FYI Blog

DMAW AdVents Feature: Testing Informed Delivery

Of all the shiny, new things in the world of direct marketing, the United States Postal Service’s Informed Delivery is one that shows real promise as a new way to make your mail stand out in the crowd.      

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February 18, 2020

Hot off the Presses…

Avalon President Allison Porter and writer Faith Brown Kerr have authored a chapter in the brand-new book: Sustainable Revenue for Museums: A Guide, edited by Samantha Chmelik. Dedicated to “…the volunteers, staff, and board members at museums, historic sites, zoos, aquaria, botanical gardens, and nature parks,” the guide presents a survey of the best practices being […]

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October 25, 2019

Great Scot!

IMMC 2016 - group photo for FYI

Avalon Senior Vice President Kerri Kerr and I were thrilled to attend the second International Museum Membership Conference (IMMC) in Edinburgh, Scotland in early November. Like last year’s inaugural conference, it was gratifying to be among a collegial group of about 40 museum professionals and consultants, working together to share knowledge and reflect on what’s happening in our industry.

Our first night started with total immersion in Scottish culture—a reception and dinner at Edinburgh Castle, where we were greeted by bagpipers and torches, and toured the Scottish crown jewels! What followed was two and a half days packed with informative sessions, networking, and communal meals. Attendees were a 50/50 mix of US and international (mostly European) participants, and because it was a small group, we had many opportunities to really get to know the other participants and their programs.

We were privileged to lead two sessions with our colleagues from the Smithsonian, John Perell (Friends of the Smithsonian), Liz Wilson (National Air and Space Museum), and David Saunders (National Museum of the American Indian). Our roundtables covered Improving Your Museum’s Retention and Driving Revenue and Maximizing Your Museum’s Online Fundraising Program—with lively discussions and much shared information.

I also tagged along with Mae Daniller (Daniller + Company) for her presentation on mid-level giving: Putting It all Together: Taking a Successful Basic Level Membership Program to the Next Level.

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November 18, 2016

Finding Inspiration at the Kennedy Center’s Arts Summit

KC art Summit - Speaker

Service. Gratitude. Innovation. Creativity. Exploration. Freedom. Courage. Justice.

These are the ideals John F. Kennedy set forth for the country to pursue during his presidency—and the inspirational themes of the third annual Kennedy Center Arts Summit that we were thrilled to attend in late April. The Summit brought together people from all facets of the arts community to explore these standards and discuss the concept of the citizen artist.

Renée Fleming and Yo-Yo Ma co-hosted the Summit, which included captivating live performances, panel discussions, break-out sessions, and the announcement of the inaugural class of citizen artist fellows. Felllows are chosen for their contributions to the arts and their commitment to the principles of President Kennedy’s legacy. According to the Kennedy Center, “the Fellows will receive national recognition and opportunities to showcase their voice and work in order to further their trajectory and impact.”
KC art Summit - art2
The afternoon breakout sessions focused on JFK’s eight ideals—service, gratitude, innovation, creativity, exploration, freedom, courage, and justice—and further explored the concept of the citizen artist and how the arts can transform communities. In the session I attended, on freedom, I had the opportunity to dance with Sonia Manzano (“Maria” from Sesame Street)!

At the closing reception, we were treated to a surprise performance featuring Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, and one of the new citizen artists. It was the perfect ending to a remarkable day that reminded us of all the Kennedy Center has to offer—not only through its world-class performances, but also through its community and educational outreach.

Visit the Kennedy Center’s website to watch videos from the Summit and get a taste of the talent and excitement those of us lucky enough to attend experienced.

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May 19, 2016

Big Ideas From AMMC

 AMMC 16 Chicago image

At this year’s American Museum Membership Conference, we had the opportunity to participate in a fun and incredibly informative general session: Big Ideas for Museum and Membership Fundraising.

The ideas presented in this rapid-fire panel discussion ranged from game-changing innovations for fundraising programs, to testing strategies, to partnerships, etc. Here are some of the big ideas Avalon staffers shared that have had a significant impact on our clients’ success:


  • Launch a Membership Month to engage current and prospective members. It’s a proven winner time and time again.
  • Join a co-op and use co-op overlays on large lists (commercial, buyers, or nonprofits/museums). This is an effective way to make an unproductive list productive.
  • If your ask string is in ascending order, switch the first and second ask. We recently tested this with a client and found a 20% increase in average gift — with no impact on response.
  • Add a “Reply by [date]” or “Respond within 10 days” teaser to acquisition and additional gift carriers or reply envelopes. Urgency always helps lift response.
  • Use a plain white carrier to improve response and lower costs for acquisition and additional gift mailings.

