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

Five Videos That Will Make You Proud To Work With A Cultural Organization

Let’s pause and celebrate the hard and important work of working with cultural organizations.

Talk of defunding the National Endowment for the Arts seems to be making this winter season feel a bit gloomier. Moreover, the last several weeks of KYOB posts have revolved around important, data-heavy topics that can be challenging to wrap our minds around: Negative substitution of historic visitors to cultural organizations; low visitor confidence levels; the importance of checks and balances for cultural organizations; and data about the most dissatisfying aspect of a visit…pant, pant. It’s all critical information and – even though data can be tough to swallow sometimes – it’s only by being curious and acknowledging the realities of our sector that we are able to put on our thinking caps and charge forward with our important work of educating and inspiring audiences.

Speaking of feeling inspired…I think that this week calls for a break to reflect on the social good and hard work that folks working for and within cultural organizations do every single day. Our work – your work – is damn important.

(That’s the first time I’ve ever sworn on KYOB! I feel good about it.)

Like a true nerd, there are many things (aside from a long list of beloved cultural organizations) that make me giddily geeky and, if I’m honest, a bit emotional. This famous speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V, everything Paul Revere, this Carl Sandburg poem about Chicago, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin East are a few, very quick examples that I think my friends might call me out on immediately if they were in the room where I am writing. I know you’ve got yours, too! I’m talking about topics, spaces, and works of art that move you and make you glad to be alive.

I’ll get back to sharing new data next week. This week I want to share some of what makes me tick in hopes that it may help keep you ticking along, too – should you need a boost. With the recent Oscars on the brain and YouTube being about to overtake TV as America’s most-watched platform, here are five videos that I find myself coming back to over and over again as a person who works with cultural organizations. These little videos make me geeky, proud, and pleased to be doing the work that I do. I hope that you, cultural organization-loving folks, may feel the same way.

There are many excellent videos by, for, and about cultural organizations. There are many great cultural organization scenes in films – like this famous scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. There are also many great cultural organization, association, society, and alliance videos – like Indiana Historical Society’s hilarious Hot Pepper History. (Am I a horrible person that I think that video is laugh-out-loud funny?) There are also many great videos outside of the sector providing thought fuel about cultural organizations – like this video on what art museums are for by School of Life. And, hey, I cannot leave out my own Know Your Own Bone Fast Fact videos! I could be linking to videos from different sources for a long, long, long time. But I won’t. Instead, I’ve narrowed this list down to only five – and it was hard! I aimed for variety…and I also aimed for videos that are truly worth a watch. (I also decided to stay away from any client created videos to keep things fair.)  These are videos to sit down in front of with a cup of tea (or a glass of wine) and enjoy while, hopefully, patting yourself of the back for your hard work in making the world a better place. Let’s interrupt the regularly-scheduled data dump to share resources to inspire one another this week, shall we?

 

1) People Will Come. Field of Dreams (1989)

This one’s for those of you who genuinely love the content that your cultural organization shares with the world. You don’t need to like baseball or to have seen this (excellent) film to get goosebumps watching this scene. There’s a feeling in this clip – a yearning to share something so meaningful and yet struggling with the practical means to share it and just knowing that it will change people – that’s easy to relate to if you work for a cultural organization.

 

2) Spark. Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance (2009)

Many organizations, associations, and alliances create videos today and many of them are inspiring. Some videos simply stand out – and this one does to me. This video by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance shares clips of people talking about their “spark” moments at cultural organizations in Philadelphia. It moves me, because I’ve been sparked and I get it. I totally get it. I’ll bet that if you’re a cultural organization lover, you get it, too. Perhaps this video is so powerful because it highlights what other people say about cultural organizations instead of what cultural organizations say about themselves. (Here’s the data on why that’s important.) Either way, this hits a nerve that makes me watch it while nodding as the video goes on and thinking, “Yes, yes! Cultural organizations are awesome!”

 

3) To Quote Whitman. Dead Poets Society (1989)

Stick with me for a moment here, because I’m going deep. I’ve recently been working on a project with IMPACTS colleagues called “The Remarkable Project.” It’s being led by Jim Hekkers, the former managing director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and our team has spanned the globe visiting numerous organizations in the quest to uncover what makes a visitor-serving organization “remarkable.” The project has involved a great deal of data, but also has explored the trickier, “softer” things that make an experience remarkable (including that elusive feeling of inspiration). For me, the thing that ties together every remarkable experience that I’ve had at a visitor-serving organization (or anywhere else) summons the same feeling: The excitement and awe and wonder of being alive. For you, it may be something completely different that comes close to communicating a remarkable experience at a cultural organization. For me, it’s something like Walt Whitman’s Oh Me! Oh Life!

 

4) Art History. John Costello (2013)

It’s time for the more “underground” – but every bit as relevant – video contribution to the list. Interestingly enough, my uncle made this video to promote enrollment in an AP Art History Course that he teaches in Colorado. The video is simple, and I think that’s why it moves me. It’s simply a series of famous artworks with written questions. Of course, this is a video highlighting works of art, but I think the “so what?” that it touches upon works for all types of mission-driven, visitor-serving organizations. Each type tells important stories and gets to the bottom of key questions that connect us to one another, to our communities, and to the world at large. I often re-watch this video. Like art itself, it resonates with me as forever timely.

