Membership Engagement Strategy
Member engagement is an all-important, and sometimes frustratingly vague, concept which every museum has at the forefront of its priorities. A dedicated and enthusiastic member base is the lifeblood of museums and other nonprofit institutions across the United States. And the process of creating, maintaining, and growing that foundation of loyal museum attendees requires more (though not much) than just winning exhibitions.
A member engagement strategy is a necessary tool at any museum’s disposal which can help to keep an audience’s attention and have them renewing their membership year after year, even through fluctuating financial priorities. Read on for tactics every museum should have in its member engagement repertoire.
Membership Engagement: The Basics
First off, what do we mean by membership engagement?
Museum memberships can be expensive, and organizations must offer a host of novel and enticing benefits to compensate loyal members for their patronage. This is, at its core, what member engagement is. It functions to prove to audiences that their membership is worth the money, time, and energy they contribute — on an ongoing basis — to your organization. Member engagement boosts an institution’s value in the minds of their audience.
Second, why is it so important?
Member engagement fuels all revenue at any nonprofit organization. It is the ultimate combination recruitment-retention-brand strategy. Museums with great member engagement practices see:
- Higher member attraction and retention rates.
- Increased event attendance.
- Regular membership upgrades.
- Member-based brand advocacy.
- And increased effectiveness within the community.
Third, where to begin? Here’s how to get your membership engagement strategy started:
- Assemble your team – All departments across your museum have stake in member engagement, and it’s important that your member engagement team includes representatives with a diversity of expertise, and experience levels. This is the best way to ensure that your member engagement strategy benefits the organization as a whole.
- Get feedback – What better way to figure out how best to engage your audience than to ask them? Using surveys, focus groups, and data analysis, you can discover why your members join, why not-yet members haven’t signed up, why long-time members are sticking around, and what your membership base wants to see in the future. Let your audience tell you what to do. After all, they’re the reason you’re doing it, right?
- Implement and evaluate – Time to test out your strategy. Begin by setting a number of measurable short- and long-term goals, as well as landmark check-in dates to sit down with your team and assess progress. A short-term goal might be an improved membership onboarding experience, while long-term could include (and should include) better membership retention. In the early stages, pay close attention to how and whether audience behavior is shifting from the baseline, and be prepared to make any necessary changes along the way.
Advanced Tactics for Membership Engagement
For veterans of membership engagement strategizing, here’s a list of 5 tactical moves your museum can use to create and maintain a successful strategy.
- Be accessible. Money usually centers the conversation around membership engagement, but some of your best brand advocates might not be your gold-tier members. Museums exist to serve and educate the community, and it is important to offer membership to everyone, regardless of income level. Implementing free and low-cost membership options will grow your membership base by including all people who love what you do.
- Give new members a warm welcome. Audiences should reap the benefits of their membership right away. An email confirmation with a sweet welcome message is fine, but underwhelming. Demonstrate to new members your gratitude and excitement at their patronage by offering a welcome package once they sign up. This can look like free access to exclusive web content, a personalized welcome letter, a free branded t-shirt, etc., etc.
- Create online communities. Especially in this era of physical distancing mandates, having an accessible online platform for member engagement is a necessity. One intangible benefit of museum membership is connection with passionate others who are equally interested in the work that your organization puts forth. It’s exciting to join a group of art enthusiasts, or amateur zoologists, or science geeks, who all love the same museum that you love. And it’s a great platform through which museums can communicate openly and casually with its members.
- Communicate. And respond. Successful membership engagement means also maintaining accountability for your organization when mistakes are made, members are upset, or times are particularly hard. Members are more likely to stick around if they feel seen and heard. No member communication should be left on read, and any member complaints or concerns must be taken seriously and be given due consideration. Mistakes made by the organization must be owned up to and communicated in a timely manner — accountability and reparations build trust, not only with your membership base, but in the community at large.
- Put sustainability first. Any museum’s best ROI comes from keeping the members you already have happy. It can be easy to get swept up in the thrill of new member recruitment – but your most dedicated patrons already know the value of your organization, and their retention should be a top priority. Routinely evaluate benefits, issue satisfaction surveys, and thank your members regularly for their patronage with personalized communications.
Final Thoughts: Membership Engagement Strategy
A member engagement strategy is the secret ingredient for the health and wellness of any museum. Knowing what your audience wants, and how to get them what they want, can help your organization to create and maintain for years to come a happy and dedicated audience.