Membership vs. Major Gifts at Arts Organizations: Campbell Chat

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Sometimes the best way to answer a question is to look at it from another perspective. Our Campbell Chats bring together our diverse team to talk about the toughest questions facing nonprofits today. By looking at these questions from several points of view, we share our expertise with each other—and with the nonprofit world!

Picture7Duncan Reilly, Marketing and Business Development Associate: Welcome! Today we’re focusing on one broader topic: Arts organizations’ membership programs and how they integrate with major giving programs.

First question: what keeps membership and major gifts teams from working together? Are they just talking past each other or is something else going on?

Picture3Charlotte Cottier, Senior Consultant, Communications: I feel like it’s an issue of different goals. Attendance vs. relationships and major gifts.

Picture5Taylor Schmidt, Consultant, Strategic Information Services: I agree with Charlotte. From a data perspective, working with a large population of members in aggregate can be very different than working with a smaller population of major donors in someone's portfolio where there are one-on-one relationships that take place (mostly) outside of a database.

Picture1Cassie Carter, Senior Consultant: I think that the membership staff fear that the patrons will be insulted if they get asked to give, so they want to set up a firewall.


Picture7Duncan: And we don't like firewalls. So how do we tear them down?


Picture4Colleen Rogers, Consultant, Executive Search: From a recent personal experience, I think that membership and outright giving can sometimes be seen as two different buckets. I am a member of a cultural institution here in Chicago, and recently gave a gift to a specific campaign during a members' event.

The gift came with a higher-level membership, but there was no mechanism to just upgrade an existing membership. So I'm pretty sure I'm now on two lists, and I definitely have two memberships!

Picture5Taylor: I think an understanding of what each team does and who owns what parts of the process is helpful. If someone is a member and a major donor, who "owns" that relationship? That can be a cause of tension when it's not clear and can be confusing to a donor or potential donor.

Picture2Lauren Collette, Consultant: Unfortunately, silos do exist when the teams aren't communicating with each other. And Colleen, that’s a great and very common example of what the results can be.

Picture1Cassie: The concept of community—a culture of philanthropy where everyone is working towards the same big goal—can be a way to tear down the firewalls. Internal resentment is often rooted in not understanding each other’s goals and tools. To Lauren's point, leadership is key – leadership sets the culture.

Picture5Taylor: Having a clear shared process for tracking donors and members is key as well when there isn't a lot of communication on a regular basis between the teams.

Teams should be able to look at someone's record in the database and easily see if they're a member, a donor, or both, and the holistic picture of how that person interactions with the organization together.

Picture1Cassie: We see many organizations where the fundraising team doesn't have any access to the membership info and vice versa.


Picture4Colleen: From an organizational structure standpoint – does membership usually fall under development in an arts & culture org?


Picture7Duncan: Let's take a vote—should membership fall under development? Yes, no, or maybe?


Picture3Charlotte: Maybe.


Picture1Cassie: Membership is usually separate from Development, but I think they are most effective when they are under the same department, yes. 


Picture5Taylor: Oof, that's a difficult vote, but I think the ideal would be yes, that membership be part of development.


Picture4Colleen: Yes, they should be in one department (I also think the same for alumni and development in education). 


Picture2Lauren: I think yes, it absolutely should.


Picture6Jeff Wilklow, Vice President: Membership usually includes subscriptions, which are a box office function. So it's OK for it to be housed outside development.


Picture3Charlotte: Devil’s advocate: membership is complex. Could it make development unwieldy?


Picture5Taylor: Membership often has a philanthropic component instead of being purely transactional earned revenue, so from a consumer's perspective, I see it as part of development.

I think it could absolutely make it unwieldy, but housing them in the same department is a great way to take down some of those firewalls and make the transition between member and donor seem more natural.

Picture2Lauren: One example—at a large performing arts organization I previously worked with, box office/subscriptions were separate, but worked closely with membership that was housed under development.

Picture1Cassie: Many members also view themselves as "donors" who are offered a benefit—that can work to the organization's advantage.


Picture6Jeff: In many organizations, the terms member and donor could be interchangeable. The main difference in the arts is when subscription packages are rolled into the membership model. So yes, I like Lauren's example.

It seems like generating that feeling of being a donor sometimes happens independently of development's involvement. Charlotte, question for you—how does a good membership program use the organization's case for support?

I absolutely think that organizations should have a base set of messages that are the source for all different paths: annual fund, membership, visitors, major donors. Having some consistent messages about value and values primes people to move up levels, so when you go from member to bigger donor, it’s building on what you already know and believe.

