Nearly 20% of members do not take advantage of free admission – and what we know about them may surprise you!
One of the most well-known benefits of becoming a member to a cultural organization is free admission. But did you know that roughly one-fifth of active members don’t visit?
We’ve uncovered something interesting about people who identify as active members, but don’t physically visit the organization each year. This week’s Fast Facts Video for Cultural Executives explores these intriguing folks.
Hint: Organizations may write off these members as disengaged at their own peril.
Last week, we uncovered that the average person in the US visits a cultural organization once every 27 months. It stands to reason that members to cultural organizations may visit more often than non-members. After all, one of the most touted benefits of becoming a member is the ability to return for free over the year.
This week, we’re uncovering what percentage of members report taking advantage of this benefit and an interesting finding related to those who do not take advantage of it. Next week, we’ll dive deeper into another related topic: member visitation trends.
Nearly 20% of members do not visit annually
Cultural organizations – from aquariums to history museums to symphonies – have been marketing similar transaction-based membership benefits for decades. These benefits include free admission and retail discounts, for instance.
But what percentage of members and subscribers self-report taking advantage of these benefits? These data contemplate members and subscribers to 81 cultural organizations in the United States.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, free admission has by far and away the most member usage on an annual basis in the US. Over half of members to cultural organizations report taking advantage of priority or express access. Markedly fewer folks take advantage of other benefits: retail discounts, food discounts, tax deductions, members-only events, program discounts, parking discounts, and special exhibition previews. This is an interesting finding, as most of these member benefits are relevant only to an onsite visit!
What about the nearly 20% of members who don’t visit?
Why active, non-visiting members matter
The benefits organizations most heavily underscore do not benefit individuals who do not visit! So why are these people members at all? It’s like buying something and not even using it, right?
Interestingly, data suggests that’s not completely right.
We dove deeper into the data from these members and uncovered two interesting things about people who report being active members to cultural organizations, but who have not taken advantage of the membership benefit of free admission in the last year. They might surprise you.
1) They buy 70% more expensive memberships
Non-visiting members buy more expensive memberships than members who visit – 70% more expensive memberships, on average! While the average visiting member buys a membership worth $81.98, non-visiting members’ average membership cost is $139.67! That’s a big increase!
2) They are 11% more likely to renew their memberships
Not only do non-visiting members purchase higher value memberships, they are 11% more likely to renew their memberships than visiting members!
If your assumption is that these members aren’t engaged with your organization because they aren’t taking advantage of member benefits, you might want to think again.
Regular KYOB readers may be nodding on seeing these findings. One reason these members aren’t visiting may be because they don’t live near the organization. (We’ve found that the more admired a cultural organization is perceived to be by the public, the higher percentage of non-local members it has.) Like non-visiting members, non-local members buy more expensive memberships and are more likely to renew them! Indeed, non-local members are a subset of non-visiting members.
Why would these folks be members – let alone take these higher-value actions – if they aren’t making the most of membership benefits which are mostly only relevant to those physically attending the organization?
When it comes to membership, mission matters
At IMPACTS, we’ve found that these individuals often become members for a different reason: To support your mission.
This is a good thing. People believe the single best way to support a cultural, visitor-serving organization’s mission is to become a member. (Yes, even more than becoming a donor.)
We also know that mission-based members – people whose primary motivation to become a member involves supporting the organization and its mission – are particularly valuable. They report 14.5% greater value for their memberships, purchase 42% more expensive memberships, and are 14% more likely to renew. In non-visiting members, there may be crossover with mission-motivated members. Not visiting annually may be indicative of a primary membership motivation that is less transactional.
While we know that those motivated to become members primarily to support an organization’s mission tend to be more valuable members than those motivated primarily by transactions or an annual pass product, the benefits are not mutually-exclusive. Mission matters for transaction-based members, too. We live in a world today in which corporate social responsibility is often the norm. As mission-driven organizations, there may be a greater imperative for cultural organizations to underscore their impact and social contributions.
Certainly not all non-visiting members renew, but not all visiting members renew, either. Members who may have been primarily motivated by factors other than free admission may be less likely to adjust their visitation cycle for the sake of maximizing that benefit.
Effective membership programs may be more important today than ever before as cultural organizations face a need to change up their business models to facilitate both broader and deeper engagement.
This information does not suggest that free admission as a membership perk (specifically) is a bad idea, that membership events don’t work, or that we shouldn’t want members to return as often as possible. Instead, these findings provide an opportunity to revisit traditional thinking about member motivations and behaviors.
If your organization is still highlighting transaction-based benefits and ignoring the benefit of being a part of something, then you may be missing a big opportunity.
A membership is not merely an annual pass to all members.
Among our most valuable members, it can be something much more than that.
Nerd out with us every other Wednesday! We look forward to continuing the conversation on membership visitation trends next week. Subscribe here to get the most recent data and analysis on cultural organizations in your inbox.