Membership Insights, Trends, and Best Practices

    100 Tips for Revolutionizing Your Membership and Development Program

    Posted by membershipconsultants on February 18, 2014

    By Sheldon Wolf and Dana Hines

    1. Have an annual and a longer-term Development Plan. Have this plan (based on Board participation) approved by the Board.

    2. Define success to include cultivation and stewardship.

    3. Know your marketplace. Who is your competition? What are they doing?

    4. Read donor lists. Collect playbills. Read donor walls in libraries, hospitals, wherever names are listed. Having money is not enough. Who has charitable intent?

    5. Know your Board? Who has greater capacity?

    6. Seek out a Board member who will challenge other Board members to increase their gifts.

    7. Use the nominating process to introduce the expectation of high giving levels.

    8. Expand the circle of people invested in your museum by adding non-Board members to your committees.

    9. Create ad hoc committees of non-Board members.

    10. A major gift named after the founder or a key generous donor allows the message to be “Join this chain of philanthropy that extends back to our very beginnings.”

    11. Draft a letter for Board members to send to their personal and business contacts.

    12. The words, “Join me,” are extremely powerful.

    13. The words, “Join us,” are extremely powerful. 100% participation by your Board in your campaigns is essential.

    14. The more personal the approach, the more effective it will be.

    15. Cultivate long-term relationships with donors to the collection.

    16. Join the most important civic groups in your community. Be seen as a “player.”

    17. Be visible at other cultural institutions and major community events.

    18. Foundation executives are people. Meet them.

    19. Every grant proposal tells a story. What need will you address? Why now? Why you?

    20. Use special events to cultivate new relationships.

    21. Thank special event guests as they enter, during the event, and as they leave.

    22. Engage your staff and Board at events to make sure strategic conversations occur with the most important people.

    23. At events, seek out people who are standing by themselves.

    24. At a special dinner, your Board Chair and your CEO should be at different tables. Have two head tables rather than just one.

    25. Read your local newspaper.

    26. Use your communications to donors/members to help them feel like insiders. Give them information about your exhibitions and programs they can use to “show off.”

    27. Invite special prospects to see recent acquisitions.

    28. Once you have a constituency, and a sense that the organization is here to stay, mention planned giving in annual report, newsletter, online, etc.

    29. Most planned gifts are bequests. You don’t have to be an expert in everything else.

    30. Create a planned gift advisory group of experts from your community.

    31. If you have a community fund in your area, work with the people there.

    32. A capital campaign is an outcome of good strategic planning.

    33. What is your Museum’s value for the community? Will changes in the program make it even more valuable?

    34. Stress community in your communications.

    35. Use photographs strategically. If your museum serves a poorer constituency, be careful with black-tie images.

    36. While your annual report might acknowledge the past, use it to inspire donors about the future.

    37. With your Board, create a Development Policy that addresses how/when you will accept gifts, who must approve them, who acknowledges what, etc.

    38. The “public campaign” is the most costly part of your capital campaign with the smallest return, so hold off as long as you can.

    39. Don’t let “public campaign” be an excuse for your Board and solicitors to stop doing their work.

    40. Development must be included in marketing decisions (especially products=exhibitions).

    41. Ask donors for feedback and advice.

    42. Corporate philanthropy hardly exists anymore. It’s all about marketing.

    43. If there are not enough people coming in the doors, development goals will not be reached.

    44. Look at the relationship between admission fees and membership. When does membership become an offer that cannot be refused?

    45. Develop a Membership Plan.

    46. Your emphasis on money (we want more cash from our members) vs. people (we want more members) may lead you to different strategies.

    47. A plan helps you stay on track and fend off other people’s ideas that will take you off track of what you are trying to achieve.

