Colleen Dilenschneider

How to Engage New and Diverse Audiences in Cultural Organizations (DATA)

How to engage new audiences in cultural institutions

Cultural organizations need to reach new audiences or they risk their long-term survival. Here’s the data-informed cheat sheet on how to do it.

I am excited to have had the opportunity to recently speak at MuseumNext at its first stateside conference. My talk was called Inclusion or Irrelevance: The Data Behind The Urgent Need to Reach New Audiences. (Here’s a link to a video of the talk.) And, indeed, that need is desperately urgent. Here’s a strategic framework for how to do it.


Why cultural organizations need to reach new audiences

At IMPACTS, I work on projects that help keep visitor-serving organizations solvent. My experience is that non-executives hate “solvency” talk. It seems almost evil and at-odds with mission to some (it’s not). It also demands accountability. However, smart executives understand its necessity – an organization cannot invest in its mission or people if it has nothing to invest.

While “inclusion” may immediately strike many as “mission work,” it’s increasingly a business requirement. Here’s why:

A) The US population is increasing, but visitation is on the decline.

Not only that: High-propensity visitors are increasing and attendance remains in decline. A high-propensity visitor is a person who demonstrates the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization.

High-propensity visitors are potential visitors that are actually likely to come to a cultural organization. As you can see, we are in an even more target-rich environment than we were 5 years ago and attendance has still declined in that same duration. It’s a big problem.

IMPACTS VSO US attendance vs HPVs

Below is the same data contemplated in another way. This is what this data looks like when we consider how these markets are performing when compared to expectation over the last 5 years. Considering the growth of high-propensity visitors, here’s how much cultural organizations are underperforming the opportunity:

IMPACTS VSO attendance performance vs expectation

B) This is in large part due to the negative substitution of the historic visitor.

First of all, a “historic visitor” is different than a high-propensity visitor. High-propensity visitors have potential to visit; historic visitors are people who actually do visit. All historic visitors are high-propensity visitors, but not all high-propensity visitors fit the profile of our average historic visitor.

Today, for every one historic visitor that leaves the market, they are being replaced with less than one visitor. Or, for every thousand people leaving the market, only 948 similar historic visitors are replacing them.

IMPACTS negative substitution

Let’s say that we keep doing exactly what most organizations are doing today (i.e. having a few one-off inclusion programs here and there and not making a more sustained investment in engaging these audiences). If we keep on our current path, an organization in the United States that has one million onsite visitors today would only stand to engage 808,000 historic visitors five years from now. In other words, negative substitution would suggest an onsite audience decline of 192,000 visitors for this hypothetical organization in the next five years.

For many organizations, this slide can all be generalized in one, honest sentence: America is producing fewer and fewer rich, educated, white people – the broad cohort that has been the historic visitor, member, and donor for many organizations.

This is the current glide path. To remedy this condition, we must change the profile of our historic visitor. We need to convert potential visitors in emerging audience groups to ACTUAL visitors. This means making them not our special visitors, but our regular, paying (if you have admission) visitors, supportive members, and donors.

This is a big deal. As far as we know, cultural organizations in America have never, ever changed the general profile of their historic visitor. Those rich white folks have largely provided the support that keeps these types of organizations going.


C) Organizations must cultivate new visitors from three emerging audience groups that are largely not visiting cultural institutions.

We need to pull new audiences from these three audiences in order to achieve long-terms solvency:

  1. Millennials
  2. “Minority majorities” (generally, people of ethnic and racial backgrounds that differ from historic visitors)
  3.  Affordable access audiences

All three of these audiences are important. However, millennials and minority majorities represent the key demographics wherein high-propensity visitors are increasing, but these same folks aren’t converting to actual visitation in representative numbers. So the first two groups represent more immediate opportunity and payoff.

The good news is that organizations will experience positive substitution in the future as emerging audiences acculturate – so long as organizations begin engaging them today. However, the realistic news is this: Cultivating new visitors is going to take time and it needs to start now.


Taking a MAPS approach to integrating new audiences helps cultivate regular attendees and supporters 

So how do we convert emerging audiences into regular audiences? We use MAPS. MAPS is a data-informed framework for tackling the challenge of engaging emerging audiences. This framework is equally applicable to all organizations regardless of size, city, and operating budget. It focuses on four elements: Highlighting your mission, understanding access barriers and opportunities, providing personalized programs, and facilitating shared experiences.

MAPS a framework for engaging emerging audiences

1) (Underscore your) MISSION

Being good at your mission matters. Organizations that highlight their mission consistently outperform organizations that market themselves primarily as attractions. The best way to show this data is using two, composite metrics:

Revenue efficiency contemplates revenue streams (including admission, membership contributions, and program revenues) relative to operating expenses and the number of people that an organization serves.  A more “revenue efficient” organization is generally more financially stable.

Reputational equities contemplate visitor perceptions such as reputation, trust, authority, credibility, and satisfaction. Basically, it’s the market’s opinion of how well an organization delivers its mission and experiences.

In the interest of maintaining appropriate confidences, I’ve anonymized the organizations represented. You’ll still get a good sense of the trend. Each letter represents one of 13 notable US museums.

IMPACTS- Museums revenue and reputation correlation

We reliably observe that those organizations who the market perceives as most effectively delivering on their mission are the same organizations who achieve the greatest revenue efficiencies. Since commenced tracking this metric several years ago, the data continue to evidence a strong correlation between reputational equities and revenue efficiency. Though the data shown here represents museum in particular, we observe a similar relationship among nearly all types of visitor-serving organizations – including zoos and aquariumsBeing good at your mission is good business.



Identifying access opportunities means finding out why emerging audiences aren’t coming and removing those barriers. You can only figure this out by asking the people who aren’t coming why they aren’t coming.

