Colleen Dilenschneider

Six Concepts that Visitor-Serving Organizations Confuse at Their Own Risk

6 concepts that cultural organizations confuse at their own risk

For the sake of the future of cultural organizations, let’s stop mixing up these terms. 

There’s a good amount of information here on KYOB that has accumulated through the course of this lil’ corner of the Internet’s existence! I recently wrote a compilation post on some of the more important points regarding engaging millennials within cultural organizations. I also recently found myself in a meeting taking on “the usual clarifications” when it occurred to me that there’s an important opportunity to compile a few of those “usual clarifications” as well!

Here are six sets of terms that often get confused with one another within leadership conversations at museums, theaters, aquariums, zoos, symphonies, and other cultural organizations. When we confuse these terms… well, general confusion tends to ensue and desired outcomes are not as easily achieved. Regular KYOB readers will recognize some of these “usual clarifications” from fast fact videos.

Ready? Let’s dive in! How many of these terms or concepts does your organization regularly interchange or generally misunderstand?


Market research vs. audience research

Audience research is the primary type of research upon which most cultural organizations rely. Audience research is any research conducted on visitors and past visitors in order to gather information about their attitudes, knowledge, interests, preferences, or behaviors. This kind of research comes in the form of exit surveys, zip code collecting, and reaching out to members and visitors through mail or email lists or online communities, for example. Audience research is research conducted on people who are already visiting your organization. Audience research is indeed valuable, but it is often confused with market research and an overreliance on audience research may he holding back even the smartest of cultural organizations.

Market research, on the other hand, is any organized effort to gather information about target markets – including the folks who may NOT be visiting an organization. Market research includes folks who are not your audiences (yet) and it is necessary to gather this information in order to reach new audiences. For the sake of long-term solvency, cultural organizations need to become better at reaching new audiences and our overreliance on audience research when we should be using market research results in industry problems like our inability to effectively attract low-income audiences. Market research helps spot trends and helps your organization figure out what to do next – not only to survive, but to thrive.


Admission pricing vs. affordable access

Admission pricing is the cost of admission for folks who visit your organization. It is an intelligently determined price point that contemplates what high-propensity visitors (people who are interested in visiting cultural organizations) are willing to pay in order to take part in your experience. “The gate” is often an important source of revenue for cultural organizations and having a considered price point ensures that your organization is neither leaving money on the table, nor jeopardizing attendance potential from those who are interested and able to support your organization. Admission price is an economically-sound business imperative for many organizations and admission pricing is not an affordable access program if your organization relies on paid admission in some capacity.

Affordable access (that is effective) is generally rather expensive for cultural organizations and it takes real investment that is usually made at least partially possible by gate revenues. Affordability is binary. An admission price is either affordable or it’s not. When organizations lower their optimal price point in hopes of “being more affordable” or “reaching underserved audiences” they aren’t truly doing either of those things. In reality, they are purposefully missing out on the very funds needed to make effective affordable access possible at all. Successful affordable access programs are targeted so that they truly reach folks who are unable to attend – not people who would generally pay full price but are just looking for a deal. Admission pricing and affordable access are two completely different means of access that play completely different roles in the sustainability of visitor-serving organizations.


High-propensity visitors vs. historic visitors

High-propensity visitors are folks who demonstrate the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization. In other words, these are the people who actually visit cultural organizations. They are those awesome kinds of people who say, “Yeah! That sounds like fun!” of even “Yeah. I could do that!” when someone suggests a visit to a museum or performance.We love these folks. As much as we hate to admit it, not all people have this reaction. High-propensity visitors do not need to have visited a type of cultural organization in order to profile as a likely visitor and they are not necessarily past visitors. Instead, they are people with behaviors and characteristics that indicate the potential to visit. Many members of “new audiences” – including millennials and minority majorities  – profile as high-propensity visitors as well.

Historic visitors are the people with the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics that match traditional visitor profiles. Essentially, they are past visitors. Historic visitors profile as a high-propensity visitors, but not every high-propensity visitor matches the profile of a person who has more traditionally visited cultural organizations. Not everyone with interest in visiting today necessarily matches the profile of the kind of person who visited yesterday. Glibly (but it helps illustrate the difference), not everyone who is likely to visit a cultural organization is a wealthy, older, white person. In fact, it’s increasingly the opposite. We need to reach beyond traditional visitor profiles because we are experiencing a negative substitution of the historic visitor in the United States. The issue of confusing historic visitors with high-propensity visitors that we need to more effectively reach is often confounded by confusion related to audience research vs. market research.


Key performance indicators vs. diagnostic metrics

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are used to evaluate the ongoing success of an organization or a particular initiative. Success is often defined in terms of making progress toward achieving the strategic objectives that optimize the solvency of an organization. KPIs have a direct correlation to desired outputs (fundraising, visitation, etc.). For instance, for our nonprofit visitor-serving partners at IMPACTS, we measure items related to market sentiment that include metrics such as reputation (e.g. top-of-mind metrics), educational value, satisfaction, value-for-price perceptions, and other items that correlate directly to the health of an organization and its ability to achieve its bottom line objectives.  Bad metaphor: Let’s say you’re an Olympic runner. Your KPIs are your response times, race times, reflexes, muscle strength, and those things that contribute most directly to your success.

Diagnostic metrics are data points that contribute to KPI performance and aid organizations in pinpointing specific opportunities but they can be a distraction if they are given the same attention as KPIs. These metrics cannot “stand-in” for KPIs because they are a sub-measurement of assessment criteria that lead to desired behaviors. For instance, on the surface, certain social media diagnostic metrics may look positive, but if they aren’t elevating your reputation (a key driver of visitation), then…well, a “like” is just a “like.” Diagnostic metrics are also helpful for listening to audiences and informing organizations of opportunities for improvement. Bad metaphor continued: Let’s say you are an Olympic runner again. Your diagnostic metrics might be your blood pressure, levels of B12, and heart rate. Heart rate contributes to your ability to run a good race time, but focusing on heart rate on its own isn’t the metric to focus on. (It’s your race time.)  You are measuring your heart rate (diagnostic metric), in this case, so that you can increase your race speeds (your KPI). Focusing on diagnostic metrics (like Facebook “likes” and retweets) without focusing on key performance indicators (like changes in reputation attendant to those likes) is a distraction and a waste of time getting a lot of retweets doesn’t necessarily mean that you are increasing your reputation. It is important to know which kinds of metrics are which. 


Discounts vs. promotions

Discounts are when an organization offers free or reduced admission to broad, undefined audiences for no clearly identifiable reason. Discounts do a lot of pretty terrible things for visitor-serving organizations. Simply, offering discounts devalues your brand. Offering discounts – especially via public social media channels – cultivates a “market addiction” that often has long-term, negative consequences on the health of organizations. In many ways, offering discounts creates a vicious cycle whereby a visitor-serving organization realizes an ever-diminishing return on the value visitation. When an organization provides discounts, it often results in five not-so-awesome outcomes that you can read about here.

