How Generation Y is Changing Museum and Nonprofit Membership Structures (DATA)

Looking for a copy of the address that I delivered at the Iowa Museum Association Conference last week? You can find it here.

Millennials (folks roughly between the ages of 18 and 33) are the largest generational segment of the U.S. population. This generation has different values and mindsets than those of the generations that preceded them – and they are far too large in number for museums and nonprofit organizations to ignore. Organizations that are not marketing to millennials are not only missing an opportunity to reach a new audience, but failing to engage the audience that will increasingly dictate their organization’s operations for the next 40 years (at least).

But it isn’t just marketing departments that have begun incorporating changes to appeal to Millennials. The changes must be incorporated into a larger community relations and nonprofit PR strategy. Because online engagement is increasingly critical for buy-in among all generations, it must be applied not only to marketing, but also to fundraising. Membership teams, in particular, will need to re-work their operations and offerings in order to sustain and grow their number of supporters. In fact, IMPACTS has already uncovered the need for museums to revise how they tell the story of membership benefits.

While conducting research on behalf of a prominent visitor serving organization (VSO) with a conservation-related mission, IMPACTS uncovered an interesting finding. We asked respondents a series of questions related to identifying what they consider to be the primary benefits of membership to the organization.  Once compiled, we found that sorting frequency of mention and strength of conviction information uncovered a telling divide between potential members above and below age 35.

Free admission was the pronounced, primary benefit of membership for both age groups. However, benefits two–through–five on the lists do not have any additional commonalities. Moreover, the type of benefits are very different.

Extant data indicate that members of Generation Y are public service motivated and appreciate a feeling of belonging and connectedness with one another and with a cause. This is consistent with the responses gathered from millennials in the data above. Instead of being interested in the more “transactional perks” of membership, this generation desires a feeling of connectedness with a broader social good.

Because members of Generation Y want different things from museum membership than generations before them, museums will need to adapt how they are selling memberships – or at least work to increase connectivity-to-a-cause vibes. Would a person considering membership to your organization feel that they are “making a positive impact” more than simply receiving “advance notice of upcoming activities?” Museums and visitor serving organizations must sell memberships by focusing more on their public services and social responsibilities than the traditional, more transactional benefits that motivated membership in the past.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Millennials, Sector Evolution, Trends 7 Comments

About the author

Colleen Dilenschneider

MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

7 Responses to How Generation Y is Changing Museum and Nonprofit Membership Structures (DATA)

  1. Mae Castenell

    Thank you for this information. I am chairing an art museum event and want to target young professionals to build interest and membership. This information is quite timely in my planning process.

    • colleendilen

      I’m glad to hear that the data can be of service, Mae. Thanks for reading and best of luck with your event!

  2. Pingback: Museum 2.0: Selling a Product vs. Building a Movement

  3. Pam

    This is really good information. I’d like to see info like this cross-referenced with human development literature; for instance is the commitment to a cause a feature Gen Y’s current age, and can we expect them to become more like their older counterparts as they age? And what does that mean for the members-only functions, etc.

    • colleendilen

      Good points, Pam. We have significant data illustrating that Generation Y is more public service motivated when it comes to brand purchasing than the generations before them were in their twenties. However, we don’t have this unique data regarding membership from Boomers or members of Generation X at this point as this is a newer point of large-scale data collection for us. We’ll continue to follow these trends and keep you posted to see if this data changes! Thanks for weighing in. It is certainly something to watch.

  4. Angela

    Curious as to whether the generational analysis of perceived value of membership benefits was controlled for the type of membership held? For the most part, 35+ supporters are the ones joining at higher membership levels and higher donation levels that come with a different set of perqs.

    • colleendilen

      Hi Amanda. There was no qualification or segmentation based on type (i.e. level or category) of membership. The findings were based on open-ended responses to the market’s stated preferences and perceived benefits of membership. When we segment the respondents by age, we do generally observe a higher average membership cost for non-Millennial audiences. We posit that this is a result of many family memberships (typically more applicable to the 35-64 cohort) costing more than “senior” memberships or memberships specifically for singles or couples.


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