On the whole, visitor-serving organizations pride themselves on their understanding of the need to do audience research. Indeed, many organizations have in-house capacities for audience research. Organizations need to shift their focus from audience research to market research.

Often, true barriers are completely different than what an organization believes to be its barriers to engagement. True barriers may be reputation (specifically, affinity attitudes – or audiences believing that an organization is “not for people like me”). Reputation plays a very important role in visitation. Other barriers to engagement may include the timing of programs, hours of operation, or transportation barriers.

A word to the wise: Be careful about jumping to price as a primary barrier – it usually isn’t the sole barrier. Remember, we are trying to cultivate emerging audiences as regular visitors – not affordable access visitors – so do your organizations a favor and don’t jump to this “barrier” first. This is difficult, because price is usually where lazy organizations start the conversation. In other words, many organizations believe simply that if they build something, people will come…and if people don’t come, then it must be because of the price.

Making matters worse, “expensive” is also how lazy visitors fill out survey questions. When asked why they don’t attend a new program, many folks will simply report, “It’s too expensive.” Be wary of this response. Certainly, sometimes program fees ARE too expensive, but we can find our true barriers this by figuring out the end of this sentence: “It’s too expensive for….”.

“It’s too expensive for….” what? It may be “Too expensive for doing something that I think is boring.” It may be “Too expensive for missing dinner with my family.” It may be, “Too expensive for the time that I spend stuck in traffic to get there” or “Too expensive for the distance that I need to travel.” Uncovering the end of this sentence can help organizations pinpoint primary barriers.

In sum: It’s critical to know why people ARE NOT coming to your organization before you can even try to engage emerging audiences. Without this information, other programmatic investments may be a waste of resources.



Once your organization knows its true barriers, it can create programs that help to remove them.

Increasingly, we don’t live in a one-size-fits-all world. Programs to reach emerging audiences are not one-off initiatives, but should be integrated into everything that an organization does. And personalization is affecting everything.

For example, personalization trends are affecting how people measure the satisfaction of their onsite experiences. Personalization affects how different audiences prefer to experience cultural organizations. It affects expectations for communication on social media and other online platforms. It also demands that communications and content are more targeted and connective. Perhaps most importantly, the preferences of different audience members demands full integration into day-to-day operations and support structures.



Shared experiences close the circle. This means allowing for sharing both onsite and digitally. HPVs profile as being “super-connected,” or, connected to the web at home, at work, and on mobile devices. Word of mouth endorsement is absolutely critical to this audience. Digital connectivity helps organizations tap into this cycle and allows successfully engaged audiences to communicate with their friends (who may also be emerging audience members).

Perhaps most importantly, the numbers are growing in regard to shared experiences being the best part of a visit for all audiences. Who people are with is more than twice as important than what people see when they visit a cultural organization.

IMPACTS with over what

That means that being places for creating connections – not just to collections, but to other people – is incredibly important. We must understand that our organizations themselves are facilitators of shared experiences. It is one of our greatest assets. It’s where that market believes that we shine.


Take this MAPS strategic framework. Use it as a road map. Fill it up with your own data-informed inputs.

We all need to work together to change up the profile of our “historic” visitor to better engage emerging audiences as our regular attendees and supporters. Let’s be places where everyone wants to visit and where everyone feels welcome. Only then can we achieve our missions while ensuring our long-term solvency.


Like this post? Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:


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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

The Most Reliable Way To Increase Visitor Satisfaction To Cultural Organizations (Fast Fact Video)

It’s probably not what you think.

It isn’t a brand new wing or fancy new exhibit. Today’s KYOB Fast Facts video explains why providing a certain kind of interaction with frontline staff may well be a visitor-serving organization’s most impactful and reliable investment.


Words to know to be in-the-know:


Personal facilitated experience (PFE):

A one-to-one or one-to few-interaction between a staff member and visitors. This may include wayfinding aid, a cart experience, or any kind of personal attention paid to an individual, couple, or small family onsite. This does not include shows or group tours. Instead, PFEs are more personalized experiences. The thing that sets PFEs apart from other interactions between visitors and frontline staff (shows, tours, etc.) is that personal facilitated experiences provide personalization by way of personal attention. 


A look at the data

Here’s a closer look at the data from the video. Though this particular data is from one IMPACTS client that serves as an example, we are finding these types of interactions to be successful in increasing admission value, entertainment value, education value, and employee courtesy perceptions across the board.

IMPACTS- PFE admission value

IMPACTS- PFE entertainment experience

PFE educational experience

IMPACTS- PFE employee courtesy

In fact, PFEs are so successful in increasing visitor satisfaction that they can be used to elevate satisfaction perceptions by daypart. This may be particularly helpful if your organization is undergoing construction, setting up an event before closing, has an exhibit or program down, or has something else taking place that may otherwise negatively impact visitor perceptions.

PFE satisfaction by daypart

No matter how you cut it, deploying engaging frontline staff is a smart investment for increasing satisfaction and other visitor perception metrics. Let’s start the conversation here before we talk about blockbuster exhibits, expensive programs/exhibits, and draw out a plan for a new wing of the building.


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 Please subscribe over on the right hand column to get KYOB posts delivered right into your email inbox. Interested in getting tips and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 1 Comment

Why It Is Okay If Your Nonprofit Hates Data (And Why You Need It Anyway)

Why it is okay if your nonprofit hates data and why you need it anyway

It’s true: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

On one hand, I absolutely love it when nonprofiteers call Know Your Own Bone and the data and analysis provided here “controversial.” It means that I – and IMPACTS – are making people think and sparking conversations.

On the other hand, I think calling data “controversial” shows how far nonprofits have to go before they understand the need to evolve in order to be both relevant and sustainable. Data is data. Facts are facts. These ones are not biased. They are not “set up.” Their purpose is to show a true picture of the world we live in – not to make executive leaders unduly angry or defensive. But the fact that sometimes data manages to achieve this outcome is perhaps telling.

