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5 Key Takeaways from the American Museum Membership Conference

At the American Museum Membership Conference (AMMC) a few weeks ago, keynote speaker Colleen Dilenschneider from IMPACTS Research shared that although the U.S. population has grown by 7% in the last 10 years, cultural organization attendance is down by 2%. She also emphasized that museum membership professionals possess an awesome superpower in their ever-evolving ability to attract and engage new audiences. 

The AMMC offered many sessions that showcased how organizations of all sizes are working to inspire and engage their audiences, proving that museum membership professionals aren’t backing down to the statistics and will continue to push boundaries and take risks to create innovative solutions. Here are my 5 key takeaways:

1. Not every museum or cultural institution has internal support for their membership program

They must first prove to the decision-makers and board within their organization that membership matters. It’s conferences like the AMMC that offer the opportunity to collect the data and peer support necessary to go back and advocate for what they need.


2. Understanding donor behavior provides context for your results

Carol Rhine from Blackbaud shared insight from the 2018 Q4 donorCentrics report and spoke about the “tumultuous fundraising landscape.” With current issues, such as tax changes, data privacy laws, and global trade relationships, affecting donor decisions, it’s important that we, as fundraisers, understand the motivations behind donor behavior. This benchmark report offers a holistic view and provides context for analyzing your results. Again, more support for your team (See #1)!

3. Museums should be for everyone, but how?

Not only are museums seeking internal support, but they are also working to support their members, both inside and outside of the museum. There was an intentional focus on diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) at the conference. I learned that many museums have formed committees dedicated to this cause and are trying to make changes. While this humble conversation exposed the challenges organizations are facing, it was also encouraging to see museum professionals project such passion and determination in regard to making a difference. 

4. In one word, millennials

In terms of engaging new audiences, the word “millennial” was very prominent. From providing special events to developing a young professionals membership to implementing digital strategies, museums shared how they are engaging these younger donors. When you circle back to the statistic I mentioned—the population is up 7% and cultural attendance is down 2%—it’s obvious that many challenges are still ahead. It will be exciting to see how museums adapt to and inspire this new generation! 

5. How are you making decisions? 

Lastly, no matter what industry you’re in, it’s important to understand how decisions affect the quality of the outcome. Annie Duke, Decision Strategist and World Series of Poker Champion, shared that most people make transparent (or “safe”) decisions, and then blame a bad outcome on bad luck; however, it’s the innovative decisions with unknown results that carry the biggest risk—and sometimes the biggest payoff. Duke encouraged attendees to focus on the quality of the outcome versus the unexpectedness and not use data as a shield in finding the truth. 

It’s clear that museums and cultural organizations are in the hands of passionate and determined teams who are excited to learn and take their programs to the next level. I hope you’ll use these takeaways as inspiration to gain support for your fundraising program, be it through peer discussions and benchmark reports, by examining who you’re engaging and where there’s an opportunity for change, and, again, by understanding what drives your decision-making process—because your next idea may be just the solution your organization needs!



Guest Author

Samantha Muljadi

Associate Director of Marketing & Strategy, NFL