 

5) #DayOfFacts. The Field Museum (2017)

I spy a museum proudly executing its mission with integrity. Over 280 scientific and cultural organizations celebrated #DayofFacts on February 17. A lot of great things came of that day: organizations standing up for their missions, protecting facts, inspiring audiences…and this video by The Field Museum. It just makes me so dang proud to work with mission-driven, visitor-serving organizations. Data suggest that organizations walking their talk matters. I’m goosebump-filled by 0:06 of this video, choked up at 0:42, and…sheesh…I’m not teary at 0:52, you’re teary at 0:52. “Facts are welcome here. And so are you.”

 

Thanks for watching and allowing me to share this little list with you. If you still have some bandwidth and more tea (or wine) in that cup of yours, head on over to my YouTube channel and check out some fast fasts for cultural executives. Now that I hopefully have you feeling a little bit mushy, I figure some data-talk might balance things back out a bit! On that note, I have new data coming to you next week and we’ll hop back into our regularly-scheduled analysis.

If there’s a video that inspires you and keeps you going as a cultural-organization lover, I’d like to see it! Please link to it in the comments so that others can enjoy it as well. I’ll end this post with another classic to help us all rise to the occasion during the final, dreary days of winter: “I’m made of wax, Larry. What are you made out of?”

 

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, Miscellaneous 4 Comments

Most Popular Posts of 2016 for Cultural Organizations

It’s almost 2017! And while I generally fall in the “thank goodness” category (start watching this clip at 24:00), I think it’s important to take a moment and give thanks for many of the good aspects of this last year. 2016 was filled with new adventures, new speaking engagements, new clients, and new cultural organization insights. I celebrated one year of Know Your Own Bone Fast Fact Videos, and I am so excited for everything I have in store for you all coming up in 2017. I have permission to share a lot of great, new data for cultural organizations and I’ll be out and about doing some exciting keynoting this coming year.

It’s that time of year where I reflect on the year’s most popular posts. Of course, this method favors those posted in early 2016 (as they’ve have the most time to rack up shares), but I must say that I like the list! For those interested, here were the most popular posts of 2015, and these were the most popular posts of 2014. I have a nice round-up from 2013, too. Oh hey – 2012, anyone? I could keep going, but I’m simply stalling at this point, right? You guys want to see the list. So, on that note…

 

Here are the most popular Know Your Own Bone posts of 2016:

 

The Value of Shared Experiences Within Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the nuance of our content that we forget why people visit us and why they most value us: Cultural organizations are facilitators of shared experiences. The data supporting this finding brings up an interesting question: Do people feel differently about the visitor experience based upon what they believe to be the best part of the experience?  And, what – if anything – does this portend in terms of optimizing the visitor experience? Here’s the data-informed value of shared experiences to cultural organizations.

 

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

When we go through rough times, it’s our AUDIENCES that are most important to our survival. 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.

 

 

Think Twice Before Saying These Three Things To The Marketing Department

Stop. Just…. stop, please. (Your marketing department will thank you.)

 

Why Donors Stop Giving Money to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

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? Here’s why some donors fail to renew their contributions. This post received so much positive feedback that I created a fast fact video on this data to help spread the word on the – resolvable – top reason why donors stop giving.

 

Real Talk: Why Cultural Organizations Must Better Engage Millennials (DATA)

Millennials are cultural organizations’ most frequent and loyal visitors…but this audience remains underserved.  Here’s why that’s a big problem for the future well-being of the industry. This post explains the “millennial problem” facing visitor-serving organizations, and I personally believe that – while it was one of the most popular – this post is also one of the most important that I published in 2016 in regard to shedding light on important data.

 

Five Data-Informed Fun Facts About Visitors to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

High-propensity visitors are the folks who keep our bread buttered – they are the folks who visit, donate, and reliably engage with our organizations. This video and post covers five, random fun facts about these people – just for fun.

 

Why Cultural Organizations Are Not Reaching Low-Income Visitors (DATA)

Data suggest that some types of cultural organizations are perceived as more welcoming than others. Here’s how we could do better. This is also an eye-opening post for many organizations – and it draws attention to a big problem in regard to both how cultural organizations are perceived by low-income audiences, as well as an important reason why we aren’t so great – as an industry – at fixing it.

 

Three New Trends For Cultural Organizations That Are Not New At All

If you work within a cultural organization, then you are probably aware of some of the new, big trends and ideas confronting organizations right now: Making organizations more participatory and social, embracing innovation, securing word-of-mouth engagement in our connected world, and framing collections so that they are right-now relevant. Sometimes it feels like organizations may never be able to adopt these new changes… Here’s the thing, though – none of those are new concepts. Let’s stop being scared of them.

 

The Surprising Reason Why Organizations Underestimate Attendance Loss During Closures (DATA)

No matter the reason for the closure, data suggest that we dramatically underestimate the overall impact on annual attendance. We are often wrong about the impacts of an unforeseen closure for two, big reasons that are important to understand beyond the framework of attendance and revenue projections. When an organization is closed at a time that it might otherwise be open, visitation generally is NOT displaced to other times of the year. And, to top it off, we lose more people than simply those who had planned to attend the organization that day. The reasons for this happening are important for organizations to understand.

 

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

This Fast Facts video covers a big misconception that folks working within cultural organizations (often unknowingly) promulgate: That being a nonprofit is a key differentiating factor to their audiences. As it turns out, data suggest that your organization’s tax status is relatively unknown among visitors and non-visitors alike. Here’s what really matters to audiences about your organization.

 

Thank you to all of you for reading KYOB in 2016! I have a lot of interesting data lined up for 2017 and I cannot wait to share it with you. It’s been an honor to share with you this year. Happy New Year to you and your rockstar organizations working hard to educate and inspire audiences. Cheers to a great year ahead!

