Audience Insights: Organizations Overlook the Most Important Clues

Clues for increased satisfaction and visitation are often right under the noses of cultural organizations. I frequently hear executive leaders Read more

Do Expansions Increase Long-Term Attendance? (DATA)

Sometimes it feels like nearly every cultural organization is taking on a major expansion project. But do these projects Read more

Over 60% of Recent Visitors Attended Cultural Organizations As Children (DATA)

You may have guessed it was true – but here’s why this statistic matters. The idea that those who visit Read more

Cultural Organizations: It Is Time To Get Real About Failures

Hey cultural organizations! Do you know what we don’t do often enough? Talk about our failures. It’s a huge, Read more

How Annual Timeframes Hurt Cultural Organizations

Some cultural executives still aim for short-term attendance spikes at the expense of long-term financial solvency – and they Read more

Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

Special exhibits don’t do what many cultural organizations think that they do. If fact, they often do the opposite. Read more

Community Engagement

6 Big, Societal Changes That Have Already Happened. Has Your Museum Adjusted?

“One day, going on Facebook will be synonymous with going on the Internet.”

“In the future, there will be far fewer middle managers.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if, someday soon, every brand on the market will be tied to a nonprofit or a social cause.”

I don’t think these are futurist claims. It seems to be that what we think of as likely happening in the near future is actually happening right now. Often, it has already happened.

It’s possible that going on the Internet will be synonymous with going on Facebook, but in many ways, that’s the case right now. There are already fewer middle managers in the workplace than there have been in recent years, and corporate social responsibility has been called a new, necessary value for corporate survival.   There are a lot of seemingly confident predictions that we make everyday in nonprofit organizations.  Usually, these casual comments aren’t just predictions that we share conversationally with coworkers, but important perceptions and clues to strategic organizational evolution. Casual comments about the future are key to organizational periphery because adapting to ‘the future’ as if it were right now is likely to keep cultural nonprofits relevant and better able to adapt to change.

 

Here are six societal changes that have already started happening in a big way:

1. Nonprofit, for-profit, or individual: only the kind survive. Evolutionary biologists (from Science Daily and other places, too) predict that kindness may trump fitness in the next leg of human evolution. We’re seeing clues of this already. Much of the youngest generation entering the workforce is looking to be hired by nonprofits and public sector entities (though that doesn’t mean they don’t hope to change a few things). More than ever before, folks want to be doing meaningful work. When unemployment went up even early in the recession, so did volunteer rates. When people lost jobs and were unable to volunteer money, they volunteered their time to helping others instead. We are becoming nicer, and we are placing increased value on organizations that are nice. In 2009, Time Magazine called the change in societal and consumer behavior a Responsibility Revolution. According to Towers Watson, being socially responsible is no longer an option for private companies. It’s required for organizational survival. In sum, we’re all high on feel-good oxytocin and we feel it and spread it when we’re nice.

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Champion your mission- Work your cause!
  • Help yourself while helping others- Team up with other nonprofits and social causes.
  • Make it easy for people to show publicly that they support you- You look good and so do your passionate supporters.

 

2. Online  and virtual communication has changed how we operate. Speaking of oxytocin, we also release it when we use social media and it contributes to feelings of trust and security. Perhaps this is why virtual relationships feel “real”… because, according to our brains, they really are real.  There are 600 billion people on Facebook, and all that friending, sharing, and liking has already had effects on what we value. Namely, transparency has been a transformational force in the global economy. Because everything is online and in the open, we want nothing to be hidden. Combining the movement toward positive public good described above and transparency born from the Web has yielded radical transparency. Now we need see-through CEOs.  Information share, information access, creating connections, building relationships, learning new skills… It’s all already moved online.

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Update your public relations plan. Value-alignment is more important than making sure everyone says the same exact words during a PR crises.
  • Be real. Be sincere, identify yourself and your relationship to the organization, and speak conversationally.
  • Don’t be defensive. People will wonder what you are hiding.

 

3. Content is king. And his reign is  stronger than ever before. Speaking of wanting everything to be in the open, Information rules. In fact, every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of man until 2003. This is in large part thanks to the web, but don’t be quick to think that’s we’re robots spouting crazy facts like those people in the Bing commercials. Studies have found that people who really need information seek it from other people– especially people they already know. (Re) enter: Facebook. It’s not just a platform for personal connections, but for sharing ideas, gathering information, and a mecca for word-of-mouth marketing. This means that social media is great news for organizations. It builds connections while building on a museum’s mission to educate by sharing information- and making it easy for other people to share that information, too.

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Know your stuff- If you have information to share (more than something to sell), then you have value.
  • Share your stuff- Make your organization accessible and share your information.
  • Become a hub- You don’t need to know all of the answers. If you’re unsure of one, point your fan or follower to someone who would know the answer. They’ll remember.

 

4. Employees of an organization work with one another, not for one another. The idea behind flat organizations is that removing intervening middle-managers empowers employees, allowing them to play an active role in the decision-making process, creating organizational buy-in, improving morale, and therefore strengthening the entire organization. Flat organizations move more quickly than hierarchical organizations and have several other structural benefits. These organizations are gaining attention. This is how modern businesses run themselves now: with an eye toward employee empowerment. This is in large part due to the web and the growth of information-share. This type of organizational structure should be of particular interest to nonprofits, as it allows organizations to move quickly. A side, fun fact? The science of teams is now actually a science.

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Remove the walls and encourage conversation- Put the museum director in meetings with the coordinators.