I’m the messenger. Please don’t shoot. 

The truth is that it’s good to hate data. It’s good to find data challenging, threatening, and deeply inconvenient. If you do, then you’re realizing a need to evolve. You’re thinking. You’re helping your organization move forward. Here are three reasons why it’s totally okay if your organization hates market data – and why paying attention to it is fiercely important anyway.


1) If data doesn’t challenge you then it doesn’t change you

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you” has become a popular motivational saying (I see it making its rounds nearly every week on Pinterest.) The thing is, it’s true. It’s especially true in the case of trend data.

It seems that the more threatening we find certain data sets, the more indicative it may be of how much an organization needs to evolve to stay relevant. It’s been my experience that the organizations that pout and cross their arms are the very ones that are most behind the times. The best, most actionable, most prescient data often challenges groupthink and our notions regarding the “reality” of the world in which we live.

Which data is more likely to light a fire under you? This (peaceful, reaffirming, and rather obvious) data showing that the more satisfied a visitor is to a cultural organization, then the more likely they are to come back within two years…

IMPACTS- Intent to visit based on satisfaction

Or this data demonstrating that millennials consider art and culture to be such a relatively unimportant cause priority in today’s world that not only are they not “aging into” caring about arts and culture, but they are carrying their lack of caring along with them as they mature into more senior age cohorts?

IMPACTS millennial cause priority- arts and culture

This second graph should make you scared. It makes me scared. But it also means that we’ve uncovered an opportunity! It’s easier to tackle a beast and devise a plan when you know that it’s approaching. This data lights the path for further opportunities for exploration: Why aren’t arts and culture a cause priority for younger audiences? What’s the best gateway for getting them to care? If you hate this data, you’ll probably hate the data that arises from the follow-up questions, too. And that’s a good thing.

If you don’t hate data, then perhaps it’s not uncovering a need to grow and helping you to understand how to do that. If data’s not helping you grow, then why are you collecting it in the first place?


2) If data doesn’t change you then your organization (and the industry) suffers

Your organization suffers when it ignores data. If your organization doesn’t rise to the challenge of tackling current and emerging issues, then it may increasingly get swallowed by them.

Once, I was asked to give a presentation at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums on millennial attitudes toward dolphin shows and the captivity of certain species. Despite being present at all of the other presentations, the organizations that had recently invested tens of millions of dollars in dolphin shows and count these types of shows as their bread and butter somehow “didn’t make it” to my talk. Today, a look at their finances reveals that they are already paying a steep price for “avoiding” hard conversations…and the market has dictated their narrative on their behalf. It’s no secret that this narrative – not to mention their impugned reputational equities – aren’t exactly thrilling these organizations who practiced data avoidance and denial as standard operating procedure.

If data doesn’t challenge us, then it doesn’t change us. If data doesn’t change us, then we face difficulties in both securing revenue and executing our missions. If we want change, we need to do more than wish for it – we need to embrace it and carry it out.

That’s another good reason to hate data: It makes us realize that we have a lot of hard work to do. (But that’s kind of a good thing, too.)

Comic- Who wants change?


3) Data resets your organization’s warped notion of time

Data doesn’t show the future (unless it is modeled out using advanced, predictive technologies). Data shows the past because that data has already been collected. When you think about it this way, then it seems really messed up that we consider data-informed trends to be representative of the future and we use that as an argument to put off important conversations.

Think about that for a second. It’s really messed up.

If there’s data on it, then it has already happened! That doesn’t mean that data cannot be indicative of a trend’s growth or decline over time – but the data that you see…that’s already happened. People already feel that way, think that way, or do that thing!

When organizations justify putting off conversations about data and market trends because they consider trend talk to be synonymous with “the luxury of prospecting about the future,” they are, essentially, standing in a bullring hoping that they won’t be attacked while they cover their eyes and sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” (Bad metaphors, folks. I love them.)

When exploring and discussing trend data becomes part of an organization’s culture, it becomes difficult to maintain this warped sense of time. These conversations help create agile, forward-thinking, empowered organizations. We need to know what is happening in order to capitalize on opportunities to maximize financial solvency and mission execution.


Trend data helps organizations reframe their thinking…and reframing old-age thinking is tough stuff. It’s hard, but it’s important. There’s a lot of data that we uncover at IMPACTS that makes even me sigh and say inside, “This really, really stinks.” Some of that data is here and here. But, much like getting sick and going to the doctor, when we know what’s happening, we are empowered to more effectively and efficiently treat it before permanent damage is done.

It’s okay (and even good) to hate data sometimes. If you’re collecting any data worth collecting, then it challenges you, threatens you, and makes you think. If it doesn’t do that, then it doesn’t fulfill its purpose. Data worth collecting is easy to dislike, and that’s exactly why it makes us better.


Like this post? Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:


 Please subscribe over on the right hand column to get KYOB posts delivered right into your email inbox. Interested in getting tips and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter


*Comic credit goes to

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

Admission Pricing is Not An Affordable Access Program (Fast Fact Video)

Admission pricing and affordable access are two completely different things that are frequently – and inappropriately – conflated in many conversations. Let’s untangle them and move forward.

Check out today’s new video on the true relationship between admission pricing and affordable access programming.

I’ve recently written about the data-informed evidence that free admission is not a cure-all for engagement. What matters when it comes to engaging audiences are the programs and experiences that an organization offers – not free admission. “Free” does not necessarily mean “worthy of one’s time.”

One of the biggest reasons why the topic of free admission is so sensitive is due to a deeply-rooted (and unhealthy) confusion: The idea that admission pricing and affordable access programs are even close to the same thing. The only thing that admission prices and affordable access programs have in common is that they determine how (and how much) someone “pays” to attend an organization. When organizations jumble up admission and affordable access, they commit one of today’s biggest engagement blunders: They “welcome all” instead of “welcoming each.” Our world, our audiences, and our economics are simply too advanced for this old, “welcome all” approach.