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous, Myth Busting Comments Off on Most Popular Posts of 2016 for Cultural Organizations

A Month In My Life Working With Cultural Organizations

A month in my life working with cultural organizations

Happy Thanksgiving week, folks! I’m interrupting KYOB’s regularly scheduled posts to write this a-tad-more-personal post (and put it up on Tuesday – because hopefully everyone will be busy taking part in delicious meal prep on Wednesday). I’m grateful for many things – chief among them are my regular Know Your Own Bone readers (thank you!), and the awesome work that I get to do every day on behalf of visitor-serving organizations.

I loved reading Linda Norris’s “What AM I doing?” post wherein she shared what her life looks like as a consultant by revealing what she was up to during the previous month. I also get this question rather frequently, and Linda’s post got me thinking…

My birthday is in early October, so, inspired by Linda’s post from the month before, I decided to metaphorically hit start on the “What am I up to this month?” button. As many of you know, I travel nearly every week for work (and often to more than one location).

Here then are the adventures of this cultural-center-loving-fiend during the first month of her life after turning 32:

 

 

WEEK 1: From meditating to marine science

 

Kopan MonasteryMeditating at a Buddhist Monastery (Kathmandu, Nepal)

I kicked off this new year of life by spending two weeks in Kathmandu, Nepal and living in a Buddhist monastery for ten days. It was the best birthday gift that I could have given myself. I got back on Sunday, October 16th and that’s where this monthly recap begins! (Photo: The view from my morning tea spot at the monastery where I celebrated my birthday) 

 

va-aquariumSharing data with the Virginia Aquarium (Virginia Beach, VA)

I got back from Nepal and had two days to adjust to US time zones before I was on my way to the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. It was interesting to share data on this organization’s audience and meet (in my case, for the first time) the great folks at this aquarium. You’ll notice that this month had a good number of aquarium trips. Here’s why I work with aquariums and how they play an important role in informing trends that we see for other types of museums and visitor-serving organizations. In sum, aquariums tend to have the smallest endowments, the least government funding, and an added “conservation” mission – making them among the most for-profit (relying on the market) AND nonprofit (mission driven) types of cultural organizations. The trends affecting visitor-serving organizations tend to hit aquariums first.  (Photo: Exploring he Owl’s Creek Path that connects the Virginia Aquarium’s two buildings.) 

 

 

 

WEEK 2: From spooktacular to strategic plans to sea changes

 

ctscExploring the Connecticut Science Center (Hartford, CT)

In preparation for sharing data with the organization in November, I visited the Connecticut Science Center to get a better sense of the visitor experience. There are several terrific benefits of my job, and getting to visit organizations for the first time is one of the most fun. The science center was celebrating their Spooktacular Science event weekend, and the place was filled with dressed-up little tikes taking part in special programming and activities. My first full-time job out of college was coordinating large-scale, public events at Pacific Science Center in Seattle, and one of my favorite events every year was Tricks, Treats, and Science Feats. It was a blast visiting the Connecticut Science Center at this time of year, and it made me a bit nostalgic for my science center staff days! In true museum-nerd fashion, I spent my final two hours in Hartford visiting the Mark Twain House. Overall, it was great experience doubling as a job perk. I’ll take it! (Photo: The Connecticut Science Center packed with costumed science explorers!) 

 

tnaciStrategic planning with the Tennessee Aquarium             (Chattanooga, TN)

I went to Chattanooga to participate in IMPACTS’s facilitation of the Tennessee Aquarium’s strategic planning process. A little over five years ago, the Tennessee Aquarium hosted me during an AZA speaking engagement while I was still in graduate school. That particular conference – and the people at this aquarium – played an important role in my opportunity to work with IMPACTS. My heart gets a bit bigger when I get to see the people at this aquarium. To make things even better, the aquarium opened their brand new, beautiful Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute facility during this visit! The opening was a great success! (Photo: Opening event for the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute’s new facility and some familiar, friendly faces deserving of a big “CONGRATULATIONS!”)

 

nai-board-retreatNational Aquarium board retreat (Baltimore, MD)

I’m honored to be on the board of directors of the National Aquarium. We had a great board retreat over the weekend and discussed some of the meaningful and impactful and community and ecosystem-serving initiatives that this great institution is spearheading. I’m honored and grateful to be on the board of such a forward-facing organization with great leaders. (Photo: Ready for board retreating with great minds at the National Aquarium!)

 

 

 

WEEK 3: From faculty to Facebook to flying elephants

 

shaPresenting for the Developing History Leaders Course            (Indianapolis, IN)

I was honored to be faculty for the Developing History Leaders course for the Seminar for Historical Administration. It was an honor to share data and talk millennial engagement with eager and thoughtful minds from some of the best history organizations in the US. What a rush! (Photo: Outside of the Indiana Historical Society after talking millennials with the SHA course)

 

 

mbaSharing a new engagement metric at Monterey Bay Aquarium             (Monterey, CA)

As some folks who work specifically in digital engagement within cultural organizations know, I am itching to find a better way to measure social media engagement ROI using real-time market data to track how it affects public perceptions. I was joined by my fellow IMPACTS team members to debut a new social media metric at the Monterey Bay Aquarium this week. Stay tuned! We’re slowly bringing the metric to scale, and it is already demonstrating the strong correlation between social media content and changes in an organization’s public perceptions. One of the coolest parts of my job is working with great brains and trying to uncover new ways of doing things to help cultural organizations. This metric is a labor of love for IMPACTS, and I’m eager to share more as we learn and grow this metric. (Photo: These engaged youngsters at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are what it’s all about.)

