A fascinating report from Membership Consultants charts current trends in membership and includes a rude wake-up call for art museums, where membership is declining–in marked contrast to other member-based agencies (including associations, conservation groups, aquaria and zoos).

Maybe it turns out that increasing your door price 50 percent (a la the Art Institute of Chicago) isn’t, after all, a way to get people to say, “Might as well get a membership,” but instead a way to get people to say, “Those bleepers! Bleep them–let’s go to the zoo.”

Membership Consultants:
“...Membership Totals–When comparing 2008 to 2007, the largest percentage of responders, 48.7 percent, stated that they ended the year with more members than the previous year, and 10.5 percent stated that membership totals ‘stayed the same.’ Less than half (42.1 percent) stated that membership totals had decreased.

Membership Revenues–From the revenue perspective, membership departments fared even better: 59.2 percent stated that membership revenues were up in 2008 over 2007 while 14.5 percent stated that membership revenues ‘stayed the same.’ The percentage that reported revenues decreasing from year to year was 37.5 percent.

...Pulse of Membership by Sector–The most interesting results emerged from comparing sectors of the membership world. The categories of respondents included Museums, Conservation/Nature-related organizations, Associations and Zoos and Aquariums. The difference in responses by sectors was significant and very telling. In general, Associations, Zoos and Aquariums, Science Museums, Conservation/Nature organizations, and ‘Other’ types of membership organizations reported much more positive membership results compared to Art and History Museums. Respondents totaling 80 percent of Associations and Conservation/Nature organizations reported greater membership totals in 2008, as did 61.5 percent of Botanical Gardens, 58.3 percent of Zoos and Aquariums, and 53.8 percent of Science Museums and ‘Other’ membership organizations. Only 33.9 percent of Art Museums and 44.4 percent of History Museums reported greater membership totals in 2008. Art Museums reported fewer members at a rate of 51.8 percent, and 61.1 percent of History Museums reported fewer members in 2008 as well.

On the revenue side, all types of membership organizations, except Art Museums, reported greater membership revenues in 2008 than in 2007. While all other membership organizations reported greater revenues (76.9 percent of Botanical Gardens and Science Museums, and 72.2 percent of Zoos and Botanical Gardens), only 41.1 percent of Art Museums reported higher revenues.

...Over half of Botanical Gardens, Science Museums, Zoo and Aquariums, Associations and Conservation/Nature organizations reported attracting more members in 2008 than in 2007. Art Museums (40 percent) and History Museums (50 percent) attracted fewer members in 2008 than in 2007.”

If you would like to receive the full tabulation of survey responses, email your request to [email protected]

imageKelly Kleiman, who blogs as The Nonprofiteer, is a lawyer and freelance journalist whose reportage and essays about the arts, philanthropy and women’s issues have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor and other dailies; in magazines including In These Times and Chicago Philanthropy; and on websites including Aislesay.com and Artscope.net.