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Big improvements at a small museum

How Tessitura helped the Museum of Chinese in America improve ticketing and grow memberships

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Nancy Yao Maasbach

Nancy Yao MaasbachPresident, Museum of Chinese in America

TitleCultivating loyalty at the Museum of Chinese in America

Published9/7/2016

Read/View Time4 min


With a small budget, the Museum of Chinese in America was very careful, and conducted quite a bit of due diligence to select the right CRM system: something that we felt that we could really get a return, there would be dramatic change, and something that we could use to combine way too many systems.

What we had were a lot of Excel spreadsheets, multiple users, a lot of turnover in the employee staff. People didn't even know where things were. All in all, it was a disaster. And we really wanted to make sure we made the right investment.

As the new president at the time, I immediately recognized that we needed a system that worked. But at the same time, not wanting to spend a significant amount of money, we were very cautious. So we looked at three major systems. And we asked everyone we knew who seemed to be a very good knowledgeable, competent, arts and cultural person, "What do you use?" It was obvious, once we started looking into Tessitura, that it was the right fit.

“We had 408 members at the end of last year. Today, we have over 1600 members.”

Minimizing Risk with Tessitura

I've done transitions before at nonprofit organizations where we needed a new system. Let's just say the last time I did it, it was a 13-month delay. So I have a lot of trepidation. I know that means cost. I wrote down a long list of things: make sure the data is migrated correctly, make sure that we can still operate when we're doing the transition, let’s anticipate a long delay. 

I'm nervous because I know other systems. I know that they've taken three years to integrate when they've promised six months, and all kinds of deep holes which can really bankrupt a non-profit when you're thinking about when one has a strict budget and tricky cash flow when we're stabilizing. 

And I'm shocked: we timelined an April 1 launch and full integration, and we made an April 1 launch and full integration. I still say that with such pride. 
I think it was a matter of just the right group of people who knew what we were about, having the experience that they had, understanding our size. There were so many understood things. We could really focus on, ‘Okay, what does a customization look like? How is this going to work for you?’

/Photo courtesy of MOCA

“Night and Day”

The other thing I anticipated since launching the Tessitura Network system was, there's a lot of anxiety, and people get nervous about using it. You think that there's going to be a very steep learning curve. There is a learning curve, but it wasn't daunting. So I think that that was really interesting too. Comparatively, it's been night and day with other systems and integrations we've done. And also it's I think persistence on our part, because we want to be a successful model with the system. We know that it's worked with other, similar entities.

“Tessitura let MOCA become part of the tourism industry in New York City.”

Working with a Fellow Non-Profit

We trust Tessitura's mission. If it was a for-profit company that was constantly pitching us, and we couldn't figure out what we really needed and what we really wanted, that would cloud the judgment on what we do and how we handle our priorities. But the fact that it's a non-profit, there's this whole community of people that we can call. That's really alleviates so much of the suspicion. I feel like it's the best decision I've made strategically for the institution.

Inaugurating Online Ticketing and Donations

We could not really have tickets purchased online before; anyone who wanted to purchase a ticket needed to come through the door. We are now able to get so many more ticket purchases when people are planning a visit to New York City. It wasn't so obvious before that we're not digging into the 60 million visitors who come into New York City each year. We're finally part of that tourism. Tessitura let MOCA become part of the tourism industry in New York City. Because we have Tessitura, we're able to publicize so much more and have people actually purchase the tickets [in advance]. So you can just imagine how much revenue that will generate for us over time. We could not accept donations in a really clean, synchronized fashion before either. So, here's the biggest win, the thing that I jump up and down about, just that we started last month because we have Tessitura, is membership renewals. We had 408 members at the end of last year. Today, we have over 1600 members.

Jump-starting Membership Renewals

If you think about a for-profit business, the retention of customers: if it was anything under 65%-75%, your company would go bankrupt. Similarly for a cultural institution or a non-profit organization, if you have a membership system, you've got to maintain your retention rate. That is the bread and butter of the organization. We were able to send out in a click, practically, basically drafting out a love note to our members. Via Tessitura, grab all the members that have expired in the last two years. Send them all this letter, and ask them for immediate membership renewal. Just last week alone, I think we had 25 renewals. And before, it was a hand mailing that was costly, it didn't always work; addresses changed if you weren't on top of it. But now, we're doing it monthly. So you’re looking at 24 months of not having issued any sort of membership renewal, to doing something monthly that takes us literally eight to 10 minutes. That's incredible.

Photo courtesy of MOCA

Looking Ahead

We need to continue to think of ways that we can optimize the use, really build the relationships with each different constituency group, now that we have the tools to do that. With Tessitura we've really cleared the way and now we need to just walk down that path, as opposed to not even knowing where the road was. The Tessitura Network is just incredible. Beyond the Network training and the tools that we can get at the conference, what I didn't expect, and I'm excited to learn more about, is the strategic thinking that comes with having this incredible loop of people join together and sharing best practices. That's really, really exciting. We can all get better together.

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