 

disneylandRiding Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland (Anaheim, CA)

Because sometimes a girl’s gotta chill…

 

 

 

 

 

 

WEEK 4: From talking artifacts to aging audiences

 

dum-dumIMPACTS meeting (New York, NY)

I went to New York for an IMPACTS VSO project update with colleagues. The IMPACTS VSO (those of us that work with visitor-serving organizations) team is cellular (i.e. we live all over and meet up on the road), so it’s great to get a moment to spend time with colleagues and put our brains together on behalf of our clients. During my time in NYC, I battled presidential election outcome stress by visiting one of my favorite museum “celebrities.” (Dum Dum give me Gum Gum, anyone? (I’m a huge nerd and I don’t even care.)) (Photo: Hanging with a celebrity at the American Museum of Natural History)

 

 

palo-altoSharing audience research on Baby Boomers (Palo Alto, CA)

IMPACTS is working with a community center for aging adults in Palo Alto, and I traveled there with my colleagues to present data and learn more about this community’s programs and initiatives. In my line of work with cultural organizations, there’s an imperative to better cultivate millennial audiences. For this type of organization, however, it’s the Baby Boomers who represent the more immediate future. It’s exciting to consider the behaviors, perceptions, opportunities, and needs of this generation – especially as they continue to innovate and inform all of our inevitable futures as we age into our tomorrows. (Photo: A typical hotel scene – this one is taken in San Mateo as I prep for conversations the next morning.)

 

 

This is a rather typical month for me. For those following along: My month’s itinerary totaled 28 days, 18 airline flights, and 17 nights in hotels. It involved working with new clients and old ones, and coming up with new ideas to help move the industry forward. I was north, south, east, and west (and in Nepal). I think that it provides accurate insight into the kind of work that I have the opportunity to do and some of the great projects that I am working on. Of course, I did many other things for work, too! This list illustrates where I was and what I was doing or presenting – but in between this time, I wrote and published KYOB articles, had multiple calls with clients and spent a good amount of time preparing and arranging decks, edited KYOB fast fact videos, voted, solidified two keynote speaking engagements for 2017, and we elected a new soon-to-be president of the United States. (Okay, those election-related items are a tad atypical!)

When you next wonder, “What does she do everyday?!” Now you know! I know my own bone – and these are the types of bones that I gnaw, bury, unearth, and gnaw at still.

Colleen Dilenschneider Know Your Own Bone quote - Henry David Thoreau

 

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 Miscellaneous 5 Comments

Announcing: Student Sponsorship Opportunities to Attend MuseumNext Conference 2014

MuseumNext3

Know any upcoming museum leaders? IMPACTS wants to help museum-and-innovation-loving students attend MuseumNext’s 2014 conference in NewcastleGateshead, UK by offering sponsorships to ten attendees…and applying is simple!

I almost never utilize Know Your Own Bone as an announcement board, but this opportunity is near and dear to my heart. An important part of “future-proofing” organizations is investing in the people who will someday be leaders.

Now in its sixth year, MuseumNext  is a “must attend” event for anyone interested in museum innovation.
The 2014 conference will take place June 18-20 in NewcastleGateshead, UK and will offer more than 40 presentations, workshops and sessions.
MuseumNext attracts delegates from across the globe and offers a unique chance to network with those shaping the future of museums.

IMPACTS is offering ten students the opportunity to attend the conference with a bursary which will cover conference attendance and two nights accommodation in NewcastleGateshead.

Applying is outrageously simple: To apply for an IMPACTS bursary, please email izzy@sumodesign.co.uk with your name, university, and relevant coursework by May 18th 2014. MuseumNext will then select 10 students at random to receive this support.

As many of my readers know by now, I am thrilled to be a keynote speaker at MuseumNext’s 2014 conference. I’ll be digging deeper into one of my favorite topics: The relationship between digital and physical “touch” and the important role that it plays.

Please pass this information along to any ambitious up-and-comers who may be interested in the possibility of attending the event!  So many amazing people supported me when I was a student, and I am grateful and delighted that IMPACTS will be paying it forward in this way. Please help spread the word!

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous Comments Off on Announcing: Student Sponsorship Opportunities to Attend MuseumNext Conference 2014

“You Have to be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable”- One-Line Lessons on Leadership

I will be graduating from the University of Southern California next Friday with my Master of Public Administration (MPA). I am pleased to report that, even with real-world experience prior to entering graduate school, my skill-set has been sharpened and the items in my professional toolbox are polished. I am thrilled to re-enter the workforce and meld my formal and informal experiences in areas of management, evaluation, economics, communications, strategy, and leadership.

Though I’ve done it before, I generally try not to write about my own personal thoughts and experiences. This is because, as my former Program Evaluation professor says, “a sample size of one does not a significant finding make.” Here– and in life– I am going for significant. That said, I think the lessons I’ve learned in graduate school are indeed significant, and I am delighted to share some bite-sized morsels.

…I’m the type of person who takes physical notes in class. I’m also the type of person who holds on tightly to professors’ well-articulated verbal gemstones about leadership, and I tape them shamelessly above my desk at home. Yes, much like eleven-year-olds reserve space on their walls for Justin Bieber posters, I reserve space for phrases like, “The best way to create change is to take away the barriers to change.” It’s nerdy, but I’m a graduate student (for 10 more days…)

Here are my very favorite one-liner lessons from graduate school. A vast majority are attributed to Dr. Robert Myrtle, my professor of Strategic Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations, but there are other key, formative professors’ words here, too, such as Dr. Peter Robertson and Dr. Donald Morgan). I’ve added descriptions were context is need to strengthen the relevance of the quote.

  •  “People who learn quickly have a competitive advantage”  This was a running theme throughout the program. It is an especially key lesson for nonprofits because they’ve developed a reputation for being slow-moving. What this quote does is place an emphasis on the people. The organization can only change if employees can adjust.
  • “Businesses survive on information, not harmony.” This quote packs a personal message to step out of our comfort zone. Bringing up new ideas, challenging sector boundaries, and asking questions helps organizations and businesses stretch their thinking and gain information. It is through collection of that information that organizations can grow to their potential.
  • “You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable” You have to take risks to be a good leader. The idea here is that if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing or reaching. If you aren’t growing and you are running operations in an organization, than the organization isn’t growing either.
  • “People who emerge as leaders are people who can manage change.” one professor reminded us that “nobody is going to change unless they see the need for change.” A good leader, he explained, is someone who sees the need, communicates it effectively, creates buy-in, and manages the change.
  • “Master the little things in relationships, because the unaddressed details– like who will do the dishes– will sink you.” This wasn’t just marriage advice dispensed by a professor. It was strategic management advice (and life advice, too). The idea of a partnership or collaboration sounds dandy in many situations. Unfortunately, our professor explained, many higher-ups leave the details dangling without clear direction as to who takes care of issues and how the partnership should be effectively handled by the organizations. Mastering the details is critical.
  • Treat people like they are valued, and they will be valuable.” This was said in regard to managing and leading teams, though I think it stands on its own.
  • “You must find the option that all parties hate equally.” This is about compromising and coming up with new solutions to meet stakeholder’s needs. Finding solutions that all stakeholders love is not very realistic in the public and nonprofit sectors. Also, if the quote was “you must find the option that both parties like equally,” then you’d never remember it. This quote also plays off of our program emphasis on Getting to Yes, a great book on compromise and creative solutions.
  • “Coopetition is when competitors collaborate” There are over 7,000 nonprofits in Los Angeles alone and many of these organizations have similar missions. Coopetition is a word that comes up a lot in classes in regard to strategically managing resources, but also putting a priority on maintaining a competitive advantage. Nonprofits must be able to both work together to accomplish a mission, and also to stand alone.
  • “Thou shalt not B.S. myself.” Organizational strengths only count as strengths if they are seen in the eyes of customers, donors, competitors, and constituents.  I like this quote, though, because it seems to be true of individual strengths as well.
  • “Social capital builds intellectual capital” In the information age, it takes people and connectivity to generate ideas and intelligence. Social relationships lead to new-age innovation.
  • “You need your followers more than they need you.” Leaders aren’t leaders if they don’t have followers and supporters. Achieving great things takes buy-in and participation.
  • “You get power by giving it away.” Don’t keep opportunity for yourself. Having power often means having opportunities and power to give to others.
  • “We all succeed or none of us succeeds…” This is not a quote from class, but a quote from A Dream For One World by Segev Perets, which we read in a class.  Though it would be an outrageous stretch to say that MPA’s run entirely on public service motivation, the desire to effectively carry out a meaningful mission that empowers constituents was a prevalent and key motivator for my classmates. It was the tie that binded us and a thing that we all seemed to understand.
I’m grateful to have learned an incredible amount of information in graduate school these last two years. These quotes don’t even begin to scratch the surface, but they are quick tidbits that I’ll carry with me into my next professional endeavour.
Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous, Nonprofit Marketing 6 Comments

On Nonprofits, Detroit, and Doing The Hardest Thing

A portion of Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry Mural, featured on the wall of the Detroit Institute of Arts

It seems as though when my classmates and I graduated from The University of Chicago, we were professionally expected to go one of two ways: into research or into investment banking.  The College places a strong emphasis on living the life of the mind. There’s value in dedicating yourself fully to ideas, theories, and (the hardest part of) your practice.

“How many University of Chicago students does it take to change a lightbulb? Shhh… we’re studying in the dark.”

Perhaps I took my college education too seriously because when it came time for me decide which graduate degree I wanted to pursue, I chose the hardest thing. Making a difference is hard. We’ve generally figured out how the economic market works- but market failures like feeding the homeless and freely educating the masses? We need leaders there. We’ve seen individuals beat the odds pursuing the American Dream, making millions on their ideas for their own profit. It’s been done. It’s becoming more commonplace. Those individual dreams aren’t the greatest odds facing us and they never were- the collective odds are greater. I deal with the inner-workings of a sector that many of my undergraduate classmates wouldn’t dream to tackle… And building a career there? No way. “It’s just too hard.”

Nonprofits take up the barren no-mans-land between government reach and the private sector motive. Yes, it’s hard. Generally, there’s limited professional development opportunities, lower wages, and the inconveniences of “asking” for money and not taking profits…. But it’s not as bad as the rep that it gets. Perhaps people focus on common misconceptions of the sector to justify retreating to less-dire social problems like obtaining the highest energy beverage sales (why are so many of our nation’s most talented minds going into things like this?!)

The nonprofit sector is generally both under-respected and fiercely important. It’s worth more than the reputation that we bestow upon it.

Like the city of Detroit, the nonprofit sector needs help battling ruin porn. Ruin porn is what you’re looking at when you see pictures of a mangled, forgotten, crime-ridden city… but the photo ignores the new building next door and the high-achieving school down the street. It’s media bias to create a story and make things look black and white. Don’t go into the nonprofit sector if you’re forward-thinking and goal-oriented. Don’t go to Detroit.

"In the foreground, the disintegrating old Cass Tech High School that is often featured in media reports on Detroit, eclipsing the snazzy new Cass Tech located immediately next door."

