The wonderful Indianapolis Museum of Art is free to all visitors, so becoming a member is an optional activity. Because I value the institution and its work, I chose that option and paid my $50, receiving the online confirmation you see above.
It is wrong on so many levels I can barely stand it, but let's review a few of the most critical ones:
1. It treats joining the community of individuals freely choosing to support the museum with an optional membership fee the same way it treats any other e-commerce on the museum website.
2. The confirmation language is transactional and impersonal.
3. It is generic and does not confirm the actual action I just completed.
Even though the museum now speaks to me as a member, I remain just a joiner. They have my money, but they can't be sure they have either my attention or my future participation. They've left me in a potentially passive state when they should have intentionally converted me into an active participant or contributor: how about a simple "here are three upcoming events you won't want to miss". Heck, it doesn't even include the pro forma "follow us on Twitter" tagline. And what's up with that barcode?
I've written before about nonprofits failing to appropriately capitalize when they have someone's attention, but inadequately managing the membership process is a huge unforced error that few institutions can afford to make. And they do so for a very basic reason: they equate joining with belonging. They. Are. Not. The. Same.
In many of our organizations (rightly or wrongly) joining remains the necessary first step along the pathway to belonging, but many stops still remain. So it's your job to facilitate the conversion from joiner to member, from lurker to contributor, from spectator to participant, from consumer to creator, just to name a few.
People join institutions because they want to belong, because they "be longing" for something. It is your job to uncover what they are longing for and to connect them to the appropriate opportunities that your community or organization offers.
When someone gives you the privilege of their attendance at a performance, their attention on your website or to your newsletter (if I subscribe to your monthly newsletter will I have to wait 30 days before I get any content?), or their money as a voluntary contribution to become a member, you must be ready to extend the enticing invitation that might convert them into more interested, attentive, and engaged individuals.
So are you? Ready? Because ready or not, here we come. Whether we stick around may very well depend on you.
Note: another irony is that I previously was a member long ago, but let my membership lapse. I wonder if the membership database (yours or the IMA's) even checks the records for such things. Saying "Welcome back. We've missed you around here." is a much better confirmation to a lapsed individual than "Thank you for joining."
Update: January 10, 2013
Sad to report that my temporary membership card was shipped to an address where I have not lived for five years. That only happens when someone sees you're already in the database and simply ships things out versus comparing your actual membership application address to your old record. Sigh.