The Museum Column

cultural intelligence, exhibit reviews, museum news


Two ways to measure in your museum: and one more thing

heart versus moneyMeasuring museums has always been a tricky subject. Are we measuring quantitatively, qualitatively, both? And who are we measuring for — the director, our board, the granting agency, for our own information? In this post, I will take a focussed look at a few fairly quantitative measurements that may help us to calculate whether we are there yet (there being wherever you hope you are going). In future posts I will discuss more qualitative impacts of museums and how to measure them.

1. Attendance
Yes, I know, we are always measuring the numbers although in an interesting recent blog post Nina Simon asked us to consider who gets counted and whether or not attendance can be a proxy for impact. In a similar vein, since we seem to have an impulse to collect them, attendance figures could be given more meaning by linking them to a larger context. In this line of thinking, we could:

• Look at attendance as a percentage of overall population within a given geographic area; how does our attendance compare with other places in the same area where people spend their leisure time? Have there been changes in your museum’s market share in the last five years? What does that tell you about how well your museum is in touch with shifting priorities in the community?

• Analyse demographic groups within total number of visitors for the year; have there been any significant changes that align with strategic initiatives in programming in the same time period? Was that demographic shift sustained beyond the term of a specific program? Did attracting new demographic groups mean that numbers in more traditional groups fell?

• How much is your museum spending per visitor? How does that compare to other museums in your region with similar budgets for programming and marketing? Has your programming and marketing spend per visitor changed as a portion of the overall budget in the last five years? What has driven those changes; is it time to re-calibrate?

2. Members
Members really matter to museums; they are people who make coming to the museum a regular part of their lives. Revenue from memberships is a predictable source of revenue (unlike, for example, forecasts of income from temporary exhibition attendance). In addition to counting up the number of members we have, we can also measure:

• How many members moved from a basic membership category to a higher (i.e. more expensive with more privileges) category when they renewed their membership?
• Have there been any shifts in demographic patterns among the membership?
• How many members donated to fundraising campaigns in addition to paying their membership fees?
• How many members do you have as a percentage of total attendance? How does that compare to other museums with similar total attendance?

These measurements, when taken together, may help to indicate an increase, or decrease, in a sense of relationship with the museum (but only among those who can afford to buy a membership in the first place).

3. Heart
Always remember when you are measuring museums quantitatively that the qualitative impact of museums is significant, values-driven, and what gives impetus to the need to measure carefully.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photo credits: iStock Photo