Both Detroit and the nonprofit sector get a bad rep. But they are both critical to who we are as a nation and how we’ll move forward. Detroit got some positive press on Sunday during the Super Bowl in the unsuspecting form of a Chrysler commercial. If you’ve been to Detroit, you probably lost your breath for a moment and said something like, “well it’s about time.” If you’ve never been to Detroit, I hope it made you think twice about that lovely, important city.

Aside from being unfairly judged, nonprofit work and the city of Detroit have a lot in common.

  • They are an important part of our history. Henry Ford invented the assembly line, the cornerstone of the industrial revolution that forever changed the way businesses operate and large-scale production takes place. He did it in Detroit. Motown music was born in this city. Our automobiles are still built here. Nonprofits shape our history as well. Thanks to nonprofits, we have universities and museums, research support, and platforms throughout history upon which figures have lobbied for the right to vote and have shared famous dreams.
  • They are critical to our future. A world without nonprofits would be awful. There would be extreme hunger in the United States and a much greater divide between the rich and the poor. We’d be uninformed, uninspired, and disconnected. We’d be overcome by disease (having given up on research and prevention) and there would be few places to go if you do get sick. There would be no great college education. Individual interests could not be supported, and change could not happen. Similarly, Detroit has a rich history and a meaningful story that can inform our future.
  • They foster passion and excitement. Have you ever met someone from Detroit? People from Detroit are passionate about the city. And I don’t just mean that they cheer for the Lions despite the odds. They seem to only have good things to say about the place- and they champion Eminem and Kid Rock like they are heroes. Remember when this article by Mitch Album came out and moved readers in 2009?  Nonprofit employees are passionate, too. We are champions for our causes- and also for the sector.
  • They represent The Hardest Thing. Both the city of Detroit and the nonprofit sector have problems to be solved and present an open opportunity for leaders and great thinkers. They both need educated thought leaders who aren’t afraid to be uncomfortable. Detroit needs young minds to stay in the city and build it up. The nonprofit sector needs to attract young minds and help build up the sector.

I’m not from Detroit. I’m from Chicago. But I think that Detroit is tragic, lovely, strong, and fiercely important. I think the nonprofit sector is the same way.

When I (or you) say, “I work in the nonprofit sector,” and someone says, “Awww. That’s so great and nice! Good for you!” That person is wishing away the sector’s truth: that every day, you work toward something seemingly impossible. Working in the nonprofit sector is noble and serious- and perhaps the hardest thing (business-wise) a person could chose to do.

As a side, I ran my first half marathon this weekend (in my Henry Ford hat) and a girl running in front of me wore a shirt that read, “My sport is your sport’s punishment.” I am honored and thrilled to be working alongside all of you in the nonprofit sector, making a difference and doing the hardest thing. Whether you feed the homeless or work in a museum that constantly strives to educate and inspire communities, our work is rough.

And while I may not have a lot of money in my pocket,  I’d say the pay-off is pretty great, too.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous 7 Comments

Celebrating One Year of Know Your Own Bone

The original header when I started KYOB in 2009

I began this blog one year ago and it’s come a long, long way in the last twelve months! Throughout the last year, this has been a place for me to share ideas, gather my thoughts, and even do a bit of research. In one short year, Know Your Own Bone won me an award, earned me phone conversations and guidance from Penelope Trunk, got articles re-printed in popular magazines, hooked me up with the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance, gave me the opportunity to write an advance review for the Harvard Business Review, was picked up by wonderful thought leaders, and allowed me to connect with many talented professionals.

Upcoming: Speaking of connecting with talented professionals, please tune in to Rosetta Thurman‘s BlogTalkRadio show, All Nonprofits Considered, from 12 – 1pm EST next Monday, July 12th. I will be discussing the current culture of nonprofit leadership in museums and the arts with young arts professional, Ian David Moss. Please join the chat room and help contribute to the discussion next Monday!

I know many bloggers often feature “best of” posts that link back to previously written articles. Until this point, I’ve never done this in a post. In celebration of my one-year anniversary with Know Your Own Bone, I’ll highlight some of the various types of posts I’ve written. These are certainly not “best of” posts, just a little survey of the themes I’ve covered over the last twelve months. Create a page with all of Know Your Own Bone’s “best of”s, you suggest? That sounds like a great task for year #2.

Thanks to all of you who check-in on Know Your Own Bone again and again- especially those of you who subscribe or who have reached out and commented or shot an e-mail or two my way. I love hearing from you all and I am beyond grateful to have such a great group of intelligent and insightful readers!

Here’s to the start of another year of Know Your Own Bone, with even more thoughts on the evolution of museums and nonprofits, community engagement, and social change. Cheers!

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous 2 Comments

5 Reasons to Always Be Thinking Like a Graduate Student

I’ll be honest: when I left my full-time gig at the Science Center in order to become a full-time graduate student last year, I was terrified by how this change would alter my own viewpoints and how I am perceived as a professional. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be taken as seriously if a majority of my time (the “full-time” part) was spent studying sector management as opposed to actively working in the sector.