Additional Gifts:

  • Add $1,000+ members/donors to your direct mail and email fundraising efforts. The majority came from the direct marketing program and will continue to be responsive to direct marketing efforts.
  • Use matching gifts! Those of us in the business may tire of them, but donors never do! They lift response rates every time.

New Channels:

  • Use crowd-funding for designated asks. One of our performing arts clients just ran a very successful crowd-funding campaign to raise money to buy 1,000 schoolchildren tickets to a performance.
  • Our analysis shows that one sustainer is about three times more valuable than a regular donor. So focus on sustainer conversion via email, phone, and direct mail
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May 4, 2016

London Calling!

London Bridge

Last month, I had the honor of participating in the first International Museum Membership Conference (IMMC) in London. It was wonderful to be among a collegial group of about 40 museum professionals and consultants whose stated goal was to create “an intimate venue where knowledge sharing and critical reflection on current industry innovations from a diverse array of perspectives can be harnessed to develop new insights and collaborations.”

And that’s exactly how it unfolded. Two overarching themes emerged: the global desire among museums to ramp up engagement to build stronger relationships with members, and the need to shift from a transactional to a more philanthropic membership.

Building Stronger Relationships

I joined David Saunders, director of membership at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and Edison Wato, director of membership at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, to present How Cutting-Edge Analytics Can Revolutionize Your Museum’s Membership Program. Our talk dovetailed with and reinforced the conference theme of building stronger relationships with members—specifically by using deeper analytics to discover more about them. We talked about how to unlock key performance trends found only in member/donor-level file analysis, and the need to dig into member data at a granular level to identify underlying problems, opportunities, and motivations.

During the discussions and presentations, I was struck by how seemingly easy European museums have it, relative to their American counterparts. With 90 percent retention (because of EFT sign-ups from the get-go), they have little need for direct mail acquisition. On the other hand, this means their fundraising is all about engaging and converting visitors—no easy feat. Much of our discussions centered on using analytics to corral the disparate types of buyers/members/donors (ticket buyers, café diners, people who pay for parking or purchase items in the gift shop, etc.) into one database, and engage and resolicit them appropriately from there.

The drive for membership engagement informed the Audience Journeys and Data presentation by Robert Halkyard, head of membership & audience engagement at Tate in London. Tate comprises four museums, and its membership revenue far exceeds its ticket receipts—so converting ticket buyers into paying supporters is of primary importance. Understanding Tate’s audience is the key to how the museum acquires, cultivates, and retains its members. Halkyard described a variety of tools that can get to the heart of customers’ interests and priorities, such as journey mapping, data segmentation, and market segmentation. I found his talk fascinating! Tate’s analysis has yielded much counterintuitive learning—reinforcing the notion that the key to understanding member/donor behavior is to throw your assumptions out the window and look to your data for strategic guidance. This research is helping Tate deepen its relationships with visitors before and after their visits—adding value by keeping them informed and engaging them by email.

Transaction > Philanthropy

The second overarching theme of the conference was how to move from a transactional (tickets and other benefits) to a more philanthropic (legacy giving, bequests, etc.) membership. The goal is to shift donors away from thinking about membership as a transaction—“If I visit twice a year, the membership will pay for itself, so I might as well join…”—and embrace the concept that helping a museum realize its mission is a critical form of philanthropy and well worth the investment.

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December 7, 2015

Museum Exhibits Are All Eyes

Mona Lisa headcropAre we creeping into Big Brother territory, or is this just another way to ensure you fully enjoy your museum experience? An interesting article by Ellen Gamerman in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “When the Art Is Watching You,” discusses the innovative tracking technology that some museums are using to make marketing, fundraising, and curating decisions.

Gamerman writes about the Dallas Museum of Art’s program, in which frequent visitors can use their smart phones to check in throughout the building and win points toward rewards “like free parking, special-exhibition tickets or private use of the museum’s movie theater. The museum then filters the data to better understand guests’ behavior, like how often they visit, which shows they flock to and what art they ignore.”

According to Gamerman, “Across the country, museums are mining increasingly detailed layers of information about their guests, employing some of the same strategies that companies like Macy’s, Netflix and Wal-Mart have used in recent years to boost sales by tracking customer behavior. Museums are using the visitor data to inform decisions on everything from exhibit design to donor outreach to gift-shop marketing strategies.”

