The Things I’ve Learned During a Year of Membership
After spending six years in the Education Department of the New England Aquarium, it was time for a change. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to go far as a position had opened in the Membership Department that fit my skill set perfectly. Starting in March 2016, I became the new Membership Manager. However, I had never worked in membership! I had a lot to learn but had a lot to offer to my new department. Here are some of my observations from the past year that I think will be helpful to anyone working in an institution with a membership program.
Give members access to build trust – This idea is important in all our institutions whether they are science-, art- or history-based. Recently we received results from our quarterly visitor surveys conducted by our partners at The Morey Group. They found that millennials, visitors aged 18 – 32, need to have trust in an institution before they support it. For zoos and aquaria, this is even more important. This is an active group of supporters that want to change the world, make a difference and build a community even more than the generations before them. They were raised by parents in the baby boomer generation who taught them to question everything, including the ethics of an institution. For our member base, this means seeing where the food for our animals is prepared, meet and greets with aquarists responsible for the daily care of our exhibits, and access to information not shared with the public which we incorporate into all our events.
Membership isn’t always about the discounts – With over 21,000 member households, we have a diverse member base all over the world. We also have a number of members that have been with us since we opened in 1969. Our Charter members rarely visit but continue to support our mission from afar. It’s important to have these mission-based members, new or old. They are like-minded individuals who are informed on the issues that face our oceans and support the work that we do every day both at the Aquarium and in the field.
Sometimes it is about the money – We also have members that enjoy the fact that our membership pays for itself in about two visits or that they can skip the line during a busy school vacation week. These are great people to have as well. This group keeps us honest in the price we charge and the benefits we offer. For most of 2016, we worked with Keene Independent to survey our members about our current membership program. Many felt it was a great value but would pay a little bit more for more access to the Aquarium staff, fun events, and better parking rates. We listened and will be unveiling our new membership structure starting April 3rd. We tried to include everything that members felt made their membership a good value. Except for the parking – that’s another blog post entirely.
Adults need their time – The Aquarium is a popular family-friendly attraction in New England. However, the popular trend in zoos, aquaria, and children’s museums has been to give adults time in the building without kids. Throw in some food, a cash bar and you have a great event! We have increased our retention rate by adding a number of adult-only events to our annual offerings. Again, this is a great way to add value, build trust through access, and educate your member base without it always being about the kids.
Members are our best ambassadors and advocates – Members have chosen to support YOU with additional visits and their money. They feel invested with your institution and freely share their experience with others. They are a group that can easily mobilize around an issue and provide honest feedback. In past years, our member base has helped to encourage their children’s schools to book outreach programs in the off-peak season, support the need for marine protected areas off our coastline, and lend their voice for the need for smart waterfront planning in Boston.
No matter what department you work in at your institution, you are sure to come in contact with members. Make sure to thank them for their continued support. It goes a long way.