Even as I am halfway into my graduate school experience, I can already look back and say that I had a right to be as terrified as anyone undergoing a big change (especially when thinking that my experience might be like this)– but I’d never take back the change in perspective that I’ve undergone for the time-being. I know full-well that by this time next year, the status will switch back and I will return to the full-time working world (oh, the magic of a professional degree; the point is to go back). But I will always understand the importance of thinking like a graduate student. Here’s why:

 

1) It forces you to see the big picture. There are things going on in every industry and the way we do business is always evolving. Currently social media, communication,  soft skills, and Gen Y’s public service motivation are shaking things up in the nonprofit world, but even after those things run their course, there will be something else. When you are a graduate student you see these things– and what’s more: you see their collective effect on the industry because you spend nearly every day piecing together the puzzle. Thinking like this is extremely valuable because it helps you to mentally tackle many sector problems at once, and scientifically, this kind of thinking helps build up solutions more creatively than tackling one at a time– which is often done in a working environment. Thinking like a graduate student in this sense means always keeping an eye on the bigger picture of the industry as a whole, and it will result in creative solutions and a more complete understanding of where your difficulties lie.

 

2) Grad students have built-in microscopes or telescopes. That’s like having science tools built into their brains (for a few years), folks! This is directly related to point #1. People often joke that grad students always think what they are doing is important, even though it’s not. What’s really happening here (and the reason we grad students think what we’re uncovering is so important) is that we have a different perspective. As mentioned above, in professional degrees, we zoom out on the sector. Academic degrees tend to zoom in on a part of the sector. Either way, grad students are thinking in a way that is not common in workplace environments (whether it’s with their internal microscopes or a telescopes). Thinking differently spawns innovation. Grad students see something non-graduate students don’t see (and often vice-versa). There’s terrific potential here. When faced with a problem after graduate school, I’ll strap my telescope back on and see if I can think about things differently.

 

3) It makes you aware of your own strengths and interests. In graduate school, you can pursue your own interests within your degree. Beyond MPA student, I have no role defining my duties in one specific area (I can choose as I go). There is a lot of freedom in these programs to make yourself an expert on whatever strikes your interest. Similarly, in graduate school you must do everything from public presentations, to writing case studies, to leading debates, to drawing graphs to illustrate possible solutions to market failures. You learn quickly where you shine… and also where you stink. The bottom line lesson here, however, is to keep exploring and taking up new challenges in the working world. It may lead you to interesting solutions to problems. And trying new things helps you learn a lot more about yourself and how you handle certain situations– it’s teaching me a lot at any rate!

 

4) It gives you a feeling of purpose (which helps you live longer and makes you better at your job). I have two years while I’m obtaining my degree to challenge perspectives, share crazy ideas freely, and sink my teeth into the sector. I feel a sense of purpose when exploring skills required to improve the sector. Feeling a sense of purpose does more than reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s and help prevent depression. It actually makes you live longer. Studies have shown that purpose motivates us to accomplish things and grad students spend two years (or more) devoted to developing their purpose and career goals so that they can work hard for you (or themselves) after they graduate. What can people who aren’t in graduate school do to develop this mindset? Make time to focus on what you are doing and why.

 

5) It keeps you humble. Folks tend to feel like they are improving in their careers based on how many people are reporting to them throughout the years– or at least I felt this way a bit before I came to grad school. Now,  nobody reports to me. I study with a lot of accomplished people and I take classes from distinguished professors. This is humbling. Also, full-time graduate students often take a financial hit to attend school (even if they are employed by the university or working a part-time job– or in my case, both). I’ve worked in hierarchical environments and I’ve started at the very bottom– but being broke, living on ideas, and being surrounded by thought-leaders is every bit as humbling as it is romantic and drive-inspiring. I will strive to keep this perspective and treat everyone as an accomplished classmate, regardless of their background or experience. Good ideas come from everywhere, and there’s no need to get cocky about my own.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous, Nonprofit Marketing 1 Comment

5 Reasons Why I Chose to Pursue an MPA over an MBA

USC's 2009-2010 Officers of the Graduate Policy and Administration Committee with Associate Dean, Carol Rush

USC's 2009-2010 Officers of the Graduate Policy and Administration Committee with Associate Dean, Carol Rush

 

MPAs and MBAs have a lot in common: they are both professional degrees that provide management training by way of economics, policy, statistics, and finance. What made me pick an MPA (Master of Public Administration) over an MBA (Master of Business Administration), you might ask? The MBA is surely a beaten path with many, well known benefits…but considering my interest and passion for museums and nonprofits, an MBA just wasn’t for me. I liked the idea of a professional degree, but an MBA overlooked the defining features in my field of interest. Here’s why I decided to pursue an MPA over an MBA:

 

1) Museums and nonprofits have harder-to-measure outcomes

A defining characteristic of the nonprofit and public sectors is unmeasurable outcomes because the point of most nonprofits is to fulfill a social mission (nonprofit organizations cannot distribute profits). A powerful business is one that can make the most money (measurable). A powerful nonprofit is one that helps more people, most effectively (not-so-measurable). This does not mean that impact assessments are not critical in the nonprofit world and that they are strongest when they include quantitative data. However, to get an MBA would mean overlooking an opportunity to really think about solving problems of nonprofit outcome measurement and would mean focusing heavily on a monetary bottom-line, which is just not a characteristic of the sector. The MPA focuses on social missions while also emphasizing the skills required to obtain funding for an organization, which is much more relevant to my continuing work with nonprofit organizations.

 

2) It’s a problem-solving degree- ideal for an evolving sector

If MBA programs study the market, then MPAs try to solve market failures– and there’s an obvious difference between studying and solving. In the former, it’s been figured out, you’re just learning how to do it. In the latter, there’s a large-scale problem to be solved. MBAs are hired to make an individual company more profitable and there are books on this (lots of them!) with clear rules (“buy low, sell high,” “always be closing”). In contrast, MPAs are hired to take action to lead their organizations in making the world a better place… and our literature is not nearly as abundant and the tone is less certain. Our academic journals are filled with what’s happening right now or what’s happened in the past. This is ideal for the nonprofit sector because need and the way people communicate and connect (securing funding, donors, etc) is always evolving.  There is certainly no better degree in this case, it’s just based on your goals and interests. Considering my interests, an MPA was the way to go.

