2016 Membership Survey Report


In spring of 2016, NEMA asked our members a series of questions to determine how we are measuring up to members' expectations, which member benefits were most useful and frequently used, and where our members would like us to put our efforts and energy going forward. The responses we gathered are informing our strategic planning and programming for the next few years. We are always interested in hearing from you, however, so please feel free to tell us how you think we're doing!


Membership Survey info graphicMethodology

We made the survey available through several channels, including email and social media (Twitter and Facebook). Differentiated links allowed us to control for the answers of paying members versus affiliate/free members versus non-members (mostly conference and workshop attendees, and lapsed members). This meant we could track members’ and non-members’ perceptions of their membership status and activity and compare with our recorded engagement levels. The survey was available for approximately two months and garnered a response rate of approximately 10% of the NEMA membership.


Respondent Demographics

Out of 282 respondents, 96% were current NEMA members. 50% are full-time museum employees, while 84% are female and 91% are white. (See further breakdowns of demographics in the graphic.)  29% pay for individual memberships, and 25% have taken advantage of their affiliate memberships through their institutions or academic programs. 34% are the contact people for their institutions, which are members. A number of people commented to say that both their museum was a member and they chose to keep an individual membership as well. Based on the responses from non-members, 90% think that they are current members.

Respondents come from many positions in the museum field. The top three roles for all respondents are: 22% “wear multiple hats”, 17% work in education, 16% in collections. Among just affiliate members, the highest percentage of respondents worked in education (34%). (See further information specifically on affiliate member demographics in a later section.)

55% live/work in Massachusetts, 18% in Connecticut, 8% in Maine, 6% in Rhode Island, 5% in New Hampshire, 4% in Vermont, and 5% ‘other’ (mostly New York).


NEMA in 3 Words

We asked people to list 3 words they associate with NEMA. All the answers are below, with larger words reflecting greater frequency. The majority of descriptors were positive, though some of the phrases indicated that there are still geographic and discipline areas that feel less connected to NEMA as a whole. In a 2013 member survey, the top words were “professional, helpful, local, and community.”


Focus on Affiliate (Free) Members

Membership Survey info graphicIn recent years, the increase in NEMA membership is largely due to the restructuring of member levels to include affiliate memberships: free memberships to individuals who work for member institutions or attend member academic programs, valid for as long as they are continually associated with that organization. This group of members needs only to opt-in through the short online form to receive the benefits of NEMA membership, most particularly news about NEMA programming and access to members-only materials on the website.

The proportions of who works what kind of position change for affiliate members. While overall 22% of respondents “wear multiple hats,” only 14% of affiliate members say the same, which makes some sense as most of the affiliate members come from larger organizations with more staff. Among overall respondents, 17% work in education, but 34% of affiliate members work in education, suggesting this is a benefit highly valued by people in that area of museum work. The proportions remain similar for collections, 16% overall and 18% of affiliate members.

34% of affiliate members work in history organizations, 24% in art, 18% interdisciplinary, 8% in science & children’s museums. 33% of affiliate members are in their 30s, 22% are under 30, 29% are in their 40s-50s, and 12% are 60 or above.

Affiliate Members’ Most Frequent Reasons for belonging to NEMA:

  1. Access to news about the field (76%)
  2. Networking opportunities and connections to other museum professionals (74%)
  3. Sense of belonging to the museum community (58%)
  4. Research, ideas, and inspiration from NEMA publications (45%)
  5. Access to best practices and resources (Museum Document Exchange) (36%)
  6. Discounts on professional development (conference and workshops) (35%)
  7. Free admission to area museums (32%)

Asked to explain what their top reason for belonging to NEMA was, affiliate members answers ranged widely, though most focused on the networking and sense of community NEMA provides. Sample comments are included below:

  • “My favorite thing about NEMA is the sense of community. Annual conferences feel more like a big family reunion. Working in this field is tough so it's nice to have someone to share it with.”
  • “Networking opportunities and connections to other museum professionals. Working in a small museum can be isolating, NEMA helps me connect with other professionals to share best practices and experiences!”
  • “Research, ideas and inspiration through NEMA publications -- I'm able to troubleshoot problems at our workplace by using the resources provided on the NEMA site”
  • “The museum I work for is a member, I choose to take advantage of that.”
  • “Access to news about the field. I am busy and NEMA helps me to keep apprised without me having to do too much searching on my own.”
  • “Free admission - one of the few benefits to working in the field.”