 

5. If you’re a softie, now’s your moment. There may be no crying in baseball, but we’re moving closer to crying in business. Well, at least business is becoming more subjective, emotional, and related to non-measurable aspects of conscientiousness. Given all of the shifts mentioned above, this isn’t much of a shock. Now even MBA programs want folks who are more creative team-players than the old-fashioned my-way-or-the-highway guys. All this sound feminine? It kind of is. Does that mean the pay gap will catch up and the nonprofiteers (often masters of soft skills) will be making all the dough in the future thanks to their in-demand leadership skills? I sure hope so, but I guess we have to wait and see…

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Hire soft-skilled employees– Look for people who are resourceful, collaborative, and display a positive attitude.
  • Celebrate your employees and coworkers- Because chances are, they already display the soft skills that are leading your cultural organization.

 

6. Generation Y is taking the reigns. And there are a few general qualities that make up members of this generation: entrepreneurial, tech-savvy, over-confident, casual, team-oriented, and we value time over money. There’s value in getting this demographic on board and connecting with your charity. The key to that is in supporting them.  I think blogger Sam Davidson says it best: “More Millennials would rather buycott than boycott, and we’d rather volunteer than vote… Gen Y has the potential to change the world, just not in the way you think.” Aside from the fact that they operate in ways that mirror big societal changes taking place and they can keep you current, here are a few more reasons to hire and engage Millennials.

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Hire young folks as managers– or staying relevant may be a bit harder…
  • Understand there are things to learn– They operate differently sometimes.
  • Know that the way everything operates is changing– And will change even more with Generation Z.
Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

How Regional Associations May Be Models for Museums of The Future

Folks engaging and learning from one another at last week's CAM Conference in Pasadena, or a peek into the future?

I’ve noticed that a great deal of my favorite resources come from national, regional, or local associations. This makes sense to me. Professional and organizational development is their thing, right? But if you think about the role that these associations play in their communities, it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to conclude that the museum of the future is a regional association.

The California Association of Museums shared their new strategic plan during the CAM Conference in Pasadena last week. When Phil Kohlmetz, the CAM President was speaking, he mostly used the future tense, describing what the organization will be because the plan is in its first of five years. But in actuality, he was pointing out how the association has adjusted and arranged priorities to strengthen what it actually is. During their presentation, I thought simply, “If all cultural organizations adopted these areas of focus, then every cultural organization would be a high-impact organization.” Take a look at the focus areas that make up CAM’s strategic alignment:

  • Build capacity
  • Heighten advocacy
  • Foster community

Perhaps national and regional associations, being connector organizations made up of individuals who can maintain a day-to-day bird’s-eye view of the industry, are terrific models for museums’ strategic futures. Even if they didn’t take up any new practices or adjust to the times, the past and present function of associations may be similar to museum functions of the future.

Looking at attributes that make up national and regional associations reveals that what associations are now, and what museums may be in the future, may be close to the same thing. As such, examining the goals and operations of associations may be a helpful exercise for nonprofits preparing for the future.

National and regional associations actively have aimed to:

  • … Exist as connectors. Between every session at the CAM conference, the organization provided an opportunity for networking and building connections. They put on breakfasts, lunches, even an ice cream social! The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) actively conducts meet-ups to get folks connected. Associations bring in different speakers and writers to offer different opportunities to connect, and, like a museum, they bring in people eager to learn and explore. Like museums and other cultural organizations, associations aim to get people to interact and learn from one another.
  • …Create horizontal professional communities. Most associations that I’ve come across have committees. The American Association of Museum’s (AAM) committees are the first to come to my mind as an example- probably because they have so many of them. Within these committees, folks are invited to engage equally and contribute to the conversation. Organizations are becoming less vertical (hierarchical) and more horizontal in the way that they operate. They are welcoming more voices when making important decisions and they are working more often in groups. National and regional associations have been putting like-minded folks in groups for years in order to support one another and help come up with industry solutions.
  • …Cultivate professional development and encourage skill-building. The nonprofit sector is notorious for ducking out on providing employees with professional development opportunities. For associations, professional development and skill building is front and center. It’s not a surprise: cultural nonprofits that follow the lead of investing time and energy into their people will develop stronger, more valuable people and build a more successful organization.
  • …Share resources and strengthen their communities. Museums and cultural organizations aim to educate in order to build more vibrant, healthy communities. The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) invested the time and energy to develop a format for online engagement during their 2010 annual meeting. The organization realized the location barrier that existed; not everyone can be in Oklahoma City, but everyone at a cultural organization could likely benefit from involvement in the conference. They paid attention to issues threatening their ability to share quality resources, and they employed new media solutions to create an interactive platform to keep the information flowing, and people conversing. Speaking of which, most associations have the benefit of being able to…
  • …Pay attention. They have a macro-view of the community they serve and industry needs. If you have your eyes open to things happening in the outside world, then you are better able to adjust. Moreover, you’re more likely to see changes coming and ensure that you’re organization doesn’t get left behind.
  • …Create a hub. Do you remember a few years back when marketers would do whatever it took not to link to another webpage? The fear seemed to be that if the web user clicked on something else, they’d leave your page. There’s no way to know if they’d come back. At the CAM conference, Maria Gilbert of The Getty said simply, “create a hub.” Make your website (or your people) the go-to for desired information, and folks will come back. Regional associations have been creating hubs long before the boom of online engagement.
  • …Welcome evangelists. Like me, because they know that if I can find a way to get to the CAM conference, I’ll likely learn something and share it with my friends and networks. Similarly, many associations give out fellowships or scholarships that allow young professionals and students to attend events. This is a great idea because young people are using social media the most to create online content. Cultural nonprofits (and public sector entities) should do this too. Know who your evangelists are and make it easy for them to help you spread your message– online or otherwise.
  • …Master the market. What I mean by this, really, is that they function based off of traditional utility functions. This isn’t new for museums, which do the same thing. They produce goods and services that are desired by a population, and they make a portion of their revenue from “selling” their product to donors. This is worth attention, because an organization that does not utilize the market or work to sustain itself would be a bad example of an organization to mimic.

