Leveraging Museum Software for Successful Programs

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By David Mimeles

You’ve already got an amazing program in place. Your community shows up in force to learn and have fun. Even better, parents and children alike love to attend your programming!

As a professional, though, you know that no matter how successful your program is, it’s useful to periodically take a step back and look for places where your program can improve performance.

In this blog post, we’ll address these common pain points for children’s museum programming teams:

  1. What do I do when my program is so popular that it’s consistently over capacity?
  2. How should my membership program fit into my programming?
  3. How do I cut down on the time my visitors spend in line?
  4. Can groups can make reservations easily without overwhelming my program?
  5. How do I make my program sustainable for the long term?

For each of these questions, we’ll provide some administrative tips to consider. Read on and ensure that your innovative and popular programs run even more smoothly!

  1. Solving capacity for popular programs.

Though there’s not exactly a downside to putting on popular programming, popularity often leads to issues with capacity.

Even outdoor programs without enforced fire codes have to consider the logistics of too many people — especially children — trying to participate at the same time.

If your free programs are so popular that they’re consistently over capacity, you’ll need to revisit your ticketing policies.

There are two conventional solutions for the capacity problem:

  1. Turn people away but keep your program free.
  2. Sell or offer reservations for tickets, which leaves out those without access or means to secure a ticket.

Instead of choosing between these two undesirable options, try a third. Require visitors to register online or stop by the museum to reserve their free ticket in advance. Then, ask them to check in a certain amount of time before the program or forfeit their seat for day-of arrivals.

With this solution, you can keep the cost of your popular programming free while also limiting capacity. A first-come, first-serve system is fair, and a system that allows for last-minute flexibility will ensure that all seats are filled even if someone who reserved a ticket doesn’t show up.

Coordinating this kind of ticketing solution is possible without specialized software, but the right museum software solution will take the administrative burden off your team. Let the software do the routine work, and leave your team free for the more important or creative aspects of your programming.

  1. Integrating your membership program and programming.

Membership programs and museum programming have a truly reciprocal relationship. Amazing programs can incentivize participants to join your membership program, and members will turn out in force for great programs.

To grow both your membership program and museum programming at the same time, take advantage of opportunities to integrate the two.

The most effective integration techniques center around exclusive member benefits, a cornerstone of a strong member engagement strategy as well as a great program marketing opportunity.

Consider offering the following low- or no-cost benefits to members who participate in your programs:

  • Priority registration
  • Best seats in the house
  • Discounts
  • A free guest ticket

You can also host member-only programs or member-only hours for your longer programs!

These members-only program benefits can increase member participation in programming as well as program participant enrollment in your membership program.

Members are more likely to attend events that offer them special benefits, and participant who experience those benefits firsthand are more likely to join the membership program than casual museum visitors. It’s a win-win situation!

  1. Cutting the time visitors spend in line.

You know how important it is to keep admission lines short and fast, especially when a majority of your visitors are families with small children.

For everyday admissions, the best way to keep lines moving is to use mobile ticket scanning devices for linebusting.

On your busiest days, you can also use mobile devices to set up ad hoc ticketing or membership sales. Just make sure you’re able to scan mobile tickets and mobile membership cards so visitors can use their ticket or member benefits right away after they purchase them.

Of course, to take full advantage of mobile linebusting across your museum, you’ll need a mobile system that can integrate with your reservations records and event management software.

When it comes to group reservations, such as field trips and birthday parties, you need a ticketing solution that can compress admission for an entire group into one barcode or QR code.

The last thing you want to do is scan individual tickets for every student on a school bus. Your visitors don’t want to wait around either — they want to head straight to the exhibits or the party room. When you can scan one ticket for the entire group, everyone can get right to their field trip or party experience.

You should look for a solution that’s also flexible enough to invoice for the number of visitors who actually arrive for the program if it’s a different number than the initial reservation.

When you integrate these ticketing and check-in strategies, you’re sure to get those lines moving quickly!

  1. Making reservation availability accessible.

Speaking of group reservations, many museums use an online reservation process that’s nothing more than a form to fill out with their contact information and dates they want to reserve for the program they want.

This system can quickly turn inefficient on the administrative side. Your team will end up having to call a parent or teacher to tell them that they can’t come because the time slot they requested was already reserved.

The solution is to invest in an online reservations calendar that can accept reservations 24/7 and automatically block out slots that have been claimed. Even if your staff has to manually approve the request later, at least your visitors know that the time they’re signing up for is available.

Make sure your online calendar can also:

  • Automatically track and implement capacity
  • Offer add-ons and upsell options during registration.
  • Integrate with your membership program.

That last feature is particularly important for your museum to consider. If you offer priority registration for your members, you don’t force them to call your office for you to manually override your reservations calendar every time they want to redeem that benefit.

Instead, make sure you implement a reservations calendar that makes member benefits so seamless that your members won’t think twice about returning when the time comes to send out membership renewal letters.

  1. Ensuring your programming’s sustainability.

The best museum programs have sustainability and flexibility built into them. Just because a program works well once doesn’t mean it will be as successful the next month, season, or year. Continuous improvement is a hallmark of successful and sustainable museum programming.

Incorporate sustainability and continuous improvement into your programming by soliciting a wide range of feedback. Continuous innovation supported by decisions based on real feedback make great museum programming sustainable.

You’ll get the best feedback on your program surveys if you consider:

  • When you ask for it. Usually, you’ll get the highest volume and quality of feedback if you ask for it right after a visit, tour, or party.
  • Who you ask. Consider surveying staff members as well as participants—you get different kinds of valuable insights from participants and from staff members involved in managing your program.
  • What you offer in return. Incentivize guests to fill out the survey by offering a benefit like a one-time discount on admission or at the gift shop.

You don’t have to send the same survey to every participant. You might find it more useful to send short surveys to most of your program participants and staff and offer more comprehensive surveys to a smaller segment.

Longer surveys can be sent to people who are most likely to spend time on them, such as members, frequent program participants, donors and other constituents who are more deeply involved with your museum.

Survey feedback helps ensure that your museum programs are sustainable by keeping them relevant. Your programs can also be used to promote overall sustainability by increasing participation and building stronger bonds with your members and visitors. For example, you can consider:

  • Promoting museum memberships during programs, emphasizing how members earn extra benefits at their favorite programs.
  • Giving participants a discount if they sign up for another program within a designated time period.
  • Encouraging participants to post and share photos and stories of your program on social media, tagging your profile and using your hashtag.

No matter how popular your programs are, they’re not guaranteed to be popular forever. Emphasizing sustainability can help ensure your long-term success!

As you continue creating incredible programs at your museum, these strategies can help ease your administrative burden and ensure that your program deliver the best experience for your participants.

And if you’re looking for a museum software solution to help make these strategies possible, head over to Double the Donation’s reviews of top museum software to get you started down the right path.

David Mimeles is vice president of sales and marketing at Doubleknot, an integrated online, on-site, and mobile solutions provider for nonprofits. Check out Doubleknot’s ultimate guide to museum software.