Favorite ways of accessing professional development

  1. My own research on the web (blogs, etc.) (84%)
  2. NEMA Workshops and Conferences (77%)
  3. Workshops and conferences given by other museum organizations (69%)
  4. Through colleagues and their recommendations (58%)
  5. Webinars from non-NEMA sources (50%)
  6. NEMA Webinars (44%)

Online research preferred platforms for IAMs are blogs (53%), Facebook (48%), Listservs (47%), LinkedIn (37%), and specifically the NEMA Facebook page (26%).

Based on the survey results, affiliate members report a high level of engagement with NEMA’s programs and benefits. 60% have watched a Lunch with NEMA webinar once or more in the last year. 55% have attended a NEMA conference and 54% have attended at least one workshop in the last year. 56% have taken advantage of the museum admission program for free or discounted admission to other museums in the last year, 39% have called or emailed the NEMA office for assistance, and 38% are listening regularly to the Museum People podcast. Other popular NEMA benefits include networking events (34%), Museums New England listings (33%), the Document Exchange (23%), and interacting with NEMA staff over social media (23%). Almost 20% of affiliate members responding have also participated as a session speaker at conference, though only 10% have participated as a workshop presenter.

Looking at the recorded attendees for the 2015 Conference in Portland, ME, just over 200 attendees registered as institutional or academic affiliate members; most of the attendees whose institutions are members and therefore paid the member rate are not counted in this number. Of those 204, 55 of them registered as speakers.  This is actually a higher percentage of speaker participation than the 28 speakers of 153 individual (paying) members attending the same conference (27% instead of only 18%). [It is important to note that these numbers reflect people’s current membership status; after conference and after workshops, NEMA sends membership reminders to individuals who attended who were not yet affiliate members. An average of 5-10 people join as affiliates after each of these emails.]

Email open rates do not differ greatly between paid vs. affiliate members. Over the course of several months, the average open rates for paid members are 40.3%, and the average open rates for affiliate members are 38.9%, indicating that the members who take advantage of their affiliate memberships are essentially equally invested in the organization, at least as far as paying attention to NEMA communications are concerned.


Priorities for NEMA programming

Overall, the priorities of members in general fall into most of the same categories as the affiliate members’ preferences. There are some slight variations in priorities based on discipline of museum, as seen below:

History members want:

  • Advocate for museums 63%
  • Offer networking 58%
  • Offer online learning opportunities 55%
  • Pursue/promote improved pay and benefits across the field 52%
  • Opportunities for mid-career professionals 37%
  • Provide in-depth research 36%

Art members want:

  • Pursue/promote improved pay & benefits 61%
  • Advocate for museums 55%
  • Offer online learning opportunities 48%
  • Offer networking 48%
  • Pursue/promote diversity & equity initiatives 36%
  • Opportunities for mid-career professionals 34%

Science/Children’s members want:

  • Offer networking 69%
  • Advocate for museums 56%
  • Pursue/promote diversity & equity initiatives 50%
  • Pursue/promote improved pay & benefits 44%
  • Opportunities for mid-career professionals 38%
  • Offer online learning opportunities 40%


How is NEMA doing?

We asked people to consider the roles of NEMA programming and to rate where we are doing well, and where we could do better. Though there are one or two areas in which the percentages appeared higher in the 2013 survey, it is important to note that there was a much higher sample size in 2013, so the percentages are naturally bound to vary based on sheer scale.

