What do you do about the members when the museum is closed?

There is no question that all of us who work with museums and other cultural institutions with membership bases are in unchartered waters with the coronavirus and the economic uncertainty it is causing. Organizations are juggling countless priorities to make sure their staffs and volunteers are safe while struggling to make decisions around business continuity. What do you do about membership renewals when your museum, zoo, science center or theater is closed for an unknowable amount of time?    

The near-term will bring unplanned changes to the way we all do business. But now is not the time to stop communicating with your members. Now is the time to remind them of the value of their membership as a critical funding source to your mission. Get creative with an action plan to deliver on that mission even in the midst of all this change. Your membership base won’t just be grateful, they might even be encouraged to renew their financial support.

History has proven that economic downturns are survivable. Membership renewals won’t stop all together and some organizations may even experience increased support during this time of crisis. 

Now is the time to look to the future. The following recommendations will help traverse this stormy period and not just survive–but arrive safely on the other side with even stronger member relations and engagement. 

Keep communicating. Just like in good times, retention of members is key. It costs more to renew a lapsed member than one who is still engaged, so it’s critical that you stay in the hearts and minds of your current members. Membership has NEVER ceased completely, even during the economic recession in 2008-2009. But, as always, members need to be reminded and encouraged to renew.  So, stay in touch. 

Tell your story. Be honest with your members. Outline the impact the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic downturn are having on your organization. Take a storytelling approach and feature members of your staff who are still working to deliver on your mission. 

Brainstorm ways to engage with members online. Find ways to bring your collection, performances, educational experiences, or programs into members’ homes. Most cultural institutions have a wealth of content that can be taken online. 

Mine your lapsed members for reactivation. If you’re able to find a new way to connect with members and bring them useful content, now may be a perfect time to ask segments of your lapsed members to renew or provide other financial support. But be strategic and selective about the audiences you solicit during the crisis. If you have large lapsed lists, consider adding more data points to gain insights on the most likely responders to manage your expense. Evaluate channels (direct mail, digital media, social media, email) for their ability to leverage these data insights to reach and convert this audience efficiently. 

Articulate your financial responsibility. When the economy is slow, supporters are especially anxious to know that their funds are being used wisely. 

Plan for the future. This crisis will pass, so start planning now for that day and be ready to maximize the return to normal. Think of ways to show gratitude to those who stepped up during this challenge. Make personal phone calls, schedule recognition activities or plan thank-you mailings. Share with them the impact of their support during the crisis and you may just find your next major donors. 

Don’t forget communication basics. Make your renewal letters personal, emphasize the importance of the member and their direct impact on the work you’re doing, thank the member repeatedly, and ASK FOR THEIR SUPPORT!

Keep your mission at the forefront of your decision-making and your eye on the future and you will find yourself with a healthy membership program that’s ready to take on the next challenge. 

Mark M Gaskill
Mark M Gaskill

EVP of Marketing Solutions

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