Membership trends: A word to the wise art museum

A fascinating report charting current trends in membership 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% (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 Totals

When comparing 2008 to 2007, the largest percentage of responders, 48.7%, stated that they ended the year with more members than the previous year, and 10.5% stated that membership totals “stayed the same.” Less than half (42.1%) stated that membership totals had decreased.

Membership Revenues

From the revenue perspective, membership departments fared even better: 59.2% stated that membership revenues were up in 2008 over 2007 while 14.5% stated that membership revenues “stayed the same.” The percentage that reported revenues decreasing from year to year was 37.5%.


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% of Associations and Conservation/Nature organizations reported greater membership totals in 2008, as did 61.5% of Botanical Gardens, 58.3% of Zoos and Aquariums, and 53.8% of Science Museums and “Other” membership organizations. Only 33.9% of Art Museums and 44.4% of History Museums reported greater membership totals in 2008. Art Museums reported fewer members at a rate of 51.8%, and 61.1% 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% of Botanical Gardens and Science Museums, and 72.2% of Zoos and Botanical Gardens), only 41.1% 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%) and History Museums (50%) attracted fewer members in 2008 than in 2007.

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


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