Ticket price as a barrier to access, Part 4: Membership on the installment plan

Picking up on a thought from Part 3: Why don’t museums offer the option of paying for membership in quarterly or monthly installments?

This would make memberships affordable to a much wider slice of the museum-going public. It’s much easier, financially and psychologically, to come up with $10 or $12 a month than $100 or $120 in a lump sum. 

Payment could occur during the course of the visit. Instead of shelling out an admission fee, members could simply top up their accounts at the membership desk on their way in. Members who didn’t top up within a certain period of time would simply have their membership cards deactivated. 

Installment memberships would help promote philanthropy, because a much larger pool of satisfied members could be cultivated as donors. 

And, it would send the important message that members of all ages, incomes, and types were welcome. Talk about psychological and emotional comfort. Of course, a significant segment of current membership would be made more uncomfortable. But I’m sure new levels of exclusivity would be invented in response. Elitism knows no bounds.

Potentially, installment plans could vastly increase museum membership. Downsides would be that administrative costs would rise, membership services departments would have more work to do, and members-only events would be much more heavily attended. On the other hand, there would be more membership fees available to support expanded services. 

Membership on the installment plan could help to democratize museums while increasing their annual incomes and expanding their donor bases. What’s not to like?

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2 Responses to “Ticket price as a barrier to access, Part 4: Membership on the installment plan”

  1. Dotty Says:

    Membership on installment sounds promising, especially here in Seattle where our local transit folks have gone to “smart cards” and we’re all learning how to travel via this kind of electronic service. A museum “smart card” could be devised to do the same job in various localities — maybe in San Francisco a Hotel, Motel Tax Fund opportunity in aid of all museums.

    On costs, however, I think you might consider in the “senior” category the fact that many people who take children and teens to visit museums are grandparents or grand-somethings. I figure that the senior/child pricing reflects support for a frequent pairing and makes it possible for those of less means (a great many grandparents even today) to take those with no income (kids) to visit.

  2. Jim Says:

    As a museum membership manager, I was interested in this idea at first, but as I thought about it, problems started to arise. When a family of four shows up and they’re told admission will be about $40 for all of them, or they could buy a family membership instead and their payment today will only be $10, then of course they will take that option. After that they have no reason to continue paying for the membership unless they’re going to come every other week or so. If they want to come again some other month they can just rejoin for another $10 first payment.
    The museum will lose a huge portion of their admissions, and memberships will become much easier to drop. Visitors would basically pay a much smaller fee for only the months or quarters they intend to actually use the benefits of a membership, instead of the museum getting their income whether the members take advantage of it or not.

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