Promotions offer a targeted benefit for certain audiences for an identifiable reason. The biggest difference between promotions and discounts may be how they are perceived by the market. Promotions celebrate your community. Promotions demonstrate why an organization is offering free or reduced pricing in the communication of the promotion. That reason is usually something that celebrates an organization’s mission or an organization’s audience, and it is made clear that it is something special. While some may learn the differentiation between these two approaches and consider it to be a framing of communication, it’s actually a reflection of an organization’s culture. Whether an organization’s go-to strategy includes either promotions or discounts demonstrates a great deal about the organization and the thoughtfulness of its engagement approach, as well as the value that it places on its reputation. In the end, one approach is more about an organization’s flailing attempts to hit specific attendance numbers at the expense of its brand and mission (and long-term ability to hit those numbers), and the other is more about your organization’s relationship with target audiences and communities.


Fads vs. trends

A fad is any form of behavior that is intensely followed by a population for a short period of time. The behavior will rise relatively quickly and fall relatively quickly once the perception of novelty is gone. Fads certainly have value and they can profoundly change organizations- consider the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge! Utilizing fads in marketing and programs can increase top-of-mind awareness, demonstrate the timeliness of your organization, and serve as a gateway for new audiences. This is all great and important stuff but – remember – fads don’t stick around.

A trend, on the other hand, gets stronger over time and does stick around. Trends have identifiable and explainable rises that are driven by audience needs. They help solve a problem for people. The increasing use of social networks is a trend (that connects us to one another). So is quitting smoking (which lengthens our lives), evidence-based medicine (that removes the guesswork in medical-related situations), and the use of mobile devices (that allow us to look up information in real time). These are things that have grown – and continue to grow – in market penetration. They solve problems. They represent new ways of life. Organizations ignore trends at their own risk. Ignoring trends means that they will either be forced to adapt later and will necessarily be behind, or the organization will fade away. When organizations write off things like web-based engagement or data-informed management (for instance) as fads instead of trends, evolution stops. However, treating fads like trends can lead organizations to become overwhelmed, give up on following along, and, again, stop evolution. (Here’s a tip on how to tell if something is a fad or a trend.)


Think the distinction between these terms and concepts sound obvious? GREAT. Let’s make sure to join the conversation and help organizations keep them straight so that they can survive and thrive. Let’s all help in communicating “the usual clarifications,” because if we don’t, our organizations risk healthy evolution.


Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. 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 for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Combating Case Study Envy Within Museums And Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Bad things happen to good organizations when conference attendees leave their thinking caps at home.

Industry conferences can provide amazing opportunities for cultural organizations to learn about new initiatives – but there’s a disease that often infects well-meaning leaders at these conferences – they are bringing it back and infecting their organizations. It’s time to talk about case study envy. That’s the subject of this week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video!

I am a fan of conferences and those who know me personally (or have met me at one), know that I frequently lament how infrequently I can get to them due to my work schedule. On that note, let’s establish/acknowledge this important starting point: Industry conferences are important. We know this. I don’t and won’t dispute this because I believe it to be true. They provide important opportunities to learn about new ideas, celebrate achievements, discuss the state of the industry and obstacles for us all to take on together, and (perhaps most importantly) they connect us to one another as professionals and (when we’re lucky!) as friends.

Now that we’ve very purposefully acknowledged that conferences are generally awesome things for us, I’m going to discuss an important way in which conferences are often NOT awesome. Are we ready? Okay:

Sometimes conferences make us stupid. And interestingly, data suggest that executive leaders know this. (More in a moment…)

There can be serious consequences for organizations that become too easily seduced by the alleged successes of others. I call this Case Study Envy and it takes place at all kinds of conferences. It does NOT mean that case studies aren’t important and that there isn’t value in sharing them. But just because industry conferences can be exciting doesn’t mean that attendees should leave their thinking caps at home.

Case Study Envy can make smart people attending industry conferences believe two, pretty silly things:


1) That the organization or person speaking actually accomplished something.

Ouch. First, case study envy makes leaders believe that the presenting organization’s initiative worked and that it met any meaningful goals at all. Sometimes the initiatives are attached to meaningful outcomes and that’s great. But more often than not, the organization holding the microphone is someone that asked for the opportunity to tell you how good they are at something. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are actually good at it. Considering this, it’s not uncommon that programs and initiatives that might more objectively be considered failures are instead presented at conferences as successes. Let’s honest, it stinks to admit that something we thought was going to be cool, turned out to be a total dud. Sometimes, presenting that cool- sounding thing at a conference can internally soften the blow and save some public face.

When when you dig into 990s and look at them alongside presentations at conferences, it becomes clear that many institutions are actually sharing their failures as models of success. It certainly isn’t true for all organizations and presentations – but we often note at IMPACTS that if an initiative creates mission drift or costs a very large sum of money and has no demonstrative payoff, then it’s going to be shared as a success at a conference.

The inclination to frame objective failures as successes makes perfect sense: There’s too much at stake to share our failures as actual failures. There are board member reputations, a CEO’s symbolic capital, and even funder satisfaction at risk when we admit to failure. If we admit our cool-sounding project was a failure, then we have to say to board members, “Hey, this big project that you supported and might have even been your idea didn’t work.” And we really don’t want to say that. So, instead, we say, “It didn’t increase visitation or notably impact our brand equities in a positive or even noteworthy manner, but it was something new and cool! To prove it, we’ll share it at [insert industry conference].”

I’m not saying it’s an awesome situation, but the fear of calling a (very cool looking, new idea, sometimes high-tech) dog a dog may be understandable in this context that disproportionately punishes risk. What’s more is that executive leaders seem to know that many of the case studies presented at conferences are actually failures – or at least, not worth influencing their decision making. It’s a reason for the inverse correlation between trust and influence and information being shared at a conference. Yes. Executive leaders find information shared at conferences to be less trustworthy because it is shared at a conference.

Here’s how much executive leaders trust various information channels. An index value less than 100 indicates lessened trust in the information based on its source. (Here’s the link to the original post with the data and more information on it.)

KYOB IMPACTS - Trust of sources for cultural leaders

Think that’s bad? The data on the influence of information is much more alarming.

KYOB IMPACTS - influence of sources for cultural leaders

And on top of that, they aren’t exactly go-to sources of information, either.

KYOB IMPACTS - Sources of information for cultural leaders

Yikes! Again, this is not to say that all presentations at industry conferences are useless – far from it. Conferences are a wonderful opportunity to connect and share experiences and, indeed, we need them. But they cannot help us unless we change how we approach them and stop making “finding the things that actually work in increasing solvency or summoning support” so difficult. We give the microphone to the folks that ask for the microphone (to talk about, say, membership) without much consideration for how well their (membership) programs actually work. Worst of all, there seems to be a particular want to give the microphone to some of the “biggest” organizations – and that can be dangerous if that particular organization is “touting a failure as a success.” It glamorizes the failure and promulgates it among the industry, resting its glory more on the symbolic capital of other aspects of the organization rather than that, particular (futile) initiative.

There are many excellent examples of organizations of all shapes and sizes doing forward-facing things. It’s a shame that those examples are sometimes diluted by glorious funeral ceremonies for futile projects disguised as successes at conferences.

So how can you determine the truly successful case studies from the hot air and combat Case Study Envy in this case? Ask, “Did this initiative increase membership, result in more people coming through the door, or secure more donors? Did it contribute to meaningful and measurable market perceptions related to their mission?” Not every self-congratulatory program, presented as a success, is actually a success. Case study envy makes it hard to tell the difference.


