As I have said in my previous columns numerous times, roughly only 15 percent of a museum’s operational budget comes from admissions. While gift shop sales and visitor donations add another small percentage, making up the difference to meet the operational bills is always a challenge. Let’s face it; most donors are attracted to new construction, exhibits or educational programming focusing on children. There is nothing sexy about paying a museum’s utility bill, even though it is vital to keeping the museum open and accessible to the public. If the museum is lucky it has an endowment which provides some income as well, but obviously if the economy is weak, the endowment can only provide so much.

A primary source of operational dollars comes from membership programs. It is a vehicle which allows individuals, families or businesses to become a part a museum’s ‘family’ while also providing much needed funds for the museum’s operations. Unlike larger institutions where membership is a way for an individual or family to reduce their admission costs with repeated visits, such as a zoo, members of smaller organizations are not looking for what they get back financially. Most museum members have a personal stake in the organization; perhaps their interest in the museum’s topic area or past family ties to the museum or some of its donated collections.

Others become members for social reasons. Particular museums offer ‘member only’ experiences, socials or ‘sneak peeks’ for new exhibits. It is not uncommon for a membership group to be a of a museum’s volunteer organization as well. No matter how they are structured or what they offer, museum membership programs are a vital part of an organization’s operations, both financially and as a volunteer base.

A great time to meet the members and board of the Nebraska City Historical Society is at their ice cream / dessert potluck social at the Nelson House, 711 Third Corso. The event is planned for Saturday, August 12, from 1:00 to 3:00, and is open to the public.

Participants are asked to provide a dessert, home-made is optional. The ice cream, table service and water will be provided. This will be a great opportunity to see the Nelson House and find out if you would like to become a member in the Society.