The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, has developed a highly successful way of attracting young professionals as patrons for the museum. Their Young Patrons Circle membership program brings a variety of people aged 19 to 45 into the space, and provides them with exclusive events and benefits for supporting the museum. Read below to find out what they are doing differently, and their tips for sparking up a similar program in your museum.
Jessica Hall-Cummings, the Development Officer of the Young Patrons Circle, gave us a behind-the-scenes look at what the Royal Ontario Museum is doing to attract and keep this audience engaged.
MH: You are the development officer in charge of the Young Patrons Circle at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). What does that mean?
JHC: The Young Patrons Circle (YPC) is our young professionals program. Our members are between the ages of 19-45, who want to be a part of the museum. My job is to create special events for our members, connect with them and find ways to help them feel closer to the ROM. It’s fun – I get to hang out at an awesome museum and hang out with really cool, smart people.
MH: How did your membership start?
JHC: Initially, it was a core group of volunteers and donors who wanted a different, younger experience than our Royal Patrons Circle, which typically attracts an older audience. YPC started as a group of social influencers, and it made the ROM the place to see and be seen, since we’re the first in our area. Membership spread by word-of-mouth. YPC has now become a place for smart, passionate museum lovers who want to support the ROM, gain special access to the museum and have the chance to socialize with like-minded folks. I’d call it a “sexy nerddom.”
MH: What kind of benefits do your members get?
JHC: In addition to supporting the ROM, our members have access to a special event every month. These events are sometimes geared towards doing an exclusive activity at the museum coupled with a social activity, typically with wine. One of my favorite things we do is go into “the vault” and see stuff that isn’t on display. Mineralogy is one of the best ones: YPC members get to hold and touch things like meteorites, moon stone, massive gem stones… other things that blow your mind because they are so old, rare or naturally beautiful. We also do gallery chats with curators to bring people back to our permanent collections, an annual trip and even events just with our members. We once held a TED-style chat where we invited our members to do 8-minute chats about what they are working on. One of our members showed us a 3D printer he created himself! It was incredible. We’ve got such a great crew.
MH: What advice would you give to museums that are starting their own Young Professionals programs?
JHC: Start small. These programs can be expensive to run, so it’s easier to begin the program with only a few benefits. It is always possible to build out new programs and add new benefits for members, but it’s harder to take things away. It’s also really important for members to understand that what they are doing is participating in philanthropy. It can be a misconception. And because membership in young professionals programs come from a social motivation, it’s important to remind that what they are doing is making a gift, not paying a fee.
Special thanks to Ethan Angelica who interviewed Jessica Hall-Cummings for Museum Hack. Want to see more posts like this? Subscribe to our mailing list. Do you work for a museum? Do you have a program that is successfully engaging new audiences? We’d love to hear about it! Send us an email. Click this link If you’d like to read more about our workshops, presentations, and museum consulting work.
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