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A Beginner’s Guide to Membership Programs

A performer onstage addresses a rapt audience

When memberships are well designed and effectively managed, they generate extra income from philanthropic giving and create opportunities to delight patrons – in short, everyone wins! Use this guide to develop a membership program for the first time or to make sure you are getting the most of an existing one.


1. Think about your objectives

You’ll need to understand why your organization wants a membership program. Knowing what your objectives are will help determine what type of program to develop:

  • To increase attendance and secondary spend, you need a benefit plan. This type of plan offers a financial incentive to join, rewarding customers who book the most and encouraging them to book more. They can easily be sold by the Box Office team and online.
  • To generate philanthropic giving and get donors on the first rung of the giving ladder, develop a philanthropic program. There are little or no financial benefits to this membership program, but people who want to make a charitable gift or get access to non-financial benefits will be motivated to join.
If your goal is to do a little of both, you need a program that combines a membership fee with a philanthropic gift. This way you can offer financial incentives while still having an element of charitable giving.

2. Choose the benefits to offer

When you’re thinking about what benefits to offer, you want to make more money with your memberships than it will cost you to run. This might sound obvious, but there are plenty of examples of memberships that don’t do this.

In addition, beware offering a single membership at one level of benefit. Not only can it end up costing you revenue, but it’s much better to offer multiple entry points by developing tiered memberships that offer benefits at different levels.

Benefits that cost money

There are some great benefits you can offer that will cost you money but will be an effective incentive to join the program and make it easy to sell, generating income and more bookings. Power some of these benefits using the Offers tool in Spektrix:

  • Waived booking fees
  • Percentage discounts on some or all tickets
  • Top price seats at a discounted price
  • Discounts at your bar or café
  • Free events

Benefits that don’t cost anything

You can offer members valuable benefits that don’t cost you anything. These are great if you want to set up a philanthropic program:

  • Priority booking (in Spektrix, this gives priority access to events once a member has logged in online).
  • Priority mailings
  • ‘Thank you’ in show programs or on the website

Benefits you can charge members for

Then there are benefits that do cost something, but you can charge members for them. Though they require administrative time, these are great options for any kind of membership program:

  • Pre and post-show talks
  • Building and backstage tours
  • Dress rehearsals
  • Artist meet and greets

Many of the benefits we’ve described can be easily managed in Spektrix and can become available to eligible customers online as well as at the box office, without any manual intervention required.

3. Tailor your memberships for your customers

You might know what you want to get out of a membership program, but to make it successful you’ll need to give your patrons what they want. You can find out by looking at previous booking history to see if the benefits you have in mind match your customers’ needs. A few examples of how to do this:

  • Priority booking. Use the Customer List tool and the standard reports in Spektrix to easily analyze your bookers, so you know exactly what will appeal to them. For example, you can segment based on when customers book and if they join a waiting list. If your events sell out and you always have a waiting list, offering priority booking is a great incentive to become a member. This won’t cost you anything and you’ll generate income through the membership fee. This is a great option if you’re already selling out events and want to increase income.
  • Waiving booking fees. A quick look at your Ticket Sales Analysis report will tell you if a large proportion of your customers book over the phone. Waiving booking fees online isn’t just a great incentive for customers to join, but also frees up time in your box office team.
  • Philanthropic giving. Your Donations Analysis report will tell you if a lot of customers are donating at the point of sale. If that’s the case, a philanthropic scheme would be the next step in the donation ladder and something a lot of your patrons might already be considering.
  • Membership price. You can also look at how much your customers are spending using the Customer List tool. This will give you an indication of how much to charge for memberships. For example, if the average spend per order is $30, a $20 membership is reasonable but a big percentage increase to the basket value. If the average spend per order is $150, a $50 membership is an easier upsell.

4. Do some due diligence

Make sure that you’re asking the right questions about your program before you commit to anything.

  • Does your membership program offer a better deal to customers than any current offers (e.g. flexi-series, season tickets, preview nights)? Your membership needs to be easy to understand, so avoid conflicting messages and make sure your members get the best deal.
  • Does your membership program undermine your other fundraising efforts? If you have targets for individual giving, make sure you’re not confusing people by encouraging them to become members while also asking them to sign up to regular donations.
  • How many members do you need for the program to be profitable? Don’t forget to take into account any staff time required. Once you’ve worked this out, is it still feasible?

Who will be responsible for managing the program? Although there are lots of tools you can use that make the administration of the scheme very easy, someone needs to keep an eye on the figures, targets and marketing of the scheme.


5. Promote your memberships

Even with great benefits, you’ll still need to market your program to customers. Here’s how to do it and some Spektrix tools you can use to make it easy:

  • Target potential members.  The Customer List tool lets you segment your database to find the customers who will be most interested in your program. These might be customers who have spent over a certain amount in the past year and would have saved money as a member. You might also want to find customers who regularly donate at the point of sale.
  • Flag potential members to upsell. Customer Groups in Spektrix enable you to flag up potential members so your box office team can upsell the memberships at the point of sale.
  • Make them available online. Spektrix has an iframe for memberships which you can easily add to your website so customers can quickly purchase a membership online.

Related Reading: 5 Creative Uses of Customer Tags in Spektrix


6. Keep your members on board

So you’ve developed a solid membership program and you’ve got a growing list of members. Great job! Now you need to keep them on board. Here’s how:

  • Use Auto-Renewable Memberships. In Spektrix, a member can set up an auto-renewable payment at the point of joining to make their membership roll over, making them far less likely to lapse
  • Keep an eye on them. Once your scheme is up and running, make sure members are making the most of any benefits you offer and are engaged with your organization. If this isn’t the case, encourage them to use their benefits before their membership expires. You can use the Customer List tool to see what your members are booking, and if you’re emailing members via dotdigital you can see if they are engaging with your communications.
  • Set up Customer Groups. Create a Customer Group to tag customers as members. When they come into the box office, this will be highlighted to your team so that they can recognize their contribution.
  • Set a discounted renewal rate. Spektrix enables you to offer a discounted renewal rate. This provides a great incentive to renew before the membership expires.

Listen. Give members the opportunity to tell you what they think, ask them why they don’t renew, and what they would like to see or receive. You can’t accommodate everyone’s requests, but by asking for feedback you’ll spot patterns.

7. Keep experimenting

Finally, once you’ve developed a membership program that fits your objectives and the needs of your customers, don’t stop there. Too many membership programs fall flat because they are never reviewed. Once a membership has been purchased you need to honor the benefits, but that doesn’t mean you can’t undertake regular analysis to check if the program is working as you intended. If you’re not making enough money because of low engagement, if the lapse rate is high, or if you just have a bright new idea that might put a smile on your members’ faces – make that change.



More insights and best practice ideas from Spektrix


Kate Mroczkowski is a former member of the Spektrix team


Editor's note: This post was originally published on June 16, 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


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