Getting ‘in’ with the In-crowd: Upgrading Members to Donors


the breakfast club

I recently became a member of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Not because I live in Los Angeles or because I plan to frequent the Museum on a regular basis. However, I did want to access something special at the Museum that only members can access. My membership gave me entrance to a sold out art exhibition that I really wanted to see. I also received a discount on my ticket (and 3 friends’ tickets) to the exhibition.

For many individuals, their first involvement with your nonprofit organization is through a purchased membership. Individuals buy memberships to organizations because it gives them access. I think this concept goes back to our time in high school and stems from our desire to be part of the cool kids club. We have a natural inclination to be part of the “in-crowd”.

Here I am with the ‘in-crowd’ at LACMA:


A sample of membership benefits could include:

  • Membership Benefits
  • Unlimited access to the organization (museum, zoo)
  • Guest passes
  • Discount in the organization’s gift shop, bookstore, restaurant
  • Free or discounted tickets to the organization’s events
  • Sneak peek to new exhibitions or program
  • Member-only events and activities
  • Subscription to organization’s newsletter

With the knowledge of access in mind, you can offer higher level memberships that allows the individual to gain more access or special VIP access to your organization. Case in point, I recently upgraded my Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego membership from the basic level to the Avant Garde level because it gave me access to special art tours and shows. Yes, I wanted to be part of that cool kids club too.

As fundraisers, our next step in the donor cultivation process it to engage our members as donors. This is a tricky transition because a membership is a  “pay to play” relationship. A membership constitutes a transactional relationship because the individual receives something tangible for the money they give the organization. A donation request is one where there is no tangible exchange. How can you successfully do this?

I was pondering the answer to this question when I received a letter from LACMA in the mail asking me to take my membership one step further and become a donor.  This line really intrigued me:

LACMA Annual Appeal Letter Quote 2

This letter tells me that as a member, LACMA is my museum. My “in-crowd”. The letter asks me to make a donation to make the Museum more accessible to others. Those individuals who can not afford access to the “in-crowd” but have much to gain from being a member. Oh, LACMA, you are one smart cookie because you know this girl wants to be ‘in’ the in-crowd and have others join her. Well played!

If you want to read the letter in its entirety, check out the LACMA Annual Appeal Letter.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Susanne Stanford says:

    Great blog. We need to incorporate your ideas.

    Sent from my iPad


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