Rewarding Changes in Museum Membership


Photo by Stefan Baudy

Edward de Bono, an internationally renowned thinker, once said: “It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.”

Taking his words to heart, we present our newest Museumist recurring segment: “What If Museums…” Let’s throw some ideas against the wall and see which ones stick.


What if Museums…Offered Points-Based Membership Programs?

Let’s begin with a little background.

Inspiration #1:

On February 16th, Nina Simon wrote a post about the need for museums to have both value and affinity based memberships. Basic free annual admission for the value hunters. For those seeking a deeper connection to the museum, targeted programming, behind-the-scenes features, and enhanced communication. All in all, an excellent idea.

Inspiration #2:

One of the latest social media crazes is FourSquare, a site that allows you to “check-in” at venues across your city. For example, as I am writing this, Derek B. in Ann Arbor, Michigan just checked in at Bab’s Underground Lounge. Big deal, you say? Well, where FourSquare gets interesting is that you earn points for where, when, and how often you check in. If you check in at a particular venue more than anyone else that week, you become the Mayor of that location. Derek B. is the Mayor of Bab’s Underground Lounge. One can infer that Derek B. really likes that bar. Other features of FourSquare allow users to leave tips about venues (Ask for Amanda at the Hair Cuttery, she gives the best haircuts), to receive recommendations about other nearby points of interest (You’re at the Hopleaf in Andersonville? Well, here are some nearby restaurants you might want to try), and to discover where their friends are (You’re at the Atlanta airport. So is your friend Joe). Essentially, it is a platform for gaining knowledge, making connections, and earning rewards for loyalty to an organization.

How This Applies to Museums

Now if you combine Nina’s idea of separating value from affinity memberships and the reward system of FourSquare, you get a points-based museum membership.

Meet John. He is a twenty-something who has decided to visit an art museum. He’s standing in line at the admissions desk, a little unsure about forking over $20 for a spur of the moment visit. Buying a membership would be the financially savvy thing to do, but he’s not sure he will use the membership enough to make it a real value purchase. Hold on, what’s this? An inexpensive individual membership that allows him to earn points towards increasing rewards packages based upon his interests, now that sounds like something worth looking into.

A points-based membership would work like this…

  • Buy the membership, get x amount of points.
  • Earn x amount of points for each visit to the museum.
  • Earn more points for visiting on a weekday.
  • Did you buy something in the store? Tack on a few more points.
  • Sign up for the mailing list. Fill out a visitor survey. Provide feedback through a comment card. Points!
  • Attend a lecture, class, program, gallery talk, etc. and you’re one step closer to rewards.
  • Points for purchasing a gift membership or recommending a friend.
  • Attend an exhibit opening, special members event, or off-site museum event.
  • Bring a guest.
  • Participate in online forums – Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
  • Volunteer at the museum. Points, points, points!

You get the idea. Now as you build points through participation and interaction, you can apply them toward rewards. Here are some reward ideas…

  • Discounts to the museum store.
  • Discounts on gift memberships, gift certificates, or add-a-member to your membership.
  • Behind the scenes tours.
  • Lunch with a curator.
  • Members night for individuals with a certain amount of points or discounts on facility rentals.
  • A museum tote bag. Everyone loves tote bags.
  • Tickets to the museum’s gala or fundraiser.
  • Free parking.
  • If its an art museum, give away prints or posters.
  • Living history museum? A chance to dress up as one of the “characters” for a day.
  • The museum can feature an interview with their member on their website.
  • Give away tickets to local events. Visiting the museum earns you points to score some tickets to a concert or film.
  • Magazine subscriptions. At children’s museums you could get Parents Magazine. Some obvious options would be National Geographic or Smithsonian. However, contemporary art museums could offer publications like Good, How, or Dwell.
  • Adopt a painting or artifact.

And the list goes on.

If you offer your visitors an either/or option like “Be a Value Member or be an Affinity Member,” you might face difficulties in transitioning that visitor between the categories. However, let’s say you offer an inexpensive individual membership that may initially bring in someone based solely on a value purchase. Through the points system, that visitor will feel encouraged to visit the museum, participate in its programming, and eventually become an invaluable advocate for your institution. You have made that transition from value to affinity member in a positive and rewarding way for both the visitor and the museum.

So, what if museums offered points-based membership programs? Well, visitors and museums might both reap the rewards.