Top 6 Benefits to Offer Your Members When Your Museum is Free

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Free admission is frequently cited as the top benefit of museum membership. But, if your museum is free to all visitors, what other benefits can you offer to entice and acquire new members?

Here are some of the top benefits to consider:

1. Free or Discounted Admission to Special Exhibitions

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and Minneapolis Institute of Art all offer free, unlimited admission to ticketed exhibitions for their members. Furthermore, many museums offer free guest passes to special exhibitions as a way to sweeten the deal for members and bring new audiences (and potential new members) through their doors.

Even when general admission is free, it’s common for museums to charge an additional ticket fee for the special exhibitions they host throughout the year. For instance, Cleveland Museum of Art, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and Minneapolis Institute of Art all offer free, unlimited admission to ticketed exhibitions for their members. Furthermore, many museums offer free guest passes to special exhibitions as a way to sweeten the deal for members and bring new audiences (and potential new members) through their doors.

2. Discounts in the Museum Store & Restaurant

If your museum has a gift shop, restaurant, or cafe, consider treating your members to exclusive discounts and offers. Baltimore Museum of Art and Bronx Museum of Arts, each offer a 10% discount at their museum shop and restaurant. This not only provides benefits and savings to your members, but is always another way to incentive them to spend more time and money at your organization.

3. Free or Discounted Parking

Ease of parking and the cost associated with it has become a factor in deciding where to go and what to do. . Many museums have included free or discounted parking to help remove another point of friction and to provide more value and convenience to members. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and Sheldon Museum of Art offer free parking while Walters Art Museum offers discounted parking to members.

4. Discounts at Local Businesses & Restaurants

While it may not the most common benefit, it’s one that is sure to delight. Some museums have partnered with local businesses to offer discounts outside of their four walls. Baltimore Museum of ArtNelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and Walters Art Museum all offer discounts to local restaurants and cafes, while the Frye Museum offers discounts to local hotels, art fairs, and art supply stores. Not only does this deepen the value proposition, but it also strengthens the local economy by encouraging members to spend locally.

5. Reciprocal Membership

Reciprocal memberships provide free or discounted admission to a variety of museums across a broad network. For those who travel frequently, this can be a notable advantage of becoming a member. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and The Menil Collection offer free admission and discounts to over 900 museums across the country through a partnership with the North American Reciprocal Museum Association.

6. Invitations to Special Member Events

One of the most sought-after benefits is a social one: the feeling of “belonging” to a museum and access to a variety of member only events. 

According to Dana Hines, CEO of Membership Consultants: “Special member-only programming is very important to free museums. Exhibit opening receptions, special ‘Members Days’ each month with speakers, hands on creative sessions, or Annual Member Appreciation events are very popular.  Members want to feel special, and when you offer times and activities just for them, they feel very appreciated. It all about offering the “experiential” that makes a difference!”

Members-only events provide members with fun events and activities to unwind and network with other like-minded people in their communities. Dallas Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, and most of Smithsonian Institution museums offer invitations to a wide variety of events throughout the year.

As the notion of membership and loyalty evolve, museums will continue to experiment with admission prices and membership benefits.Especially with the changing demographics and motivations of each generation being different than the last, many more organizations are re-thinking what it means to “be a member” and whether or not to charge admission. Regardless of where your museum is in that process, there are plenty of perks you can offer to attract new members and deepen your museum’s connection with existing members.