Whit­ney Muse­um of Amer­i­can Art: Curate Your Own Membership

Exhibited by
Jill Richens,‎Trusts and Foundations Manager at British Council and Dana Segal, Development & Events Manager at Cockpit Arts
June 16, 2016
Medium of Communication
Target Audience
Type of Charity
Culture & Heritage
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance
September, 2010

SOFII’s view

Insight led to a major research project focusing on the interests and the kinds of experiences that members and prospective members would really value as part of their membership. This resulted in the museum segmenting its membership not by demographics but by interests and offering a unique personalised way to become a member.

Summary / objectives

To drive new membership subscriptions and renewals by finding new ways to connect with members and to understand the experiences they value the most. If we understand what experiences our members’ value, does this help develop a more emotional relationship between them and the museum?


Following the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, the Whitney Museum of American Art saw membership renewal rates plateau. At the same time, businesses observed an increased desire for customisation from consumers and the world was beginning to adapt to and understand the growth of the experience economy. The Whitney Museum saw these trends as an opportunity to re-imagine their membership scheme, with different experiences customised to different segments of their membership body.

Whitney Museum of Modern Art

Special characteristics

With Curate Your Own Membership, the Whitney have developed a unique, personalised way to become a member of the museum. Members are invited to ‘customize your experience and maximise your benefits’, by choosing from a selection of five ‘series’ – tailored benefit packages designed to suit the interests of different segments of their membership body.

For $85, members receive a core benefits package (express entry, private views, free admission) and can then select one of five ‘series’, listed below: 


The ‘social’ series for example, includes invitations to exclusive launch events (in addition to exhibition previews), whilst the ‘Insider’ series includes exclusive presentations from curatorial staff.

For an additional $40 members are able to select a second ‘series’. This provides an interesting mechanism for moving members up the donor ladder. Director of membership at the time, Kristen Denner, commented that ‘it’s not about upselling as much as it is about getting to know more about them and giving them a customised experience’. With a vastly improved service on offer to members, it’s easy to agree with Kristen and see great value for donors in selecting additional series.

In addition:

  • This membership scheme was the output of a qualitative research study, completed in partnership between the Whitney and an external marketing agency. For the Whitney, this was a high quality research project that required significant investment.
  • This is a rare example of segmenting donors by interests rather than by age/demographics (e.g. students, seniors, couples).
  • When redesigning the membership scheme, the Whitney increased their individual membership level from $75 to $85. They understood the value of their improved service and priced this accordingly, and they were not risk averse in increasing the level of their request from members.
  • The membership scheme is ‘identity’ driven – rather than being one member amongst thousands, you are able to personalise your membership and in turn assign an ‘identity’ to who you are as a member.

Influence / impact

At launch, Kristen Denner, noted that the goal of Curate Your Own (CYO) was to sign up 2,000 new CYO members within the first 12 – 18 months, and to convert 25 per cent of the existing membership base (8,000 individual and dual members) to CYO memberships.


The scheme far exceeded expectations within its first year, securing 2,171 CYO members (target: 2000). The most popular series is social, followed by learning and insider. You can read more about the benefits of each series here: http://whitney.org/Support/Mem... 

After 12 months, the Whitney also saw a four per cent increase in renewals and upgrades amongst existing members.

Originally established in 2010, CYO exists to this day, which is a great testament to its success.


Curate Your Own Membership is a progressive, audience and market-led initiative. It combines strategy, research and business sense with the overall goal of building a closer and more emotional and personal relationship with their membership base. Speaking at the launch of CYOM, Denner commented ‘we want their relationship with us to grow – and by extension, their support of arts in their community’. In this instance, The Whitney took a leadership role within the museums and fundraising sector – testing and developing a model of member engagement which has applicability across the fundraising landscape.

Any other relevant information: The majority of information presented is sourced from an interview conducted with Kristen Denner http://museumtwo.blogspot.co.u...

This case study was presented as one of several ideas at an IWITOT session for the Institute of Fundraising Cultural Sector Network Annual Conference in March 2016.