Wanna Be a Member?

Today’s guest blog post is written by Shasti Walsh, Training Specialist, Patron Technology.

I’m a “member” (in the sense that I have a username and earn some reward points) with a particular online hotel booking company. I signed up partly because there were some perks involved (earn a free stay!) and partly so I could comparison shop my favorite hotels without creating 8,000 bookmarks in my browser (I like to travel). It’s been working pretty well.

Recently I opened the company’s mobile app to book a particular hotel. I was offered a deal — 10% off! — just for booking via the app. Yay! Then I remembered to log in, and went back to book the hotel. I was offered a deal — 5% off! — for being a member. Yay!… wait a minute. What happened to that 10% off from a minute ago?

I logged out and back in a few times to make sure I hadn’t misread things — nope, it was definitely going to cost me MORE to book the hotel if I told them I was a member. So I logged out and booked the hotel, and then called customer service to sort out the rest. The call rang through right away — yay! — and the representative looked up my account. “Oh, I see you’re a member! Let me transfer you to our premium care department.” I then waited on hold for seven minutes, which is seven minutes longer than I had waited to talk to the non-premium care department.

That was all a bit frustrating and silly, but it’s not related to the arts, right? Being a member of an arts organization is nothing like having a login for some global corporate website. Subscribers, members, donors, even your board of directors — you have many ways to invite people to become stakeholders of your organization and members of your community. I’ve got those kinds of memberships too, and they mostly feel like personal, meaningful relationships with organizations I love.

But there was the time I attended a show as a full-season subscriber, and loved it and felt very proud to be connected to an organization that was making such great art… and then got an email (with my name on it) the next day thanking me for attending the show and inviting me to buy a subscription. Oops.

There was the time I made a first-time donation to an organization I really cared about and didn’t get any kind of acknowledgment in response unless you count the pile of donation appeals I almost immediately received from several other unrelated organizations, whose mailing lists I definitely wasn’t on before. Oops.

On the other hand, there was the time I found a note on my seat welcoming me back with a drink coupon. There was the time I was invited to a dress rehearsal of a new play because I’d attended a show by the same playwright three nights in a row the season before. There was the time a volunteer looked at my ticket while tearing the stub and said, “thank you for subscribing!” There were so many other times when I felt connected and appreciated, and proud to be a member/donor/subscriber.

It’s impossible to keep track of everything, especially with limited resources. But the patrons who are the most engaged with your organization and who care the most about what you do… your relationships with those folks should not be the thing that slips when you’re juggling plates in the air. These are the patrons who sustain you, who talk you up to their friends, who donate, who will someday write you into their will — who show up, even to your less-popular events, and who keep coming back, even if they didn’t love a particular production.

If you’re asking patrons to engage closely with your organization, be prepared to engage with them in return. If you’re collecting enough data to send out personalized emails, make sure you can segment your data in a way that makes the personalization meaningful. Think about what it means to be a ‘member’ of your organization — what makes that relationship appealing? How do you want your members to feel about their place in your community? How can you curate that experience?

Otherwise, you may as well be selling hotel rooms on the internet.

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