2) That exactly what worked for that organization will work in exactly the same way for your organization

Case Study Envy causes infected leaders to make inappropriate comparisons between other organizations and their own. While case studies can be gold mines of valuable information, its critical that leaders consider that organizations often have different assets and public perceptions. Among the industry, they tend not to be drastically different – but they are different enough that it may not be reasonable for one organization to expect the exact same initiative outcomes as another.

It’s important for organizations to differentiate between models and examples. Both can be tremendously valuable – as long as we don’t mix them up. Many singularly successful organizations are terrible models because they have conditions that are not easily replicated (e.g. they have massive endowments, or a specific location in a specific city that supports their reputation, or they generally have a different funding model and business strategy). However, these organizations may still provide excellent examples for initiatives when elements of their success are identified and considered. Examples can aid in informing strategies and they often deal with the evolution of best practices or serve as case studies for engaging the market.

In sum, when at a conference, aim to evaluate the strategy driving the case study and if that may be helpful to your own organization. Attaching your organization to another organization’s specific tactics, however, can be tricky and may lead your organization to take on an initiative that simply was never strategically sound for you in the first place.


Many cultural organizations are doing remarkable things today. They are breaking boundaries, learning new lessons, and leading others! We need to keep these valuable lines of communication open and active. But just remember that there is often a lot of noise and it’s our responsibility to our organizations to think critically about anything that can help make our organizations more successful and impactful.


Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. 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 for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.


Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Fast Facts Video, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

Point of Reference Sensitivity in Visitors: How It Affects Your Cultural Organization And What To Do About It

Data suggest that it’s good to to be the first organization that someone visits… but what if yours is the second?

If you’re the best art museum, for instance, then a visitor to art museums should be able to tell, right? Wrong. As it turns out, it’s a bit more complicated. This week’s Know Your Own Bone – Fast Facts video is about firsts… and seconds. And what to do if your organization is second.

You probably remember your first kiss – and your first car, your first love, and a whole host of other firsts. As human beings, we tend to ascribe a premium to firsts – and visits to cultural organizations are no different. Data suggest that first-time visitors to a type of cultural organization – such as a science center – rate their visitor satisfaction higher than those who have visited any other science center before – 18.1% higher, to be exact.

That’s a huge bump! It’s great news for the first cultural organization of its kind that a visitor experiences. Woohoo! We’ll take it! While this value varies slightly based on cultural organization type (history museum vs. aquarium vs. symphony), they tend to hover around this average.

However, the sad side of this coin is that, for no fault of their own, the second (and third, forth…) like-organization that an attendee visits is likely to suffer from significantly lower satisfaction levels than the first. This is a big deal for many obvious reasons, but one of which is the fact that overall satisfaction is a major contributor to overall value perceptions of organizations. Lower satisfaction levels lead to less word of mouth and thus less support and visitation. Yikes!

First time visitors also rate their experiences 14.8% higher in terms of value for cost of admission. That’s another huge bump that’s great for organizations able to benefit from that “first time” magic. 

We call this phenomenon Point of Reference Sensitivity


We noticed this trend at IMPACTS and we gave it a name. Point of Reference Sensitivity suggests that the market’s expectations are being constantly reframed by recent experiences. Essentially, as a person gains familiarity with an experience, it becomes increasingly harder to impress them. While Point of Reference Sensitivity may make logical sense, it’s still a bit of a bummer for the second cultural organization that hosts that visitor.

What is the solution? Be more unique.

Differentiate yourself as an individual organization rather than priding yourself on being like all other such organizations. That may sound overwhelming, but the good news is that we live in a connected world where differentiation may be easier – and more expected – than ever before. It’s a call to organizations to undertake smart experiments and creative programs, and to incorporate avenues for personalization and shared experiences. It’s a call to action to know who your organization is and what it stands for as well as why it is uniquely important. Achieving that “first time” satisfaction bump with every visit means smart integration of trends and awareness of market perceptions. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it all comes back to doing well what you do well – and letting folks know about it!

Those organizations that are most susceptible to Point of Reference Sensitivity are those that believe themselves to be mostly a type of attraction rather than a unique organization. The key to overcoming Point of reference sensitivity is to be yourself. That is how the market determines which organization is “best.”


Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. 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 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, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution 1 Comment

Millennial Data Round Up: What Your Cultural Organization Needs To Know

The great millennial round up 2016 - Know Your Own Bone

This is what you need to know in one, single post.

Millennials are a hot topic. While I consider “millennials” but one topic in the file of “pressing issues necessitating the evolution of visitor-serving organizations,” it turns out that there is a lot of information to point out and underscore.  No doubt, I’ll be adding to this list with future posts and there’s more where these came from, but these nine Know Your Own Bone Posts make up a helpful set list for engaging this new and important audience. I’ve been on a millennial-related post roll recently. Let’s keep it going for one more week.  Here is a compilation of nine data-informed take-aways for cultural centers aiming to reach millennial audiences.

Some of these posts are videos and some are data-informed articles. Each of these points links to a post with more in-depth information. But before we dive in, I must share this (though it is mentioned in several posts): “Millennial talk” is increasingly code for “everybody talk.” The trends that are most effective in engaging this generation are trends that are increasingly required for reaching other generations as well. So if you’re not completely sick of “millennial talk” and are able to take a step back, you may find yourself nodding and thinking, “Hey! This is increasingly true for ALL visitors to cultural organizations.” Because it is.


1) MILLENNIAL TALK is not about ignoring other generations

This is the best place to start. If you’re experiencing “millennial talk” overload, here are four important things to keep in mind. Remember: When we talk about the need to reach millennials, we are NOT talking about ignoring other generations. Instead, we are adding a new, important generation to our discussion list of existing important generations. In order to carry out effective “millennial talk,” we need to remove defensiveness and realize that we’re talking about the future of cultural organizations for all visitors and generations – not only millennials.


2) We have a big problem with engaging millennials (DATA)

Why Cultural Organizations Must Better Engage Millennials (Know Your Own Bone)

And we need to fix this in order to survive long-term. Data suggest that the issue is particularly pressing. Millennials currently represent the largest segment of visitors to cultural organizations. (Nope. Not Baby Boomers). However, millennials are also the only age demographic not visiting cultural organizations at representative rates. This means that millennials are both our most frequent current visitors AND the visitors that we need to do a better job attracting in order to survive and thrive. As sick as we all may be of talking about millennials (I am, too, and I’m a millennial!), these facts make effectively engaging this audience a VERY big deal. This is a reality that organizations ignore at their own risk and it is my experience that showing this data and underscoring  this situation helps explain why this generation is getting so much attention right now.


3) There are two (most important!) things to keep in mind for engaging millennials


Okay – so reaching millennials is important and other generations should not take this need to mean that their own generations are less important. So how can organizations best reach millennials? There are a lot of tips and tricks out there, but I’ve boiled it all down to two. Here are the two, most important mindset shifts for engaging millennials. They sound simple, but they are actually large-scale culture changes for many visitor-serving organizations to carry out. They require a shift in how we think. Again, however, making these shifts does not only help position organizations to better reach millennials. It positions organizations to better reach all visitors in today’s connected world. Really, these two shifts are necessary for engaging nearly everyone. 