We’re all for knowing your donors’ and visitors’ habits and preferences, and for using this information to determine new ways to engage and excite museum-goers. And what better time to engage them than when they are having a positive on-site experience?

Of course, this cutting-edge technology is outside some venues’ budgets. So in this same vein, but without the Big Brother vibe, we’ve put together a checklist of some of the best ways to ensure that your on-site visitors are receiving your membership message—because there is no better time to convey the need for support than when someone is having a firsthand, positive experience with your organization.

• Prominently display membership materials at your information booths or kiosks.
• Integrate membership messaging into the “Plan Your Visit” section of your website and/or your online advance ticket purchase process.
• Display signage promoting member discounts and current promotions at entrances and exits, points of purchase (e.g., tickets, bookstores), and frequently visited places (e.g., restrooms, parking lots).
• Print membership messages on tickets/passes, will-call envelopes, receipts, and programs.
• Offer complimentary membership bookmarks (or another appropriate giveaway) at gift shops.
• Display membership table tents in bathrooms, lounges, and dining areas.
• Visibly recognize current members via a banner or rolling electronic sign.
• Conduct on-site membership canvassing with mobile devices.

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February 12, 2015

Maximizing On-site Marketing at Your Venue

Museum On-site desk pic

If you are fortunate enough to have regular, face-to-face contact with people who support what your organization does (for example, a museum or other destination-based nonprofit), onsite visitor outreach can be the proverbial low-hanging fruit for enrolling new members and gathering information on prospective members. There is no better time to convey the need for support than when someone is having a firsthand, positive experience with your organization.

But we continue to be surprised by how many organizations with robust visitor populations fail to fully capitalize on this opportunity. Onsite marketing is one of the most valuable – and perhaps most overlooked – chances to make the membership connection.

Now is the time to beef up your visitor outreach and ensure that your visitors get the membership message loud and clear. Here’s a checklist to assess your on-site marketing and help you improve its effectiveness:


  • Prominently display membership materials at your information booths or kiosks.
  • Integrate membership messaging into the Plan Your Visit section of your website, and/or your online advanced ticket purchase process.
  • Ensure that there is signage promoting member discounts and current promotions at entrances and exits, points of purchase (tickets, bookstores, etc.) and frequently visited places (restrooms, parking lots, etc.).
  • Print membership messages on tickets/passes, will-call envelopes, receipts, and programs.
  • Offer complimentary membership bookmarks (or other appropriate takeaway) at gift shops.
  • Display membership table tents in the bathrooms, lounges, and restaurant/cafeteria.
  • Recognize current members in a visible way, like a banner or rolling electronic sign.
  • Conduct on-site membership canvassing with mobile devices.


  • Train staff and volunteers to talk about membership – consider including role-play simulations in this training so they can anticipate responses to visitors’ questions.
  • Ensure that your staff and volunteers have the information (and therefore the confidence) they need to promote membership and answer visitors’ questions.
  • Provide special membership targets and incentives to motivate staff and volunteers to get out and talk to visitors about membership.

Collecting Information

  • Collect email addresses, mail addresses, and phone numbers on site.
  • Collect information online or on the phone as part of the advanced ticket purchase process.
  • Create tear-off contact cards on membership brochures, membership table tents, and other on-site membership collateral.
  • Bring up membership at the point of purchase in gift shops (e.g. “Our Members enjoy a __% discount at our shop – would you like to join today?”).
  • Collect names by asking visitors to register for special raffles (e.g. free memberships, special gift shop items, event tickets, etc.).
  • Canvass at entrances and exits to gather contact information for future solicitations.

Follow Up

  • Design a follow-up conversion email series for names acquired on-site. Send the first email within two weeks of the visit, thanking the supporter and introducing him or her to the organization. The second email should engage the supporter in some specific way – whether it’s a survey, quiz, or request for feedback. The final solicitation should be a membership ask.
  • Plan to integrate on-site names into direct membership solicitations, including email and direct mail.

And, of course, incorporate the visitor experience into your messaging. Be sure that your membership brochure – and all on-site collateral – makes a direct link between the visitor’s experience today, and how he or she can stay involved over the long term by joining your organization.

Every venue and visitor experience is different, so be creative in thinking about the best ways to solicit and follow up with your visitors – online and offline.

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September 16, 2014