Perhaps association organizations are museums that are not place-based or artifact-based, but people-based. That may be the reason why some of their traditional functions serve as good models for future cultural nonprofit operations. As society continues to evolve to be more social (or anti-social, depending on what you think about online communications) and participatory, the traditional practices of association organizations become even better models. Perhaps they aren’t ideal (how do you incorporate ‘place’?), but they may be a cheat-sheet about how to think about the future.

What do you think? Can museums of the future learn a thing or two from national and regional association organizations? Please weigh in with your thoughts.

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

Nonprofit Management: 3 Ways That Social Media Builds High-Impact Museums

The Exploratorium is one of the twleve organizations identified by Crutchfield and Grant that displays all six practices of high-impact nonprofits.

Nonprofits risk missing out on several opportunities when they entertain the mindset that social media belongs to the marketing department. This is especially true for museums. For one,  audience-inspiring stories often stem from inside operations, such as conservation, horticulture, and life sciences departments, not to mention anecdotes and lessons from  floor staff, interpreters, docents and ongoing programs. The opportunity that social technology affords museums in spreading their mission of educating visitors cannot be ignored. Social technology helps educational initiatives transcend museum walls, and even the most common social media sites offer opportunities to engage different types of learners.

But the issue extends beyond the notion that social media helps nonprofits and museums better fulfill their missions. Social technology can (and soon enough, in everyday life, will be) used to make nonprofits stronger organizations overall. In preparation for their 2007 book, Forces for Good, Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant examined twelve of the nation’s most impactful and successful nonprofit organizations. They pieced their findings together and outlined six practices of high-impact nonprofits: inspire evangelists, nurture nonprofit networks, share leadership, advocate and serve, make markets work, and master the art of adaptation.   Today, social technology plays a leading role in helping organizations to meet more than half of the critical six practices of high-impact nonprofits. And chances are, social media will continue to evolve so that we can even better utilize social media to take on these critical functions.

1. Inspiring Evangelists. Successful organizations turn outsiders into insiders in order to help spread a message. Evangelists often have a personal connection to an organization’s cause and they cultivate their own networks to support the cause. This effort helps build the organization’s overall community. Successful organizations open the door to outsiders and seek to communicate with them and creating meaningful experiences. Because being social is at the heart of social media, sites help to efficiently create conversation and cultivate evangelists. In the world of social media, we call these evangelist outsiders free agents. It’s no wonder we’ve developed have our own term for online evangelists in the last four years;  the Internet makes it easier than ever to connect with causes- and to connect with people who support your causes.

2. Nurturing Nonprofit Networks. According to Crutchfield and Grant’s research, successful charities recognize that strengthening their organization involves also strengthening the sector and sharing information. The notion that a good nonprofit tries to put itself out of business is at least conceptually true. A step forward in innovative educational outreach for one museum is a step forward for the power of informal learning for everyone.  Social media makes it easier to grow the pie and share knowledge. Several significant online resources are free to everyone. If one museum has developed a new exhibit that has been shown to have educational value, it’s easy for museum professionals to share the information. In fact, the blogosphere is great for information-share and overall sector-strengthening. Information sharing not only strengthens museums overall, but it helps to develop individual leadership. And we need strong and knowledgeable leadership for this evolving industry. As a related side, here are some of my favorite, basic resources for individual museum professional development.

3. Mastering the Art of Adaptation. Social media not only facilitates the development of this organizational skill (adaptation), but having good social media requires it. Forces for Good shares a cycle for adapting to change: listen, experiment and innovate, evaluate and learn, modify. This is the exact approach that is advocated (yes, for lean start-ups, but similarly) for developing social media strategies. In order to be effective on social media, folks representing museums and other nonprofit organizations must listen, try new things, and take note of how audiences respond to those initiatives. Moreover, mastering adaptation involves balancing bureaucracy and creativity. As museums embrace social media, they find themselves both hungry for online engagement but also apprehensive of it. Radical trust is an issue for museums. Taking on social media mimics the organizational process of adopting change, mostly because adapting to social media is a big change for many institutions. The cycle never ends. In order to be taking full advantage of social media, organizations must be constantly listening, testing, and fixing. They must be constantly adapting.

Nonprofits are moving forward in utilizing social to aid in the final three practices of high-impact nonprofits as well.

  • Advocating and serving. Crutchfield and Grant found that high-impact nonprofits both provide their own services and advocate for policy reform. It’s no surprise that social media is a good tool for building awareness and spreading a message. In fact, Planned Parenthood is a good example of an organization tapping into networks to support policy advocacy.
  • Sharing Leadership. “Great nonprofit leaders share power,” Crunchfield and Grant write. Social media can help share information in order to educate professionals and cultivate leaders. It prepares professionals for the sharing of leadership, and empowers them to create their own professional voice through their personal brands.
  • Making Markets Work. Social media can help nonprofit and for-profit partners connect to create collaborations that financially aid nonprofits and lend a reputation for promoting social good to for-profits. One way that museums leverage the market is by selling admission. In this case, social media really does work as a true marketing force, and online tools and mobile applications can help visitors purchase admission remotely.

Social media is a key resource for museums that want to develop nonprofit management techniques to help raise their organization above the rest. However, this will not be the case for long. Before we know it, those organizations that have not tapped into online networks to strengthen their museum will be far behind. Using social media to actively and consciously cultivate sustainability and long-term impact will be commonplace. At some point we may find that online engagement through social technology is not just a smart business move, but a matter of long-term nonprofit survival.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 1 Comment

How Planned Parenthood Used Social Media to Create a Win-Win Situation for their Cause

Over the weekend alone, more than 357,000 people signed Planned Parenthood’s online open letter to Congress to oppose the recent vote from the House of Representatives to bar federal funding for the organization. Planned Parenthood utilized social media to help reposition themselves from a “losing” situation (facing cuts in federal funding) to more of a win-win situation (garnering public support and raising awareness and passion for their cause).

