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In February, Cuseum surveyed 150 museums for its 2022 Membership Insights Report. Released last week and following up on its 2021 survey, the resulting report reflects how museum memberships have adapted to a hybrid landscape following the lifting of lockdowns. Below are three key findings, highlighting the continued growth of virtual memberships, how museums are upping the value of their memberships, and how hybrid might apply to these membership offers.

Virtual members still count

The survey found that the majority of respondents (with 63.2 percent agreeing or strongly agreeing) will continuing prioritizing virtual membership programs beyond this year. Image: Cuseum 2022 Membership Insights Report

Even though in-person visitation is slowly ramping up, virtual memberships continue to be offered by institutions. According to the report, 64 percent of museums surveyed were already offering virtual or hybrid membership programs, with 46 percent conducting membership sales online. “For the National Aquarium, prior to COVID, about 45-50 percent of our members activated or renewed online,” Matt Rains, Membership Director at the National Aquarium, noted in the report. “Today, that number is closer to 75 percent.”

For the majority of organizations, though, the offer of digital content plays “an evolving role” in their membership offer, according to the report, in relation to traditional modes of member engagement. 

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Packaging digital with physical perks

Just as the majority of the survey’s respondents (63.2 percent) agree or strongly agree that virtual membership remains a key priority for their institutions, the report found that most membership leaders were continuing to boost their membership value with digital benefits. “Digital content for members only is a key component to all membership levels offered,” reflected Joey Lata, Marketing & Development Assistant at DeKalb County History Center.

Of the respondents, some 27 percent reported hosting hybrid/virtual member programming and 21 percent reported developing online member benefits. One key proposed feature is an online membership portal with exclusive access to program recordings, self-service options, and other perks, enabling easy engagement and member flexibility.

So, to hybrid or not?

Hybrid Museum Membership

Responses from membership leaders reflected an increased digitization of membership programs, whether museums were offering digital membership cards or planning hybrid programming. Image: Cuseum 2022 Membership Insights Report

With the return of onsite programming, the temptation for most institutions is to offer hybrid memberships merging physical and virtual offerings. However, the survey’s respondents propose on a more cautious approach to hybrid memberships. As Rachel Regelein, Membership Manager at Burke Museum, noted, “Hybrid is too much of a lift — we offer a combination of virtual and in-person activities, but don’t try to blend them into one.”

Before jumping toward a hybrid model, the report urges museums to evaluate the goal of their membership programs to better determine the format of their offerings, establish programming consistency, and avoid cannibalizing their own content. Above all, keep engaging and survey members to find out just what they expect and understand their preferences.

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Cultural Insider, Industry Insights