Can you own part of Grand Rapids Public Museum?


One of the pieces from Grand Rapids Public Museum’s “Be a proud owner” campaign. Courtesy GRPM

No, the Grand Rapids Public Museum is not selling off its finback whale skeleton, an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus, George Washington’s hair or any of its other prized artifacts.

A piece of history

The museum is, however, launching its first-ever membership campaign with the slogan, “Be a proud owner.”

The concept is based on the premise that by purchasing a museum membership, individuals can become the owner of the Grand Rapids Public Museum and all the organization has to offer — including its more than 250,000 scientific, cultural and historical artifacts.

The campaign was created and is being executed by Denver-based brand partner Genesis Inc., which operates a Grand Rapids office.

“What we set out to do was encourage a sense of ownership in our community,” said Georgia Everse, managing partner at Genesis Inc. and head of the agency’s Grand Rapids office. “The museum collections are owned by the city of Grand Rapids, and there is some misconception that it is primarily publicly funded. While it’s true that the museum receives some public money, most of the funding comes from donations and memberships, so it really belongs to the people of West Michigan and needs the support of the entire community to thrive.”

The museum receives about 35 percent of its funding through admissions and memberships, and a larger percentage comes from donations and grants and then the rest through its earnings on assets.

“Aggressive” campaign

The campaign launched this spring and uses multiple channels: print, outdoor and digital advertising, radio ads, including spots on Pandora, direct mail and guerrilla tactics, such as lantern posts, mock Craigslist ads and eBay listings — as well as a social component.

Katie Moore, director of marketing and public relations for GRPM, said that to the best of her knowledge, the Public Museum has never undergone a media buy or public advertising campaign for membership, though it has had a continuous membership program in place.

“We are really trying to build the museum family,” Moore said. “Membership had been doing okay in terms of an arts organization, but we needed to ramp it up a notch. That is why it was done in the way it’s been done. Most arts organizations do a trade list or direct mail campaign, and this was an aggressive direct mail campaign, as well as an aggressive media campaign.”

Moore said that the organization is looking to triple its membership through this campaign, from 3,000 members to 9,000.

Though it might seem like a large jump, Moore said it’s consistent with membership levels at other Grand Rapids arts organizations.

She also noted that one of the things the Public Museum realized was that many attendees had not become members, because they simply had never been asked.

Since the campaign launched membership is starting to increase, and the campaign is receiving praise from museum attendees, who have commented on its creativity.

The membership campaign is one part of a five-year strategic plan the museum undertook last year.

Members only

Members also are benefiting in new ways based on the campaign.

“We have revamped our membership benefits,” Moore said.

“We have added open houses to our community archives and research center. The first one will be on Sunday, Oct. 13. It’s free to members and only for members.”

Members are invited to attend previews of new exhibitions and receive a discount to them. The first one will be held on Sept. 5 for the Grandmother Power exhibition.

Grand Rapids Public Museum is also highlighting a membership perk that has been mostly forgotten in recent years: free admission to more than 340 other museums and science centers around the country that are part of the Association of Science and Technology Centers.

Memberships range from $30 (student) to $1,000. Moore said that the family and grandparent memberships, which are both $65, are the most popular.

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