Nonprofits rock at using social media because it supports storytelling, inspires personal connections, and heightens the transparency required to attract donors. It does these things better, and at less of a cost, than a Superbowl ad (or most any ad, for that matter). But there’s an ongoing tension between social media and its ability to have a direct, positive monetary impact for organizations. Like so many actions in the world of nonprofits, it’s hard to monetize and determine the ROI of the effort in terms of dollars.

Planned Parenthood has created a win-win situation: If Planned Parenthood succeeds in overcoming the recent vote to bar federal funding for the organization, then they will have a monetary benefit that resulted from online engagement efforts (they kept funding that might otherwise be lost). But if hundreds of thousands of social media users signing an open letter causes no change in government action, Planned Parenthood still wins. They’ve managed to create a compelling call to action that got their cause into the newsfeed of millions of people in an urgent and compelling way that folks are likely to remember. These people are potential donors with a new reason to contribute. If Planned Parenthood inspires government funding or not, it was still a huge success to summon potential donors who may give money to the organization, should the cuts go through. If your nonprofit organization is going to lose federal funding (which is almost never a “win”), it probably doesn’t hurt to capture hundreds of thousands of hearts in the process.

For better or worse, this case illustrates some interesting ideas about how people relate to causes via social media. Here are some observations that may have led to the organization’s online success:

 

1. Planned Parenthood’s open letter made it easy to be an evangelist for a cause. Signing the letter takes less than a minute and the letter may have received a lot of attention for that very reason. It made caring about a cause easy and it let people think that they were doing something extremely significant. And they actually were, indeed, becoming evangelists for something significant. Public service and social causes are growing increasingly important to us as consumers (read: supporters and donors), which also may have aided in inspiring thousands to sign the letter. This is over-simplified, but here’s the point:  making the letter easy to sign made it easy for people to do something “good,” and because that’s cool and you are cool when you support social change, people want to share that they support it. Result? Lots and lots of easy evangelists.

 

2. The call to action wasn’t the most important one. It was the most urgent. The call to action isn’t for monetary support, though that would be more active and likely have a bigger impact than adding your name to a letter that may or may not be considered significant in the eyes of officials. Although I hope that it is, it’s not a stretch to see how this online letter might not be taken too seriously. Case in point? The Facebook group called “We Hate the New Facebook, so STOP CHANGING IT!!!” has 1.5 million fans. Not even Facebook cares to listen to the group and it’s on their own platform. Like the Planned Parenthood letter, there’s no threatening action here to make leaders think these people care all too much when it comes down to it. The letter and its support could easily be written off as something that may have more to do with exposure than passionate belief that funds formally allocated to Planned Parenthood shouldn’t go somewhere else.  Putting your name on an online letter is something, but it’s far from the most active thing that Planned Parenthood could ask their supporters to do. In fact, Planned Parenthood didn’t seem to ask for active donations at all in their I Stand with Planned Parenthood campaign. Was that the right move? Maybe. Maybe not.

 

3. Planned Parenthood has cultivated 400,000+ emotional investors just online. That’s a lot of potential passion and a lot of visibility. The above points are far from proving on any level that the social media push was not a great idea for the organization. In fact, though it likely wasn’t the primary goal, Planned Parenthood succeeded in creating a large-scale spread of the most valued kind of marketing: word of mouth. Facebook is interesting territory for marketers. It’s a great way to create conversation and spread your message. However, it is a relatively closed network compared to, say, Twitter- where statements can be searched and seen by anyone. To expand your fan-following on Facebook, you need to get other people to spread your message so that it comes up on the newsfeeds of the users’ networks. Planned Parenthood mastered this by sending a follow-up email to each person who signed up for the open letter with a prominent button asking you to make the message your Facebook status.  It was easy and it worked. It’s likely that all 400,000+ supporters knew about Planned Parenthood before coming across the letter, but now those supports have done three valuable things:

  1. learned more about the organization, assuming they read the letter they signed
  2. took action to support the cause (emotional investment)
  3. and many stated their support publicly (solidifying their emotional support and integrating it into their online identity).

 

4. What Planned Parenthood does next, counts. The organization has built incredible momentum and Planned Parenthood will likely have to do something to harness that momentum before it dwindles. If you’re a museum person, this is the same problem that the Museum of Science and Industry faced after they chose their Month at the Museum winner. How do you keep people engaged for the main event? In this case, how do you get these people to stick around to see if Planned Parenthood gets federal funding? More importantly, how can you utilize this momentum to get people to help support the organization financially if it doesn’t…. or even if it does? There’s a lot of potential here, and there’s a lot that nonprofit organizations can learn about the role of social media in advocacy through what happens next.

 

As a side for museum-focused folks out there (and others!), Planned Parenthood isn’t the only organization that risks losing funding. There are some scary anti-museum amendments being considered by Congress for FY 2011. While reading about Planned Parenthood, it’s hard not to wonder what the online museum community would do if a severe anti-museum amendment threatened the industry that we both care about fiercely, and that supplies jobs to fellow museum aficionados. Nonprofit organizations in general can learn a lot by watching and supporting Planned Parenthood’s efforts right now. Particularly with regard to the evolving tool of social media which will likely play a growing and important role in advocacy, enagement, and summoning public support to create and realize change.

Please weigh-in with comments about lessons you are taking away from the situation and interesting tidbits that may help shape how nonprofits can use social tools to cultivate political support.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 2 Comments

The Key to Modern Day Marketing: Is Your Museum Utilizing Free Agents?

It’s no surprise that business practices, and especially marketing strategies, are evolving due to current changes in the way people operate and communicate. We didn’t have Facebook ten years ago- now organizations that are not cultivating online networks are doomed to fall behind in building brand loyalty and summoning the benefits of organizational transparency.

These changes, combined with the growing influence of Generation Y in the workplace, have created a new force to be recognized by your organization’s marketing and development departments: free agents.

Who and what are free agents? I’ll tap into The Networked Nonprofit for my favorite definition: Free agents are individuals working outside of organizations to organize, mobilize, raise funds, and communicate with constituents for a cause. They are generally comfortable with and adept at using social media. Bloggers are free agents, influential tweeters are free agents, and your tech-savvy and socially-connected nephew who believes in your organization is a free agent, too. They are social citizens dedicated to a cause. Though not all free agents are members of Generation Y, Millennials have grown up communicating and creating networks on the internet. They have a tribe to tap into when they want to spread an important message or highlight a cause. I’ve argued before that this is a good reason why museums and nonprofits should hire candidates with personal brands: they have a network. They can help you reach people.

Why your organization needs free agents. Free agents are connected individuals who care about your organization’s cause, and their network is likely to consist of similarly-minded people who are also likely to care about your cause. Free agents not only spread awareness of your organization, but they increase morale, and may even put together events or programs to benefit your organization. For instance, a free agent may have a party in which all proceeds go to a certain organization. Though they do not work for the museum or cultural nonprofit, free agents will champion your organizations message simply because they have a network and they believe in your cause.

  • A little example of a free agent in action. The American Association of Museums runs The Museum Assessment Program. It is a wildly affordable program for small and mid-size museums that helps strengthen operations, improve planning, and better serve communities through a process of self study and peer review. Applications are due by February 18, 2011. I do not work for AAM and nobody is paying me to let you all know about this seemingly-awesome resource (if you didn’t know about it already). I am writing about MAP because I support the program’s mission and I know that quite a few of you work for organizations that might benefit from MAP. I am playing the role of a light free agent for AAM because I, personally, think this program is really cool. But free agents can play more active roles as well. I might host a meet-up to discuss the benefits of MAP with museum professionals, or ask my blogger friends to spread the word, or run a marathon and raise funds for AAM to take another mid-sized museum into the program. It is not unusual for free agents to do these things.

How free agents work. Because free agents are internet-savvy folks who are independent of the organization, they are hard to control. In fact, an important part of utilizing free agents is understanding two key concepts:

  1. You cannot control free agents. It’s important to work with free agents, but treating free agents as if they work for you is a speedy way to lose a free agent. This is particularly bad news if the free agent you are working with has gone to great lengths to cultivate excitement around your museum or program. This also connects well to my second point.
  2. Free agents will come and go. Many free agents are members of Generation Y, and this generation is loyal to causes but feels skeptical about long-term loyalty to an organization. While free agents may come and go, remember to keep the door open in case they want to return to promote your organization.

Why free agents are good for your social media mentality. Certain thought leaders in the advertising field have argued that you don’t need a social media strategy (hint: It’s about values and people, not the tool). Working with free agents requires an openness and eagerness on the part of the institution. The fact that you cannot control or plan for free agents (aside from making yourself accessible) helps put museum professionals in a good place: focusing on community and values instead of trying to make rules about using social media. And “rules” have a way of fuzzing things up when it comes to brand transparency.

In sum, keep the door open for free agents. While nothing replaces face-to-face communication, it’s easy for professionals (especially members of older generations who are particularly unfamiliar with social media) to underestimate the value of online networks in helping an organization to reach marketing and fundraising goals. It may seem particularly strange to be encouraged to devote time and energy to cultivating young, sometimes still-unproven professionals. But try ignoring young professionals who are looking to support your organization, and you may find yourself slapping your forehead and (just for laughs) relating to this scene from Pretty Woman.

*Image based on photo from tremendousnews.com

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 2 Comments

OnlyUp: The Key to Change is in the Word “Social”

This morning, OnlyUp launched. It is an action-oriented, bimonthly journal about young adults in the nonprofit sector. The online journal seeks to engage the nonprofit sector in conversations related to social change leadership. The first issue features articles from bloggers and thought-leaders such as Allison Jones (one of four creators), Robert Egger, and Akhila Kolisetty and covers pressing topics in the sector. This post presents my first contribution to OnlyUp. You can view the article here.

 

If you’re a nonprofit professional, then you probably come across the word “social” at least five times today. Nonprofit blogs and literature are running wild with terms like “social change” and “social justice.” We’re giving the word the leading position in mash-ups with other buzzwords like “media,” “entrepreneurship,” and “capital.” Not to mention, we’re well aware of its match with “security” and “worker.” It even has connections to topics we cover in school like social studies and social psychology. But are all of these terms linked because they include the word “social”? Does social media, for instance, have anything to do with with social workers? I think it does.

It seems as though the words that we use with “social” are increasingly giving us not-so-subtle clues about key ways to bring about large-scale change in the upcoming decade. It’s as though we are providing our own cheat-sheet to bring about public good and possible solutions are coded within our own daily language.

The State of Now: an Era of Social. Our first clue that change-makers should pay attention to this word is apparent in the definition of the word “social” itself. “Social” means related to society or human relationships. It makes sense, then, that the word would come up frequently during this era of collaborative learning in which we are seeing an increase organic, horizontal workplace structures. Moreover, members of Generation Y (born roughly between 1975 and 2000) are thought to be one of the most social and collaborative generations of all time. These individuals are now making their way up the ladder and securing positions as nonprofit leaders. The generation is said to be team-oriented, and with the rise of instant communication technologies, they are easily and constantly connected to one another.

Barack Obama made a call to service in 2009 and, though often called the “Obama Generation,” Millennials weren’t the only ones who listened. Despite economic hardship, overall corporate giving increased in 2009. In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in corporate social responsibility and PricewaterCoopers claimed, after completing a recent report, that a social conscious is a core business value in today’s market. With things like the Pepsi Refresh Project, it’s clear that giving and supporting people is an increasingly important societal value. Science Daily even recently reported that we are evolving into a species built upon the notion of “survival of the kindest.”

What’s in a word? We are in an era in which people, collaboration, and caring for others really counts- and counts even more from one day to the next. Because “social” means related to people and society, it makes sense to look at the things we call “social” with an eye toward how they can help pursue social change. For instance, four seemingly unrelated “social” terms can inform nonprofit leaders of key ingredients for making a difference:

  • Social entrepreneurship: Change will take leaders. A social entrepreneur is a person who recognizes a social problem and summons their ambition and business acumen to create, organize, and sustain a social venture to solve that problem. It’s no question that large-scale change will require several hundred social entrepreneurs (if not thousands). It takes a critical, forward thinking leader to be a social entrepreneur. This is a type of mindset that the sector will likely need to cultivate and empower in order to bring about change.
  • Social media: Change will take collaboration. Social media is providing a basis for information-share and crowd sourcing that can help bring people together to solve complicated issues. This new way of communicating makes it easier to get in touch with people who share similar interests in promoting a cause.
  • Social capital: Change will take people, connections, and compassion. Social capital is the network, spirit, attitude, and personal connections created through social interaction. We “build” social capital by interacting with and relating to people. There’s a connection here to empathy because we are more moved by a cause when it affects someone that we care about. In order for change to happen, we all have to care. And in order for us all to care, we need to be connected.
  • Social psychology: Change will take an understanding of the people we serve, and the people we’re trying to motivate to contribute. Social Psychology aids us in understanding one another. If the goal of large-scale change is to help people, then we must understand these people’s needs and emotions in order to be effective. Moreover, we must understand those who similarly give and choose not to give to our cause. In the private sector, companies are always aware of their external economic climate. Nonprofit leaders must keep a finger on the pulse of the social climate as well.

Leaders navigating the nonprofit landscape looking for the buried treasure of social change need not feel discouraged. Our own language is providing us with possible keys to this treasure as society opens up to embrace a turn toward the social. As best practices grow even more powerful and efficient, nonprofit leaders will be armed with the connections, compassion, community, and communication tools to spread the word and support one another in achieving social change.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 1 Comment

Curator 2.0- The New Duties of an Evolving Job

The occupation of curator was recently ranked one of The 50 Best Careers of 2011 by U.S. News & World Report. While we may find this true over the course of the next year, one thing becomes more and more certain and we continually embrace the information age: the role of the museum curator is changing.

Traditional curators are extremely knowledgeable about art/artifacts. New curators may have to be extremely knowledgeable about people.

Curators decide what to show the public and manage how visitors will experience art and artifacts.  They are the gatekeepers who decide which artworks will be presented… but engaging visitors no longer stops with choosing which painting to hang on the wall and telling docents and interpreters to help build the bridge between academia and public understanding.  Curators will need to become increasingly involved in the bridge-building process.

We are in the midst of an incredible time of information-share, user-generated content, and social technology. Everyone’s a curator.

Museums will need people who can help visitors curate for themselves in creative ways.

According to the U.S. News & World Report article,  “The Labor Department projects the number of curators will rise by 23 percent over the next several years, well above the average rate for all careers. By 2018, there should be about 2,700 new positions added.” I argue that a good portion of these positions added will not be asked to serve the role of traditional curators.

The upcoming need for more curators is great news for museum professionals- especially since the employees that museums need to curate content to optimize visitor engagement may not be the traditional PhD’d curators of the industry in the past. We may find that new curators are specialists in people and communication. We’re already seeing these changes take place in the museum field. For example, Allison Agsten is the Curator of Public Engagement at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. She was hired in order to help make the museum more interactive. She’s not a traditional curator; her background is in communications. But in many ways, she is the traditional curator- evolved. Museum marketers, object conservators, museum interpreters, and program producers may be filling some (perhaps most?) of those 2,700 curator job openings as museums heed the call of community engagement and social technology opportunities.

Specialists and academics are critical for museums and similar institutions to have on staff and their importance will not diminish. However, museums of the future may find that they need people to actively build and maintain the bridge between the academic realm and the sphere of public understanding. They will need people to not only choose works of art for display, but to chose them with a new focus on conversation and audience engagement.

Thanks to emerging tools, the walls between highly academic museums and the communities these institutions serve is more easily scaled , and museums will likely continue to become more interactive. The institution that keeps up the wall may one day wake up to find itself isolated. They’ll need a curator to help lift people up… which, we are learning, will require touching them.

The curators of the future may not look like the curators of the past.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Trends 4 Comments

The Classics: 3 Ways Museums Have Paved the Way in Online Transparency

It’s not breaking news: nearly all networked nonprofits have to grapple with issues regarding radical trust. Museums (those places inspiring real-life wonder… through research and factual evidence) arguably have the greatest cause for concern. We are enjoying an era of increased conversation, information sharing, and valued sincerity. While there’s real risk that, when given the opportunity, folks will weigh-in on a museum’s site with less-than-factual arguments and write negative comments, the benefits of transparency– such as loyalty, trust, and relationship-building– far outweigh the losses.

One of my favorite books on social media (also not new and breaking news) is The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine. I know that many of my broader nonprofit-oriented readers are more than familiar with this book. The museum community? I’m not as sure. But museums play an important role in this book– and outside of it– as drivers of online engagement and brand transparency. The last example is not from the book, but it’s just as popular and serves as a great example of an institution’s understanding of social media. Here are three well-known examples of museums paving the way in online transparency– and not just for the museum industry.

1. That time when the Indianapolis Museum of Art starting putting their Organizational Dashboard on their Homepage. It started in 2007 and it was genius. …At least I think so. You can still see the ongoing stats on a designated webpage. This initiative does not shy away from the truth; while it can serve to boast success in mission-oriented activities such as educational tour participation and the number of works on view, it also displays some potentially not-always-so-great numbers such as energy consumption. While the size of the IMA’s endowment can be uncovered in the organization’s Form 990, placing it front and center makes this could-be threatening information easily accessible. Though the endowment amount below reads $315,100,000, the organization is still seeking funds from donors– and they can see this number without looking for it. Putting these numbers up not only demonstrates transparency, but also trust in the general public. The IMA trusts that potential visitors will understand and accept these numbers which can be perceived as are high, low, or just right in the eye of the beholder. It encourages an understanding of the nonprofit sector and the organization itself. Instead of shying away or putting up barriers, this action embraces engagement, shares struggles and successes, and lets everyone in one the process of building up the institution.

