The USS Constitution Museum shares ways in which being more family friendly improved their bottom line.
Improve Your Bottom Line – Benefits of Being Family Friendly
- More engaged visitors at a free museum results in greater voluntary donations
- More engaged visitors can lead to more memberships
- More engaged visitors often means more repeat visitors
The USS Constitution Museum in Boston, MA charges no admission fee for entrance, but encourages voluntary donations from its approximately 300,000 annual visitors. Since opening a prototype exhibit focused on family learning, voluntary visitor donations increased 57% from an average of 37 cents/visitor in 2005 to an average of 58 cents/visitor in 2007. Combined with a 30% increase in museum visitation between 2005 and 2007 this resulted in a doubling of annual visitor donations from $75,000 in 2005 to $150,000 in 2007.
At Conner Prairie, a large outdoor history museum in Fishers, Indiana, a focus on family interaction has resulted in a longer stay by most visitors. Family memberships at this regional attraction have dramatically increased, along with repeat visitation.
In 2007 the USS Constitution Museum added more family focused activities and interpretation to our 29th annual ship model show. In the past almost the only interpretation was that of the ships the models represented. Added interpretation about the ship modelers explained their motivations for building models, and also pointed out how different models are built for different purposes and used in different ways. Visitors had an opportunity to meet ship modelers in the gallery who offered personal insights, and time-lapsed video reduced the ship model construction from a process of years to just a few moments. Interviews with visitors to the exhibit during winter school vacation week revealed a family returning for the second time in one week – now with the neighbors in tow – because there was so much to see in just that one temporary exhibit!
- Expand your audience: reach out to children in family groups
- Serve your community and build repeat visitation
- Build the next generation of museum visitors
- Increase visitor satisfaction through enhanced engagement
- Gain museum support from satisfied visitors
Expand your audience: reach out to school children in family groups
Market research shows that when a family’s oldest child enters elementary school and begins learning about history, history museums can reach out to this new audience. History-focused holidays such as President’s Day, Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day create opportunities for making connections between school, home and the museum with changing museum programs that encourage cross-generational family participation—an expansion beyond history museums’ typically older audience base.
Families are looking for fun things to do on the weekends. Through hands-on exhibits or innovative programs, museums can engage families in activities that encourage conversation, allowing them to laugh and learn together. Activities can vary with the calendar, highlighting holidays or seasonal variations. Mother’s and Father’s Days are opportunities to create intergenerational activities, and include the grandparents too. History museums inspire visitors to share memories, while creating new ones, allowing all generations to participate.
Build the next generation of museum visitors
Adults who are most likely to bring their families to a museum are those who visited museums with their parents as a child (download a PDF of Lynn Dierking’s presentation “Families and Free-choice Learning” for more). While museums dedicate many resources to serving school groups, the child who visits with his/her own family is more likely to bring a family to a museum as a grown adult. Engaging a family audience today will increase present visitation and build a pattern of family museum visitation into the future.
Increase visitor satisfaction through enhanced engagement
Exhibits that engage visitors of different ages and learning styles create greater opportunities for learning within a museum. Engaged visitors spend longer discussing the activity or exhibit, and the odds of their learning together increases along with their satisfaction.
HOW TO ENHANCE ENGAGEMENT?
- For a pre-literate audience: Simple hands-on elements or historic chores (stirring the soup, fetching water in a bucket, sweeping the floor or churning the butter), engage younger visitors in free play while older visitors learn about past times in greater depth.
- For inter-generational engagement: By presenting information for the young and old parents can participate in and enrich the child’s free play by sharing information that he or she is learning. As children grow older, historic games or board games can challenge young and old visitors to work together. Shared activities become collective memories and opportunities for further discussion or reflection.
- For generating engagement among visitors: When visitors are talking with each other, asking and answering questions, or working together to solve a problem, the level of engagement increases.
Satisfied visitors support museums
When visitors are engaged in a compelling experience, they are more likely to stay longer, make a donation, become a member or plan a return visit.
© USS Constitution Museum