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  • Membership musings (Weekly Blog, 2nd May 2016)

    Posted on May 2, 2016
    20141017_131032A blog by Catherine Leonard, Secretary-General

    I’ve been thinking a lot about membership this week.  Membership of INTO (as we welcome two new members); what it means to be a member of INTO (membership benefits, etc as part of Fiona’s ‘family’ strand); the INTO Amicus programme (is it a membership or giving programme?) and the membership offer of National Trust-like organisations (a great meeting with Dutch conservation ngo Natuurmonumenten and National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland this week).

    New INTO Members

    Firstly, a very warm welcome to our newest recruits, the Sierra Leone Monuments and Relics Commission! We appreciate your confidence in our organisation and hope to serve you in a way that reflects our mission.  (I realise I jumped the gun on our second application which is still being reviewed by the Membership Panel – watch this space!)

    What does it mean to be a member of INTO?

    Amongst the membership benefits that we list are:

    •        Access to a worldwide network of National Trust expertise and support (Expert Network, exchange programmes, training, mentoring, advocacy support)
    •        Use of the tag ‘Member of the International National Trusts Organisation’ and INTO logo
    •        Support from the global family of Trusts in advocacy and awareness raising campaigns
    •        Access to our members only online resource centre
    •        Reduced rate access to the International Conference of National Trusts
    •        Opportunity to serve on INTO working groups on specific projects and themes
    •        Eligibility to apply for the INTO Small Grants Programme

    Delegates at the INTO Conference in Dublin

    Delegates at the INTO Conference in Dublin

    To be honest though, the thing that our members seem to value the most is the feeling of not being alone – “Having INTO behind us has been crucial to the successful establishment of a Czech National Trust. INTO has added credibility to our project and we have been able to make good use of their contacts and expertise. They have provided ideas, funding, advice, a shoulder to cry on … It is not unlike having a fairy godmother!” Irena Edwards, Chairman of the Czech National Trust


    Amicus (plural amici), from amō (‘I love’). Pronunciation: /a’mikus/. Definition: Friend …

    Our newest Secretariat team member is Louisa Abbott, our Donor Co-ordinator.  Louisa’s first job has been to find out as much about Amicus as possible and to review the programme, with a particular focus on the ‘friends’ aspect and more clarity between ‘members’ and ‘donors’.

    Membership offer

    As we’ve seen with Amicus, ‘membership’ is a blurry sort of subject.  The business model of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland is based on its huge membership, now numbering 4.6 million, and membership income last year was £160m (i.e. 1/3 total turnover).  The NTEWNI’s membership offer works because of its equally huge portfolio – it is good value for money.

    Meeting between Executive team members and Trustees of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Dutch colleagues from Natuurmonumenten

    Meeting between Executive team members and Trustees of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Dutch colleagues from Natuurmonumenten

    But interestingly in 1975 (i.e. 80 years since establishment), membership stood at 500,000 (and cost £3) so the growth has been exponential in the past forty years.  At a meeting last week with the Dutch conservation ngo Natuurmonumenten, the reasons for this were given as the number of historic houses being acquired by the National Trust; the tradition of ‘country house visiting’ (for more than five centuries the historic buildings of England have opened their doors inviting the tourists to step inside and engage in exploration and discovery) and people’s curiousity; the growth in use of the motor car and – more recently – 365-day opening; a focus on visitor experience and customer care; a strong brand.

    Kralingse bos, Rotterdam, Zuid-Holland, Nederland © Natuurmonumenten

    Kralingse bos, Rotterdam, Zuid-Holland, Nederland © Natuurmonumenten

    Natuurmonumenten has around 700,000 members and 200,000 children members (check out this lovely video of their ‘Wild Days Out’ programme!) . These are very healthy figures and are built on cause – helping nature in the Netherlands – rather than a transactional relationship (as they don’t offer members free entry, although there are other member benefits like a magazine, discounts and partnerships).    There is much that we could all learn from how they achieve this.

    The NTEWNI is probably something of an anomaly.  Globally, we see a decline in membership adherence.   The Millennial generation of 20-30 year olds is used to self-organising and believes life can be more participatory, more decentralised, less dependent on the traditional models of organisation, either in the state, business or ngo sector.  It’s no longer a question of whether you’re in or out; a member of not a member; a volunteer or not.  Modern generations dip in and out and want different levels of connectedness.

    National Trust for Historic Preservation's This Place Matters

    National Trust for Historic Preservation’s This Place Matters campaign

    And National Trusts are having to become more permeable in response to this.   Some people are happy to visit traditional National Trust sites, have a cup of coffee, buy something in the gift shop and go home with a warm glow after a wonderful day out.  Others want to volunteer and to feel that they are making a difference with their presence, their expertise and their gift of time.  Others want to be activists.  Some want to be all of these things and more and we have to keep pace by being the vehicle, the means by which they can realise their goals.

    I’m not sure we have the answers to these conundrums yet but by working together and sharing experience, I hope we can develop some innovative best practice, case studies and joint working.

    You can watch the ‘Giving to Heritage’ webinar on Individual Giving: Generating Income via Membership Schemes in the UK here.

    The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Membership Guide can be found here.

    The National Trust for South Australia’s Changing our Future strategy document has a focus on membership growth.

    Thanks for reading!

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