    48. Include others in your membership planning

    49. Have a monthly goal for number of members to join, renew, and a revenue goal, too. Check to see if you hit your goal and figure out why you did or did not meet goal.
    50. Keep an eye on the competition. But don’t copy anyone else’s campaigns unless you know how it performed (don’t copy a failure)

    51. Pick three top goals for your membership program and spend the year achieving those goals

    52. Test offers – a premium vs. a discount.

    53. Know your audience. Who is your typical member? Plan accordingly.

    54. Ask people to join

    55. Tell people why they should join your organization. Tell people why you deserve their support – quantify what you do

    56. Tell people what you want them to do – be explicit. I want you to upgrade to $150, I want you to renew at the Patron level, renew your membership by December 31

    57. Sell memberships face to face.

    58. Train your frontline admissions and sales staff.

    59. Develop an incentive program to get front line people to sell memberships

    60. Don’t abandon direct mail – it still works!

    61. Do letter packages to ask for money, not self mailers.

    62. Code all sources of new members – you need to know what is working!

    63. Put your museum’s name and address on each piece of the mailing.

    64. Track the number and source of new members

    65. Track renewals by each mailing – know what your response rate is for each contact.

    66. Combine the methods of asks and track each method – phone, email, direct mail

    67. Lapsed members are gold – solicit them often

    68. Segment you lapsed member campaigns by year – learn how far back you can mail or email and still be able to recapture Members

    69. Offer a premium to get people to join, renew, upgrade or give to the annual fund

    70. Do not abandon the phones. Telemarketing works to renew memberships, get lapsed people to join or to get members to give a second gift

    71. Run reports at month’s end

    72. Know your renewal rate

    73. Track numbers of renewals sent by each renewal contact. Use this to figure out your renewal rate

    74. Stay in close touch with members. Email, phone or visit with members often

    75. Survey your members at least every three years in a comprehensive, professional survey.

    76. Survey lapsed members at the same time and compare the results.

    77. Raise your dues every three years

    78. Figure out how much it is costing you to service each member – make sure you are charging at least twice that amount in your lowest level membership category.

    79. Evaluate your membership categories. Do you have too many? If so revamp and make easy, simple categories.

    80. Know your average gift, response rate and cost per dollar raised on each campaign that you perform.

    81. Learn from failures. Evaluate each campaign and find a gem of wisdom in each one.

    82. Take risks, try something new.

    83. Experiment with colors, shapes, formats.

    84. Ask your members/donors to give in other ways. Annual fund, upgrade, tributes, give a membership gift, special project. Don’t be afraid to ask again and again!

    85. Ask for more.

    86. Keep stats on everything. Keep files to give to the person who take over after you leave. Don’t leave them in a lurch!

    87. Share information with your peers – at your organization or at others. Being secretive doesn’t really pay off.

    88. Share the names of key donors and prospects with the person who answers the phone for the Director.

    89. Thank people profusely!

    90. Evaluate often. The reality around you is changing often.

    91. Remember to thank your staff, your volunteers, your Board.

    92. Schmooze. Darcy Rezac in his book, The Frog and the Prince, wrote that schmoozing is “Discovering what you can do for someone else.”

    93. Continually move from transactional to relational.

    94. Survey people who are involved. Survey people who are not involved.

    95. Involve the entire staff in your Plan. Everyone is meeting people and/or engaging with the public and/or improving your program.

    96. Support your museum at the highest level you can. Challenge others on staff to give. (“Join me.”)

    97. Hire staff with good people skills. The technology can be taught.

    98. Your most important skill is listening.

    99. Celebrate victories – not matter how large or small.

    100. Pat yourself on the back every day.


    101. Have a membership and development presence on Facebook and social media

    102. Mirror your mail campaigns with a simultaneous, similarly branded email request

    103. Have a JOIN tab on your Facebook page

    104. Don’t abandon mailed asks (still the most important driver of giving) for electronic only asks

    105. Don’t forget the members or donors you don’t have email addresses for.

    106. Make email collection a priority with every contact

    107. Host Facebook and social media contests and engagement to involve, excite and Create buzz – and make sure there is a way to collect name and addresses

    108. Create branded landing pages for each of your campaigns that mirror the brand of the mail or email campaigns

    109. Make sure you are in control of your communication schedule with your members/donors

    110. Make friends with your organization’s marketing and IT teams – to get the support your campaigns and communications need

    Sheldon Wolf
    AdvancementCompany, LLC
    806 Pleasant Avenue
    Wyndmoor, PA 19038

    Dana S. Hines
    President & CEO
    Membership Consultants
    3868 Russell Blvd.
    St. Louis, MO 63110
    314-771-4664 ext 105
    314-771-2759 fax