By Elissa K Miller, M.Ed.
For many families, the decision to purchase a museum membership is based on a value calculation: are the benefits of membership greater than the cost? To increase the perceived value of memberships, many children’s museums are exploring options beyond the standard “free admission and discounts” to create new member incentives that are valuable to families and fun for kids with minimal loss of potential revenue.
The entrance is, of course, the beginning of a visitor’s journey through the museum. Some museums are fortunate to have entrances designed for excellent visitor flow with seamless transition from purchasing tickets to entering the exhibit area. Others, however, may be constrained by size, design and/or budget and find that lines for ticketing and admissions are too long at peak times. Unfortunately, slow-moving lines may sorely test the patience of children (and their parents). Members may be especially frustrated if they’re waiting in the same line as nonmembers purchasing tickets.
For these reasons, providing a members-only entrance can be a valuable perk during peak times. If your floor and staffing plans don’t already offer rapid entry for members, you can provide the service during busy periods with an ad hoc member check-in station. Some membership management systems provide scanners or mobile apps that allow staff to scan and validate membership cards on smartphones and tablets. Because the scanners or apps are integrated with the membership database, member visits are recorded and available for reporting and analytics.
Creating ad hoc or pop-up members entrances during peak hours is a valuable service for members that can improve the visitor experience for nonmembers as well. Because members are no longer waiting in combined ticketing and admission lines, the overall line length is reduced and nonmembers can also enter the exhibit areas faster. (Plus, seeing members skip long ticketing and entry lines may motivate nonmembers to join so they can also breeze past the lines.)
Members-Only Extended Hours, Events, and Opportunities
Another common way to make members feel special is to provide members-only hours, typically before the museum opens to the general public. Children and families appreciate the luxury of less-crowded play in their favorite areas with fewer interruptions. Some museums offer members-only hours both before and after public hours, while others choose to open the museum for a full three-hour block in the evenings when they’re usually closed. (No matter how many times a child has visited, everything can seem more exciting to children at night.) If you schedule members-only hours with the soft launch of a new attraction, members and children will feel like VIPs and you can gather important observational data about how children explore and interact with the new exhibit or play area.
Another attractive perk that generates revenue is offering an evening members-only event just for kids (think pajama parties and movie nights) so parents can have a night out. These are especially popular during the holiday season. Like summer camps and other “parent drop-off” events, a set of permission, liability, medical and contact forms will be required. Some organizations charge a small fee for kids-only nighttime programs to cover the costs of after-hours staffing, operations, and program supplies.
Priority Registration and Reserved Program Space for Members
If your museum’s camps and classes are usually filled to capacity with lengthy wait lists, giving members the opportunity to register first can be an even bigger incentive than a member discount! Especially if your membership management system is integrated with your camp and class registration software, you can open registration early to families with memberships so they can make sure their children are in the programs they want. (Some museums rely on the honor code, because their registration software can’t check whether the membership is valid. This places the burden on administrative staff to ensure no one is accidentally or intentionally taking advantage of the program.)
Priority member registration can also be a helpful recruiting tool. If your membership software allows visitors to purchase or renew a membership and receive immediate benefits registration, you may find a spike in memberships correlated with early registration for your most popular programs.
Another valuable membership perk is reserved members-only spots in camps and classes. If your registration software lets you set different capacities for different registrant types, members may find that they can still sign up their kids for programs even after registration is closed to nonmembers. Once again, this benefit can also inspire families to purchase memberships.
Members-Only or Member Priority Birthday Party Booking
Only allowing members to book birthday parties may not be the right choice for many museums, but a list of potential incentives wouldn’t be complete without it. If your museum is overwhelmed with more birthday party requests than available dates and times, requiring a membership to book a party can help reduce requests to a more manageable number. Or, you can choose to make certain premium party areas or options available only for members while still providing enjoyable options for nonmember parties.
These are just a few common examples of general low-cost and no-cost benefits to recruit, reward and retain members. Only your museum can design incentives that work best for your museum —supporting your mission and delivering meaningful opportunities for the unique communities you serve.
Elissa K Miller, M.Ed. is Communications Director at Doubleknot, which offers online, POS and mobile solutions for museums’ visitor-facing business operations. She’s passionate about using technology to promote creativity, increase engagement and empower educators.