Five Steps Toward a Data-Based Membership Benefits Strategy

Do your membership benefits maximize sales and renewals or are they ready for an overhaul?

As government support declines, nonprofit cultural organizations are placing more emphasis on earned and contributed revenue to bridge the gap. Membership sales are typically a large portion of that revenue. As your organization works to boost sales and increase renewals, it’s important to periodically evaluate whether your membership levels, pricing and benefits resonate with your current and prospective members. The key to membership growth is aligning your membership pricing and benefits with customer desires as well as with what’s offered by other attractions in your area. Here is a five-step strategy to evaluate and improve the way that your membership program is working for you and your members:


Step 1 - Pricing

How do your membership prices compare to others in the area? How do they compare nationally with organizations of similar size and scope? If you find that your prices are notably lower than others, it may be time to institute a price hike as well as evaluate new benefits. Changing benefits and prices at the same time helps justify the increased cost, and your team can use the new benefits as a talking point if someone questions the change. Conversely, if research indicates that your prices are comparatively high, you may need to reduce your prices or add new benefits to justify the higher cost.


Step 2 – Benefits Usage

When your membership program was originally created, how were decisions about benefits made? Were the choices based on data, or on an executive’s opinion, or on similar organizations at the time? However your benefits strategy was created, it’s crucial to evaluate how well your current benefits are driving memberships and renewals as well as how much the current benefits cost your organization.  Membership benefits that may be ripe for review might include the following.


Members-Only Hours

Early or late hours dedicated to members have tended to be highly valued benefits for members at extremely busy organizations. But, offering additional hours can have a significant impact on staffing and costs. Use attendance tracking to determine which members-only hours draw the greatest numbers, and optimize the schedule to ensure high attendance and eliminate staffing costs for less popular time slots.


Special Exhibits/Traveling Exhibits

Traveling exhibits can renew the enthusiasm of long-term members who are familiar with your offerings. Providing members free or reduced-price tickets to these popular exhibits can create excitement and drive higher renewal rates.


IMAX or Other Theater Usage

If your organization is fortunate enough to have an IMAX or other theater, you already know that theaters can be a great driver of incremental revenue. However, if you’re issuing IMAX tickets a member benefit and they’re not being used, then you and your financial team need to take a look at the math. If the cost of the unused tickets on your books is greater than the value your members are getting out of them, it could be time to look for another kind of benefit that your members and members-to-be will appreciate more.


Guest Pass Usage

Guest passes are another member benefit that frequently drives sales—in fact, guest passes are definitely why I purchased a higher-level membership to our local science center. Visions of taking nephews and nieces drove that decision, but the truth is that I haven’t been able to coordinate timing with my siblings and my guest passes have gone unused all year. When renewal time rolls around, I’m not sure if I’ll renew, downgrade or just let the membership go. As with IMAX and theater tickets, deciding the future of these benefits may also need to include a financial analysis. To properly evaluate these kinds of benefits, it is critical to have an accurate way to track usage and attendance. An integrated membership, ticketing and admissions system that sells, issues and validates tickets and stores attendance data on the member record will allow your organization to easily and accurately track the use of these common member benefits.


Step 3 – Surveys

Tracking benefit usage tells you what members are really doing but it can’t address the issue of how members perceive the value of their benefits (whether they use them or not). Before you make any changes, it’s crucial to survey your members to find out which benefits they value most and which ones they don’t care about as much. You may find out that some of the benefits they appreciate the most include the ones they use the least. If you do decide to change or eliminate perceived-value benefits anyway, the survey results can help drive a messaging strategy to promote the changes and increase engagement without backlash from your current membership base.


Step 4 – Communicate Changes Internally

Changing membership benefits can impact almost every department in your organization. For example, if you’re changing the number of free tickets or guest passes, the IMAX group and the admissions department definitely need to know. To ensure that staff throughout your organization can deliver seamless customer service, develop internal messaging and training on the new member benefits so they can answer questions and present options in a positive and constructive manner.


Step 5 – Deployment

After completing the research and surveys, consulting with other departments and developing a new slate of membership prices and benefits, it’s time for deployment. Issues to consider include:
  • Software configuration changes to support new levels, prices and benefits. (Depending on your organization, this may include membership management software, online sales software, ticketing and admissions software, and donor management/CRM systems.)
  • Communicating new and changed benefits to current members, including the dates that their new benefits start as well as changes to membership pricing and levels. The goal is not only to convey the facts about the change to ward off unhappy surprises but also to communicate value and excitement around the changed benefits.
  • Creating new messaging and sales materials for every channel.
Another important part of deployment is ensuring that usage tracking and analytics are integrated into every relevant system. In addition to closely monitoring changes (and tweaking as necessary) in the first several months after the rollout, you should be able to evaluate long-term changes in revenue, attendance, usage and renewals so you can continuously improve your membership. By regularly evaluating member pricing and benefits, every organization can boost attendance, renewals and sales and increase member loyalty and happiness.

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