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June 28, 2012


Michelle Stahl

As a single parent and the director of a small museum, I think museums need to consider customizing family memberships. Perhaps a base membership price for two family members with an incremental increase in price for each additional family member. This way museums can recognize (and attract) the diversity of families today- a three person family membership might include one parent, one child and a grandparent.
Thanks for your research! Every post has something that leaves me thinking about my own institution and the larger museum field.

Dartmouth Museum

This is timely. I am just about to sit down with our Marketing Trustee and this is now on the agenda. Thank you.

Kim Hunter

I do agree with your post and in fact, would like to add a comment about something I saw during focus groups I recently ran —grandparents who either have custody of their grandchildren, or who are responsible for taking care of them for a good part of the time. While certainly not the majority of my focus group participants, I was nevertheless surprised at the number of 50 somethings who take an active role in their grandchild(s) upbringing. I had 8 focus groups, and I think I had at least one in each group who fell into that category. And they are very concerned about finding age appropriate activities for their kids, they want substantive activities, want their grandkids to learn something, but as one woman put it-‘when I found out it would have cost me $50 to bring me and my grandson to the science center, we opted instead to go to the bounce house where admission was just $5. It wasn’t as educational as I would have liked, but my grandson had a good time’

Oh, and another interesting thing I saw-I had a couple-maybe 4 or 5 of the 69 participants, who were young, in their 20’s, but they enjoy taking nieces and nephews -or even their friends kids, on outings. One young man remarked that it made for a good excuse to come to the science center, as if he needed to have that child with him to justify coming.

Fraser McDonald - Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation

Great post! This is something that we have struggled with for the past couple of years. We currently have very traditional membership categories - Household (2a, with up to 4c), Individual, Grandparent(s), and Senior Individual.

One option I have been investigating is the "build-your-own" membership option much like what Michelle Stahl mentioned above. Purchasers could customize the membership to their needs. Cards would be issued in the adult name(s) only, with the maximum number of children they are entitled to visit with printed on the card. I haven't fully wrapped my head around all of the details so if anyone if already doing this, weighing in your experience with this would be extremely valuable to many.

Lindsey Baker

As a Museum professional who often visits museums with my sister and her children, I've always been intrigued by the ways in which membership benefits assume the 2 adults should be the parents. What I have done in the past is buy a family membership for her family and then tack on an additional adult. I think we did this most recently at Port Discovery in Baltimore and it worked out well.

Dan Crowther

I certainly hope that museums take note of this article and the comments that have been posted too; the American "family" is changing.

This spring we purchased an annual "family pass" from our local science museum. This pass is accepted, via part of a reciprocal agreement, by other museums in our area and surrounding States. The catch? Each museum in that reciprocal arrangement has a different way to define "family". Along with the list of participating museums was a guide to those definitions. Suffice it to say, that those with a narrow 1950's definition of "family" will not be seeing us, nor our granddaughter who we are raising.

Susie Wilkening, Reach Advisors

Thanks everyone for your comments. Yes, the American family is changing, and since every family defines themselves differently, we have to be the flexible ones to figure out how to accommodate them, instead of forcing families into boxes they simply do not fit in.

I love these ideas!


I agree that the definition of family and museum seem to be slow to make changes. I am a 2 parent 1 child family but what bothered me in the article is this statement:

"Can we do it in a way that is fair to families of all shapes and sizes, but not in a way that is likely to be abused by those seeking an even better bargain (that is, we don’t want families headed by two parents to choose only one parent to put on the membership . . . we want both parents to visit"

The fact that you would call this abuse. really? My husband works all day 6 days a week and the only time I can bring my son to museums is during the week as we have lots of commitments on the weekends. Yes occasionally we could go to a museum on the weekend as a family but when my usband works 6 days a week he really would rather just stay at home and do stuff arond the house.

The other thing that bothers me at my local museum in South eastern CT. The membership is about $100 and then for EVERY event members have to pay $9 for each person (parent and child) ($15 for non members) I am sorry but that is a lot of money. I understand you are a non profit and need to make money to run the programs but that is just ridiculous what is the point of the membership? So I can save $6 each time I go. Well I am just not going to be going that many times to make it worth it. And as a non member I am not going to pay $30 for my son to go there for a few hours once in a while. It is just not that good a museum but they charge admission rates as if it is the greatest museum.

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