These areas received the highest rating for NEMA “Excels:”

  • Serves my geographic area 51% (+34% satisfactory)
  • Communicates directly to members 50% (+45% satisfactory) (55% in 2013)
  • Advocates for museum professionals and the field 49% (+44% satisfactory) (was listed as ‘could do better’ in 2013)
  • Offers good value 46% (+44% satisfactory) (2013 63%)
  • Offers thoughtful leadership for the field 44% (+42% satisfactory) (46% in 2013)

The following areas of NEMA service received the highest percentages for “Could do better:”

  • 21% Serves my professional focus/ my museum’s discipline 16%
  • 15% Offers leading edge professional development
  • 14% Offers innovative services in response to critical issues

It is important to note that even these areas still received a majority of ratings in the ‘satisfactory’ or ‘excels’ categories. However, it does suggest that NEMA should continue to be as flexible and responsive an organization as possible, concerned with current events and trends, as well as aware of the variety present in NEMA’s membership.


Barriers to Participation

  • Event locations are too far away 54%
  • Personal demands 42%
  • Not enough funding for professional development 34%
  • Cannot get time off work to attend 31%

Though it is not in NEMA’s power to address the personal demands on members’ time, we can continue to work on flexible pricing and timing for our programs, as well as look at increasing online options and continuing to offer workshops and networking options around New England.  This effort includes encouraging board members, PAG chairs, and other active members of the NEMA community to organize events in their areas which NEMA members may attend, from exhibit openings or brown-bag lunch discussions to informal get-togethers.


Focus on Advocacy

Advocacy is one of the top issues across all member demographics. Members are interested in specific pursuits to improve working conditions across the field, as well as building relationships with members of local, state, and national offices. Though the general interest in seeing NEMA as an advocate is high, specific advocacy questions were only answered by about 1/3 of survey respondents, bearing out a trend we have noticed in email open rates and program participation. Whether due to personal unease or disinclination to the topic, or simple unfamiliarity, advocacy remains an area where museum workers feel less comfortable.

Asked to identify which issues were most important to the museum field in the political arena, members named a range of topics which fell into several general categories. The most pressing issue was funding, with nearly 60% of respondents mentioning government support of museums at the state and national levels. The second most popular was community outreach and relationship building, nearly tied with issues surrounding nonprofit tax status, including charitable giving deductions and PILOTs. Reducing barriers to operation (specific legislation regarding issues like abandoned property, ivory bans, zoning issues) and education policy followed, with a few individuals also interested in the connections between museums and environmental & conservation issues. Some members also expressed concern (less than 8%) that museums in becoming stronger advocates ran the risk of alienating visitors or drifting away from their missions, but this was a minority expression.

Overall, the most popular role in advocacy that was expressed by respondents was NEMA’s obligation to train museum workers to be better advocates.



There are several major takeaways from this survey. Regarding programming, NEMA should consider more flexible options, whether that be workshops or programs taking place outside of standard working hours or an increase in online learning options. All segments of the NEMA membership seem to feel that there are opportunities to increase programming relevant to their specific discipline or role, suggesting that there may be interest in creating new or different PAG segments as well as a need to call out what programming and resources are already available for certain special interests. Barriers to participation are largely those of time, distance, and money, suggesting that pursuing the non-traditional timing in addition to exploring options for flexible pricing, more rigorous pursuit of scholarship sponsors, and making existing scholarship information more readily accessible would assist members interested in engaging with NEMA offerings. NEMA should also continue to encourage institutions to support their staff and board in their pursuit of professional development, wherever budgets and schedules allow. NEMA is also conducting a strategic focus on advocacy in reflection of its growing importance across the field, and will be examining its options to increase visibility, effectiveness, and training across the region.

Overall, the responses are highly positive, and while there are opportunities for growth, member satisfaction among respondents remains high.