4) Millennial audiences may be our best audiences (DATA)

Engaging millennials has a huge payoff! This post highlights three, data-informed reasons why it’s absolutely worth the energy to reach these folks. Namely, they are super-connected to many people and have terrific potential to share positive experiences and spread valuable word of mouth and third-party endorsements of your organization. They are also most likely to share those positive experiences with their circles! Moreover, millennials have the greatest intent to revisit a cultural organization among the three, primary generations today. It all adds up to an understanding that targeting millennials is a good thing for everybody – and this generation does a lot of important messaging for organizations!


5) Millennials spend the most on food and retail (DATA)

It’s a smaller point, but it’s also an added bonus: Millennials spend more than any other generation on food and retail at visitor-serving organizations. Check out the data. For those folks who are less “believing” of the incredible value of third party endorsements in securing visitation and the importance of millennial audiences on that front (discussed above), here’s a more cut-and-dry financial incentive. Are we all happy now? Yes? Excellent.


6) Attracting millennials is key to engaging people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds (DATA)

Attracting Diverse Visitors to Cultural Organizations- Know Your Own Bone

Organizations often aim to engage folks of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. In doing this, many organizations overlook information regarding how people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds actually view themselves. The United States population is growing increasingly diverse with folks that are different than the historic visitor to cultural organizations – and much of that change is driven by millennials. We are the most diverse generation in the workforce. But we don’t primarily identify ourselves as our ethnic backgrounds. We identify ourselves as being young. This data is critical because it means that an important key to engaging audiences of more diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds is – in fact – engaging millennials.


7) Millennials are changing membership programs (DATA)

Millennials are necessitating change. If your organization doesn’t have as many millennial members as it should, it may be because your organization is not yet offering the type of membership that millennials want! (In fact, many aren’t.) The data about what millennials want in a membership program is particularly cool (in my humble opinion) because it underscores a trend that we are seeing for members on the whole. Mission-based members are more valuable members than transaction-based members and, really, what many organizations consider to be one “membership program” may actually be two, separate programs. There’s important thought-fuel here.


8) Millennials are not naturally caring more about arts and culture as they age (DATA)

millennial cause durability

And now for some not-great news: We cannot sit around and wait for millennials to “grow into” caring about cultural organizations. It’s not happening. At IMPACTS, we call this “cause durability” and millennials have it. The thought that millennials will “age into” historic visitor profiles is not proving true. Simply because the historic visitor profile is an older, white person doesn’t mean that millennials will have the same values when they become older, white people themselves (…particularly because this generation is incredibly diverse so that’s not even a thing for almost half of our generation). “But,” you say, “this isn’t about ethnicity – it’s about growing wisdom and appreciating the finer things in life as one ages!” Okay. We can hope for that, but data isn’t supporting it and is it worth the risk to your organization’s future to simply sit around without effectively engaging these audiences?


9) It is time to add millennials to your board of directors

Millennials represent the largest generation in human history. Still, many boards of directors for cultural organizations do not include a single millennial. Here are five important reasons to add millennials to your board of directors. They aren’t rocket science. They may simply be inconvenient truths… but truths they are, nonetheless. It’s difficult to attract millennials without listening to them and getting their input where it counts: in the board room and in leadership meetings.


There’s more to come on Know Your Own Bone in regard to engaging millennials, to be sure – and there are more posts than these in my archives. That said, I’ve tried to select the hardest-hitting, what-you-need-to-know round up. We’ll take a break from millennials for a while and get back to other myth-busts and trends in the weeks ahead- but there’s a lot here and it’s important. I hope that these posts are useful to you and please remember to dive into the individual points to get the full information and dig into the data. We’re on our way to integrating new mindsets into our organizations!


Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. 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, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Experiencing Millennial Discussion Overload? Here Are Four Things to Remember

Cultural organizations need to reach millennials and that means talking about it – but that talk doesn’t make other generations less important. 

Cultural organizations desperately need to get better at reaching millennials in order to thrive in the future – but in order to have these conversations, we need to clear up some craziness. The aim of this week’s fast facts video is to set the record straight: Talking about the need to reach millennials is responsible and necessary – and adding millennial engagement to important discussion sessions is in no way a dig on older generations because they are extremely important audiences! Talking about millennials does not mean ignoring other generations – and it never has. It seems that all of this millennial talk may be leaving other generations working within the industry feeling confused, frustrated, and maybe a little bit ignored. To feel this way may be based upon a misunderstanding.

Here are four things to remember when your feeling overwhelmed by millennial talk – or maybe even left out by the lack of similar discussion about your own generation.



We discuss millennial mindsets so much because they represent a kind of evolution that affects everyone in today’s digital world. “Millennial talk” is often used a bit like an umbrella topic in the discussion about creating twenty-first century cultural organizations – so talk about transparency, social consciousness, personalization, and connectivity often get attributed to millennials. Really, though, these are growing expectations among all audiences.

Sometimes it seems as though organizations label market trends as “millennial talk” in order to somehow dilute conversations about necessary evolution. Calling large-scale trends that affect all generations (like digital connectivity) “millennial talk” may make them seem less looming and perhaps less urgent. But they aren’t. We millennials could easily look back at other generations and say, “Wait! You increasingly care about connectivity and impact, too! Why are organizations pinning all of their inconvenient calls to evolve on our generation alone?!” Part of getting over the “millennial talk” is realizing that it’s not “millennial talk” at all. It’s “market reality” talk.


2) Millennials are the only generation that cultural organizations are NOT reaching at representative rates

We talk about millennials so much because cultural organizations (museums, zoos, aquariums, theaters, symphonies, botanic gardens, etc.) need to reach them. Pause. Real talk: We really need to reach millennials. Millennials represent the largest generation in human history, and we’re also the only generation not visiting these organizations at representative rates. On top of that, millennials are also our most frequent generational visitors. This is a unique situation! Millennials are our most prevalent current audiences, but they are also the audiences we need to better engage. (In other words, they are visiting the most, but when we look at the US population, they should be coming much more.) This unique situation is one that must be addressed in order for organizations to thrive in the future. When we look at the size of this population and their make-up, preferences, and lack of representative engagement, it’s very clear to see that if we don’t start reaching millennials at representative rates, cultural organizations will have a very rough and unsustainable future.


3) Millennial engagement has nothing to do with ignoring other generations (We NEED them!)

Adding “millennial talk” to generational discussions sometimes seems to make other generations defensive.  The discussion about the need to attract millennials has NOTHING to do with ignoring other generations. (Has it ever?) Baby boomers still make up a good portion of our audiences and they have noteworthy giving capabilities. Generation X engagement remains stable and consistent (and this generation, in particular, deserves a bit more love). When we talk about attracting millennials, we are NOT encouraging organizations to forget about everyone else. Organizations have been talking about and focusing on reaching Baby Boomers for fifty years and that conversation isn’t stopping. It shouldn’t! But adding another generation to the discussion at some point – especially a generation even larger than the Baby Boomers – seems reasonable and inevitable. Certainly, there has to be a way to talk about new generations without other generations feeling personally offended. We need all of our audience members! We need to add generations to the discussion. To replace discussions about other generations – and especially to ignore them – would be irresponsible.


