4 Clever Ways to Recruit and Retain More Members at Arts & Cultural Organizations

Do you have “No Monet”? Or are you more of a “Sugar Dada”?  

These aren’t just jokes for people who like artthey’re real membership categories at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art in Charleston. Although I live a thousand miles away, I almost bought a membership just to support their art puns.  

These clever names for membership tierswhich can easily be adapted to work for a zoo or any other organizationgot me thinking about how arts and cultural organizations are getting creative with their memberships. But innovative membership ideas aren’t just about being clevereffective membership programs create lifelong patrons who are actively engaged with your organization. Here are some ways that organizations can excel at recruiting, engaging, and retaining members. 

1. Special Member Access  

Remember that Rain Room traveling exhibitWhen I went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York with my mom to see it, we saw two lines: one for the general public with an estimated wait time of more than three hours, and one for members with an estimated wait time of about 20 minutes. We purchased a membership on the spot, and I know we weren’t the only ones. 

Another way to make members feel special is to offer members-only previews of upcoming exhibits. (Bonus points if they’re accompanied by a related lecture and/or snacks.) Iyour organization is in a big cityor if you just have a lot of visitorsspecial access to exhibits with smaller crowds is a major draw for potential members. 

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2. Partnerships with Other Organizations  

Shortly after I joined the Blanton Museum in Austin, I got an invitation to hear an artist talk. This special event introduced me to some very cool interpretations of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but also pointed me to another arts and cultural organization: Ballet Austin. The lecture was so fascinating that I ended up buying tickets to see the ballet, and I became a season ticket holder.  

Want to try a partnership yourself? Think about an organization with a similar mission to yours and brainstorm a special event to introduce members to both organizations.  

3. Free Membership 

Some arts and cultural organizations have benefitted tremendously by offering free memberships.  It may seem counterintuitive at first (memberships are a primary source of revenue for many organizations), but the additional data you get—people’s visiting habits, peak timesexhibit interests, and programs attended—might make up for any losses in revenue. This wealth of information about supporter behaviors can help you create even better programming and increase the impact that your organization is making in the community. 

4. Special Renewal Offers  

I’m noticing more and more discounts and incentives offered to members to get them to renew early. These special offers not only act as a gentle reminder that my membership is expiringand I need to renewbut can also be an effective strategy for getting members to move up membership tiers.  


Are you ready to try some fresh ideas for memberships at your organization? Network and swap ideas with your peers in Blackbaud University’s new 90-minute Organizational Best Practices workshop, Arts and Cultural – Memberships 

What cool membership innovations have you seen recently? Share in the comments below!