Leaping Beyond Best Practices for Membership & Development


At last week’s AAM (American Alliance of Museums) Annual Conference, museum professionals from around the world gathered in St. Louis to present and exchange ideas to further the impact and evolution of the museum sector.

Members of the Cuseum team had the opportunity to attend and participate in a wide range of thought-provoking and informative sessions. Per our mission of helping museums engage visitors and members, we were drawn to one particular session where dozens of ideas were shared to inspire staff working in the areas of membership and fundraising.

The panel, 75 Ideas in 75 Minutes: Surpassing Best Practices, featured the voices of Jill Koski (VP of Development, Morton Arboretum), Patrick Madden (Executive Director, National Archives Foundation), Jennifer Thomas (Director of Annual Programs, Saint Louis Art Museum) and moderator Charles Katzenmeyer (VP of Institutional Advancement, The Field Museum).

Here’s a quick recap from the discussion!

Membership is more than meets the eye.

There is so much more to membership than just attracting, engaging, and retaining members. To achieve excellence in your efforts, you must be able to identify key members and leverage their passion to spread your mission and attract more members.

Developing your “impact” narrative.

Successful development efforts revolve more around the story than they do around the ask. By helping your potential donors understand their direct impact, and getting on board with your organization’s mission, the process of acquiring and retaining patrons becomes much easier.

Always be socratic.

On one side, you must ask yourself: how long have they been a member/patron, how frequently are they visiting/engaging, and what attracted them to our mission in the first place? Then you must flip the lens back towards you: how are you taking care of them, and what are you doing to ensure they make the most their benefits?

5 Tips to Increase Impact for Membership & Development Efforts.

           1. Recognize and reciprocate loyalty.

It’s not just about gift size or membership level. Make loyal members feel loved with techniques such as frequent touch points and easy-to-access member benefits!

           2. Sell the dream!

Don’t just sell the “features” of membership. Tell your institution’s story in a compelling way conveying your mission, impact, and bigger picture.

           3. Emphasize tangible impact.

Help people understand why their support matters, and where and what their dollars are going to. It’s human nature to want to feel and see the impact we have on individual causes and initiatives we care about!

            4. High touch = higher engagement.

Make sure you stay on your prospects’ radars using high touch techniques. This might include a handwritten card, a truly personalized email, an invitation to a special event, or anything that stands out amongst the noise and distractions of everyday life.

             5. Adapt to your members’ preferences.

Keep in touch with your members and prospects on the channel that they prefer (and pinpoint exactly what those channels are): phone, email, text, social media, etc.

A big thanks to the expert panelists and awesome attendees who shared their ideas!

Are your institutions taking a creative or different approach to engaging your membership or patrons? We’d love to hear from you – let’s chat!

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