Icon (the Institute of Conservation) is the professional body for conservators in the UK and works to “raise awareness of the cultural, social, and economic value of caring for heritage.” Their membership includes about 2,500 individuals and organisations, not only professional conservators and heritage scientists, but many others who share a commitment to improving understanding of, and access to, our cultural heritage.
Counterculture was commissioned by Icon in early 2021 to review their membership, business development, and innovation functions with a view to considering “how we maximise the potential of our current income generating activities and to explore new markets and new opportunities.” The brief noted that the organisation needed a better understanding of its markets and potential business opportunities, to embed an entrepreneurial approach into its organisational culture, and to create new income opportunities. We were also tasked with reviewing Icon’s membership marketing and making practical recommendations to grow membership.
Our team collated various disparate pieces of work that had been done on these topics internally by staff, trustees, and volunteers. We interviewed staff, trustees, and external stakeholders to understand the appetite for, and barriers to, income growth. We analysed existing financial documents and management accounts to fully understand the true costs and income of the organisation’s various activities. Counterculture’s consultants and researchers carried out an extensive benchmarking exercise comparing Icon with around 20 comparator organisations (other professional bodies in the heritage sector in the UK, UK professional bodies in other fields of similar size and up to 2x larger, conservation organisations in other countries). This exercise reviewed membership data, the organisational offer, philanthropic income, and other income generating services.
Our team then produced a longlist of possible income generating activities for Icon (approximately 30) and scored and RAG rated these. Our report presented all three categories to the Icon team, with progressively increasing levels of detail including likely costs, RoI, timelines and (for the ~10 ‘green’ rated items) necessary next steps for implementation. We also made a series of practical recommendations to improve membership marketing, recruitment, and retention. These covered areas including membership categories, pricing, and digital advertising.
In addition to the work towards income generation opportunities, the Counterculture team led team of Icon Trustees and staff to review existing activity related to Icon’s membership marketing. We reviewed current levels of performance analysing key metrics such as yield and retention rates, drawing comparisons to peers and the sector more generally. We made a series of recommendations which the board and staff team are now taking forward to make Icon a more sustainable, effective, and international body over the next five years.