, offering special benefits and charging different amounts for each level.

Custom membership hierarchies within your museum membership software allow you to reflect these membership levels in your digital records.

Doubleknot museum membership management software builds custom profiles of your members, making it easy to send individualized communications to segments of your membership base, fundraise based on special interests, and track event attendance.

Doubleknot museum membership management software keeps your membership program organized!

DOUBLEKNOT’S MUSEUM MEMBERSHIP SOFTWARE SOLUTION

Take a look at how two of our partners have integrated membership solutions into their special event operations:

The Nevada Northern Railway Museum implemented Doubleknot's museum software solution to streamline sales and membership.

Nevada Northern Railway Museum

With customers making purchases, reserving seats on excursions, and buying tickets online and at POS stations, the Nevada Northern Railway Museum needed to ensure that no programs got overbooked, inventory didn’t run too low, and members received the discounts they signed up for.

By implementing Doubleknot’s software, the museum got a streamlined experience for them and their visitors since the new online and onsite integrated sales process all sync with the same database. Members get benefits automatically no matter where they are, and the museum can upsell memberships and apply benefits to items from the same purchase.

Indian Creek Nature Center went digital with Doubleknot museum membership software.

Indian Creek Nature Center

When the Indian Creek Nature Center opened a new 12,000-square-foot, multi-use educational space in 2016, the staff was still writing gift shop receipts by hand. The new director knew that to push the nature center to the next level, a data-driven solution was needed.

Doubleknot made it easy for the Indian Creek Nature Center to implement registration and POS both online and offline. Visitors were able to purchase memberships online and onsite for the first time, and the administrative team was able to track members’ event attendance histories with clean reporting.

ADDITIONAL MUSEUM MEMBERSHIP RESOURCES

Museum Software: Ultimate Guide

Support your museum membership program with top museum software from our ultimate guide.

Are you ready to upgrade the software that supports your upgraded museum membership program?

Start your search with our ultimate guide to museum software solutions!

Top Museum Programming Ideas

Find the best museum programming to accompany your museum membership program.

As part of your membership program improvements, it might be time to revamp your programming!

Organize the best programming for your members (and new museum visitors).

Top Museum Software

Support your museum membership program with the best museum software.

You can’t run a successful museum membership program without powerful software to keep you organized.

Check out Double the Donation’s top museum tools to find the best for your program!