And as the levels rise, more personalization. Every message is a fundraising message, at its base. It’s about creating a universe in which donors and stakeholders can find their place and their reason for participation.

Picture1Cassie: Yes, Charlotte is right in that strategy. And to her point—that is why development should be integrated with Membership! The big question is how you get people to transition from viewing themselves as a member to thinking in a bigger picture as a supporter—and becoming a donor who gives above the value of their membership.

Organizations who are investing in engagement with members are seeing a good payoff, with some of those people becoming major donors.

Picture4Colleen: I would think that being able to track members who are in it just for the free admission and gift shop discounts vs the ones who attend special member events, lectures, etc. would be ideal. The ones who do the extra stuff would seem to be more likely donors.

Picture6Jeff: I've worked with organizations that have survey data on Cassie's question. A sizable percentage are there just for the benefits. You need to separate out those with potential philanthropic interest using the usual qualification and cultivation techniques. Arts organizations have an advantage here because of all the built-in events and VIP opportunities.

Picture2Lauren: Segmenting members is key—and that is where data and systems plays a large role for these organizations.


Picture1Cassie: It is all a matter of prioritizing—segmenting as Lauren says. Data driven, donor centered. The intersection of art and science.


Picture5Taylor: Having information on event attendance, ticket buying, and giving in one place can help organizations create really interesting segments that allow for targeted messaging and surveys.

I worked recently with a large arts and culture organization who made a grid with giving strength on one axis and ticket purchasing on the other. The intersection of the two allowed them to create interesting segments.

Their communications toward a frequent donor that attends many shows looked different than donors who don't attend any versus show attendees that don't donate. Segmentation has been used often in marketing, and I believe it's a great tool for development offices and fundraisers to use as well, and it’s starting to become more popular in those settings.

Picture4Colleen: In the recruiting I've done for arts & culture organizations, the question of how membership and development interact—and finance too—always comes up. Candidates for these positions want to know what they're getting into before they spend too much time pursuing something that may not fit their vision.

Picture3Charlotte: Anecdote: I’m a longtime member of Chicago Public Radio, and very much a daily listener. They have a great incentive to become a monthly, $15+ donor: a private, pledge drive-free radio stream. I’ve been using it all week. And I would pay many more dollars to keep it!

The great thing is, it’s a “me” thing—a special perk—but it also reinforces the value of the station’s work. You rely on the programs and journalism so heavily that you need it all, without interruption. They have some light messaging to reinforce this for members like me, without pushing an extra ask. Very subtle but thoughtful way to incentive while reinforcing value.

Picture7Duncan: We're reaching the end of our time here—any last piece of advice for organizations that want to upgrade more members into donors but don't know how to do it?

Picture6Jeff: It's all about access: better seats, access to the on- and off-stage talent, access to board and leadership.


Picture2Lauren: Teams should talk to each other and work with each other's systems, strategies, leadership, etc.


Picture3Charlotte: Access to people! That human touch can help you move from transactional to relational.


Picture5Taylor: Get your membership and development teams working together if they aren't already, and don't be afraid to utilize the data already being tracked or begin to track it. There's so much that can be done and learned about your members by doing segmentation. We can do it!

aj-kane_180502_cassie-carter_1x1-crop[1]Cassie Carter, PhD serves clients in the Los Angeles region. As a Senior Consultant, she helps organizations develop comprehensive plans for fundraising, often including how their fundraising structure can better advance their goals.



aj-kane_180502_lauren-collette_1x1-crop[1]Lauren Collette joined Campbell & Company after holding development roles at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the Kennedy Center. She now works with a wide range of organizations from our Seattle office as a Consultant.



aj-kane_180502_charlotte-cottier_1x1-crop[1]As a Senior Consultant on our Communications Consulting team, Charlotte Cottier works with organizations in the arts and beyond to help them develop and communicate powerful cases for support.




aj-kane_180502_colleen-rogers_1x1-crop[1]Colleen Rogers recruits leaders for organizations in the arts and other sectors, finding professionals who can embrace the mission and make an impact. From our Chicago office, she partners with nonprofit organizations both locally and nationally.



aj-kane_180502_taylor-schmidt_1x1-crop[1]As a Consultant on our Strategic Information Services team, Taylor Schmidt is fluent in data. She works with nonprofits to uncover what useful insights data can provide and determine how those insights should shape a strategy.



aj-kane_180502_jeff-wilklow_1x1-crop[1]Jeff Wilklow brings his decades of development experience to clients in the Washington, DC area and across the East Coast. By combining organizational skills with an insight into what donors want, Jeff advises organizations on building fundraising programs that work at scale.