Members and subscribers tend to be greater supporters for museums and performing arts entities than general attendees. However, 2022 may represent a particularly unique opportunity for cultivating additional patronage.
IMPACTS Experience spotted an interesting trend during the third quarter of 2021: More people were willing to consider making a charitable gift at that time than in the past seven years. This metric quantifies what percentage of the population is even amenable to contemplating a gift to a specific organization. Tracking it helps cultural organizations consider how they may dedicate resources and messaging toward the pursuit of these gift opportunities.
This exciting increase means that if cultural organizations can make the case for their missions and deploy a thoughtful, strategic request, Americans are more likely to consider providing support now than in years past.
There are several possible factors that may contribute to this recent increase in willingness to consider making a donation. For instance, more people have seen news reports related to cultural organizations and may be more likely to aid recovery, or they may be leaving their homes again and have missed visiting these institutions. Cultural organizations may also be more top of mind, as they have been actively “meeting audiences where they are” – online – with mission messaging and educational resources. Additionally, as their perceived trustworthiness has increased during the pandemic, cultural organizations may be seen as increasingly worthy of people’s donations as well.
Today, we’re diving more deeply into this research to uncover (1) how the year 2021 ended, and (2) how these findings differ for general admission attendees and members/subscribers. We’re showing the difference between members/subscribers and other US adults because the message is clear: Members and subscribers are critical audiences for recovery.
Quick note: There’s a lot more where this comes from when it comes to membership trends right now. I’m honored to be keynoting the American Museum Membership Conference in Detroit on May 11th with more exciting findings.
In the research below, we’ve broken down the findings for exhibit-based organizations (e.g., zoos, aquariums, museums, historic sites, botanic gardens, etc.) and performance-based organizations (e.g., theaters, orchestras, ballets, etc.). Let’s dive in.
Exhibit-based organizations: Member vs. non-member gift considerations
In our research, exhibit-based cultural organizations include place-based nonprofit or government organizations with exhibits, collections, or both. On the chart below, the light orange bar shows a sample of 2,274 US adult recent visitors (non-members) to exhibit-based cultural entities in 2021. These individuals have identified that they’ve visited an organization, but are not members of this same organization.
The dark orange bar shows the results from 1,783 self-identified members across the United States in 2021. We note “self-identified” because the respondents themselves are notifying us that they are members. Self-identified members are those who perceive themselves to be members, even if their membership may have lapsed without their realizing it or the institution to which they belong considers them something else (i.e., donor circle member, annual pass holder, etc.). In short, the research below is from people who believe they are currently active members (or believe they were at the time of their recent visit) and self-identify as such.
Each bar shows the percentage of people in that category willing to consider a charitable gift as of the end of that year.
The differences between these groups are immediately apparent. Generally, members report higher visitor satisfaction scores, have greater belief in a museum’s mission, and are more cost-effective to engage. We’re still seeing these differentiations in our “new normal” – and in some cases at even greater rates.
With self-identified members reporting a 28% greater likelihood of considering a gift than visiting non-members, the “consideration gap” remains meaningful. Moreover, among those willing to even consider a gift, self-identified members peg their would-be gift at a value 13% greater than visiting non-members. Here’s an even more exciting finding in these inflationary times: Non-member visitors were willing to consider a donation nearly $10 greater in year 2021 than year 2020!
Data buffs: This research was collected through open-ended response. There were no boxes to check, meaning there was no cognitive framing or anchoring skewing the findings on these dollar amounts.
Performance-based organizations: Subscriber vs. non-subscriber gift considerations
Performance-based cultural organizations include place-based nonprofit or government entities with performance-driven programs. This includes theaters, ballets, symphonies, music groups, and the like.
In the chart below, each bar shows the percentage of people in each category willing to consider a charitable gift as of the end of that year. The light blue bar shows a sample of 1,286 US adult visitors to performance-based cultural entities in 2021. These individuals have identified that they’ve visited an organization but are not subscribers. The dark blue bar shows the results from 1,004 self-identified subscribers across the United States in 2021. That is, people who tell us that they are subscribers to a performance-based cultural entity. Again, we note “self-identified” because they are notifying us that they are active subscribers, rather than the institution notifying us. Even if their subscriptions have unknowingly expired, these folks self-identify as subscribers.
Again, we quickly observe a key difference between subscribers and visiting non-subscribers – and the potential value of subscribers is clear. Excitingly, performance-based organizations also significantly exceed the percentage of attending non-subscribers who would consider making a charitable gift – by 29%! Performance-based organizaitons made headlines across the country as they’ve struggled during the pandemic. More people may have been aware of these challenges and also in a better position to make a charitable gift as of 2021.
Self-identified subscribers were willing to consider donating nearly $14 more than attending non-subscribers at end of year 2021! And subscribers were willing to donate more than $12 more in 2021 when compared to 2020. These numbers add up! We’re eager to see if this trend proves durable in 2022.
Overall, this data suggests an opportunity for both exhibit and performance-based cultural organizations, as there may be greater potential for charitable gifts as cultural organizations recover from the pandemic. But entities need to act on this opportunity. For a donation to be realized, it’s often not enough for someone – member, subscriber or neither – to simply consider a charitable gift. They often need to be targeted and asked for that donation.
Members and subscribers in particular represent a valuable community, and research is emerging on how and why they may be especially important for both the recovery and future sustainability of cultural organizations.
As cultural organizations are being called upon to invest in inclusive messaging, targeted access programs, data-based pricing, engaging digital content, and notable mission work at levels greater than were expected before the pandemic, members and subscribers represent an important funnel of potential support.
As our industry works to expand audiences to sustain attendance, our members and supporters can help enable that growth. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by.
Learn more during the keynote session at the American Museum Membership Conference in Detroit in May.
IMPACTS Experience provides data specific to organizations or markets through workshops, keynote presentations, webinars, and data services such as pricing recommendations, market potential analyses, concept testing, and Awareness, Attitude, and Usage studies. Learn more.
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