2. The thing I’ll call Night at the Museum: Battle of Strategic Transparency. The Smithsonian Institution has not only opened it’s doors and made their online engagement efforts visible, but they have invited us in by creating the Smithsonian Commons. This effort began to take place in 2008. Here’s the vision for the commons shared by Michael Edson, the Director of Web and New Media Strategy. Before 2008, however, the Smithsonian Institution conducted strategic online efforts behind closed doors (like most similar, though arguably smaller, institutions). Transparency came with a new president: G. Wayne Clough, thus in some sense proving the importance of having upper-level buy-in in order to align initiatives toward organizational transparency. Since then, The Smithsonian Institution has helped paved the road to museum online transparency by putting it all out there: Here’s their Web and New Media Strategy.

The Smithsonian Institutions shares their New Learning Model via Wikispaces and shares their engagement strategy with online communities.

3. All that stuff that the Brooklyn Museum is doing… and not doing… with social media. Okay… yes. The Brooklyn Museum is mentioned in The Networked Nonprofit. They are highlighted for their 2008 crowd-sourcing experiment, “Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition” in which the museum put out an open call for photographs and web visitors ranked images to help choose which would be in the show, “Changing Faces of Brooklyn.” This museum is a leader of online engagement, but the museum has just recently made quite a stir in regard to online transparency. In early November, the museum announced on their blog that their online strategy for the 1stfans program was not having the desired effect, and as a result, the museum discontinued its Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr groups in favor of utilizing meetup.com.  Why so bold and important? Because in this age of social media, there’s a lot of pressure to get moving online. The Brooklyn Museum’s action reminds us that social media is important in building community, but it cannot solve all problems– and when it’s not working for a certain project, then it’s just not working. Social media and online engagement is still an experiment in a sense, but one thing is certain: it provides an opportunity to listen and learn. The Brooklyn Museum learned that their 1stfan efforts weren’t working, and they reacted accordingly and in the best interest of the institution. They were transparent in sharing the purpose of the switch, and they demonstrated loyalty to their mission– and shared their lessons with the greater community.

As shown above, the Brooklyn Museum's Twitter Art Feed communications were not working well for them. The museum openly changed its strategy to better fit its needs. And they explained their reasoning.

It’s been said over and over that nonprofits jump-started many of the online engagement efforts that are common practice in public and private sectors alike. Museums, though (predominately) nonprofits, can relate to private organizations in that they offer goods and services to an individuals who will benefit directly from those goods–as opposed to solely benefiting a third-party. This fact puts museums at an arguable advantage for stepping up to the plate and taking risks regarding radical trust and organizational transparency. They must master both direct sales and fundraising, and they must manage customer experiences and social missions. Museums can learn from both nonprofit and private sector practices, but in the examples above, the opposite has taken place; museums have stepped forward to take on transparency practices that prove powerful lessons for both private and nonprofit organizations.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on The Classics: 3 Ways Museums Have Paved the Way in Online Transparency

How Museums Can Use Social Media to Engage Different Types of Learners

*Can’t see the chart because you are receiving this post via email? Check it out here.

Social Media and online engagement helps museums to reach more people more effectively by communicating content in ways that resonate with different types of learners. In this way, social media can be seen not only as a marketing tool, but a method of engagement for community building– and above all, a tool for learning.

Many have likely heard of the three most widely acknowledged types of learners: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. In Dr. Bruce D. Friedman’s book, How to Teach Effectively, he identifies a fourth type of learner: the reader-writer. I have included it in the chart above because I believe that the onset of the increasing popularity of online tools has given this kind of learner a bit more spotlight in recent years. According to psychologists, most people identify strongly with one of the particular learning profiles mentioned above. Though it’s thought that folks have one main learning style, it’s more likely that an individual learns through a combination of these methods, with one or two standing out has the most prominent.

Museums are heaven for kinesthetic learners, but what about other kinds of learners? An interactive museum is an ideal informal learning environment for a kinesthetic learner who retains information and gains understanding through hands-on activities.  It would be crazy to think that museums aren’t, in many ways, heaven for certain kinds of visual and auditory learners as well. But social media and the unspoken call-to-action for involvement that comes with increased social connectivity allows folks to learn from the museum- even when they are no longer at the museum.

  • Visual Learners– These individuals learn best from pictures, videos, diagrams, and visualization. YouTube and Flickr serve as powerful ways to reach and engage these learners from home. Facebook is a secondary tool because it allows fans to be connected to a museum’s YouTube and Flickr accounts. In other words, it allows links to these sites to come from one aggregated place– assuming your museum posts statuses that connect to other social media accounts. Moreover, Facebook allows visual learners to observe a sort-of timeline of organizational happenings. This way of showing a museum’s news is helpful to a visual learner. Museums can reach this audience via social media by updating Flickr and YouTube accounts with content related to the museum or the area it covers.
  • Auditory Learners- These natural listeners would rather have something explained to them than to read it. Want to get their attention? A podcast should work. YouTube can also serve as a powerful platform for engaging auditory learners, and it’s a tool with twice the power when used with folks who are a part visual and part auditory learner. Museums can reach this audience via social media by creating a podcast or explaining inner-workings of the museum or topics of interest on YouTube.
  • Read/Write Learners- These learners like to see things in writing, and many often need to get their thoughts down on paper (or on a computer screen) in order to take reflection to the next level. It seems as though social media is ideal for these learners, as reading and writing are strongly connected to the Internet, and it the primary method of communicating via social networks. It makes sense that these learners would like social media sites like Facebook and Twitter which allow them to read-up on happenings while also providing the opportunity to contribute. I’d guess that most bloggers and blog commentors are read/write learners. Museums can reach this audience via social media by hosting active Facebook and Twitter accounts and maintaining a blog which allows for site visitor contributions.

