FYI Blog

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.
Lisa Krassner, chief membership officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, led a lively discussion called Re-Envisioning a Membership Program. The Met offers a “pay-as-you-wish” ticketing program, making it harder to convert ticket buyers to members. So the Met’s five-year plan to build (infrastructure), refine (communications), and grow (engagement) encourages the shift from transactional to philanthropic giving. And, while the Museum is focused on increasing participation among museum visitors and members, the emphasis is less on “What’s in it for me?” and more on building community and support for the Met. Its mission and core values—encompassing accessibility, community, transparency, and excellence—reinforce this messaging.

There were many more presentations and roundtables at the IMMC that spoke to the specifics of arts fundraising and how we can collaborate and share our experiences and ideas to transform direct marketing programs. Please visit the conference website—I think you’ll find the presentations enlightening and informative.

As we close another year of fundraising, I am thankful for industry gatherings like the IMMC. They remind me how fulfilling it is to create and share strategies that help worthy nonprofits raise as much money as possible, so they can effect positive change around the world. I am grateful to be a part of our community and a part of this critical work.

Photo Below: (from left) David Saunders (NMAI), Edison Wato Jr. (NMAAHC), and Allison Porter stand in front of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s monumental installation, Tree, in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Royal Academy of Arts Sculpture