A deeper look at the data:

In reality, optimal admission pricing enables affordable access programming. Within the realm of “affordability,” things can be relatively affordable – that is to say, less expensive is naturally more affordable.  However, once prices cross a certain threshold, being “unaffordable” is binary: A price is either affordable, or it isn’t. Effective affordable access programs that actually reach underserved audiences cost money and require investment. If an organization charges less than its data-informed, optimal admission price, then it may not generate sufficient revenues to support effective affordable access programming.

IMPACTS has consolidated data from different types of cultural organizations and there’s an important lesson here: When organizations deny their optimal, data-driven price point and instead charge “a little bit less,” their admission prices still aren’t affordable for underserved audiences. Moreover, they are too low for a vast majority of the people who actually attend these organizations.

IMPACTS Affordability is binary

As you can see in the consolidated data, a $15 ticket is no more practically affordable for a household earning less than $35,000 per year than is a $20 ticket, so when an organization decides not to charge its optimal price point, the organization both leaves money on the table AND is still unable to reach underserved audiences.

Keep in mind: These prices are compilations from several types of visitor-serving organizations and they illustrate that there’s a certain point in which affordability is binary. So please don’t go rushing off and charging $9…that has absolutely nothing to do with what your high-propensity visitors (the people who actually visit and like going to cultural organizations) are willing to pay. A better way to use this data is to note the difference between what folks earning less than $35,000 per year consider affordable and what the balance of your audiences are willing to pay.

Different household incomes have different capabilities when it comes to paying admission. Here’s another look at the composite data that underscores the point. Trying to find a “middle ground” admission price-point both leaves money on the table from audiences able to pay the optimal rate and also still excludes affordable access audiences.

IMPACTS- General admission pricing analysis

Again, this is consolidated data among different types of cultural centers and nonprofit visitor-serving organizations. It demonstrates why and how affordable access and admission pricing are two, separate strategies and are not intended to stand in for any specific organization’s due diligence in determining its optimal pricing strategy.

As a reminder: Value advantaged means that your organization is leaving money on the table. Value disadvantaged means that you may be starting to jeopardize attendance.

In sum, admission and affordable access are separate strategies. Organizations need a strategic price point for high-propensity visitors, and another completely different strategy to reach, celebrate, and welcome underserved audiences. It’s time that we remove the emotion and start recognizing the necessity of “welcoming each” via unique avenues of access.


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 Please subscribe over on the right hand column to get KYOB posts delivered right into your email inbox. Interested in getting tips and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

How Social Media Drives Visitation to Cultural Organizations (FAST FACT VIDEO)

Today marks the publication of the third-ever Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video. You can check out the first two videos here

How does social media play an important role in driving visitation to cultural organizations? It’s rather straightforward. The answer is in how these social platforms influence an organizations’ reputation. Take a closer look at the data introduced in today’s video below.

Here is how social media drives visitation in a big way:


1) Reputation plays a major role in motivating visitation.

This is especially true regarding high-propensity visitors.

What influences the visitation decision-making process- IMPACTS


2) Social media plays a major role in driving reputation.

What others say about an organization is more important in influencing an organization’s reputation than what the organization says about itself -12.85 TIMES more important! Makes sense if you think about it, right? Well, there’s actually math around it.

The value is an outcome of a diffusion model developed by IMPACTS to quantify the relative influence of imitation when compared to innovation on the adoption or trial of a product. Frank Bass pioneered this work in 1969 with the publication of his paper “A New Product Growth for Model Consumer Durables” and many persons and organizations – IMPACTS included – have iterated and expanded on this original work for various applications. Reliably, the average value of “q” has approximated 13x that of the average value “p.” The IMPACTS application of this method averages a “q” value that is 12.85x that of “p,” and, thus, I reference this specific value in instances informed by IMPACTS data.

Diffusion of messaging- IMPACTS

3) Thus, social media plays an important role in driving visitation.

There’s no functional amount of paid media that can overcome negative reviews – or a lack of reviews from trusted sources, for that matter. Effective social media strategy is critical for organizations aiming to maximize engagement.

It’s not an anecdote or a wish upon a star…it’s math.


Words to know to be in-the-know:


High-propensity visitors:

These are the folks who demonstrate the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood to visit a cultural organization. These are the people who actually go to museums, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, performing arts events, etc. In short, they are the market segment keeping your organization’s doors open.

Coefficient of innovation:

The “P” value in the diffusion model. The coefficient of innovation includes messages that your organization pays to say about itself. Examples include radio spots, television, and nearly all forms of traditional advertising.

Coefficient of imitation:

The “Q” value in the diffusion model. The coefficient of imitation includes reviews from trusted resources. Examples include earned media, peer-review sites (think Yelp and TripAdvisor), word of mouth and, of course, social media. Reputation is a driver of visitation,


Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter 


Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fast Facts Video, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

Three New Realities for Cultivating Big Donors in the 21st Century (DATA)

Three New Fundraising Realities for Nonprofits in the 21st Century- Know Your Own Bone

Our world has evolved and so has fundraising. It’s time for organizations to embrace these three, new realities for cultivating bigger donors.

Our rapidly evolving, super-connected world has introduced new realities for visitor-serving organizations – particularly with regard to admission and affordable access opportunities. Similarly, the information age has created new opportunities for organizations to more successfully approach fundraising. Maximizing these opportunities requires that organizations embrace many of the challenges currently affecting how nonprofits operate. Fundraising is no exception to this need for evolution.

