The National Trust is the most prominent provider and guardian of heritage and landscapes to the UK. It can now count 5 million members in it’s ranks, a trend that has been growing since it’s inception of a membership scheme. The Trust began in 1895 the brainchild of 3 Victorian philanthropists. They were concerned that the modern industrial age was taking over the rural landscape replacing the field with the Mill and the encroaching spread of towns. They realised that there should be some protection to these places so that they could be enjoyed by future generations. To begin with the Trust was registered as part of the Companies Act. This simple act keeps it outside of government influence and funding as essentially it is in the private sector.
The use of subscription membership either yearly, monthly or the purchase of a one-off life membership, gives it it’s income and retains that status. It is happy to apply for Government funds should the need arise but in general if a large purchase of a property or land is required for the good of the nation then the Trust will generally go to its members seeking additional, voluntary, gifts. The membership scheme entitled those that joined to view the properties and landscape for “free” as opposed to point of contact charging whilst also giving the Trust an embryonic database. The Trust makes no profit as any funds it clears from membership, retail sales and paying visitors is 100% ploughed back immediately into the Trust for its high preservation and conservation aims plus it’s administration costs.
The first donation was the land of Dinas Oleu Wales. The Trust then decided to purchase, Alfriston Clergy house expanding into the protection of property. Trust founder Robert Hunter stated that the Trust’s aims would always be to acquire places for the protection of the nation and not for profit or politics as other similar groups at the time wanted to do. 1902 saw the first major appeal where the public were asked to contribute to the purchase of Brandelhow Park Estate in the Lake District. This was a massive success as the money was raised quickly and from all sections of society, even those that probably would neve have the chance to see them. Following this success, the 1907 National Trust Act meant the Trust became a statutory corporation giving strong autonomy. More land donations followed and by the mid 1920’s through to the 1960’s the Trust had gain much media and public support. It was seen as providing a safe haven for the nation’s heritage which became important to the returning men and women following the World wars. By 1945 it owned 112,000 acres of land, 93 historic buildings yet had only 7,850 members.
This was to change in the 1960’s. The Trust realised that the membership represented a life blood to it. It stopped its obstructive access to the properties and encouraged people and members to visit. It also launched a focus on the purchase of Coastlines. It continues to be the foremost provider of heritage to the general public.
Membership management systems have obviously been key in the National Trust expanding their membership provision. An article written on linkedin identifies the importance of linking membership software with your customer relations software.