A Museum Between a Rock and a Hard Place

In a difficult economy, museums have a difficult enough task in raising money. Of course, for museums that have not yet opened, they face an even bigger challenge: inspiring people to become members when they can’t even enjoy all the facility has to offer.

That’s exactly the story with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which broke ground in 2012 and is slated to open in 2015. Despite the $12 million donation by Oprah Winfrey that was announced this week, tens of millions of dollars remain to be raised.

Even before its 2012 groundbreaking, according to Who’s Mailing What’s comprehensive library of direct mail and email, the museum has relied on direct mail to acquire charter members. The latest control effort has been in the mail for the last year and appeals to pride and patriotism as it focuses on the “remarkable stories” of the African American experience. The front of the #10 outer simply reads “FREE GIFTS ENCLOSED.” But once inside, the prospect is face-to-face with elements that bolster the argument made in the four-page letter, that the museum is “America’s story,” and that is for “everyone who calls themselves an American.”

The freemiums are four bookmarks, showing remarkable individuals, like Madam C.J. Walker, and Frederick Douglass, who made major contributions to American life (see image in the media player to the right). The flipside of each one provides a brief history lesson on their story. There’s also a call to action, to visit the museum’s website for membership information. Even if the rest of the effort is put aside, or the bookmark is passed along to someone else, it can still generate membership leads.

A four-panel brochure (see image in the media player to the right) describes the mission of the museum, maps its location on the Washington, D.C. Mall, and provides an artist’s rendering of its design. Specific benefits for each membership level, such as a book, CD or Certificate of Appreciation, are laid out as well. And there are additional reminders about the story-based focus of the campaign, such as mini-profiles of additional pioneers.

The reply form follows up on the letter and brochure by noting that “Charter Members” will be recognized on the museum’s “Honor Roll.” Besides the website, all of these names will appear on a board at the museum, another appeal to flattery and pride.

In February, an effort was tested with a personalized teaser in a handwritten font: “[First name] Take a look at the FREE gifts enclosed!” Aside from that, the package is identical to the control mailing.

Another membership appeal, with a lift note from Hank Aaron, baseball’s home run king, was dropped in March. He writes about the achievements of Jackie Robinson, just weeks before a new movie on Robinson’s life premiered. This mailing’s reply form (see image) makes the new member’s contribution more prominent than the others, with a gold border and the bold heading “HONOR ROLL OF CHARTER MEMBERS”.

With such a large amount still to be raised, and 2015 drawing closer, further tweaks are quite likely to appear, and take hold.

Paul Bobnak is the research director of Who’s Mailing What!, the most complete library of direct mail and email in the world. He can be reached at pbobnak@napco.com.

Publish date: June 12, 2013 https://dev.adweek.com/performance-marketing/direct-mail-best-practices-membership-drive-museum/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT