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

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 truly sustain long-term increases in attendance? That’s the topic of this week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts Video.

If you feel like there have been a whole heck of a lot of major expansion projects taking place within the United States and beyond, then you’re not imagining things. A recent study by the Art Newspaper revealed that US museums, in particular, spent over 5 billion dollars on expansion projects between 2007-2014…during some of the worst years of financial strife since The Great Depression. That spending amount is more than the total spending of all 37 other countries in the survey combined. A quick Google search on expansions and various cultural organization types seems to suggest that perhaps things aren’t slowing down much. Heck, here are the reported most important museum expansions of 2017.

Given the great deal of spending on increasing the physical footprint of cultural organizations in the US, one may think that we must have compelling reasons for it! Or at least, have a good grip on how an expansion will “pay itself off” – especially since expansions often come with greater operating budgets. While acknowledging that museum expansions are not necessarily all about measuring success by the numbers of visitors they bring in, an investment that secures greater long-term revenues is often the goal that many board members and donors aim for when they support an expansion project.

 

It’s worth noting the appeal that expansion projects may have for major donors. Indeed, cultural organizations need to evolve in several ways to welcome and meet the expectations of a more diverse and connected audience. Meanwhile, it’s generally easier to secure large donations for sexy-sounding new projects than to fundraise for necessary renovations or secure additional investment for ongoing administration needs. There is an issue/opportunity here: Awareness of a need to create and/or maintain a visitor experience that is relevant and engaging in today’s digital world, and a potential to engage big donors in exciting, press-securing, name-dropping, fancy projects. Expansions might make sense if you stop there!

But what if we think about the glory, glamour, and outcomes related to expansions a little bit harder? What can we learn about why they do or do not increase long-term visitation?

IMPACTS tracked attendance to 11 visitor-serving organizations that completed significant expansion projects between years 2003-2011. Each of the assessed organizations had been in business for at least ten years before opening their new expansion. The average project cost was $43.6 million. Here’s what we found:

Ten years preceding expansion (baseline): The first column in the above chart shows average, aggregated annual attendance to these eleven cultural organizations expressed as an index value with the 10-year period preceding the opening of the new expansion quantified as 100.0. This number is our baseline. This way we can compare and consider the impacts for the organizations evenly, even though they each have different respective attendance levels.

Five years preceding expansion: Before we jump to post-expansion visitation, notice that in the five-year duration preceding the opening of the expansions, annual attendance declined on average by 5.2%.

When they undergo an expansion project, organizations tend to forget that visitation often drops during this time for two, important reasons. First, construction tends to lower visitor satisfaction and thus decreases the volume of glowing endorsements that an organization receives. Second, during this period, potential attendees are more likely to defer their visits until after the expansion opens. Why visit now when they can come back later and see the new, cool expansion?

When some organizations consider the “cost” of an expansion project, they overlook some of the opportunity cost. Losing word of mouth endorsements and realizing the related negative visitation impacts isn’t unique to construction – it’s also a major reason why organizations underestimate attendance loss resulting from unforeseen closures due to weather, facility rentals, or civil unrest.

First full year of operations after expansion: Now, the expansion opens! During the first, full year of operation, organizations saw an average increase in visitation of 19.6% compared to the average of the 10 years prior. That’s huge! But how long does it last?

Second full year after expansion: At the end of the second full year of operation, attendance decreased from the first post-expansion year, but it was still up 8.5% over baseline. These are still very big numbers, but even considering that a “glory year” during the opening may be expected, the rapid decline may be a bit alarming.

Third full year after expansion: In the third year, visitation was up 5.5% over the average of the 10 years prior to the expansion.

Fourth full year after expansion: By the fourth year, attendance was only up 3.1%. Oof.

Fifth full year after the expansion: At five years out, the organizations’ attendance had only increased 1.4% – essentially returning to the pre-opening condition.

 

But it’s even worse than it looks. Not only did these expansions cost millions of dollars, decrease visitation in the years leading up to the opening, and result in near-baseline visitation only five years out, but the US population increased by 11.7% during the assessed duration. According to the US census, the US population increased from 290 million in year 2003 to 324 million in year 2016. Adjusting for population growth, attendance being up 1.4% from baseline is a dramatic underperformance of the opportunity.

In sum, while annual attendance generally did increase in the immediate near-term following the expansion project’s opening, this increase was not sustained.

 

Why expansions alone may not increase long-term visitation

What the heck?! How could this be?! The answer may be quite simple: The true barriers to visitation may not be addressed by an expansion.

Some examples of data-informed, actual barriers include lack of establishing content relevance, being open during hours that don’t work for visitors, and travel issues. If cultural organizations aim to increase attendance, then they may be best served by considering the data-informed reasons why people don’t visit in the first place. If cultural organizations are increasingly competing with the couch and a remote control for free time (and they are), then it may be helpful to make sure that they’re doing more than building out new space and creating cool marketing messages about it. Having a “So what?” beyond “something new and expensive” may be a good idea. Knowing how the project will realistically help your organization reach its goals and having a realistic handle on desired outcomes probably couldn’t hurt, either.

Consider this: These 11 organizations are not dummies – and represented in this data are some rather notable examples from well-regarded organizations! Their leaders likely did not simply say, “Let’s build an expansion for the sake of building an expansion! Wouldn’t that be a hoot of a good time?” These expansions are not generally big, empty rooms. They presumably had goals related to engagement! Many have been celebrated! And, yet, they did not generally sustain significant long-term visitation increases. An expansion, in and of itself, may only be a solution if an organization’s problem was fitting everyone in the door.

I fear that the industry’s constant celebration of fancy expansions and then going silent on their long-term impact on visitation may be another example of our industry covering up our most valuable lessons.

A reasonable question for organizations considering expansions may be, “Why are we doing this?” (Note: re-doing, revamping, or renovating is different than expanding and increasing physical footprint). Expansions may aid organizations in other areas, but they generally are not the magic bullet that some organizations hope that they will be in regard to increasing visitation. (This obviously includes increasing reputation enough to sustain longer-term visitation increases, as the numbers wouldn’t drop off if an increase in repuational equities were paying off.) And maybe that’s okay? But then, of course, the question is: What does this expansion increase beyond an organization’s physical footprint?

Indeed, keeping visitor-serving organizations current, connective, and experiential is critical! Big and small upgrades may be a key to industry evolution! But why pursue an expansion instead of a thoughtful revamp or repurposing? If the purpose of an expansion is added space for engagement because an organization does not have adequate space for engagement, then an expansion may make sense. However, if the goal is to add a new kind of engagement based on the assumption (or finding) that an organization is not engaging visitors effectively, then perhaps consideration of the use of current space may be more helpful… and cost effective.

 

In order to yield payoff, it may be beneficial to consider how a project or initiative removes barriers to engagement – and that means knowing enough about your audience to understand why they may not visit in the first place.

Helpful hint: In the midst of an expansion project? Data suggest that facilitating personal interactions with staff is one of the most reliable ways to increase visitor satisfaction for cultural organizations on the whole. Do your big, expansion thing, you rockstar cultural organization, you! But don’t forget that sometimes those straightforward, “smaller” things matter and often make a more reliable difference in driving visitation.

Do expansions stimulate attendance growth in the short term? You bet. But an expansion may only be worth it if it directly solves the most pressing problems facing an organization – and many don’t.

 

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, Fundraising, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution 2 Comments

Why Donors Stop Giving to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Here’s why some people make a few donations to a cultural organization and then stop giving, according to the donors themselves.

Yesterday was #GivingTuesday! Though it’s a rather noisy day amongst nonprofits, I hope that your organization secured at least a few more dollars to help fulfill its mission – and added new supporters to your list of advocates!

As the end of the year approaches and cultural organizations work hard to attract and retain donors, it seems the perfect time to share this data on why folks donating between $250 – $2,500 annually to cultural organizations stop giving to the organization. That’s the focus of this week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video.

The reasons why donors stop giving may not be what you think. The good news, however, is that the top three reasons stem from the same – resolvable – issue. We’ve got the data on why some donors don’t renew their contributions – and it’s a wake up call.

Take a look at this data from IMPACTS and the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. The study includes donors that had previously made an annual gift between two hundred fifty and twenty-five hundred dollars to a cultural organization – and then did not donate again within 24 months. See if you can spot what the top three responses have in common…

Why donors stop making donations to cultural organizations - IMPACTS data

Notice anything interesting here? The top three reasons why donors stop giving have something rather straightforward in common…

 

The top three reasons why donors stop giving are very basic communication/relationship management  problems.

 

The primary reason why donors did not contribute again is not being acknowledged or thanked for their gift. And with an index value of nearly 244, that reason is a very big, and very strong one. The second reason is also big and strong, according to these past donors: They simply weren’t asked to give again. Lack of communication about impacts and outcomes is third. And again, these index values are very high.

Interestingly, it is the reasons that we tend to blame that trail behind these big three, including unactualized intent (or, forgetting to give), giving to another organization instead, or a change in personal priorities. Perhaps these are the reasons that we tend to blame because they have to do with the donor – not with our own lack of follow-through or effort. Really, the top reasons why once-was annual donors stop giving and don’t come back is on us. 

 

While this data may be a bit embarrassing, we can fix it!

 

Online donations are on the rise – especially this time of year. One possible culprit here seems to be the misunderstanding that engagement over the Internet is more about technology than it is about people. A donor is a donor whether they hand a check to someone behind a desk, or they support you over the computer in polka dot PJs at home. A donor giving online is not any less deserving of a personal “thank you” or a follow-up than a donor giving by any other method. Remember, there’s a human being behind that computer screen – and it’s a human being who happens to support what you do.

With much of our focus on cultivating members at cultural organizations, there may also be a tendency to forget those important people who give beyond membership and thus deserve another level of care and attention. That said, data suggest the visitor-serving organizations could also do a better job making high-level members feel valued and respected as well. If we’re having a hard time with this audience, it makes sense that we might also have difficulties with folks who give between $250 – $2,500 and consider themselves to be donors rather than straightforward members alone.

At their very core, our organizations are all about people and connectivity. We need to be successful facilitators of shared experiences within our walls, we need to also be able to master connectivity with supporters outside of our walls and master proper communication with donors. If we want support, we need to carry out effective communication and relationship management. When donors stop giving, it’s generally not them. It’s us. 

Let’s make an active effort to show donors our gratitude and how their gifts are making not only our organizations, but our communities and even our world a better place.

 

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, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting 1 Comment

What Annoys High-Level Members at Cultural Organizations? (DATA)

Here are the top-five things that visitor-serving organizations do that annoy high level members the most… And the interesting finding that ties them together. 

We cultural organizations love our members – and especially our premium members paying an annual fee of over $250 each year. They play an important role in our solvency, and some of them even go on to become our biggest, most valuable donors. This is especially true when they are mission-based (as opposed to transaction-based) members. As such, there’s a lot of pressure not to disappoint these folks.

So what does disappoint premium members paying an annual fee of over $250 each year? IMPACTS surveyed premium members (defined as persons who have purchased an annual membership to a cultural organization costing $250 or more within the past 12 months) to better understand the nature and hierarchy of member “dissatisfiers.” That’s the focus of this week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video.

The data comes from the ongoing National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study of 224 US Visitor-Serving Organizations. For this component of the analysis, 1,096 “premium” members to these organizations responded to open-ended questions to identify the most dissatisfying aspect of their member experience. A consequent lexical analysis process organized these responses by general consideration, and these same considerations were presented to the studied members who were then asked to rank from 1-10 the considerations in terms of relative dissatisfaction (with 1 being the most dissatisfying aspect and 10 being the least dissatisfying aspect). The Mean Value is the average ranking that the member respondents assigned to each consideration. The data suggests an interesting take-away. Let’s take a look.

IMPACTS- Premium member dissatisfiers

As you can see, solicitation telephone calls are the top-rated dissatisfier among premium members, followed by delayed access and not being treated as special on site. Showing IDs at the entrance also annoys these top-giving members. And also the volume of mail and renewal notices. Rounding out the top-5 dissatisfiers is family member limits for admission.

Really take a look at these. “They are necessary evils,” you might say. “We need to make solicitation telephone calls and we have to check photo IDs with membership entrance!” But do we really need to do these things in the way that we do them? Are there other methods that might be better for everyone – our members and (thus) our organizations? For example, data suggest that checking members’ photo IDs can do more harm than good for organizations and deploying a kind of “ID police” undermines some of the hard work that organizations do to keep members happy. When we really think about these findings, though, it becomes clearer to see what kind of picture is being painted and why premium members may be annoyed:

 

it seems that we may not walk the we value our members talk

Two things seem to be happening here that tie these five “dissatisfiers” together…

There is an on-site and off-site disconnect.

It seems that we know our members’ names VERY well when we call them on their personal cell phones and clutter their mailboxes with solicitations and renewal notices, but we suddenly don’t remember them or honor their contributions when they arrive at the door in person. That’s a disconnect. That’s a big miss. And, wouldn’t you be annoyed by that dichotomy?

 

And there is a communications opportunity.

There may be an opportunity here to change up our communications to focus on what our members want, rather than what WE want – and to be sensitive about how we communicate the support that we hope to continue to receive from these members. Of course, we want to ask for their continued support and we indeed want these folks to increase their giving and make their way up the support channel. That said, there are ways to frame our membership and donor benefits so that they match what actually matter to our supporters. When our communications solely make an ask, we miss the opportunity to tell our stories about how we carry out our missions and make a difference. We lose the opportunity to cultivate the best kinds of supporters. Moreover, poor relationship management and impact communication strategies are a leading reason why donors stop giving.

 

While, indeed, there are a lot of great things that members do for us, it’s important for us to remember what we do for them. Yes, exclusive events matter to some members, but that doesn’t mean that respect and appreciation fly out the window. Remember: we need these members more than they need us – so there’s incentive to listen to these folks and treat them well. After all, happy members are more likely to be renewed members!

 

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, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

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

1) LIKELY VISITORS:

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

2) UNLIKELY VISITORS:

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

3) SUPPORTERS:

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

Three Survival Questions That Cultural Organizations Avoid Asking (Because We Do Not Like The Answers)

Three critical questions that cultural organizations are not asking because he do not like the answers - Know Your Own Bone

Visitor-serving organizations are not asking the right questions – or perhaps we would rather ignore the answers…

I bust myths with market data and analysis from my work with IMPACTS here on Know Your Own Bone. At its core, my job is to be curious. It is to ask questions about visitation to cultural organizations and seek answers – even (if not especially) difficult answers. At our best, though, it’s the job of all people working within cultural organizations (museums, performing arts organizations, aquariums, zoos, botanic gardens, historic sites, etc.) to be curious. Our institutions are places for learning and inspiration and we are – I like to think – curious by nature. I feel this shared passion among nearly everyone that I meet who works at a cultural organization and yet I am constantly reminded of the limitations of our curiosities. It seems that we retreat when we are on the brink of an answer that challenges “the way things are done.”

We folks within cultural organizations are armed with defenses for findings that we don’t like. But I still think that, at their core, these leaders also glow with curiousity. Indeed, I believe that it is because Know Your Own Bone challenges our thought processes that this website receives nearly 90,000 visits each month. Maybe we want our outdated notions to be busted – we are just looking for some support.

Instead of sharing traditional, Frequently Asked Questions from cultural organizations received by myself and/or the IMPACTS team, I’d like to share three, macro-level Should-Be Asked Questions. It seems that we avoid the answers to these questions because they are hard – and because we don’t know everything about all of the answers yet. They represent uncharted territory in today’s connected world. But that’s why I like them and why you should, too.

 

ASK: What do people really value about our organization?

(NOT: What do we want people to value about our organization?)

It’s easier to consider what we want people to value about our organizations – we can make that up! We get to decide what’s important in that case! The problem is that while we can declare importance, we need our supporters (visitors, donors, members) more than they need us – and they determine the relevance of what we’ve deemed important.

This confusion is a primary indicator of a serious growing pain for cultural organizations: We are used to thinking about things from the inside out (“We are the experts and we decide what matters!”), but we are still pretty crummy at thinking about things from the outside in. This is more than considering what we think our audiences want from us – it’s about actually finding out what audiences want from us. Asking the question that we need to know – What do people really value about us? – necessitates market research and that generally freaks us out. We tend to have audience research covered and can tell you a whole lot about people who are already visiting us, but we aren’t so awesome yet about learning more about who is not coming and why.

When we change our shift from inside-out to outside-in thinking, we can focus on what our supporters truly like about us. We can focus on relevance over importance. We can learn more about the power of our mission. We can embrace that organizations that highlight those missions financially outperform those marketing primarily as attractions, and we can better understand the roles that education and entertainment play in the visitor experience and motivation process (not the roles that we want them to play). Most importantly, we can come to terms with the unassailable fact that visitor-serving organizations are – at their best – facilitators of shared experiences. When we realize that, we reap both mission-based and financial benefits. But we cannot truly embrace any of this data-informed information until we get more organizations asking the hard question (“What do people really value about us?”) instead of asking questions where we can make up answers that keep us stuck in a rut (“What do we want people to value about us?”)

 

ASK: Why are some people not visiting or supporting us?

(NOT: Why do we think some people are not visiting us?)

We are making things up and we seem not to know what we are talking about. We create programs, offer discounts, hand out free admission, and make excuses based upon assumptions that actually make it harder for us to be financially stable and execute our missions. Nothing changes and we just keep “programming” and “excusing” harder. Not actually uncovering why people (general audiences or subset groups) are not visiting us and making guesses instead is probably the dumbest thing that we do – and we do it so regularly that we forget to step back and look at the bigger picture.

Most of the myth busts on Know Your Own Bone are not challenging tried and true practices, but wild, stab-in-the-dark guesses that we continually perpetuate within the industry – even when they are directly at-odds with well known rules of economics or pricing psychology. Free admission is not a cure-all for engagement. In fact, it’s generally a bad idea in many ways. Discounts devalue your brand and actually keep people from coming back and blockbuster exhibits do the same thing.

Interestingly, we aren’t creating many programs that tackle what data suggest are the actual issues. We undervalue the role of reputation and the importance of social media in driving visitation and support (and we do it in many ways). Moreover, schedule is the top barrier to visitation and we don’t talk about it. We host cultural days and treat them like huge accomplishments because we misunderstand our underserved audiences and think that just because WE consider their ethnicity to be a primary identifier, they must think that is their primary identifier as well. We need to reach millennials, and instead of integrating a mindset of transparency, connectivity, and personalization – we are creating one-off evening programs with alcohol and calling it a day.

When we know our true barriers to visitation, we can crate programs that effectively overcome those barriers.

 

ASK: How can we shift to a more sustainable business model?

(NOT: What programs can we add to help make our current model sustainable?)

We often focus on “add on” solutions instead of asking ourselves hard questions about how we operate and stay in business. Yes – I used the word “business.” I know that we nonprofiteers dislike that word, but when we talk about being sustainable and “staying in business” it’s important to remember that if we aren’t “in business,” we cannot educate and inspire. If we cannot keep our doors open, we cannot execute our missions. “Business” has been viewed as a dirty word in the industry, but I vote that we use it more often. Being good at your mission is good for your organization’s solvency and “business.” 

We often act as though the proper model is to continue promoting ourselves as attractions to get folks in the door while treating potential donors as bottomless wells of potential cash. ….Okay, that’s over-the-top glib, but it’s not altogether untrue. In order to thrive, it’s time for us to take a hard look at our revenues and get smarter about our pricing strategies. We need to invest in affordable access programs that actually work in order to reach goals in attracting these audiences – and we need to put a wee bit more effort in actually attracting them. It’s time to consider who is actually visiting our organizations and who is not. It’s time to get smarter about our membership opportunities and the untapped opportunities for engagement. We need to realize that free days don’t work and, again, discounts and free admission may be bigger curses for long-term survival than blessings.

 

The world is changing and we need to change, too. We need to get smarter about everything that we are doing and I think that the best place to start is taking a look at the questions that we are asking. Certainly, there are many more questions to ask beyond these three, but I think that they highlight some of our biggest challenges, especially this one:

What the heck are we doing on many fronts? Guessing. That’s what we’re doing. The good news is that we don’t need to guess anymore. Now we CAN ask these Should-Ask questions and we can find out the real answers. Without the answers, we can only do more of the same. For the sake of the institutions that we love, let’s agree to get in this game together and be fearlessly and fiercely curious. Let’s ask hard questions – even if we don’t like the answers. It is only by doing that that we can all work together to bust myths and help make cultural organizations thrive.

 

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

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Mission Motivated vs. Transaction Motivated Members: What Your Cultural Organization Needs To Know (DATA)

Data suggest that members to cultural organizations often fall into one of two categories – and the categories tell a lot about how to engage these members.

I originally debuted this important data during my keynote at the Pennsylvania Museums Conference this spring. Today, I’m excited to share this information in this week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video. This data may help directly pave the way for the future of membership for cultural organizations. As usual, when I refer to cultural organizations, I am talking about museums, aquariums, botanic gardens, zoos, performing arts organizations, and other mission-driven organizations that welcome visitors.

At cultural organizations, we tend to lump members together as one audience – but data suggest that most folks are driven to become members based upon one of two very different motivating factors. Understanding these motivating factors may allow us to develop more effective membership programs. This data illustrates that what we consider “membership” may actually be two related – but different – programs.

IMPACTS surveyed members of 118 cultural organizations that charge admission. These organizations range from museums to zoos to orchestras. For the study, we collected open-ended responses regarding the primary benefit of membership. We found that people who purchase memberships to cultural organizations do so for six primary benefits: Free admission; belonging to the organization; supporting the organization; contributing to mission impact; exclusive access to events, and member discounts.

Conceptually, these six benefits fall into two groups: transaction-based members and mission-based members. Transaction-based members are those whose answers may not surprise leaders at all, because their reported primary benefits align with the benefits that most organizations market for membership. Transaction-based members value free admission, exclusive access to events, and member discounts. No surprises there for membership teams, most likely. In fact, you may even be thinking, “Thank goodness that those member discounts are being valued!” Indeed, for some folks, they are valued.

Mission-based members (as we will call them) are driven to become members for reasons more directly related to an organization’s mission. Mission-based members value belonging to the organization, supporting the organization, and contributing to mission impact. These folks value the meaning of membership more than the transaction-based benefits.

We found it interesting that the top six benefits reported by members could be divided in this way and we wanted to dig in deeper. Does a member’s primary benefit affect how they perceive and value their membership? As it turns out, it definitely does. We organized responses based upon what members identified as their primary member benefit, and we immediately spotted some noteworthy differences.

 

1) Mission motivated members find greater value in their memberships

People whose primary motivation was to support the organization, belong to the organization, and contribute to mission impact found their membership to be 14.5% more valuable than people who joined primarily for free admission, discounts, or event access.

Value for cost by membership benefit

 

2) Mission motivated members pay more for memberships

Does that mean that these folks might be more likely to buy higher-level memberships? Yes! As it turns out, mission motivated members in the survey were paying 42% more for memberships than transaction motivated members – and, as a reminder, they are still finding their membership to have 14.5% higher value for cost.

membership cost by primary benefit - IMPACTS

 

3) Mission motivated members are more likely to renew their memberships

Members that are primarily mission motivated are also more likely to renew their memberships. In fact, mission motivated members are 14% more likely to annually renew their membership than those whose primary benefit is free admission.

propensity to renew membership by primary benefit - IMPACTS

This data suggest that what we call “membership” to cultural organizations may actually be two, different products: membership and an annual pass benefit. It is certainly a balancing act, as mission motivated members are primarily motivated by mission-based factors, but transaction based benefits may not hurt the deal. Perhaps it is us within the industry who blur the line and discourage mission-based members from being fully cultivated.

Consider this: many cultural organizations tend to believe that free admission is the most important benefit of membership. Indeed, it is a significant motivator for many members– but it’s also the benefit that cultural organizations highlight and market the most – sometimes at the expense of mission-related benefits. When we make our memberships primarily about transactions, we neglect the motivations of our most meaningful members.  Go pull up nearly any membership page to a cultural organization right now and I’ll bet that the primary selling point that you see is free admission, and the concept of supporting mission impact is presented as a “feel good” that is secondary to “the deal.” Again, this isn’t to say that free admission isn’t important to members and an appropriate benefit for member categories, but if you were a truly mission motivated potential member looking for your ideal way to support the organization, you may find that the method of support that you want does not exist. Or rather, it may exist, but you may not feel that optimal “passion match” because your own motivations are secondary to transaction-based benefits.

Members whose primary motivation is mission-related, find greater value in their memberships, are willing to pay more for memberships, and they are most likely to renew their memberships. These are our people and prioritizing them is a smart move. Let’s use this information to create more effective membership programs that optimize support for our organizations and support long-term solvency.

 

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:

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution 1 Comment

On Museum Layoffs: The Data-Informed Importance of Marketing and Engagement Departments

The data-informed importance of marketing and engagement staff

Need to increase support for your cultural organization during tough times? It is counterproductive to instinctively cut marketing and engagement experts.

I write about market data-informed tips for financial solvency for museums and cultural centers. That’s what I do. My job is to help keep cultural organizations alive and thriving. Considering this, it’s difficult to see some important museums buckling their belts and laying off staff members right now. It’s also a prime moment to provide an important reminder for the industry in general: Sometimes laying off staff members is an unfortunate reality, but cutting marketing and engagement professionals first is more likely to lead to suicide than it is to salvation.

When times are tight for operations budgets we often keep going back to the never-successful plan of trying to “save our way to prosperity.” This often involves cutting budgets or staff – and that can help to balance finances, provided that you have a plan to also increase revenues in the long-term. If you don’t have a plan to increase your revenues (regardless of why you are laying off staff), then your organization is sacrificing hard-working people in vain. The layoffs won’t better the organization. The layoffs are human payment for bad choices that probably weren’t made by the people who are being sacrificed. Again, though, sometimes organizations really do need to balance finances and do this – but it’s shortsighted to sacrifice jobs without also having a plan to increase revenues. And we know from research that the most effective and realistic ways to do this involve marketing and/or engagement professionals. It hinders the growth of our entire industry when we cut marketing and engagement professionals first.

When we go through rough times, it’s our AUDIENCES that are most important to our survival. After all, they pay admission, become members, spread word-of-mouth endorsements, and make donations. Thus, it can be counterproductive to immediately cut marketing (the people who hold that relationship and keep you relevant) and keep esoteric specialists who work in functions that audiences might consider irrelevant. (A museum philosopher question for the ages: If a specialized curator leads an educating and inspiring program but nobody is there to take part in it, did it educate and inspire?)

My purpose is not to point fingers at organizations that have chosen to lay off these – or any – staff members. Rather, I’m taking this timely opportunity to encourage a re-thinking of who we cut first when we make staff cuts. I talk about marketing a lot in this article because that tends to be the area where thoughtless cuts are made first, and have been made first in the past. But when I say “engagement,” I’m not only referring to marketing. It includes fundraising, floor staff, education leaders, program directors, and people who manage the connection between a cultural organization and living human beings.

While understanding that any layoffs stink and that organizations often do everything in their power to avoid them, here are four reasons why we need to think twice about cutting marketing and engagement professionals – and especially knock it off with our instinct to cut them first. These are arguably the folks who can play the biggest role in preventing further layoffs.

 

1) Marketing is the way to INCREASE revenues

This very obvious fact alone should make our industry kick – or simply rethink – the “cut marketing first” habit. Data suggest that over 70% of cultural organizations aren’t investing the necessary funds to optimize visitation – and this doesn’t even include salaries. Let me rephrase: Over 70% of cultural organizations are not securing as much visitation and support as data suggest that they could. Data suggest that many cultural organizations could earn more revenues, but they choose not to. (This is usually due to outdated and bad business practices that view marketing as an expense as opposed to an investment.) The investment equation for optimizing audience acquisition is shared below. It’s not guessing – it’s math.

Marketing is the only department that involves a tested, data-informed equation for actually MAKING MONEY for cultural organizations. (Though fundraising has rough best practice guidelines and obviously also helps raise funds.) Certainly, an organization can overspend on marketing, and that’s something that should rightfully be cut back if it is out of line with optimal spending. Also, it’s important to make sure that organizations are focusing on engagement strategies rather than gimmicks or carrying out social media for social media’s sake. Marketing funds need to be well spent in order to be effective… but if they aren’t spent, they cannot be effective. For cultural organizations, it costs (some) money to make (more) money. Heck, that’s generally true for all industries!

Marketing also plays an extremely important role in fundraising and building affinities for an organization that lead to memberships and donations. In a way, cutting marketing is also cutting fundraising capabilities in today’s world. And that’s a problem because for most organizations, that is the only other department that can be directly relied upon to help get them out of a financial funk.

 

2) Knowing your audience and community is critical for success

Marketing and engagement professionals are masters of kick-starting relationships with audiences and also –thanks to the connected world in which we now live – maintaining them! Personalization trends are affecting absolutely everything within organizations right now and marketing and engagement professionals are on the front lines. In order to create meaningful connection, today’s marketing and engagement folks need to be listeners first. They see what their online audiences are responding to and, at higher levels in the chain, they can see the entirety of the tapestry of engagement. No other department leader is positioned to do this – not even fundraising. A good marketing department considers its strategy and knows the relevance behind every ad it places or post that it promulgates. Our entire existence is dependent upon effectively connecting with people externally, but it is difficult to attract audiences to our brains (exhibits, programs, etc.) if we are missing a mouth, ears, and eyes. That’s what we do when we cut the marketing department first. I’m not saying that the brain is unimportant. It’s critical! But without professional listeners and strategic communicators, it’s difficult to get folks to CARE about what is happening in the brain. And we need to communicate to audiences on their terms, not ours.

We may be cutting marketing first because we still think of this department as a service department rather that what it is today: a strategic collaborator. Marketing is not a service department. Of the 224 cultural organizations that IMPACTS monitors, the ones that are the most financially solvent very clearly prioritize marketing and audience engagement. They include those experts in the room when initiatives are being formed rather than “tasking” them to market something once it has already been set in stone.

 

3) Reputation drives visitation and support

I write about this a lot because it’s a big deal: What people say about your organization is 12.85 times more important in driving your reputation than things that you pay to say about yourself. When people think of “marketing” they often only think of marketing of the past – or, advertising. Today, marketing is much more dynamic and real-time. It can be more accurately called “engagement” rather than “marketing” for many roles that are currently in that department. Today, marketing teams run not only the messages that the organization puts out, but they also manage the organization’s community. This plays a huge role in driving an organization’s reputation.

Reputation decision-making utility- IMPACTS

Reputation is a top motivator for visitation, and organizations that are cutting back budgets and laying off workers generally need more visitation and support. And, again, your reputation is made up of what people say about you and what you say about yourself – both of which are regularly managed and monitored by marketing departments. Organizations tend to underestimate the role that social media and digital engagement play in driving the gate. Again, yes, sometimes layoffs happen. But is it best to immediately cut people from a department with very direct ties to visitation?

 

4) Millennials are underserved and they are the most connected audiences

Of all of the points, this one may be the most important. Cultural organizations have a big millennial problem. These folks make up the majority of our visitors, but they are still our most underserved demographic. And they are underserved in a very big way. Millennials are the single most important demographic for our industry to engage in order to have a future. (I know, I know. I’m sick of talking about millennials, too, and I’m one of them! But we talk about them so much for a good, important reason. We are in a unique situation with this audience.)

Moreover, millennials are our most connected visitors. In fact, all high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations are “super-connected” with access to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile device. These numbers are not going down. In a world where a bunch of numbers are going down for museums (or not keeping pace with population growth), the number of people who qualify as “super-connected” is going up. When we consider this, cutting marketing teams first manages to be even more of a bad move.

 

Layoffs stink. There are no two-ways about it. I’m not arguing that ANY particular department should be cut in hard times. Indeed, other departments also fall under “engagement.” Fundraising helps summon support and education departments help organizations walk their talk – a thing that also pays off financially. Floor staff are particularly important for increasing visitor satisfaction.  And again, not all marketing professionals are super great by virtue of the simple fact that they work in engagement. This topic is a messy one, but my point is this: We need to stop instinctively cutting people who work in engagement (in any capacity) first. It’s a bad practice. It’s outdated. It’s holding us back and it’s making our organizations weaker.

We need more engagement with audiences when things get tight, not less.

 

And this indeed takes expertise. If we know that it is only our audiences that can reliably help us when we hit hard times, why do we immediately cut off our connections to them and the people who manage our precious communities? Marketing and engagement are not “extra” – they are particularly necessary for support and visitation. Let’s evolve and realize that our financial futures are dependent upon people and connections to our missions. 

 

Like this post? Please check out Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel for more insights. 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, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution Comments Off on On Museum Layoffs: The Data-Informed Importance of Marketing and Engagement Departments

What Wealthy Donors Consider Before Making a Gift Greater Than One Million Dollars (DATA)

It isn’t necessarily your organization’s mission that matters most to ultra-wealthy donors…

Some data sets are worth going over twice and making a video about them so that they sink in. This week’s Fast Facts video is one of those data sets. After all, what organization couldn’t benefit by better understanding what factors inform and motivate a gift of more than one million dollars to a nonprofit organization?

The results of this study are worth blazing into our brains. While you may have guessed that the items topping the charts would be on the list, you may not have guessed that they would be the MOST important factors when high net worth donors considering making a gift.

SO, how can organizations engage high net worth donors? To get to the bottom of this million-dollar question, we asked these individuals themselves. The answers might not be what you think.

We define an Ultra High Net Worth Individual as someone with net assets greater than $50 million. 38,000 such individuals reside in the US, and that’s the greatest number of UHNWIs in the world. The study below collected responses from 112 ultra high net worth individualsFor the study, undertaken by IMPACTS, individuals were asked open-ended questions to identify their most important considerations with regard to making a gift greater than one million dollars to a nonprofit organization. Individuals were then asked to rank considerations from 1-10 in terms of their importance.

Here’s what we found:

UHNWI donor considerations

There’s a tie for the first place consideration. Who else has given to an organization and how much other major donors have given are the most important factors when these folks consider making a major gift. Who is on the board is the next consideration, followed by the how much those board members have contributed, round out the most important factors informing ultra high net worth individual giving.

Interestingly, it isn’t until the fifth, sixth, and seventh considerations that the impact of a major gift, mission, and the organization’s commitment to that mission make an appearance.

To whom an organization’s mission matters, matters most when it comes to making a large gift.

These findings are not altogether surprising. Successful fundraisers know that money often follows money, and that social connections play a big role in securing gifts from very large donors. But what’s interesting is that simply being good at your mission often isn’t enough. You need to have demonstrated that your mission is worthy of investment among high-impact individuals.

These data also demonstrate the importance of having a connected board that is willing to put its money where its mouth is. After all, if the folks on an organization’s board don’t care enough about an organization’s mission to support it in a meaningful way, then why should someone else?

Mission and impacts are important. After all, data suggest that the mission and purpose of the organization play important roles in securing quality board members in the first place. That said, once the board is complete and it comes time to look for high net worth donors, having wealthy evangelists (or a group of them!) advocating for your organization may be critical for success when it comes to fundraising.

This information may be seen as a call to action for board members – the data underscores why organizations need them most. And, interestingly, studies reveal that board members often misunderstand their role as financial supporters within cultural organizations. It’s time for all of us on boards to step up. Again, if we’re not giving or championing the cause of our institutions, how can we reasonably expect someone else to do so?

It’s also a wake up call for staff members. The identity of donors and board members and their giving fuel major gift decisions. Certainly, staff may play a role in facilitating and supporting connections between board members and potential donors, but what matters most to donors are the philanthropic commitments of their peers. If board members don’t step up, then it is difficult for organizations to overcome this internal giving deficiency. And that’s exactly what board members who do not give adequately create – a deficiency.

For all of us on boards, let’s rise to the occasion. We’re in the most target-rich country for ultra high net worth individuals in the world. Our development staff can do great things, but they need our support when it comes to our most potentially impactful donors.

And nonprofit organizations: When you get a big donation from a key player, milk it. Shine lights on it. Celebrate it. Leverage it. Knowing what motivates giving for ultra high net worth individuals can only help us better reach our goals.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for more video fast facts! 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, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Sector Evolution 2 Comments

Why Donors Stop Giving Money to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Why Donors Stop Giving to Cultural Organizations

Why do some people make a donation (or a few) to a cultural organization and then simply stop giving? The top three reasons stem from the same issue.

Cultural organizations exist to carry out their missions (which often relate to educating and inspiring visitors) – but they cannot achieve these missions if they are unable keep their doors open and their lights on. Simply put, we need our visitors and donors in order to thrive.

It would be wonderful to think of annual donors as fish that we can keep as trophies and mount on our walls. (As in, we catch them and then they are forever ours!) But donors are actually like fish that we catch and then throw back into the sea – hoping that we can use evolving tactics to catch that same fish year after after. This is especially the case if the fish is a $250-$2,500 donor. (That’s a fancy fish!)

While it’s great when we can “catch” and cultivate a $250-$2,500 donor, we all have observed that not every donor renews their gift on an annual basis. So, what gives? Why do some donors fail to renew their contributions?

Take a look at this chart, provided by IMPACTS Research and informed by the 98,000 person sample that comprises the National Attitudes, Awareness, and Usage Study. This chart represents the responses of previous $250-$2,500 annual donors who did not make another gift to the same visitor-serving organization within the past 24 months.

IMPACTS - Why donors stop making contributions

The reason that we segment by the $250-$2,500 range is because we noticed that the repeat giving rate was much, much, much higher for annual donors at the >$2,500 level.  We posit that this because (a) larger donors don’t have the same financial constraints in terms of affordability factors; (b) they are likely very committed to the organization/cause (as evidenced by their higher level of giving); and (c) higher level donors often receive a higher level of attention from an organization. In other words, they are less likely to slip through the development “cracks.” Of course, this still happens all too often…

Notice anything interesting about the top three responses? 

 

1) The top three reasons why donors drop out of giving are due to relationship management issues

Not being thanked for a previous gift, not being asked to donate again, and lack of communication about the impact of one’s donation all represent massive communication fails. Advances in relationship management technologies are supposed to make communication fails increasingly rare – but, the data suggest that many of us remain our own worst enemies when it comes to retaining donors.

CRM stands for “customer relationship management.” CRM is an organization’s approach to managing interactions with current and future customers (or – in the case of cultural organizations – constituents, visitors, and supporters). It’s a bit of a jargon term for “How your organization connects with people and manages relationships.” And it’s important – especially because giving money can feel very personal and, today, audiences want to support something meaningful. If your organization fails to reassure supporters of the impact of their gift – heck, if your organization fails to thank folks for their gift – than there’s definitely an opportunity to re-evaulate your organization’s CRM strategies and tactics.

The fact that not being thanked for previous gift holds the spot as the leading reason why folks stop giving to an organization feels a bit incongruous with the values of the types of organizations that we are supposed to be. We are doing good. And we want people to do good with us. Do we have an excuse for not even acknowledging precious folks who do exactly what we want them to do? I’m not sure that, “I’m too busy to write every $250 donor or member an email” counts in today’s world…

 

2) Expectations of personalization today are unforgiving toward forgetful organizations

This is a good segue to the next point: Personalization trends are affecting everything. We now live in a 24-hour world of constant connection. Most folks expect responses within one hour on social media, and all of our ads and even our newsfeeds are tailored specifically according to our interests. Personalization trends are altering long-held CRM and even programmatic beliefs within cultural organizations. Indeed, change can come slowly for nonprofits, and if there were only a single urgent (and perhaps obvious) need to adapt personalization into cultural organizations, thanking and communicating with donors may just be it.

Also, keep in mind that “not being asked to donate again” isn’t about collateral and messaging so much as it’s about personalized communication. Reaching out to folks to ask them to give again is an opportunity for connection and personalized interactions. If an organization sees “not asked to donate again” in this data and thinks, “Let’s send that form letter out 10 more times,” then that organization is missing the point.

A donor online is a donor off-line  – and lack of a personal touch just doesn’t cut it anymore.

 

3) Connectivity is king (and losing donors for CRM failures indicates lack of awareness of this reality)

Essentially, the top three reasons why people discontinue giving are because organizations are forgetting that today, connectivity is king. Content is no longer king for many reasons – but one of them is because many staff members “not my job” the word “content.” Similarly, CRM sounds like marketing jargon (because it is), but other departments – and especially fundraising and membership – “not my job” customer and community management today at their own expense. In fact, community and customer management may be just as – if not even more – important for development and membership teams as it is for marketing teams because big donors lead to big donors and word of mouth from customers drives all other avenues of engagement and revenue – including the gate.

 

The good news about these top three responses is that organizations can change them. These challenges to sustained giving may only be issues because they represent “growing pains” as organizations evolve to meet the needs of our super-connected audiences. But realizing the need to evolve and update our outdated systems is critical for change.

While this data may be a tad embarrassing, it’s something that we can control – and that’s great news! Let’s fix our development and membership communication issues and remove the top three barriers to our $250-$2,500 donors continued giving. After all, our donors want the same thing as we do: To make the world a better place.

Our donors are supporting us. Let’s support them back.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for video fast facts! 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, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 6 Comments

The Simple Reminder that Significantly Increases the Likelihood of a Successful Nonprofit Initiative

Want to increase the chances that your organization’s initiative will inspire action on behalf of your mission? Don’t forget this simple, guiding equation.

As nonprofit cultural organizations, we are constantly asking audiences to act in the interests of our missions. We ask them to do all sorts of things such as pay us a visit, make donations, become members, volunteer, or even take a political stance. Today’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video includes a simple – yet all too often forgotten – tip that significantly increases the chances of success for your organization’s initiatives.

Think about the most successful programs and initiatives that your organization and others have carried out. Chances are, no matter what the goal, the initiatives followed this simple equation: An organization’s goals + market preferences = action.

equation for successful initiiativeIt sounds so simple, right? But too many organizations act as if it’s not an equation at all. Most organizations act as if it is possible to effectively inspire action simply by communicating an organization’s goals. What do we think we are…mind controllers? (Although – hey, ethics and morality aside – a bunch of mission-driven folks with the power to get people to make the world a better place simply by saying so might not be so bad…)

Here are some reminders when considering a new initiative and its likely success:

 

1) Old habits and expectations die hard

Organizations often forget that there’s more to inspiring action beyond simply communicating goals because we are used to simply communicating our own goals! Think about it: In the past, organizations (and the world in general) relied on one-way communication channels such as print media and radio in order to transmit their messages. Traditional media channels allow organizations to talk at audiences, but they do not allow organizations to talk with audiences. Basically, they are big mouths – with no ears or actual way of communicating via the messaging medium at all!

Today’s digital communication channels are more dynamic and they require a shift in leadership mindsets in order to effectively be deployed. These channels now allow organizations to talk with their audiences. Like traditional media, they can have mouths that allow them to “speak” messages outward – but they also have ears to let audiences speak back to organizations on the same channel. Depending on the initiative, communication channels today can even be considered to have arms in that they allow organizations to actively integrate audience engagement into the initiative in real time!

 

2) Digital connectivity increases the need to be relevant

Because we can talk with audiences, we need to be even more relevant in our messaging with regard to considering market preferences. We have no excuse for not knowing our audiences and their preferences today. After all, we are constantly connected to them!

In fact, these dynamic communication channels necessitate that we do consider market preferences. There’s no more excuse for simply “telling” audience members that something is important without considering that the interaction may be more like a conversation than ever before.

On this website, I often write: An organization can declare importance, but the market determines relevance. In other words, sometimes it doesn’t matter how loudly an organization uses its mouth to shout that something is important. If people don’t care about it and if it doesn’t match what they want, then that message is irrelevant.

 

3) Integrating market preferences is a no-brainer

Generally speaking, being aware of your audiences and their wants, needs, and interests – as well as how they prefer to communicate and create connections – is a no-brainer.

Trend data can help your organization spot emerging market preferences – but your organization may spot some of these same trends on its own simply by listening to your audiences. And when these preferences are detected, it’s important (and perfectly sensible) to utilize them in order to inspire connection and engagement. Current market preferences include things like personalization, participation, transparency, and social responsibility. If your organization is thinking about carrying out a new initiative, it will help to consider these items within your organization’s engagement strategy.

Initiatives that are contemplative of what the market wants or needs are more likely to inspire action. It may not sound like rocket science, but it’s a reminder that the world is changing, and that our operations and concepts of “business as usual” must continue to evolve as well.

In many ways, we need our audiences – and the behaviors that we aim to inspire within them – more than they need us. We live in a new world of communication and connectivity – and organizations that consider themselves conversationalists instead of lecturers will stand to benefit from this perspective.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for more fast facts! Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fast Facts Video, Fundraising, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on The Simple Reminder that Significantly Increases the Likelihood of a Successful Nonprofit Initiative