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 […]Read More
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.Read More
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.”
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.Read More
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:
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.Read More
Does your organization have a bricks-and-mortar venue, like a museum? If so, is your case for support driven by benefits, mission, or a little bit of both?
Avalon puts a high priority on helping our clients find the right balance between making a benefits-based and a mission-based case for support to convince and compel donors to give.
You may find that the benefits-based “What’s in it for me?” approach, one that rewards visitors with free tickets, parking, or gift shop discounts, works best. But many organizations find that educating donors and prospects about their vital work further encourages loyalty and long-term support.
In all communications with prospects, website guests, venue visitors, members, and lapsed donors, Avalon recommends testing the case for support permutations. This will help determine the correct balance for your organization.
Educating donors can help them think beyond the “What’s in it for me?” transactional nature of benefits. It helps donors view your organization as a living, growing institution that needs ongoing support, instead of simply a destination for a fun outing or field trip.
Your website should be your entry into donor education, while also encouraging people to join and visit your facility. It should tease new exhibits to explore, while also highlighting your ongoing work—such as the permanent collection—and future plans that will require consistent funding.
Avalon recommends testing a mix of benefits vs. mission messaging in all direct marketing programs to analyze, hone, and create the most effective case for support for distinct audiences. For example, would prospects from outside your state or community—those with few opportunities to visit—be more interested in additional details about your mission? What secondary cases for support (e.g., educational outreach, scientific leadership, community involvement, consumer information, etc.) work best for the locals who visit your facility frequently? Are there further tangible benefits that can move the dial? And what case for support works best for upgrading donors or recruiting sustaining members?Read More
Are 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.
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:
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.Read More
Last year, I wrote an FYI post on what motivates performing arts donors to give. My primary point was that, although arts organizations are passionate about their missions, what really motivates donors to write checks is benefits. Like it or not, “what’s in it for me?” is top of mind for performing arts donors.
Avalon has tested and tested this premise – both because it is so fundamental and because arts organizations still need convincing. Anecdotal research like focus groups often highlights arts donors who recall how important the arts were to their childhoods and who pledge to pay it forward. What’s more, arts staffers tend to believe that their donors are more motivated by altruism than by self-interest – an assumption upheld by those staffers’ own (and admirable) commitment to the arts.
But the numbers don’t lie…
Arts donors are primarily benefits-motivated. Our testing proves this time and again – take away the benefits and watch both acquisition and retention drop. For example, Avalon has tested a philanthropically focused ask for several performing arts centers, and, due to weaker response, the cost to acquire a philanthropic member is, on average, four times higher – and it is unsustainable. Similarly, renewal testing has resulted in 48% less revenue from philanthropic packages.
How should performing arts organizations respond to this? With strategic messaging. Even the smartest direct marketing tactics are ineffective without it.
Messaging is a labor of love – it is always a hard work in progress, supported by controlled testing with statistically valid, analyzed results. However, done well, messaging achieves the ambitious goals of both securing the financial support your organization needs today and strengthening the donor relationships that will fuel your program for years to come.
For performing arts organizations, the main challenge is to make meaningful connections between benefits-based and mission-based messaging.Read More