Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Earned Income (or "How to make a buck")

As everyone at the ACM conference bemoaned the decline in fundraising income, they also traded ideas on how to improve earned income at their children’s museums. There were plenty of good ideas that came up during the session on “Improving Performance in a Challenging Economic Environment” at Wednesday’s Interactivity. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Please Touch did a “Free Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream for Taxi Drivers” day as a way to be sure that the drivers knew where to find the museum.
2. During the holiday season, the Portland Children’s Museum offers members who renew a chance to buy a special 3-month membership for just $20 that people can give as gifts. Sarah Orleans, the director, told us that about 50% are upgraded to full memberships after the gift expires.
3. Host a “museum playdate” for followers of any popular local mommy blogs.
4. Sort your mailing list and invite target groups for special bagel/coffee mornings just for those families. Target families from a certain town, or families with twins, or any group that would see exclusive social time as a real draw. Moms want to make friends with other moms! (We did this at Kidcity by sending a postcard, but it could also be done by email if your data is good)
5. Identify nearby towns with a favorable demographic and offer their library a free kids ticket for any child who completes their summer reading program. The point was made that the reading program kids are exactly our market. It sounded like this idea could also work with the local Suzuki violin school or the local scout troups. A free kids pass would require an adult’s paid admission.
6. “Love your concierge” was an idea that focused on the hospitality staff at area hotels by throwing a special night event at your museum for all their workers. My little town in Connecticut doesn’t have a lot of hotels, but it is a restaurant town, and I sometimes distribute passes to the waitstaff at the local eateries. In other words, figure out who interacts with your potential visitors, and make sure they are familiar with your museum.
7. If you offer favor bags for sale for your birthday parties, give families the option to buy $5 worth of Birthday Bucks for each guest instead – it’s a gift certificate to your museum store.
8. Put a popcorn machine at your exit. One museum (I didn’t catch which one) mentioned that they had $10,000 worth of sales in 6 months at $2 a bag. I did hear some grumbling in the room, though, about finding popcorn scattered all over the place.
9. The Children’s Discovery Museum in Normal, Illinois loves the Fetch programming from PBS as a way to drive repeat visits. People keep coming back for each new activity related to the show.

This session was moderated by the always entertaining and slightly outrageous Lesly Attarian from Please Touch. She liked some of the suggestions, but her ultimate advice was this: Don’t Do Free. Charge a dollar if you can’t bring yourself to do regular rates, but don’t do free. And she also said don’t hesitate to Just Say No to the person who calls and offers your museum an opportunity to provide the entertainment at their event without compensation – on the other hand, maybe you can find a creative trade so that it benefits your museum as well.

The session wrapped up with a topic that I would have liked to see us explore a little more: there has to be a fit between any new income ideas and your brand and your mission. Anyone who knows me understands that I am All About Earned Income, but I hate to see museums do things which cheapen their integrity, just to make a buck. Paul Orselli discusses just that on his recent blog entry about having to run the gauntlet of the Blue Slushee while exiting a museum recently. So let's try to keep it clean folks!

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