Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

How to Use Events and Programs to Build Membership in Your Historic Preservation Organization

Build Membership with Events and Programs | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

The best source of support for your historic preservation organization is members. And one of the best ways to build your membership is to host events. Many preservation organizations host preservation- or heritage-related tours to draw in more members, but other social and educational events can also build membership. A diverse set of events can help capture a variety of members.

People will join your organization because they believe in your organization's mission. But some members (and potential members) may also be highly motivated by the social opportunities your organization offers. These members want to interact with others who share their interests. Some members and potential members may be more motivated by educational programs related to your organization's mission.

Host Regular Social Events

Regular events are a great way to build and maintain a relationship with your members. Your events can even be a primary member benefit. Events are also great opportunities for your members to introduce potential newcomers to the group.

Contributors are more likely to give to organizations that offer value-added member benefits. One kind of value-added benefit could be hosting an event where your members can build social and work-related networks.

Tailor Social Events to Your Audience

The scope of your event will depend on your budget and your target audience. Some of the best events are small, casual, and low-cost. When you are thinking about events to host, put the Big Tent event at one end of your spectrum. On the other end, think low-key and fun:

  • A "preservation happy hour" open to anyone
  • A monthly lunch that anyone can attend
  • A backyard barbeque
  • A cheese tasting
  • Basically anything you would do with your friends

For example, one of your volunteers who likes to throw parties could host an event in her home. A restaurant owner who supports your cause may be able to host a private event in his restaurant.

Parties hosted by multiple groups make great social opportunities for your members and partner-building opportunities for your organization.

Court Young Professionals

Young professionals — between 18 and 40 — are essential to long-term advocacy efforts and organizational development. Events are a great way to court these young professionals to your organization. In general, young people gravitate toward events that do these three things:

  • Involve other young people. The best way to cultivate community among your young professional members through events is to delegate some of the coordination responsibilities to some enthusiastic, outgoing young members.
  • Help their careers. An event that helps young professionals meet potential mentors or gather more information about their career's trajectory can be a significant draw. Career-oriented events can be planned as brown bag lunches.
  • Host happy hours. It can be easy to coordinate happy hours in convenient locations. These events can be purely social and freeform, or they can involve a loose roundtable discussion of a preservation-related issue. A happy hour event can offer a face-to-face discussion to follow up on a discussion that was begun through your organization's social media efforts.

Offer Educational Programs

Your organization's expertise in historic preservation is a valuable asset. You can turn this expertise into educational programs that will build community within your organization. Your in-house experts can share what they know best with the community. Attendees will become more educated about preservation—and possibly become a member of your organization. Your in-house expertise might even provide your members with the tools they need to successfully transition into a second career in historic preservation.

Here are some ideas for educational programs your organization might offer:

    • Preservation 101. You likely have the expertise on your staff, board, or general membership to provide a lunch lecture series on preservation basics. The curriculum, bibliographies, and other training materials you develop can also make good web content.
    • Hands-on technical workshops. Hands-on general interest workshops are popular and practical, and they can be a lucrative source of regular income for your organization. They also offer opportunities for board participation. If any of your board members are contractors or have technical skills of interest to your membership, consider developing a series to help locals interested in home improvement projects for historical houses. Wisconsin's Barn Preservation Program provides hands-on workshops focused on barn construction and renovation. The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation offers courses on a number of topics useful to historical home owners, including period-appropriate landscaping and historical lighting fixtures.
    • Is there a speaker in the house? An excellent way to groom articulate preservation advocates is to host a monthly equivalent of Toastmasters. It is also a good way to practice skills that are critical to preservation advocacy.
    • Leadership training. Leadership training is often used for board development, but your organization can also leverage this training for your membership. These leadership learning opportunities are also a great way to identify new board members.

Learn More

Find more how-to articles about historic preservation advocacy.