FYI Blog

2019 AMMC Takeaways

2019 AMMC Takeaways 

A group of Avalonians made their way to Pittsburgh recently for the American Museum Membership Conference. As always, AMMC is a great opportunity to hear about terrific ideas for how museums can engage and retain members, and improve the visitor experience.

Let’s kick off our round-up of conference takeaways with Avalon’s presentation.  Avalon SVP Jackie Biancolli Libby joined development professionals from the National Museum of the American Indian, The Trustees, the National Air and Space Museum, and The Barnes Foundation to present Key Metrics 101: The answers you need when your boss puts you on the spot.

Starting with the fact that today, all nonprofit professionals really must be proficient in data literacy, the group took participants through the details of interpreting key program metrics and industry benchmarks to answer common (but sometimes thorny) questions from senior executives like…

  • How can we incorporate Membership into our Capital campaign?
  • Why is net revenue declining for this Membership program?
  • Why can’t we acquire all our Members on site?
  • Are we effectively keeping Members on our file AND upgrading them?

…and then how to review and interpret the data to arrive at the correct answer—as well as how to deliver that answer in a persuasive manner.

Other takeaways that resonated for us:

Some interesting metrics—not all sunny:

  • The average visitor cycle for museums is between 21 and 29 months. Consider that when defining your “renewal window.”
  • Although the US population has increased 7%, visitation to cultural organizations is down 2.7% over the past 10 years . If your program is dependent upon onsite acquisition, you may need to supplement this area with other acquisition channels.
  • But repeat visitation rates are up, and at a record high—from 27.5% in 2011 to 38.8% in 2018. Are you segmenting repeat visitors and treating them differently in your acquisition?
  • Expenses for museums are outpacing revenues. Fundraising is more important than ever.

The visitor experience:

  • We heard again and again that museums are facilitators of shared experiences—who a museum visitor is with is 2.5X more important than what he/she sees. Most visitors report that the companionship is the best part of their visit. Are you reminding members and prospects of this dynamic in your fundraising copy?
  • Front-of-house staff can be membership cheerleaders or membership police. They’re often the only human interaction your visitors have, so their interaction has a critical impact. How much do you interact with these key museum ambassadors and express appreciation for the critical member cultivation role they play?
  • More and more, museums are working towards inclusivity—even as it relates to things like membership levels (e.g., family vs. individual being replaced with “Membership for 1” and “Membership for 2”). Have you thought about how your member level names could be excluding certain audiences?


  • When all transactions are considered, members are worth an average of four times a standard museum visitor’s value to the museum! Have your run these figures for your museum?
  • Many museums are experimenting with dynamic admission pricing, which can have an impact on your membership levels and their value proposition. Yet another reason for membership and marketing to be communicating regularly.
  • Consider where the membership offer is presented to your ticket buyers online—some museums have found success with a pop-up box at checkout, presenting the case that a nominal purchase increase would result in unlimited free admission. A nice opportunity for an up-sell.
  • Monitor your membership benefits to make sure they’re meeting the promise. If events are becoming too crowded, you may need to move that perk to a higher level or consider repeating the event a few times throughout the year.
  • Instead of having senior or student levels, consider offering a senior or student discount on all levels so you don’t pigeonhole people into one level when they might want to give more.
  • With the costs of membership programs going up every year, many museums must increase their member levels. While some organizations project this increase in advance to encourage early renewals, one museum chose to just roll out the change without any advance notice. While they have received very little negative feedback to date, we looking forward to the next AMMC conference and hope they’ll present on final results for this approach.
  • As tax laws change, what impact does tax-deductibility have on the allure of your membership program? Some museums are removing benefits with assigned values to allow their members to fully deduct their gifts. It’s always a good idea to seek your museum’s attorney’s guidance in that exercise, to ensure you’re complying with IRS regulations.

 And one final takeaway:

  • There’s a difference between being thanked and feeling Research shows that most donors don’t renew because they say they weren’t thanked. But we know we thanked them…so how can we make them feel our thanks? Something to ponder as we work on benefits, cultivation, and acknowledgments.