We have all seen it happen. A family approaches the admissions counter, the mom adds up the fees, and then she does the math. How many times will we visit in the next year? Is the membership a better deal? Or should we just pay to enter?
Sometimes it isn’t a mom doing the math, and individuals without minor children sometimes do it as well. But time and time again, in our field-wide studies, we find that parents with young children (particularly moms) are more likely to say they are members for what we call “budgetary” reasons, that is, to save money or to pay for services received.
In contrast, older respondents, and some younger ones without children, are more likely to give what we call more “philanthropic” reasons, such as helping the museum improve or that the museum is important to my community.
So that gives you an, albeit basic, rundown of how membership motivations play out among various segments. Overall, it appears that families with young children are more likely to be concerned with the family budget, while other audience segments are more philanthropic in their giving.
But has anything changed in the past five years? That is, has this Great Recession affected motivations for giving?
Short answer: Yes . . . for some.
Five years ago we surveyed nearly 5,500 core visitors to children’s museums, and found that responding parents were more likely to join for those budgetary reasons than they were for philanthropic reasons. In 2012, in our latest survey of children’s museums, parents were even more likely to join for budgetary reasons, and less likely to join for philanthropic reasons. It just seems that families with young children are even more hyper-focused on the family budget.
We also examined the membership motivations of the grandparents from five years ago and today, since grandparents, being older, were more likely to be motivated by philanthropy than the family budget to join. The result? Not much difference. That is, responding grandparents (85% of whom are 55+) are still primarily motivated by philanthropy, not the family budget.
Given that the Great Recession has affected younger adults more than older adults, and that inflation-adjusted income has decreased among those under 55 and increased for those over 55, our results should be no surprise. Families with young children will likely continue to seek out high-value experiences, and memberships, with an eye on the family budget. The question is, given the long-term ramifications of lower overall incomes, will they ever have the relative luxury of giving for philanthropic reasons?
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