The Dreaded Membership Letter

Most of our members live in this neighborhood.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year at the Museum: Time to compose the annual membership letter.

Background: Our members are 1.) dropping like flies since we had to cancel some events a few years ago to stay afloat during the Great Recession and 2.) composed mainly of spies from other organizations, holdovers from the last administration who hate us but enjoy the routine of sending a check every year, and a few hippie-dippies who support us as part of some greater New Age agenda. Most are, as the executive director says, “on the older side” and dying off quickly anyway.

And yet, we really, really need their money.

So, how to cater to this diverse and ¬†sometimes subversive group? The letter has to beg them to still send us their money without actually begging. This year it’s harder than ever because LAST year’s membership letter totally kicked ass. It was based on the membership letter of another, much larger organization and was the perfect blend of inspiring and shameless pandering. Yes, I wrote it, thank you. And now I simply can’t top it.

I’ve hemmed and hawed about this for awhile, and finally decided to add in a few minor tweaks and keep everything else the same. Membership was up a teeny, tiny bit last year–and trust me, any good membership news is very welcome news to us. Don’t mess with success, I say.

As I’ve said before, members are the cornerstones of most solvent non-profits’ budgets. They’re like subscribers to news organizations: Those reliable people whose money you can usually count on in these uncertain times. When your membership base is crumbling (or, in our case, fully crumbled with weeds knee-high through the cracks), you see an organization in trouble. Although we’ve done our best to milk other revenue streams as hard as we can–successfully, as this year’s awesome budget sheets proved–the long-term strategy is suffering.

This is an organization-wide problem that one good membership letter won’t solve. To fix any of this, we really need a volunteer membership coordinator. Now, let me get this out. Volunteering jobs sometimes suck up a lot more time than people today have. I get that. But membership coordinator is probably the easiest job in the world at our little museum. We’re talking maintaining a database that maybe gets six or seven new entries a year and assembling about three mailings. Let’s go, community. You need to step up here.

So, another year, another “our mission is great and you’ll be supporting it by supporting us” letter, destined for some trash cans as the economy continues to not improve. Someday I hope this letter will mean as much to us as it does to actual successful non-profits.

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