When organizations consider the evolved role of fundraising, they often seem to think of crowdfunding campaigns aimed to raise money from (often small) donations from a large number of people. No doubt, crowdfunding campaigns can be powerful! (And cultural organizations are benefiting from them, too!) But what about cultivating bigger donors and more directly building long-term affinity for the organization as opposed to a specific project? Well, those realities have shifted a bit as well.  Here are three fundraising realities- contemplative of the fast-paced, connected world in which we now live- that organizations should consider if they want to reach bigger donors:


1) Donor targeting can be done more intelligently than ever before (but this is not done often enough by nonprofits)

I’m big on the fact that optimal admission pricing for cultural organizations is a product of data sciences. While not exactly the same, donor targeting is becoming more of a science, too. There’s reason to consider that soon the days of casting the general “Make a donation today!” net to all audiences may be long gone.

Much like certain people profile as likely visitors to cultural organizations more than others, some folks profile as more likely donors than others. Increasingly, organizations can research current and potential donors (or members!) in order to identify the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate a likely donor. And, while the nuance of this profiling effort will vary by specific organization, extant data reveals terrific insight into the type of people who are currently engaging with cultural organizations as donors. The table below indicates a High-Propensity Donor profile based on member/donors annually contributing at least $500 to a nonprofit, cultural organization (e.g. zoo, aquarium, museum, science center, botanical garden, symphony, theater, etc.) If you’re a cultural organization, your $500+ donors will fit this profile, but the specifics of your organization may lend additional attributes to the mix.

IMPACTS HPV donor profile

Once an organization has an idea of what kind of people are most likely to be their respective high-propensity donors, then the organization can focus on identifying and targeting specific individuals who possess those same attributes and may have an affinity for the organization. And organizations can deploy the same targeting methods for potential donors as cultural organizations do for potential visitors. (Side note: Why don’t more organizations do this beyond the few at the top? From what I can tell, a contributing factor may be the fact that marketing and fundraising are often separate, siloed divisions that tend to consider their own expertise as singular and sacred. How can we do that “we’re better together” thing more often within the same institution?)

Data, analytics, and technologies allow organizations to identify, target, and deliver highly-customized messaging to high-propensity visitors and donors alike. Many smart organizations are already doing this to engage onsite audiences – it’s a natural extension of the same best practices to leverage these resources to support contributed revenue categories. It’s time to invest in fundraising data and intelligence… and then consider this information in the formation, targeting, and deployment of fundraising strategies. Data-informed audience identification and targeting are every bit as useful to development departments as they are for marketing teams.


2) Cultivating donors is a time-investment strategy with a new twist

Today, the speed of information sharing and the ease of connectivity allow for potential donors to hear about the work of organizations long before those organizations reach out to potential donors. It also becomes easier to form an opinion about an organization before an organization is aware of it. This means that fundraising departments are less able to “curate” a donor’s pathway of engagement with clear certainty than in a pre-digital era. In the past, a fundraising department could be relatively certain of a donor’s interactions with an organization. Today, a donor may check out an organization on Facebook, share a post, or even “hide” posts from an organization that is not of interest to them. Donor opinions of organizations can be formed earlier than they were in the past because of our increased connectivity.

This is important to note because a major gift (such as one that is seven figures or above) may require decades of careful donor cultivation. Fundraising big bucks is not like an annual advertising campaign – it requires a substantial investment of time. For more robust fundraising success, organizations benefit by investing for a sustained period of time and actively building a relationship on the potential donor’s desired platforms. (As you can see in the chart, high-propensity donors are “super-connected” via the web, so know what you’re doing with donors on social media.)

Many organizations measure giving amounts in years, not decades. It makes sense that we measure progress on an annual basis, but when we don’t look at fundraising over longer periods of time, we tend to promote a culture wherein we focus on this year’s giving and fail to prioritize long-term potential donors. If it takes ten years to cultivate a ten million dollar donor and fundraisers are primarily focused on the current year, then an organization may never receive that ten million dollar donation. Though the instant gratification of today’s society may be making us perpetually impatient, we must remember that fundraising and building meaningful relationships (still) cannot often be rushed. 


3) Competition for donor engagement has gone global

Competition for donors can now be more global and intense. Potential donors need not be more involved with or committed to organizations in their backyards. We live in a world where a donor in New York can be cultivated by an organization in Los Angeles. Being “local” matters less- or at least, it doesn’t necessarily make an organization a shoe-in for a potential donor’s support. In the past, it was more difficult to connect with organizations that did not reside in a donor’s community. There may be a bit of a lag in this development for cultural organizations, as many donors appreciate having the ability to attend these institutions. However, as cultural organizations necessarily focus more on their social missions instead of their existence as straightforward attractions, they may see the same fate as other types of nonprofit organizations when it comes to global competition for donors. Being a local organization can still be important to a donor , but in our world of increased connectivity, it isn’t necessary and may matter less than the efficacy of mission execution.

The fact that donor competition has “gone global” means that it’s even more critical for organizations to realize that if a donor is giving in a big way to one organization, he/she often cannot give big in the same way to another. This is true across organizations and causes. Big donations are often zero-sum games. A donor who makes a major gift to one organization has that much less giving wherewithal to donate to another organization. Is it possible that this same donor may reach further into their well of largesse to support your organization with a similar, significant, bit-time gift immediately after giving to another organization? Yes. Is this a good strategy to bank on? No.

Think about your own giving! You probably have a kind of overall, annual giving quota based on what you feel comfortable with and what you can afford. Once you max out, you max out. Again, that’s not true for everyone, but it’s probably not a good idea to build a strategy around an exception. Know that there’s competition, and be contemplative of the donors gifts to other organizations and causes as well. As much as we romanticize big givers, most are not – actually- bottomless pits of never-ending cash.


The digital era has changed more on the fundraising front than simply bringing us crowdfunding campaigns and social media communication. It’s increased opportunities for effective donor targeting, altered traditional donor engagement pathways, and increased global competition for big donors.  It’s time to get serious about evolving to more informed methods of fundraising – because if you’re not doing it, then another organization likely is. Let’s take these new realities into account and move forward with the important work of finding and connecting with those who have a passion-match with our mission.

