Membership schemes are a great way to get audiences invested in your museum’s mission and vision by offering them behind the scenes access and content all whilst building up a group of loyal patrons. For many museums, they also provide a significant source of income with Tate citing membership as the second most important source of income for their museums in their 2019-2020 annual report. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, museum membership income has been jeopardized as it has previously heavily relied on in-person benefits such as early exhibition openings, member’s-only screenings and of course, the ticket and shop discounts.
Fear not however, as this article will challenge you to think about the digital benefits to offer your current or potential members to further digital fundraising goals and increase museum patronage. It’s imperative in this current climate of building back after the coronavirus lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 to pivot membership offerings to include digital benefits which can help retain valuable membership income and bring in new audiences as well. Let’s get started!
“Roped off” website
Have you ever gone to read an article online and gotten that “subscribe or login message” barring you from reading unless you hand over some contact information? This is indicative of gated content which is being used more and more when it comes to collecting information on website visitors and offering exclusive content. Having a members-only part of your website is a way to offer a hub for exclusive content that members can access anytime. Especially if your museum is producing interesting articles and media content, giving non-members a bit of a tease can be a great incentive for joining.
Creating exclusive digital content can be a difficult task as links can be shared with the click of a button – offering a gated portion of your website can help to keep your content safe and for members eyes only. Another upside to creating this special space for members is that it’s easier to get valuable metrics on how often members are visiting your site, how long they are staying and which resources they are exploring. As far as digital fundraising goes, these exclusive online benefits can be very attractive to existing and potential members bringing in valuable income and retaining membership.
Exclusive media content
The Museum of Modern Art better known as MoMA in New York have been pioneers when it comes to offering digital content to members having offered online events and exclusive content since 2011. What began as a way for members to renew their membership online and update their details, evolved into a dedicated hub to access virtual tours and specially recorded content such as lectures and podcasts that only members could access.
Fast forward to 2021 when their doors have reopened to the public after the 2020 coronavirus shutdowns, they are continuing to offer their members online content and events including roundtable sessions for members, exclusive virtual screenings and “evening in” events that are focused on exploring the collections alongside physically crafting artwork and objects guided by MoMA staff. All of these events are meant to make members feel included in something special, a next-level tier of patronage that’s valued by the museum and necessary for carrying out their mission and vision.
Here are some ideas of members-only media content to digitally engage your support base:
- Virtual tours of museum grounds or gallery spaces,
- Dedicated podcast series featuring voices from the museum as well as guest speakers,
- Exclusive photo/video previews of upcoming exhibitions,
- Members-only networking sessions to allow supporters to meet one another and engage on topics relating to your museum and collection,
- Virtual screenings of film content related to your collection and/or exhibitions.
A great way to keep members in the loop and up to date on all new virtual events and digital content is to produce a regular members-only newsletter. Whether it be fortnightly or monthly, make full use of the opportunity to remind members of the benefits that their museum membership affords them like shop discounts, discounted tickets and exclusive content. New research conducted by digital product studio Freestyle at the end of 2020 found that a one third of their survey respondents placed “communication and information” in their top reasons for joining a membership organisation. Making members feel valued and heard through frequent communication is crucial for retention, and also offers you ample opportunity to let them know about upcoming appeal campaigns and crowdfunding initiatives.
If your museum is participating in any online campaigns such as Giving Tuesday and/or International Museums Day, a member’s newsletter is a great place to highlight your goals, aspirations and how those who are most loyal to your museum can continue to support. For more information on how to plug into existing campaigns to help with digital fundraising, read our MuseumNext article on the topic!
Go forth and get digital
Just as digital fundraising has become increasingly important within the past few years due to wide-spread new technology adoption, the same goes for membership benefits and the need to offer perks that members can access online. Membership income accounts for a significant portion of income for many museums and member retention is crucial to survival in today’s uncertain climate. If your museum doesn’t yet have a membership scheme, this may be the perfect time to launch one to hit digital fundraising goals and explore new revenue streams. As with any new digital ventures, it’s important to do your research and make sure that a membership scheme would be right for your museum and that there are proper resources to support it. Be sure to survey audiences, outline tiers and benefits and sketch out funding goals prior to launching.
Many museums found a silver lining during the coronavirus pandemic and now have the skills and experience to create engaging digital content. Our parting advice today is to harness that power and energy and funnel it into a valuable source of income – membership schemes!
 Tate, 2020, 2019-2020 Annual Report, https://www.tate.org.uk/file/tate-gallery-annual-accounts-2019-2020
 Freestyle, 2020, Membership organisations: Staying relevant in 2021, https://www.freestyle.agency/staying-relevant-in-2021—membership organisations
About the author – Devon Turner
Devon Turner is an Arts & Culture Writer. She has worked extensively in arts marketing for both the visual arts and performing arts in the US and UK. Now living in London, Devon works in the arts and culture sector and enjoys traveling to visit museums.