4) Strategies for engaging millennials do not generally alienate other demographics

See point one. We at IMPACTS collect a lot of data, but we cannot find any that directly suggests that an organization having programs aimed at attracting millennials particularly alienates other generations on the whole. Again, trends that we are seeing in regard to millennials increasingly appeal to older generations as well. We simply aren’t seeing signs that a majority of Baby Boomers really hate transparency, personalization, social consciousness, or digital connection. It doesn’t mean that they necessarily prioritize or make decisions based upon them as much as millennials do. But, as it turns out, this whole “Internet thing” has affected all of us and has changed up what we expect from organizations.


When we in the industry underscore the need to reach millennials, we’re not digging on Baby Boomers or Generation X (or Traditionalists or Generation Z)! We need these visitors and supporters! But NOT discussing millennials – this new, large, underserved generation that holds the key to our future – would be irresponsible. In fact, ignoring millennials would be just as irresponsible as ignoring those generations that are already engaging with us.


Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. 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 for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Fast Facts Video, Millennials, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Audience Access: The Reality For Cultural Organizations To Embrace for Solvency

Audience Access - what cultural organizations must embrace - Know Your Own Bone

The first step in the evolution toward more sustainable cultural organizations is embracing the reality of “access” and reviewing the basics.  

We talk a lot about “access” within cultural organizations. For the sake of discussion on this topic, let’s strip this to its bare bones: Access is a means of approaching or entering a place. When cultural organizations talk about access, they often refer simply to something like affordable access. This narrow concept of “access” sets these types of organizations back, and prevents us from having more informed discussions about visitation, engagement, and financial solvency.

Every single person that makes their way through our doors has an access point and is part of “access” strategy discussions. “Access” in cultural organizations is not a conversation about minority majorities, or millennials, or folks making less than $25,000/year, or people with purple hair, or folks in wheelchairs, or people who like French fries, or pet owners with a dog named Rufus. Even high-propensity visitors must be considered in access discussions because access is a thing for every single person who sets foot in our institution. Access is not a topic about “underserved audiences” and it’s strange that we immediately assume this is so. Visitors, non-visitors, members, and donors all achieve access somehow. Why don’t we consider the entire, baseline topic of access for a change? And, if we do, can we learn something to strengthen BOTH mission execution and financial sustainability for cultural organizations? You bet.

This overview is oversimplified – and there are countless avenues for discussion embedded within this topic, but for the sake of improving the future of visitor-serving organizations, I’d like to provide a data-informed concept for a BETTER discussion about the hot topic of “access.” It’s only by considering how all avenues of access work together that we can optimize any part of the system – and cultivate healthier institutions.

The points below may seem very simple when you read them, but I haven’t encountered many organizations that regularly consider how these points of access work together and feed off of one another. Often, organizations tinker around with these different access points. When we meld these access audiences together – which we so often do – we get all of those bad business practices that hold us back. For instance, when we meld admission and affordable access programs, we get devalued brands, local visitor dissatisfaction, and we “leave money on the table” that we need in order to both survive and also to carry out our missions. When we meld admission with membership, we get transaction-based members that don’t much care about our missions and are less likely to renew, and we risk losing our most important supporters when we treat them like simple visitors.  Again, this framework is simplified, but my hope is that it brings about food for thought. If I’m lucky, it might even make you uncomfortable – and the best (good) data makes leaders uncomfortable enough to create change.

KYOB access drawing

For a broad overview, let’s dive into these three, primary access audiences one-by-one. (You know that I mean back-to-basics business when I add a doodle.) While you may skim these access audiences thinking that they are painfully obvious (they are), consider all the ways that we confuse them, conflate them, and ultimately threaten our own organizations. It’s simple (hence the doodle), but perhaps that’s why it is all the more important that we return to the basics and get this right.


Access visitor


Pay your data-informed optimal admission price

Likely visitors are called high-propensity visitors in my data world, and they are the people who have the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization. These are the people who are most likely to respond, “Sure!” when someone asks “Do you want to visit a cultural organization today?” They are, essentially, where our bread is buttered. They are the people who choose to pay to visit cultural organizations – and they are also the people who go to free organizations and understand their value. At IMPACTS, we have a lot of data about these folks, and they are critical audiences to engage in order to stay alive. In short, they are your visitors. (Keep in mind: High-propensity visitors are not exactly the same as historic visitors. High-propensity visitors are LIKELY visitors and not necessarily past visitors. They are our potential!) Bottom line: a very vast majority of the people who go to museums, zoos, aquariums, symphonies, theaters, botanic gardens (and the like…) are obviously LIKELY VISITORS… because they are visiting… and thus actively choosing to visit.

Admission pricing is a science, not an art. When an organization’s admission price is too low, it “leaves money on the table” and is not securing optimal funds to aid in sustaining itself. When it’s too high, it means that your organization will need to invest even more in access programing to fill the gap (which is much more costly than we think because most organizations are doing “access programming” wrong – more on that in a moment).

Admission pricing is NOT to be confused with affordable access programming. Interestingly, bad things happen to good organizations when they deny their optimal admission price in favor of “being more affordable.” Likely visitors should be admitted based upon an optimal, data-driven price point. This money is required in order to fulfill our missions of being open and of reaching unlikely visitors (see below).


Access unlikely visitor


Visit through targeted programs that actually reach them

IMPACTS has a lot of depressing data about the cultural organization industry. (BUT we have great leaders with the will to evolve, and we’ve totally got this! Cultural leading people are the best people. That’s why I write and that’s why you’re here.) Large-scale data about how much we stink at creating access programs for unlikely visitors that actually work is among the hardest to swallow. In reality, free days attract visitors with higher household incomes and education levels than paid-admission days (Here’s that data). Generally, our entire industry’s affordable access programming is not reaching low-income audiences (And there’s that data).

We mess things up when we conflate affordable access programming with admission pricing, thinking that we’re doing everyone a favor (Here’s the data on that). Another problem that we willfully ignore is the reality that we don’t actually know who our underserved audiences are or what they want. And we sabotage the success of our access programs because we inadvertently market the programs to rich people. (This is a huge, overlooked problem.) In many cases, we simply aren’t investing enough (or intelligently enough) for access programs to be effective.

It doesn’t help that many organizations mistakenly believe that price is a primary barrier to engagement. It’s not. Admission cost is not a key barrier to engagement and it’s certainly NOT a cure-all. This is mostly true for high-propensity visitors, but it’s also naive to believe that all folks will flock to something simply because it is free. In order to create effective access programs for any underserved audience (low-income or otherwise), organizations need to get a better grip on why that audience truly isn’t coming.

Unless we have a data-informed, optimal price point, it’s difficult to get the funds to create access programs in the first place. And if we don’t have those funds, we cannot create access programs that effectively reach new audiences OR low-income audiences. (Both fall under “unlikely visitors,” but they aren’t the same. For instance, minority majority audiences are underserved, but they aren’t necessarily low-income. Both need types of access/engagement programs in order to become regular visitors – but sometimes for different reasons.) When we charge our optimal price-point, it makes effective programming for underserved audiences more important – and also possible in the first place.