Let’s update our thinking about finding and communicating with people who can help us make the world a better place.


Like this post? Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:


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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Connectivity is King (Fast Fact Video)

Move over, content. Connectivity is the new king for nonprofit organizations. Here’s why. 

Today I am sharing the second Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video! (If you missed it, here’s the first video: Admission Pricing is a Science.) The importance of connectivity (and the mistake of instead focusing on “content”) is a key concept for organizations to embrace in order to continue to successfully engage with their audiences. I hope that you enjoy the video and share it with others!

Rather read about the importance of connectivity than watch the video? Here’s more information:

The reign of “content” has ended and – while still important – the “content is king” saying is quickly becoming outdated in today’s increasingly digital world. In fact, the repetition of this saying is causing, cultivating, and excusing misunderstandings among the staff members of many organizations. Let’s clear the air and work together to update the saying so that it can be more effectively applied to the purpose of inspiring action.

Let’s get one thing straight: Content is still important. Compelling content often inspires connectivity. However, our misbelief that content reigns supreme is causing certain organizational problems that risk growing more deeply-rooted each day. Here are some symptoms of the outdated notion that “content is king” that may actually jeopardize an organization’s solvency. These conditions are symptomatic of a content-centric organization that deeply believes that what it outputs is more valuable than its outreach:


Here are five, important reasons why connectivity is king:


1) Connectivity is about your relationship with audiences.

The marketing channels about which the “content is king” saying may have originated were one-way communication channels. In other words, they were channels that generally gave your organization a “mouth” (e.g. television, radio, billboards, etc.). However, today’s most effective and efficient marketing channels have mouths and ears. That is, they provide a means of supplying feedback for the organization in addition to being soapboxes (e.g. social media, peer review sites, email, etc.).  Thus, it makes sense that the driving force in cultivating a desired behavior may have evolved to be more about linking up with an individual by way of a shared passion or situation than about an organization itself.

In other words, content is not necessarily about your audience. Cultivating connectivity, however, breeds and helps to strengthen a relationship with your brand and organization. Connectivity happens when an organization presents a passion or platform that resonates with a potential constituent. It’s about both the organization and the potential constituent. It’s the passion/subject/topic/mission/sentiment that bonds the constituent to what your organization stands for.


2) Connectivity is necessarily relevant

Connectivity is definitionally personal in that it depends on something being of personal interest to an individual.  This means that connectivity is necessarily relevant. Content, on the other hand, risks self-orientation that may not answer one of the most important questions that communicators should ask themselves from the perspective of potential constituents: “So what?”


3) Connectivity is prerequisite to acting in the best interests of an organization.

Remember: Your organization can sometimes determine importance, but the market always determines relevance. In other words, you can talk…but unless people are connected to what you’re saying, nobody may be listening. Simply put: Without connectivity, nobody cares about your organization.

Connectivity is a prerequisite to action (e.g. signing a petition, securing a donor, summoning support, selling a ticket). Content, however, can easily operate in isolation if it isn’t thoughtful and/or doesn’t inspire connectivity.


4) Connectivity is the goal of content.

Content can be a bridge that provides a pathway to connectivity, but if connectivity isn’t there, then content is pointless. This is where connectivity emerges as the true “king.” Certainly, content is critical. Arguably, there could be no connectivity without content. However (and this is where folks are getting confused), there can be a great deal of content without connectivity.  Not all content is connective.

Connectivity that’s created through a shared interest in a topic, idea, mission, purpose, or sentiment aligned with your organization’s brand and values is powerful.  Otherwise, your content will likely fall on deaf ears…and certainly not inspire engagement and supportive behaviors


5) Connectivity means all hands on deck.

Because “content” tends to fall under the conceptual categorization of one-way communication, the idea of “creating content” often falls to the marketing or public relations department. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But what IS a bad thing is when people “not my job” content creation. Today, communication and content creation is an every-department job.  Worse yet, the problem of silo-ing the important work of creating connectivity is often exacerbated within organizations due to some staff members’ ridiculous associations with the word “digital.”

Connectivity can be sparked when the content being communicated is deeply-rooted within your organization and mission. It may seem strange to some leaders, but the ins and outs of your day and your passions matter to your audiences. Often, to audiences, the transparent, unvarnished insights of how and why you do what you do in pursuit of your mission is every bit as important as what you are doing.

There’s a reason why marketing messages increasingly perform poorly in terms of engagement: People want to know what’s really going on…not simply receive your sales pitch (which, frequently, is the charge of the marketing department).  The most connective content often comes from other departments who represent the core of what you do. The marketing team’s best role is strategically making the balance of your organization’s content accessible (i.e. inspiring connections). Let’s stop aiming “to content” and instead aim to connect.


If you supply content, they will come? Nope. Not necessarily.

If you supply connectivity, they will come? It’s much more likely.


At our best, our organizations do more than provide education…even more than provide memorable experiences in the case of visitor-serving organizations.  We provide and facilitate meaningful interaction.  By connecting people to people, people to places, and people to ideas, we transcend mere content and provide pathways to engagement.  People – not artifacts alone – change the world.

Content isn’t dead, but connectivity assuredly is king. Long live the king.


Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fast Facts Video, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

How Free Admission Really Affects Museum Attendance (DATA)

Free Admission is not a Driver of Museum Attendance or Engaging New Audiences (DATA)

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t much…and misunderstanding this engagement tactic may jeopardize industry sustainability.

