Membership organizations looking for ways to entice constituents who have demonstrated an interest in their organization but haven't made the commitment to join are sure to find inspiration from the Brooklyn Museum, which recently launched a socially networked museum membership called 1stfans.
Brooklyn Museum launched 1stfans on Dec. 5, 2008, on its blog and officially launched the program at the museum at its January Target First Saturdays, an evening of free programs of art and entertainment. 1stfans membership offers the opportunity to take part in monthly face-to-face events with museum staff and other museum members, and access to an exclusive, online relationship with the museum via social-networking sites like Facebook, Flickr and Twitter.
To learn more about the initiative, we spoke with William D. Cary, membership manager for the Brooklyn Museum.
FundRaising Success: What is 1stfans, and why was it started?
William Cary: 1stfans is the first socially networked museum membership. It is a $20, paperless membership that offers monthly events at the museum and access to online content via the social-networking Web sites Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. Shelley Bernstein, our chief of technology, and I created the group together, and the two of us maintain it.
FS: What demographic are you trying to reach with this initiative?
WC: There are two primary demographics we’re trying to reach with 1stfans. The first are our monthly Target First Saturday visitors, who repeatedly come to the museum for this free event but have not, historically, joined the museum as members. The second group is our Web followers, who live both near and far, and enjoy our online initiatives but also have not, historically, joined as members.
We wanted to create a new structure for membership that makes membership more appealing for these two groups, while also providing benefits that appeal to them given their relationship with the museum at a low cost (both for us and for 1stfans). Our overall goal is to grow the museum's community of supporters through personal relationships with 1stfans both on-site and online.
FS: What have your experiences with it been like so far?
WC: Our experience so far has been exciting and encouraging for us and for the museum. It is a tremendous amount of work-hours for Shelley and me, but we have enjoyed getting to know 1stfans both face-to-face and via their online profiles. They communicate with us constantly, and vice versa. It has changed the way our museum interacts with its members.
FS: How many people are 1stfans members?
WC: We have had 262 people join 1stfans since the program launched on December 5. They hail from 14 states, nine countries and four continents.
FS: What is some advice you can share with other organizations interested in starting an initiative like this? What things should be in place?
WC: I don't think we can speak for other institutions, since we are trying to reach two demographic groups that are very specifically related to what we do here at the Brooklyn Museum. Again, we created the program in response to two trends that we were seeing at the museum.
That being said, most museums are trying to figure out how to combine online social media and museum membership, and we feel we have been able to do that successfully with 1stfans.
There are several, very important programs and practices that we've had in place that enabled us to create this new membership program. First, the museum has demonstrated a strong commitment to open and available content online. We knew that if we were going to start a program that offered exclusive online content, we needed to continue to have plenty of other content that is available to everyone for free. Secondly, the museum's mission is community-driven, which means that we didn't want to take anything away from the existing free Target First Saturdays program.
Finally, 1stfans can only work in an organization with the resources to launch and maintain it. That may seem obvious, but Shelley and I both spend our days, nights and weekends with 1stfans. People are used to receiving immediate response to online interactions, and 1stfans [shouldn’t expect any less] just because we work in the museum from 9 to 5.
We strongly recommend reading all of the blog posts we have written about 1stfans on the museum's Web site.
To read Cary's introduction to 1stfans and learn more about it, click here.