Access member


Become your members and donors

Your supporters become your members and donors – and they are an important part of the “access” conversation as well. In fact, they may be the most important. These are the folks who care about why you exist. They promulgate your “so what?” They provide ongoing support by being your next level of likely visitors. That said, this is another area of “access” that confuses many visitor-serving organizations. Membership programs need to evolve, and many organizations –in reality – have at least two types of members: mission-based members and transaction-based members. Transaction-based members are often the result of organizations conflating “likely visitor” and “evangelist” audiences, but mission-based members are where it’s at. Transaction-based members think of membership more like an annual pass and less like being a part of a mission-driven community. Mission-based members are more satisfied with their memberships and they are more likely to pay more for their memberships in order to support the organization. (Here’s the data on this.)

Another way in which organizations regularly fail this important audience- thanks to a broader misunderstanding of different avenues of access and institutional priorities – is by simply failing to manage the relationship or treating these awesome supporters in not-great ways. Lack of relationship management is a key reason why many donors discontinue their support. Arguably, a reason why organizations may be not-the-best at membership communication may be because we treat all of our audiences the same way. Namely, we confuse them with regular visitors.


Organizations have at least three types of audiences and these three audiences have different access points. When we confuse these three audiences and their avenues of access, we threaten the sustainability of our organizations. They must be managed in different ways in order to be activated to choose behaviors that are in the best interests of our organizations and our missions. It’s arguably because we misunderstand this that we commit several crimes against our own futures.

We live in an increasingly personalized world. In order to thrive, organizations may benefit by realizing that these three spheres are distinct and separate, but that it’s important to have a plan to carry constituents from an unlikely/likely visitor into the evangelist category. We need to change our business model. This is very, very different than conflating these categories. Thinking harder about access in regard to our business strategies may be the first step in creating more sustainable futures.


Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. 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 for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

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

Three Data-Informed Reasons to Love Gen X Visitors to Cultural Organizations

Thank you, Gen X. Just… Thank you.

Let’s be honest: Generation X is squeezed in between two large, noisy, and rather needy generations – and we spend a lot of time talking about these millennial and baby boomer visitors to cultural organizations. But what about Generation X? 

That’s what this week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts Video is all about!

Generation X visitation behaviors often get the short end of the stick when it comes to getting attention in staff meetings and board rooms within cultural organizations. It doesn’t help that Generation X is a comparatively small generation that is just over half the size of Generation Y – the largest living generation that now makes up the majority of the US labor force. When we discuss millennials and baby boomers, we’re simply talking about much larger generational cohorts than Generation Y. It’s not a good excuse to overlook this generation by any means, but it’s a reality. It’s an especially bad excuse when we take a moment to pause and consider the great qualities that this generation brings to the table in terms of visitation.

It’s time that we give this generation some of the love that it deserves! Generation X has three, particularly helpful characteristics for cultural organizations – and they deserve a big THANK YOU for bringing them to the table.


1) Generation X visits cultural organizations

Aside from the comparatively small size of this generation, another reason why organizations tend not to discuss Generation X nearly as much is precisely why we should be thanking them: Generation Y is a comparatively drama-free generation when it comes to visiting cultural organizations. We millennials aren’t attending organizations at representative rates even though we make up a majority of visitation and Baby Boomers are also a rather large and difficult bunch when it comes to cultural engagement. Generation X, though, is visiting cultural organizations without a fuss!

The chart below considers the percentage of the US adult population (informed by the US census) made up by Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and Traditionalists in green. Alongside that bar, it shows the percentages of these generations visiting cultural organizations in orange, informed by the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. Generation X visits cultural organizations at the most over-representative rates among the three generations. It should be noted that Traditionalists also visit cultural organizations at noteworthy rates. Among the largest three generations, however, Generation X shows that drama-free is the way to be.


IMPACTS representative visitation by age demographic

While this generation’s awesomeness in the “representative visitation” department may be a reason why tend not to fret about them, it’s also a darn good reason to give them a shout-out. Thank you, members of Generation X, for visiting cultural organizations – fuss-free.


2) Generation X is decisive when it comes to online advertising for cultural organizations

The comparative decisiveness of Generation X means that this generation gives organizations the most bang for their online advertising buck. This saves cultural organizations money, and we like that. We like that very much.

The chart below comes from IMPACTS Research. It indicates the average number of ads delivered to online users from the retargeting campaigns of six cultural organizations before the user clicked on the advertisement. Generally speaking, the more frequently an organization has to deliver an ad, the more expensive things get. If you work in online advertising then you know that these numbers add up!

IMPACTS Frequency of impression before click on cultural online ad

Compared to millennials, targeted members of Generation X require nearly 42% fewer impressions in order to click on an ad. Our nonprofit budgets thank you, Generation X, for not dilly-dallying around.


3) Generation X is most likely to purchase or renew a membership to a cultural organization

Could Generation X visitors to cultural organizations get any better? You bet. Members of Generation X are more likely to purchase or renew memberships to cultural organizations than millennials and baby boomers – and traditionalists, too. In fact, members of Generation X are 11% more likely to purchase or renew a membership than are millennials, and they are 26% more likely to purchase or renew a membership than baby boomers. Those are noteworthy numbers!

IMPACTS Intent to purchase or renew membership by age demographic

As a heads-up to regular KYOB readers, it’s worth noting that “intent to purchase” is a different metric than “strongly considering membership.” When it comes to unrealized potential to secure a greater number of memberships, millennials take the lead (perhaps making us appreciate Generation X all the more in this respect)!  Data suggest that interest remains unrealized to its optimal potential largely because the types of membership programs that millennials want from cultural organizations largely don’t exist/aren’t particularly mainstream in the industry yet. That said, with index values over 100, millennials are currently noteworthy members to cultural organizations as well. This Generation X number is critical because the number IS so high, comparatively. The take-away isn’t that membership structures don’t need to evolve like everything else, but rather than Generation X is a terrific audience that is undervalued, perhaps, in their intent to purchase or renew the types of memberships that organizations generally offer.


Millennials and baby boomers are demanding a lot of industry discussion right now and perhaps that’s why we’re not discussing Generation X as much: They are stable and reliable audiences. It’s time that we take a moment and thank Generation X for being awesome.

Thank you, Generation X, for being awesome.


Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. 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 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, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 5 Comments

Five Famous Proverbs That Are NOT About Running a Nonprofit (And Three That Could Be)

Proverbs NOT about running a Nonprofit

True in life? Maybe. True in running a nonprofit? Nope.

Sometimes we get so used to hearing certain phrases and strings of logic that we forget to pause and ask ourselves, “Wait… Is that even true?” In fact, as my loyal readers know, I bust nonprofit industry-related myths (and specifically, those that involve visitor-serving organizations) here on KYOB and that’s what this site is all about.

I’ve had some fun in the past writing about famous movie lines that are NOT about running a nonprofit – even though folks frequently celebrate these lines (and the movies are excellent). Considering them to be fact for nonprofit organizations is dangerous. So today, let’s bust some (un)trusty English proverbs, shall we?