The debate about whether museums should be free is a big one right now. It’s the source of a lot of discussion in the popular press and nonprofit boardrooms alike. What seems to be lost in this discussion are due consideration of two very important factors: First, does eliminating the cost of admission actually help engage underserved audiences? And, second, in a time marked by increasing austerity measures that threaten traditional cultural funding, is eliminating a key earned revenue source sustainable as a long-term business model? The truth is that free admission comes with a cost. Free admission is far from the engagement cure-all that some of its supporters believe it to be.

Am I suggesting that free admission to museums and other cultural organizations is an altogether bad idea? Of course not. For those organizations whose financial models depend less on earned revenues (i.e. those with mega endowments or significant public funding), free admission may prove viable. However, for those organizations whose mission delivery depends on their business viability, then the issue of free admission is a far more complex topic.

Certainly, varying perspectives and important considerations inform this broader conversation, but I’m going to stick to the facts regarding only one aspect of this big issue. For the sake of facilitating intelligent, data-informed conversation about an emotional topic, let’s acknowledge some established facts regarding admission pricing and attendance: 


1) Not everyone is interested in visiting museums- and admission price is NOT the primary barrier to engagement

This is a fact that data folks know well, but it’s one that we often overlook as an industry. At IMPACTS, we gather a lot of information on the general public, but we focus particularly on high-propensity visitors (those people who demonstrate the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization). These are the people who actually go to museums and cultural organizations. They are the people who say, “Yeah! I’d like to do that!” when the suggestion of visiting a museum emerges. Not everyone is a high-propensity visitor – not by a long shot. In spite of all of our best engagement and marketing efforts, some people simply aren’t going to visit our organizations for several different reasons. As it turns out, admission fees are generally not a major factor in their lack of inclination to visit a museum.

Volker Kirchberg’s landmark analysis, “Entrance Fees as a Subjective Barrier to Visiting Museums,” published in the Journal of Cultural Economics, found that admission cost is a secondary factor when considering a museum visit. A lack of time (i.e. schedule considerations) or a simple lack of interest (i.e. relevance) were far more important factors in one’s decision not to visit a museum than were admission fees. In other words, a decision not to visit a museum is often more a function of lifestyle than finances.

When we consider the population subset of high-propensity visitors (HPVs) – our most likely audiences – cost absolutely pales in comparison to schedule and reputation when it comes to factors influencing their discretionary leisure activities. A big contributor to this often-overlooked fact is that, for both the general public and high-propensity visitors in particular, their time is more important than their money. This data from IMPACTS shows this well:

IMPACTS HPV time verses money

Need even more supporting analysis? According to national survey of museum visitors in New Zealand (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, New Zealand, A Measure of Culture: Cultural experiences and cultural spending in New Zealand), convenience and time are more important factors than cost when it comes to considering a cultural experience. The study further revealed that for those persons who visit museums but are unable to visit more often, the main barriers are lack of time (54%), travel distance (30%), and a lack of transportation (15%). For those who had not visited at all, the main barriers were lack of time (49%), travel distance (29%), and a lack of transport (18%). In fact, for both visitors and non-visitors, cost was only cited as a factor 11% of the time – again, this finding doesn’t diminish cost as a factor…but it does lend perspective to its relative importance in the public’s decision-making process.

Similar results were found in the Visitors to Museums and Galleries Study published in the UK by The Council for Museums, Libraries, and Archives. 32% cited a lack of time as a primary barrier, 22% a lack of interest, 19% a lack of anything they want to see, and 11% noted difficulties simply getting to the site of the organization. Only 8% of those sampled cited admission charges as a negative factor.

In sum: Admission fees are generally not a primary visitation barrier.


2) Free admission does not significantly affect long-term attendance.

Admission price doesn’t significantly change intentions to visit for first-time visitors – further reaffirming that if an audience isn’t interested or doesn’t have the time, then “free” won’t get them in the door. There seems to be a sort of thought that free admission means that attendance numbers will go through the roof…and, if an organization does experience a short-term “novelty” spike, then this increase will be sustained. Again, data suggest the contrary. Check out this data from the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations (which is updated annually and has tracked the opinions, perceptions, and behaviors of a sample population totaling 98,000 US adults):

IMPACTS intent to visit by admission price

The data indicate that intentions to visit within any duration do not significantly increase as the price of admission decreases or is even eliminated. In fact, in most instances, audiences indicate greater intentions to visit organizations that charge more than $20 for an adult admission than those that are free.

It doesn’t stop there. The definitive work on the (negligible) impact of admission price on sustained museum visitation was published by noted economists William Luksetich and Mark Partridge in Applied Economics in their analysis, “Demand Functions for Museums Services.” Their study suggests that the adverse effects of admission charges on attendance are small and ”relatively easy to alleviate.”

That, “If it’s not free, people won’t go” argument? The data has spoken. It’s not a thing.


3) Free admission accelerates re-visitation- but for audiences who are already visiting

Free admission does accelerate the re-visitation process – but mostly from existing audience members. This finding is from a study by the UK’s Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) – whose members instituted free admission in year 2001. The DCMS study found that attendance increases frequently attributed to removing admission fees were often due to the same audiences visiting more frequently – NOT necessarily from engaging new audiences.

Basically, to the degree that organizations consider an attendance increase as a successful outcome of eliminating admission pricing, the key visitor count to examine isn’t total visitation – it’s unique visitation. For example: Let’s say that a museum with an admission fee receives 400,000 annual visits from 300,000 unique visitors (1.33 visits per unique visitor).  Then, the same museum decides to “go free” and annual attendance increases by 15% to 460,000 visitors – but from the same 300,000 unique visitors (1.53 visitors per unique visitors). In this hypothetical example, annual attendance went up…but unique visitation remained the same.

Again, data from the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations reaffirms this finding:

IMPACTS intent to revisit by admission price

Whereas free admission does not impact intentions to visit for first-time visitors, it does increase intentions to re-visit for existing audiences. The implication? It may not be wholly accurate for an organization to declare success by citing raw attendance numbers as proof of the efficacy of a free admission policy. There isn’t evidence that free admission generally cultivates increased visitation from new audiences. 


