By Jen Leavitt, Arts and Cultural Consultant

               

About a year ago, the Dallas Museum of Art did something truly innovative..

They made admissions and memberships totally free.

Today, anyone can become a member in exchange for some basic information.

And the results have been overwhelming.

The museum’s memberships have tripled in the past year.

They currently have 50,000 members and continue to add around 1,000 new members every single week.  While those numbers are staggering, it’s even more remarkable when you consider that they’ve also been able to track which galleries are most popular, who are repeat visitors, and what low income areas are being served by the museum most.  This type of data is absolutely critical for grants and fundraising.

How did they pull it off?

Dallas Museum of Art has taken the concept of website and email marketing metrics and made them analogue.

Instead of click through rates on a link, they can see which gallery a member visited.  Email open rates are replaced with data about first time and repeat visitors, and IP addresses are replaced by zip codes.

The museum has taken Web 2.0 into the real world.

Lessons from Gamification

The museum’s strategy for their free membership program draws from current social media trends.

Apps like FourSquare, where users can earn badges just by checking in at locations, have turned social media into gamification.

In much the same way, Dallas Museum of Art has taken the idea of gamification  to distribute museum rewards as incentive.  And while many of the principles of social media apply here (engaging friends, earning points by identifying works of art, etc.), members don’t need any special technology to participate- they simply receive a card they can scan in each gallery.

Research suggests that games motivate us.  And in a world where we can play video games anywhere on sort of tablet or smart phone, more and more people are proving daily that gamification works.  Unsurprisingly, 80% of adults 19 – 29, 60% of adults 30-49 played video games, and even 40% of the baby boomers play video games. Merging a free membership program with elements of loyalty programs and gamification adds to the appeal.

And it’s REALLY all free?

Despite the loss of revenue from membership and admission sales (which only accounted for 5% of the museum’s annual budget), the museum has seen an increase in revenue streams in other areas.

The free access to the museum has increased visitors, but those visitors are spending money in the café, gift shop, an on special paid programs.  In addition, the museum has been able to use the 2 MILLION data records to raise $5 million to support the museum (which is 5 times what the revenue was for paid admission and memberships).

Their strategy, however, strikes a contrast with New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new admission policy. While they’ve historically operated under a pay what you can model, the MOMA recently instilled a mandatory $25 admission. The change took effect in January 2014, so only time will tell whether the change to a set admission fee will benefit the institution.

Would you be willing to exchange membership revenue for increased data on your visitors, or is the trade off too great?

Download the tip sheet for more ideas to retain your members!

Arts and Cultural Donor Retention

 photo credit – Flickr: Creative Commons

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