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1) Curiosity killed the cat

“Curiosity killed the cat” warns of the dangers of “unnecessary” investigation or experimentation. But investigation and experimentation are critical for the long-term survival of visitor-serving and nonprofit organizations today – and the more uncomfortable, the better. In fact, as industry leaders, it’s our job to be curious and ask hard questions even if we don’t like the answers. It is only by embracing trends and data that organizations can survive and thrive in today’s rapidly evolving world.


2) A penny saved is a penny earned

Originally, this proverb reads, “A penny spar’d is twice got.” This may be the most poisonous of the English proverbs for nonprofits and it’s also the one that I’ve actually heard used in an important client leadership team meeting. It is dangerous because it implies that an organization “saving it’s way to prosperity” is a healthy strategy – or that it’s even possible. It’s not. This proverb is untrue for three, primary reasons: 1) Audience and donor acquisition is more accurately considered an investment than a cost (read more); 2) Costs to reacquire audiences and supporters is MUCH higher than the cost to maintain them (seven times more costly, in fact) so “saving” pennies by denying any type of engagement is a bad strategy; 3) Deferred investments always come due. In other words, inaction can be extremely expensive. When leaders tout, “a penny saved is a penny earned” as they pat their development or marketing executive on the back, it is not “a job well done.” It is “an opportunity well avoided.” And likely, it will come back to haunt your organization.


3) Good things come to those who wait

Patience may indeed be a virtue. However, the opportunity for nonprofit organizations may be to more appropriately apply it. For instance, we don’t pay attention to this virtue enough when in comes to fundraising as we create annual goals and measure success based on our fiscal year timelines. When we do try to adhere to this relatively arbitrary timeline, we risk sabotaging our ability to secure bigger donations. Essentially, 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.

HOWEVER, we are too “patient” – and we are particularly pros at “waiting” – in the “sector evolution” department. Our lack of agility is to blame for the negative substitution of the historic visitor phenomenon that cultural organizations are experiencing. It’s also why we’re in such a unique and not-awesome place when it comes to engaging millennials. When it comes to keeping up with the times and industry evolution, good things don’t come to organizations who wait. Irrelevance comes to organizations who wait.


4) When in Rome, do as the Romans do

For nonprofits, to behave as other nonprofits means to be constantly struggling. It means striving for the industry average – which is often struggling for funds on the tail end of mediocre. This proverb is important to bust because “no man is an island” (i.e. no organization or nonprofit leaders is an island) is a proverb that deserves respect. Organizations certainly can and should learn from other organizations! But we need to be careful at our industry conferences because their setup often purposefully obstructs honest assessments and thus, they often unknowingly encourage failure. Organizations also risk catching a bad case of Case Study Envy wherein they think that they’ve uncovered a great idea to take back to their own organization, but they forget to think critically about the differences between the “example” organization and their own. In sum, nonprofit organizations benefit by sharing and learning and always being curious – and that includes asking questions about whether presented initiatives actually met any meaningful goals or if they just sound cool. If we only look to our own industry in order to move forward, it won’t happen.


5) Let sleeping dogs lie

Let’s first talk about the famous anecdote about the boiling frog. The idea is that if a frog is placed into boiling water, it will jump out immediately. However, if the frog is placed in colder water that slowly comes to a boil, the frog will not be able to perceive the danger and will be boiled alive. The story is used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to threats that rise gradually. In our industry, “threats” that rise gradually could be called trends – and we need to pay attention to them to survive. When organizations “let sleeping dogs lie,” they put important questions about the evolution of the industry as well as their own organizations on hold, constantly believing that everything is alright as the world turns in the other direction. The thing is, one day a cultural organization, for instance, might look around and discover that free admission isn’t the cure-all for engagement that they’d been banking upon and in fact may hurt their organization long-term, free days do not attract underserved audiences, there are key audiences that they’ve developed a reputation for NOT engaging, and social media is their most important communication channel – even more than their website. By the time these things are realized, they may have already had to lay off staff.


Let’s think twice about repeating these phrases in leadership meetings, board rooms, conferences, or while even standing in hallways connected to nonprofit organizations. They don’t belong there. Of course, not all English proverbs need “busting.” Some may need elevating. Quickly and just for fun – here are three that deserve a tip of the hat when it comes to applying to nonprofit organizations.


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1) It takes two to tango

An organization needs people in order to survive and carry out its mission. (Chances are, your mission has something to do with people directly.) This is why connectivity is king. An organization can declare importance, but the market decides the relevance of the message and content. Until organizations understand this, they may have a hard time securing supporters and evangelists in today’s connected world.


2) Necessity is the mother of innovation

Nonprofits often aim to be efficient with their spending, so making smart investments is important. To that end, it may be wise for organizations to take on “smart experiments” that help organizations reach their goals. Digital engagement for digital engagement’s sake is a dumb idea and usually not the best use of funds, but organizations do this when they misunderstand and think that digital engagement is about technology more than it is about people. Let’s prioritize initiatives that mean something and that help us master industry issues that we need to resolve.


3) Actions speak louder than words

This is why data suggest that visitor-serving organizations that highlight their missions financially outperform those marketing primarily as attractions. What you say matters, but what you do and how you “show” your organization’s values matters more when it comes to garnering support and securing donations.


All of these short expressions of popular wisdom certainly have their places in life – but that doesn’t mean that they all have a place in the nonprofit board room.


Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. 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 for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

The Two Most Important Mindset Shifts For Engaging Millennials

These two, simple mental shifts are the foundation for engaging millennials (…and everyone else, too).

This week’s Know Your Own Bone fast facts video is the result of a simple question that I was asked during a workshop with a client organization: “Overall, what are the most important “big-picture” things to keep in mind in regard to engaging millennials?”

Darn. Good question! There’s so much information going around about how to engage millennials within cultural organizations right now – and for a dang good reason. Millennials are both the most underserved age demographic visiting (or rather, not visiting) museums – and millennials ALSO manage to be our most frequent visitors. (Here’s the data.) It’s a unique and urgent situation and it’s one that all visitor-serving organizations need to be aware of right now. Our behavioral attributes also make us very smart audiences to engage and the things that we want from organizations are a wee bit different than what other generations are looking for. In a nutshell, there’s a lot of critical information to know. But at the end of the day, what information is most critical?

Successfully engaging millennials is about strategy – not tactics. No, the answer is not simply, “use social media” or “serve cocktails after hours.” Those tactics are meaningless without understanding guiding strategy. If those things worked on their own, we wouldn’t have the huge “millennial problem” that we have. And remember folks, Pokemon Go is a fad – not a trend.

If you’re getting overwhelmed, here are two, big picture takeaways that will improve your organization’s ability to effectively reach millennials. There are a lot of great things to know from here, but these two take-aways encompass most of the others. Keep these two mental updates in mind:


Text - talk with audiences - Know Your Own Bone

Cultivating a deep-rooted mentality of talking WITH audiences instead of AT audiences can make a world of difference. Millennials – and increasingly, everyone else – are an extremely connected bunch and the web has changed how people interact with organizations. Today, institutions have real-time feedback mechanisms and they can listen and directly speak with their members and potential visitors. This shift means approaching everything – exhibits, communications, and programs, for instance- as conversations, not as announcements.

