I had the opportunity to attend the Association of Children’s Museums annual conference: InterActivity 2016. As I sat in a session, Membership from Here to There and Everywhere In Between, I had a realization: No one is better at managing membership programs than children’s museums. Children’s museums have all the challenges that all membership driven organization have… PLUS they have children, and therefore their members, aging out of their institutions every year. With a target age often between 1 and 8, children’s museums find that 1/8 of their children age out every year. That means children’s museum have to work that much harder and think that much more strategically to maintain their membership revenue despite losing more than 10% of their members completely organically each year.

So whether you work at a children’s museum or another membership driven organization, I can guarantee there is something you can learn from the panel at this session at ACM’s conference.

And of course I was proud to see so many Blackbaud clients there to represent.

The panel consisted of:

Here were my top takeaways:

  1. The best member benefits are all about convenience. The panel was unanimous – members love member only times. Being able to come to the museum and have more space to maneuver around was a huge benefit for their members. Kohl Children’s Museum in Chicago has 600+ visitors coming in one morning during their member only time. In fact, it’s become so popular it’s almost a problem – which is a good problem to have. The panelists also saw member only time increased the visits per year of member – for some as much as an average of 2-4 visits per year to 8-10 visits per year! Free parking is also a huge perk. Members want to be able to get their families in and out, while trying to schedule around toddler naps and hungry stomachs. Free or reserved parking makes the trip to the museum easier, which is a top priority for young families and makes committing to a membership worth it.
  2. Those extra member benefits just mean lost future revenue, and not necessarily more memberships now. Portland Children’s Museum found that people didn’t buy memberships because of future discounts for things like merchandise, birthday parties or camps. However, those discounts did mean that those most likely to purchase those things anyway, your member base, is now paying lower prices, resulting in lower merchandise and program revenue when they apply their member discounts. Their organization opted to simplify their benefits and focus on those that had the biggest impact on driving more membership purchases – giving them more opportunity for future revenue later.
  3. Member benefits focused on experiences are valuable as well. Miami Children’s Museum had community partners constantly looking for ways to reach their members, but they didn’t want members to see it as a sales pitch. So they got creative – instead of simply extending discounts that would likely get missed or handing out collateral that would end up in the trash, the Museum allowed these partners to engage with their members if they could find ways to do it that were interactive and fun. So instead of having a flyer about yoga classes that were 10% off for members (which would be mostly ignored or tossed) they had a yoga studio come onsite during member hours and offer a class for adults and a class for their children.
  4. In every way possible, keep your member benefits simple. It is extremely easy for your membership levels to get extremely complicated. That’s why I loved the advice of Portland Children’s Museum, that decided it was time to streamline their membership program, reduce the number of levels, and make the benefits more consistent. Stephanie Tolk said she remembered being a visitor at the children’s museum, with a toddler grabbing her leg while you’re trying to get through a line. The options need to be simple to understand and easy to decide for a family to be able to make the decision quickly and get into the organization. As an added benefit to everyone, this also keeps your line moving faster, which makes even your nonmembers happy.

Members are such an asset, beyond the consistent, reliable revenue. As the panel in the session reminded us, members also buy. They buy merchandise, they sign up for camps, and they host their birthday parties at your organization. But to be able to realize all that lifetime value from a member, you first have to attract them and then retain them. So take some tips from the experts: the membership managers at children’s museums.

What member benefits have you found to be most successful? What hasn’t worked? Continue the conversation below.


Laura joined Blackbaud in 2013 as the Senior Product Marketing Manager for Arts & Cultural Solutions. Previously, Laura spent two years at Dell, most recently as the Lead Pricing Manager for North American Consumer Desktops. Before receiving her Master’s of Business Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Laura worked for 5 years in non-profit arts. During that time, Laura worked as the Associate Director of Finance at Austin Lyric Opera and in Finance/Accounting at the Dallas Theater Center. Laura is also a proud graduate of Texas A&M, where she received her Bachelor’s of Business Administration, Magna Cum Laude and with honors.

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