If you’re like most non-profit arts organizations you are tasked at some point with creating a membership drive for patrons who want to be a closer part of the organization and for those who you want to be a sustaining source of funding.
These two types of patrons do not have to be mutually exclusive, but how you approach those who seek to be close to your organization can either bring them closer or drive them further away, possibly alienating them and severely impairing their willingness to contribute.
In the arts world, we are beholden to our benefactors to provide the funding for our everyday activities as well as our growth for the future. Most of us have run capital campaigns for a new building, refurbishment of an aging building or to serve as seed money for a major initiative. But these one-time occurrences may only give us a temporary rallying cry. Each year, as we look for new revenue to offset increasing operating expenses, we must reinvent our messaging to reach the financial objectives to allow the organization to keep functioning in the same fashion.
If you are working in a small shop, there is a good chance that marketing and fundraising are your responsibility. However, even in the largest of organizations fundraising and marketing must work together as a team to devise the plan for the big annual fundraising campaign or event.
When examining potential pathways for the campaign to take, membership drives may arise as a vehicle to raise much needed funds. Long the mainstay of public broadcasting, fans and casual followers are enticed to make a donation to become a member of a station. It may seem little more than semantics, but in essence you are selling access to your organization as a “member” in exchange for a financial contribution.
As with all fundraising campaigns, segmentation of the audience should dictate what you are asking of whom. You may not want to extend the exclusive benefits associated with levels of giving to first time contributors at a reduced rate for fear of alienating long-time supporters. On the other hand, by giving access to the newcomers to your organization, they may become some of your most passionate supporters after seeing how participation in your organization can increase their enjoyment of your offerings.
Every organization wants to see new faces and in return, supporters want to be appreciated for being a valuable supporter, especially if it is tied to those things, like the arts, that are special in their life. By inviting casual followers to become more intimately involved with your organization, the broader your base of support will become.
The secret though is how to position the benefits of membership in the eyes of your newest contributors so that they will have an opportunity to learn even more about your organization, while advancing their level of engagement with your organization. Without a plan to move them along the continuum from first-time donor to long-time supporter, they will not reach their full potential as active patrons to your organization. Nor will these valuable supporters have the type of experience they deserve which may lead to increased involvement through larger donations, volunteering of their time or most importantly working as an ambassador on your behalf to bring their circle of friends into your organization.
Member drives are an interesting way to expand your position in the eyes of your most casual fans. If you undertake such a drive with very minimal buy-in, be prepared to invest a good deal of time supporting your fundraising team through marketing initiatives to teach your newest supporters and to move them along the path of engagement within your organization. When they eventually become fans, they will see the full breadth of your activities and will have a more fulfilling experience. In turn, you will meet the ultimate goal by guiding these newest supporters to become your strongest allies and supporters.