The membership benefits most likely to inspire renewals and donations may not be what cultural executives think.
‘Tis the season for philanthropic giving and reflecting upon the calendar year for both exhibit and performing arts organizations.
And as such, it’s also an important time for us at IMPACTS Experience to watch trends in membership renewals to see what’s impacting this critical community of supporters.
We are consistently in market asking open-ended questions about membership motivations. Why does someone decide to become a member to a certain museum or subscriber to a particular performing arts organization? What are the most important membership or subscriber benefits? As a member, are you willing to make an additional donation? How much? Are you likely to renew? If you haven’t renewed, why not? These are but a few examples of the questions self-identified current and recently lapsed members and subscribers are answering in their own words.
We are often asked in workshops, keynotes, and this recent podcast to identify the single most pressing trend impacting cultural organizations. The most overarching trend impacting engagement in 2022 is poised to grow even stronger in 2023:
Your mission matters.
During the pandemic, cultural organizations moved more engagement online and achieved perceived relevance beyond their walls. Trust in cultural organizations increased. We watched conservation work become even more important to the public for zoos and aquariums. We found standing up for an organization’s mission to be even more important, regardless of the organization type.
Your mission also matters for securing members and subscribers – in a big way.
At IMPACTS Experience, we identify “mission-based members” as the members who, when asked about the very best part of being a member or a subscriber in an open-ended question, respond with a sentiment of support or belonging for the organization or its mission. These stand in contrast to “transaction-based members,” who cite free admission, members-only events, discounts, or priority access as the best benefit of being a member. (For more on these types of members, check out this Fast Facts Video.)
Though there appear to be marked differences between people who are primarily mission-based vs. transaction-based members, this dichotomy is generally false. The requirement for mission-based membership benefits is growing even among those who report a transaction-based benefit as their primary motivator. For instance, even those who primarily appreciate free admission as a membership benefit are reporting mission-based benefits as second and third-ranked motivations.
In this season of giving, what does the increasing importance of mission-based benefits mean for cultural organizations? Let’s dive into the data.
Mission-based members are more likely to make additional donations
This won’t surprise regular followers of IMPACTS Experience, but the rankings of the benefits have changed in the last few years. Mission-based primary motivators are on the rise among members and subscribers, and the percent rank of different benefits is relevant to cultural entities today.
The data indicated in the charts below contemplate members of both exhibit-based and performing arts organizations. The research is enabled by a process called lexical analysis which asks people open-ended questions. This process allows us to get to the heart of true behaviors and motivations without the framing of responses attendant to presenting somebody with a list of responses to choose from – a process often riddled with cognitive biases and unintentional framing. In this case, we simply ask and the members respond in their own words about their own perceptions and behaviors.
The data is first organized by what people said was the primary benefit of their membership. For instance, everyone whose top motivator was a variation of “positively impacting the mission” has been represented in the first two bars. The orange bar shows responses for exhibit-based organization members (e.g., museums, zoos, aquariums, gardens, historic sites, etc.) while the blue bar shows responses for performance-based organization subscribers (e.g., symphonies, theaters, ballets, etc.).
We asked these members and subscribers about their willingness to make an additional donation to the organization within one year.
Members and subscribers whose primary membership benefits are supporting and positively impacting the mission indicate as most likely to make additional donations. Moreover, mission-motivated members find greater value in their memberships.
You may be looking at those blue bars and wondering why they’re generally lower than the orange ones. On the whole, members to exhibit-based cultural organizations are currently more mission-driven than subscribers to performance-based organizations. There are several reasons for this delta, though the gap is shrinking. Chief among them is that during the pandemic some exhibit-based organizations focused on compelling mission messages in order to “prove relevance beyond their walls” (as we say at IMPACTS Experience). Although many performance-based organizations similarly emphasized their own mission-based objectives, exhibit-based entities often have the benefit of having conversations about a wider range of causes. They amped up conversations about climate change, art preservation, social impact, community access, animal rescue and rehabilitation, and the role of science, and began to both find and amplify their voices in telling the truths about difficult histories related to DEIJ.
In addition, subscribers to performance-based organizations are generally older than members of exhibit-based organizations. The trend toward mission-motivated memberships/subscriptions is seen among all generations, but it is still strongest among millennials.
Mission-based members are more likely to renew their memberships
This is the finding that may surprise some cultural executives still believing that the primary key to renewal is to offer more discounts and events. With the exception of members-only travel programs, members and subscribers with mission-based motivations are more likely to renew their memberships and subscriptions.
This research doesn’t mean every entity should rush out to reallocate funds to create an extensive travel program if you don’t have one. Instead, it simply means that people who go on members-only travel programs are particularly likely to renew their memberships. So, if you do have a travel program, be sure to pay special attention to past participants.
Unlike members-only travel programs, supporting an organization and its mission may not depend on a single program, and is instead associated with the overall organization.
The takeaway of this research is simple, but it’s important: Successful subscription and membership programs increasingly focus on their missions while still paying heed to the more transaction-based benefits that people continue to value.
Some cultural entities have a higher percentage of mission vs. transaction-based members, but a good goal may be to work to increase the percentage of these constituents who care about what you do for your community or the planet – beyond merely what you do for them individually.
Cultural organizations are proving relevance beyond their walls. And members and subscribers increasingly care about your impact beyond their household.
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.
We publish new national data and analysis every other Wednesday. Don’t want to miss an update? Subscribe here to get the most recent data and analysis in your inbox.