In sum: while museums are beneficial for kinesthetic learners and other types of learners as well, social media provides an opportunity for museums to engage these learners in a new way. When responsibility for social media is shared among departments within a museum (or content is created in collaboration), the opportunities for spreading the museum’s mission increases. As a side thought, I wonder if for folks there is both a preferred way to learn in general and a preferred way to learn online. For instance, I think even kinesthetic learners have another preference for learning online. Learning from resources on the Internet is commonplace though we frequently have to be wary of our sources. There’s an opportunity for museums to help “own” a chunk of online learning– and social media may be just the key.

Like the photos of kinesthetic learning in action above? The first photo of the Arizona Science Center, the other is from a very cool article about the California Science Center.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 3 Comments

3 Smart Reasons Why Nonprofits Should Hire Candidates with Personal Brands

Recently, there’s been talk among nonprofit millennials about how personal branding might negatively influence the potential for an individual to be hired…. even though personal branding will make you better at your job. The idea is that nonprofit HR folks may note the strength of a candidate’s personal brand and take it as an indicator that a candidate may be more concerned with their own brand than the organization’s brand. Overlooking a candidate with a strong personal brand because you’re worried that they will care more about themselves than the company is like throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Some of that worry is practical. Members of Generation Y (a large portion of those with personal brands) don’t feel the same level of personal connectivity to their jobs as Baby Boomers and Traditionalists that came before them. In fact, members of Generation Y aren’t as likely to consider their organization of employment to be as integral an aspect of their personal identity, and Gen Y has different workplace motivators. Is that a bad thing for organizations? Maybe. But the world keeps moving and we are entering a future that is ruled by information, ideas, and an entrepreneurial mindset. A big part of that is keeping a fresh perspective.

 

1. Personal branding is indicative of an Institutional Manager– which is the kind you want to hire. In the popular Harvard Business Review article, Power is the Great Motivator, David McClelland and David H. Burnham identify three types of motivation: power, achievement, and affiliation. Arguably, of these three, candidates with a personal brand fall into the desire for achievement category (there are over 50 million blogs so power isn’t as direct, and personal branding doesn’t necessitate a need-to-please, especially since controversial posts often get the most traffic).  The Institutional Manager is identified as the most effective organizational leader and is someone who is highly motivated by both power and achievement. On top of this, the authors found that for folks with balanced power and achievement motivation, then “stories about power tend to be altruistic.” This is more than an ideal manager; it’s the ideal nonprofit manager. This ideal leader is driven by achievement motivation; the same kind of motivation driving those with personal brands.

The opposite of the institutional manager is the personal-power manager. This is the kind of manager that people think they are weeding out if they cut out candidates with personal brands. These candidates are only motivated insofar as the organizational operations result in personal power. The personal-power manager has high power motivation like the institutional manager, but has low achievement motivation. Not only is personal branding indicative of an institutional manager because it necessitates achievement motivation, but it is directly at odds with literature on the personal-power manager.

 

2. Personal branders allow you to tap into a tribe. Speaking of power motivation, we nonprofiteers have that, too.  According to popular blogger and author, Seth Godin, what we all want is to change things. Nonprofit employees, arguably more so than private sector employees, want to change things. Many of us believe strongly in large-scale change or we wouldn’t be working in the sector. What Seth Godin argues is that leaders spread ideas about change by leading tribes. Tribes are silos of interest and Godin argues that tribes will change the world; “It’s about leading and connecting people and ideas.” People with (good) personal brands and a message usually have a tribe– or a group of similarly interested folks who are interested in or agree with their message.

Especially for those interested in nonprofits, personal branding is often about connecting people in order to create change. When you hire a person with a personal brand, you’re signing on their tribe. Your organization will be a key part of their ideas and learning, and that person will share their lessons and passions for your organization– and likely its mission. As a slightly related side, word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most powerful kinds of marketing.  Social media is a mecca for word-of-mouth marketing and if you’re signing on someone and your organization is becoming part of their personal brand, then they are recommending you to their tribe.

 

3. Personal branders are social-tech, brand, and community conscious– and you likely need these areas of expertise in your organization. People on social media are constantly connected to other people, and they often know what’s going on in an industry thanks to their networks. A successful personal brand utilizes social media. If you hire someone with a strong personal brand, then that candidate is likely knowledgable in at least three areas that are important in the business world right now: social technology, branding, and community.

  • Social technology: This person knows how to utilize Facebook, Twitter, and other sites to spread a message– or at the very least they’ve had experience with spreading a message.
  • Brand: If the candidate has built a strong brand on their own, then they’ve developed branding skills that can be utilized by your organization. There’s a lot to learn here: the proper amount of transparency, tone, and the way to think about brands in this era of the social media revolution. Hire someone who knows and you’ll save time on trial and error.
  • Community: As mentioned above, a good personal brand is about building a strong community and getting the attention and respect from the right tribe. This person knows how to connect with other people through the Internet; a skill that will become increasingly desired.

 

While there may be a tendency to think that job candidates with personal brands may be personal-power managers, the tendency is often unfounded. This is not to say that there aren’t a few bad apples in the bunch, but if a person would be a personal-power manager, there are likely hints of this in their personal brand. Instead, it may be helpful to think of personal branding as a resume of the future; folks can often control their personal brand much like they write their own resume. Social media is already helping organizations hire employees more intelligently. Looking for candidates with personal brands that match your organization’s goals and mission may be a key indicator that the candidate has the characteristics your organization not only wants, but needs in order to survive.

And if you don’t have a personal brand, what are you waiting for?

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 12 Comments