Museum Reciprocal Programs

by R. Kellogg


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Have you gone to your local museum lately? Perhaps you've been offered a membership but have done the math and realized you might not attend the same museum the four to ten times in one year it would take to make the investment worth it.

There is a small item in the fine print of many museum membership packages that might make a membership pay off for you. It is called a reciprocal list.

A "reciprocal list" is a perk many organizations offer to sweeten a membership deal. Take, for example, a children's museum. The Las Vegas Lied Children's Museum (www.ldcm.org/) belongs to the Association of Science Technology Centers (ASTC) (www.astc.org/) and the Association of Children's Museums Institutions. The Lied participates in the reciprocal programs for both these organizations. When you purchase a membership to the Lied, you will be issued a card bearing the logos of the ASTC and the Association of Children's Museums Institutions. You will also be given a copy of the reciprocal list. The list is your treasure map and the card is your key to the wealth of great experiences available at participating museums.

The reciprocal list names hundreds of US and foreign museums that offer discounts (and in many cases free admission) as a courtesy to individuals who have purchased membership with one museum in the network. So, for the cost of membership to one, you can attend Hundreds of other museums for free or reduced admission.

There are some great benefits to museum membership:

  1. Holding a museum membership means your museum now represents no additional admission cost. You can add the museum to your list of no-cost-except-gas-money family excursions. An indoor option is nice to have, especially for days when the weather is inclement.

  2. Museum memberships can offer some good perks: gift shop discounts, members-only events, and perhaps a newsletter or discount on a birthday party package.

  3. The money raised through membership sales helps fund museum programs. It's nice to give something back.

  4. A portion of your museum membership dues might be tax-deductible (consult your museum of choice to determine if this applies to you and what portion of the membership fee is allowable as a tax deduction).

  5. Participating in the reciprocal program will give you a great range of options for your vacation to any state in the US!

As with all good things, there are a few caveats:

  1. Aside from free or reduced admission, you probably will not receive the "members-only" treatment at the other museums on the list. Choose carefully which museum you would most appreciate receiving discounts and members-only invitations from.

  2. Museums on the list have the right to limit the number of free admissions they offer each year. Call ahead to ask about their policies.

  3. Museums within a certain radius of the museum to which you are a member (ninety miles for the ASTC program, for example) generally are excluded from the free or discounted admission perk. Some people minimize this restriction by purchasing a family membership to a museum that is a good distance from home, thus enabling them to enjoy discounts to all participating museums in their home state. This isn't a bad option, but remember that if you live a great distance from the museum that holds your membership, you will not benefit as much from the other membership perks. Some museums may have restrictions in place based on your residential address to circumvent this strategy. Also, your dollars will be going to support a museum that enriches a different community. Weigh how much these aspects matter to you before you make your decision.

Museum membership cost varies by museum so do shop around. Remember that some museums will only offer a reciprocal admission if your contribution to your home museum exceeds a certain dollar value. Memberships are generally tiered. The greater the membership level you purchase, the more perks you will receive. Typically, the membership threshold that includes participation in the reciprocal program is one of the lower levels, making participating affordable.

In one year, I took my children to enough museums on the list to make the average cost for each entry $2 per head. That's a great discount from the standard $8 per head where I live.

Reciprocal lists exist for different classes of organizations, including children's museums, science and technology museums, and zoological gardens. Look around and see if you can find one right for you.

Further resources:

Take the Next Step:

  • Reciprocal lists exist at children's museums, science and technology museums, and zoological gardens. Look around and see if you can find one right for you.
  • Share your thoughts about this article with the editor: Click Here

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