86% of those attending RAISE’s ‘Maximising Membership’ session said yes (2% said no, and 12% were unsure), but we think memberships are great. Memberships are a fantastic way to build relationships with your biggest fans and grow those who are your champions, advocates, and super fans.
Each UK household has an average of seven memberships (spending around £550 a year), and this number is increasing. The membership market is worth £323 million per year and is growing.
Remember their 'why' (as well as yours): For you, your members might be an important source of income, but to your members, you are their passion, joy, respite, leisure, diversion, the best part of the week, catharsis, beauty, agony, drama, and escape. Don't forget that they are your biggest fans, so...
Make members part of the family: Share information with them as soon as possible. They support you as members because they love what you do, so keep them informed about what's happening in rehearsals, the arrival of paintings, backstage glimpses of wigs, your artists' activities on social media or in other projects, and conversations you have with the director. Make your newsletters and member magazines truly reflect your passion for the arts and reinforce how members' support makes it all happen.
But make the family culture part of the organisation's culture. Ensure that your organisation values members as part of the family when they are with you. For example, can you work with your box office team so that every time a member calls, they are thanked for their support? Can the shop always ask people if they are members, promoting membership discounts and offering opportunities to use member benefits and express gratitude for their support? Being recognised and thanked reinforces their importance to you.
And when things go wrong, like any family, members can be your first or harshest critics. Emails pointing out errors in brochures often come from a place of love and concern. Additionally, it's important to remember that changes you make to seats, catering, or performance times can have a personal impact on them because you are ingrained in the infrastructure of their lives. Just like returning to your childhood home and finding things rearranged, or your school undergoing a major refurbishment and your classroom no longer being there, the gallery, theatre, museum, and their architecture, space, seats, snacks, and amenities are woven into the fabric of people's lives.
Deliver what you promise: While we strive to cultivate a philanthropic relationship with members through membership, most members are there for dual reasons – benefits and love of the art form. This combination of a transactional market relationship and a deep identity connection means it's crucial to get the basics right and deliver on your promises. Ensure that information reaches members first, provide priority booking, and make sure they hear news from you before reading about it on Twitter.
Data is your friend: Fundraising is often described as an art and a science. In the arts and cultural sector, we love the art, but we also need to get the science right. It's important to measure success and understand what's working. Utilising your CRM system effectively can help you monitor various aspects, such as new members, member churn, upgrades/downgrades, other gifts made by members, frequency of benefit use, frequency of attendance, and legacy pledges. By analysing this data, you can identify patterns and implement procedures to mitigate any changes in behaviour. For example, if you notice a member hasn't attended since joining, can you send them a reminder to encourage them to use their membership benefits? Ensuring they use and value their membership increases the likelihood of renewal.
Data also helps attract new members. By examining attendance frequency, booking patterns, and total spend, you can establish criteria for those who love your organisation and are more likely to engage as members.
Celebrate their connection: When asking members to renew, consider celebrating how long they have been associated with you and acknowledging membership milestones. An academic study showed that mentioning the length of membership in renewal letters increased renewal rates by reminding members of the longevity of their connection.
Say thank you: Take the time to thank members for their support, both when they join or renew. Additionally, find opportunities throughout the year to express gratitude and enhance their connection. For example, you could leave a note on their seat thanking them for their support, send a pin badge recognising members of ten years or more, or send a card to all your members expressing appreciation for their contributions. At ENO, we conducted a thank-a-thon where chorus, orchestra, artists, executives, technical staff, and board members personally called supporters, ranging from major donors to friends, to say thank you for their support.
Keep asking: Members are your biggest fans and ambassadors, so find ways to continue asking them for help. This could involve supporting other fundraising appeals, bringing new audiences to shows, recommending membership, or engaging in advocacy efforts such as signing petitions, writing to MPs, or volunteering. Asking for their assistance strengthens their connection and loyalty.
Marina Jones has over 20 years’ experience in fundraising. Marina spent 13 years at the Royal Opera House working on campaigns, supporter engagement, legacies and trusts and foundations. She also worked at Polka Theatre, the Lyric Hammersmith and the Orange Tree Theatre. Marina leads Rogare’s History of Fundraising project and is also Trustee of Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival and Pusey House. She completed an MA with Distinction in Philanthropic Studies with a dissertation on legacy giving. Marina is a keen behavioural scientist experimenting and writing on how to use decision science in fundraising.