It may sound like a subtle difference or maybe even a matter of wording, but it’s actually a big cultural shift for organizations. After all, in the past, talking AT audiences – through TV or radio spots or even exhibits, for instance – was our primary means of reaching audiences. The channels that millennials and everyone else are using talk WITH audiences. Unfortunately, just because some leaders may have more experience with “talk at” channels doesn’t make them more relevant to our audiences. Third party endorsements drive your organization’s reputation – and organizations can speak WITH these endorsers on our newer communication channels.

This quick tip umbrellas the important personalization trends that we are seeing with the market. And this tip does not only apply to marketing! Programs, exhibits, and performances benefit by adopting this mindset as well. This doesn’t mean that everything needs to be unnecessarily interactive, but it does mean that we need to consider that while our organization may be able to declare importance, it is the market that determines relevance. It’s not a matter of “dumbing” anything down, but of finally acknowledging that people matter to our organizations and our missions. And not only uppity cultural gatekeeper people! The totally curious and awesome and not-necessarily PhDed people that we are trying to serve and “spark” in order to fulfill our missions (and remain financially solvent) matter, too! (Matter more? I’ll let you decide for your own organization…)


Text - Ask so what - Know Your Own Bone

We live in a world with a lot of noise. So before creating something new, rolling out a new initiative, or even posting to social media, it helps to ask, “So what?” or “Why does this matter to other people?” Helpful hint: the answer probably has something to do with your organization’s mission.

Millennials – and again, increasingly everyone else – are socially conscious consumers. To these folks, your organization’s mission matters. Approaching exhibits, programs, and messaging while asking ourselves “So what?” can help us create connections that are meaningful and impactful. Making this thought process a part of our organization’s culture can help cut through the noise. The things that we post, share, create, display, and perform cannot just have meaning to us – they need to have meaning for our audiences in order to inspire action.

Asking, “so what?” forces your organization to think strategically – and it’s when organization’s don’t first answer this question that they end up with “one-off” tactics for reaching millennials like a social media competition. Incorporating fads can be a smart idea- but it’s a matter of tactics. Long term engagement of this new and huge audience is a matter of strategy – and that runs deeper than using emojis in a new exhibit (for instance). Incorporating these tactics is only valuable insofar as they are relevant to audiences and spark a connection that is aligned with your mission (to educate, to inspire, to get them coming back, etc.)


Millennials are a critical audience for cultural organizations to engage and there is a LOT of work to do. I say this despite the very desperate want by some to believe that Pokemon Go will stay this popular until the end of time and that the last survivors on earth will be cockroaches and Pokemon Go. (Millennial cockroaches playing Pokemon Go and visiting museums? That seems to be the hope.) Certainly, there are lessons to be learned and built from fads but my point is this one: We need to reach millennials and things are sounding complicated. At the end of the day, remembering that we need to keep our audiences in mind and we need to consider how we connect with them is most important. In today’s world, organizations will benefit by incorporating a culture of talking WITH audiences and asking themselves, “How is this meaningful to these audiences?”

Sounds simple, right? That’s because “reaching millennials” is often used as industry code for “adapting to the new realities of our connected world.” Doing THAT is what engages this huge audience – and everyone else. Let’s hop to it.


Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. 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 for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

One Year of Fast Facts: Here Are Your Favorite Videos for Cultural Executives

The amazing Guy Bauer Productions team surprised me with this little video because I am a ridiculous human. I could not ask for better partners in making these videos!

Loyal KYOB readers will remember that last year, posts were published every other Wednesday as opposed to every week. But the tribe of KYOB readers was steadily growing – and I was getting more and more messages, emails, and opportunities to aid organizations with nonproprietary data and associated analysis. Something needed to change. I needed to post more frequently, of course, but my inability to make it to many conferences (dang, day job!) left me wishing for a better way to make the data shareable and accessible to cultural executives. Enter: Incredible support from the IMPACTS team and the amazing talent of Guy Bauer Productions.

The very first Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video was posted one year ago (Admission Pricing is a Science – Not an Art), and my YouTube channel was born as a means to embed videos on this website. So far, I’ve posted 27 videos and I’ve received feedback that they’ve been shared in conferences, all-staff meetings, and board rooms. What a rush! I hope that these videos have been helpful to you in sharing fast facts with friends and colleagues and I hope that they – like other KYOB posts – have ignited passionate conversation within your institutions. (What other kind could I hope for?!)

KYOB fast facts image Some fun facts:
I’m wearing TOMS in all of the videos. (Comfort first, amiright?) Nika Vaughn Makeup Artists (earlier videos) and Makeup By Jaycie (more recent videos – and the lovely lady in the photos above) make me appear as if I kind of have my act together in the looks department (it’s a ruse). The Guy Bauer Productions team not only produces incredible videos with engaging graphics, but they are amazing partners. Shoot days are delightful celebrations of Potbelly sandwiches, donuts, drinking my weight in water, laughing with the team, “one more run-throughs,” and trying not to mispronounce “organizations” for the millionth time.

To celebrate a full year of KYOB Fast Fact videos, I would like to share your most shared and viewed of the bunch. These are the most shared and viewed on Know Your Own Bone, as a very vast majority of viewership takes place here on KYOB as opposed to YouTube.


Let us kick off this countdown!


10) Local Audiences Have Skewed Perceptions of Cultural Organizations (DATA) 

Regardless of region or cultural organization type, local audiences are the hardest to please.


9) How Much Money Should Your Cultural Organization Invest in Getting People in the Door? (DATA) 

Here’s how much money museums and cultural organizations should be spending to get people in the door – according to data.


8) Data Reveals the Best Thing About a Visit to a Cultural Organization (DATA)

Hint: It’s not seeing exhibits or performances. (That is a distant second.)


7) The Five Best Reasons to Add Millennials to Your Nonprofit Board of Directors 

Don’t have any millennials on your nonprofit board yet? Your future might be tough.


6) Know Yourself: The Often Forgotten Key to a Successful Social Media Strategy

Don’t even think about creating a social media strategy without having your brand vetted by leadership first.


5) Which Is More Important For Cultural Organizations: Being Educational or Being Entertaining? (DATA)

From a visitor’s perspective, which is more important for cultural organizations: Being entertaining or being educational? Here’s what the data says.


4) Nonprofit Recognition: What Matters More To Visitors Than Your Tax Status (DATA)

Do visitors know that museums  and other cultural organizations are nonprofits? Data says: Nope. Here’s what really matters to audiences about your organization.


3) Why Discounting Hurts Your Cultural Organization And What To Do Instead (DATA)

Discounts don’t do what organizations think that they do…


2) Five Data-Informed Fast Facts About Visitors To Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Visitors to cultural organizations often have certain telltale behaviors.  Just for fun, here are five of them.


1) The Membership Benefits That Millennials Want From Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Don’t have many millennial members? Maybe you aren’t offering a membership program that millennials actually want.


Thank you to all of my great KYOB readers for your support and for sharing these videos! I plan to continue making these videos for as long as they are helpful to all of you. As usual, I welcome all and any feedback! Please leave any feedback or requests in the comments! Cheers to another year of sub-three-minute (most of the time) fast fact videos!


Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few more Know Your Own Bone Fast Fact posts that didn’t make the top-ten cut, but are among my favorites:


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, Nonprofit Marketing 2 Comments
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