Virginia Historical Society Eliminates Admission Fee for 2010

Strategy: Balance Your Budget, Emphasize Value, Focus on Customer Potential, Know Your Customer/Product, Serve Local Community

Type of attraction: Historical Society, Museum/Historic Site

Summary: Times are tough, and many museums are struggling to make ends meet. At the same time, the board of the Virginia Historical Society recognized that the same financial pressures have affected the pocketbooks of their visitors.

Times are tough, and many museums are struggling to make ends meet.  At the same time, the board of the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) recognized that the same financial pressures have affected the pocketbooks of their visitors.

After careful consideration, the VHS board unanimously agreed to eliminate the museum’s admission fee for 2010.  (Revenue from museum and library visitation actually made up less than 1% of the operating budget.)  “In spite of a serious economic environment, the board unanimously agreed that we cannot balance the budget by pricing history out of the public’s reach,” says VHS President and CEO Paul A. Levengood.  

VHS was able to make this bold move in part because the museum’s budget was not heavily dependent on revenues from admission fees.  Still, the museum is undertaking a fundraising effort to make free admission a permanent policy.  Pamela R. Seay, VHS vice president for advancement, notes, “VHS donors understand that the intrinsic value of history is far greater than the price of admission to a museum.  The value of history is measured by what we learn from it.”

Museum staff report that as a result of this new admission free policy, admission numbers in 2010 are up by more than 6% from 2009.  In addition, the museum is attracting a more diverse group of people with more families, more 20-30 year olds and more African American visitors.