4) We need to engage emerging audiences- and free admission is not a cure-all for greater industry challenges

Data suggest that cultural organizations need to be reaching new audiences right now if we want these types of organizations to be around in the future. Offering free admission in an attempt to appeal to emerging audiences isn’t a complete solution to a more complex problem. We need to reevaluate our strategy for engaging new audiences because the “free admission” fix may not prove sustainable. Moreover, focusing on free general admission may be distracting organizations from cultivating more effective engagement strategies and programs for reaching new audiences.

Consider that Smithsonian Institute museums – without admission fees – saw total attendance decline by nearly 7% from 30 million visitors in years 2012 and 2013 to 28 million visitors in year 2014. In the same duration, the US population increased from 314 million (2012) to 319 million (2014). Also, in the same duration, overseas visits to the US increased from 29.8 million in 2012 to 34.4 million in 2014. Visitation to many museums – even world-famous, free museums – is not keeping pace with population growth.

Our industry is rife with examples of how even organizations with free admission are unable to cultivate increased (or, in many cases, even stable) attendance levels – particularly when considered in the prevailing context of overall population growth and travel to the United States. Free admission does not serve as engagement panacea. For example, In 1997, attendance at the Baltimore Museum of Art – then with an admission basis – approximated 320,000 annually. In 2006, the Baltimore Museum of Art eliminated admission charges. Today, onsite annual attendance is down 44% to 180,000. The organization attributes this decrease in attendance to the BMA’s recent renovation project. There are many factors that affect attendance and admission pricing is hardly the cure-all that many imagine it to be.


This data simply scratches the surface of this controversial debate. There are other, incredibly important factors to consider: individual business models, the impacts of increased reliance on contributed revenues and government funding, opportunities to develop more agile operations so as to allow museums to be more audience-focused, and even the reputational equities attendant to being a “free” organization versus one with an admission fee.

One thing is for sure: Critical conversations are taking place and organizations are realizing that it’s time to evolve both their engagement models and their financial plans. We have too much to lose not to move forward in the most fully-informed manner possible. If we want to keep museums alive, we need to think about engagement, audience motivations and barriers, and actual economics.


Like this post? Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:


Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ). Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 26 Comments

Fast Fact: Admission Pricing is a Science- Not an Art (VIDEO)

Organizations don’t have to guess when it comes to determining an optimal admission price.

Let’s try something new – starting today. I’d like to introduce you to a new project: Know Your Own Bone: Fast Facts for Cultural Executives. Traditional Know Your Own Bone posts will continue to be posted every-other Wednesday. In the weeks between, I will be posting short (around three minutes or less), Fast Facts videos featuring a key takeaway for cultural executives and staff members alike. I hope that you will provide me with feedback, and I am eager to know what you all think! Let’s start here:

Admission pricing is a science. Check out the video to learn why.


A deeper dive into data:

Unintentional collusion drives many-an-organization’s pricing strategy, but it’s a bad practice (or, at least a silly one). Today, your organization should be looking at data to inform its optimal price point for admission. Here’s an example of an organization’s data-informed pricing “sweet spot” that data suggest is neither leaving money on the table nor jeopardizing attendance. Every organization has this kind of optimal price point:

Adult Admission Analysis- Aquarium

Your pricing should be contemplative of the attributes of your organization’s high-propensity visitors (jargon translated: it should consider the people who profile as being actually interested in attending your organization). The above example indicates relative price inelasticity between $15.95 and $19.95 – suggesting that as many folks would visit the organization at a $19.95 as they would if the price were $15.95. If this is your organization and you are charging $15.95, you’re not losing visitors – you’re losing revenue that can help keep your doors open and your mission alive.

Different markets, different audiences, and different experiences demand different price points, so I want to emphasize that while this graph is a real example, it’s not necessarily a replicable model for your organization. (Read: I’m not encouraging everyone out there to charge $19.95. I would encourage THIS organization to change $19.95.)

To illustrate, here’s another example of a pricing analysis for a different organization and experience:

Adult admission analysis- performing arts

Finding an organization’s optimal price point has two, basic steps: Collecting data and modeling the data. Optimal pricing is informed by the type of data typically acquired via the conduct of an awareness, attitudes, and usage study that includes price-related metrics and perceptions from visitors and non-visitors alike. From there, price elasticity of demand models aid organizations in quantifying the demand for your experience. If you don’t have the know-how the collect this data on your own or you need help with the models, universities make excellent partners – as do professionals with experience working in this space! The point is: In today’s world – in which data is increasingly available, and more organizations are collecting it – there’s no excuse for blindly following the “leader” or simply guessing when it comes to your organization’s optimal admission price.


Words to Know to Be In-the-Know:


Unintentional collusion:

Many organizations unknowingly have strategies based upon unintentional collusion. Unintentional collusion is what happens when an organization follows the “leader” thinking the leader knows something that they don’t. Basically, it’s when somebody guesses and other organizations simply copy that guess. When organizations do this, they reaffirm one another’s unscientific strategies.

Value advantaged:

Admission pricing that is set too low and thus “leaves money on the table” for an organization. It is a price point that fails to maximize the data-informed level of revenue that an organization may be able to achieve.

Value disadvantaged:

Admission pricing that is set too high and risks jeopardizing attendance. It is a price point that fails to inspire visitation among those who profile as likely visitors because the high cost to attend poses a barrier to engagement.

Let’s stop guessing when it comes to admission pricing. Today, pricing is not an art. It’s a science.


I hope that these Fast Fact videos will provide thought-fuel for your organization! Please let me know if you have thoughts or feedback so that I may evolve these videos to be most helpful over time.  The next short video will be posted on August 19th.

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution 8 Comments
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