 

3) My utility function includes public service

This is not to say that my utility function– and those of my MPA peers– doesn’t include income at all (or that the utility function of MBA grads never includes public service), but it is to say that public service drives my behavior more than money, and most likely drives the behavior of my classmates as well. It shouldn’t be surprising that nonprofit CEOs don’t make as much money as for-profit CEOs. On top of that, nonprofits are often understaffed and leaders may suffer from serious burnout. So why would us MPAs put ourselves through that? Because we want to make a difference. For some of us (and I’ll blame my background at The University of Chicago for the sincerity of this statement), we want to solve big problems and aren’t afraid of hard things. Some people might hate to look back and say, “I wish I made more money.” I respect that– and to each, his own. But for me, the most heartbreaking thing that I can imagine saying is, “I wish I made a difference for someone,” or “I wish I spent my life doing something I deeply cared about.” The MPA degree helps me build the skills to accomplish the things that I care about.

 

4) MPAs want to change the world… but we’re not impractical about it

I spend every day with folks who are determined to change the world. Are we starry-eyed and optimistic? Maybe. Too impractical to be effective? Definitely not. These professionals come from top tier institutions, much like the professionals that enter top MBA programs. Moreover, as an MPA, our speakers, mentors, and professors are professionals in policy and the nonprofit sector– rather than bankers and for-profit professionals. If I were to have pursued an MBA, our speakers and mentors would be those who best understand investment banking recruiting and achieving measurable outcomes– which would be much less relevant to me and my interests. Instead, I am surrounded by future foundation CEOs, grant writers, program producers, and nonprofit directors. A frequent happy hour topic for us: how not warm-and-fuzzy it is to work tirelessly for a mission.

 

5) The future: society’s priorities are placing higher importance on social good.

Signs are pointing toward the need for corporate environments to take on social missions– or at least some corporate social responsibility. Does this mean we might see some MPAs in corporate environments changing up the system in the near future? Perhaps. Consider this: Generation Y, the incoming professional leaders, are said to run on public service motivation. Unlike Generation X, these folks would much rather work for the government than a corporate giant. They want to give back to communities. Moreover, customers are more likely to consume goods that align themselves with some sort of social mission– and communication, transparency, and connection (nonprofit focuses) are beginning to lead corporate environments. In sum, the days of caring primarily about income and individual companies may be coming to a close. In fact, that’s what The Economist predicted for 2010 when they discussed the oncoming decline of the MBA.

When young nonprofit and museum professionals spout their desire to get an MBA because that’s what they think they “should” do, I cringe. There are many incredible reasons to get an MBA and great reasons to get an MPA as well; but I think it’s the responsibility of professional-degree-advocates to know why they are choosing one degree over the other.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous 51 Comments

Keep The Ride Alive- A Tradition to Celebrate the Power of the Individual

Daisy Keeps the Ride Alive this year in Bloomfield Hills, MI.

‘We are called a nation of inventors. And we are. We could still claim that title and wear its loftiest honors if we had stopped with the first thing we ever invented, which was human liberty.” – Mark Twain

On the April 18, 1775, Paul Revere and other riders set out to warn American farmers and villagers that the time had come to fight for freedom. As individuals, these riders combined to help launch our country’s quest for independence – an independence that gave each of us the opportunity and freedom to engage our own individual “rides” that can make a difference.

So on April 18th, we salute Paul Revere and the others who fought for our freedom. They demonstrated the power and potential of a single individual.

Since 1997, on April 18th, people all over the country and around the world have celebrated Paul Revere’s ride by wearing the KEEP THE RIDE ALIVE T-shirt. On April 18, 2010 look for people wearing shirts with “KEEP THE RIDE ALIVE ALIVE” in black letters on the front and “235 YEARS” on the back – with a black and white picture of the traditional bald eagle… and remember to keep your own ride alive.

When my family started this symbolic shirt-wearing tradition in 1997, we made and distributed only 9 shirts with iron-on letters. From that day onward, the tradition has been growing. My family now makes and distributes over 300 free shirts to willing participants each year. Shirts run out quickly, and often folks in our high schools and colleges have made their own shirts with fabric markers to celebrate the day when supplies ran low.

During my college years, a majority of the shirts were worn on The University of Chicago campus with large amounts often found at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Wisconsin-Madison campuses (where my brother and sister attend(ed) school). Since our college friends have dispersed, the tradition has made even wider impact– with shirts being worn in nearly every state in the U.S. (including Paul Revere’s House in Boston) and beyond to Canada, Scotland, Japan, Dubai, and other countries.

The tradition is not meant to be political– but rather patriotic and a collective celebration of the important role that each individual plays in the world. I want to share it with my readers here at Know Your Own Bone because I believe that in order for people to be their best and contribute to the evolving world, they must understand and celebrate their individual worth.


Henderson House Keeping the Ride Alive, 2004

Alpha Omicron Pi Keeping the Ride Alive, 2005

Folks caught walking around campus, 2006.

A few ladies keeping the Ride Alive in 2007

Keeping the Ride Alive during Seder dinner in Seattle in 2008

Keep The Ride Alive Shirts from 1998 – 2010 laid out on Jackie Wild's bed in Wichita, KS.

Happy Paul Revere Day, readers! Please take a moment today to think about how you have contributed, not only to moving along the nonprofit and museum worlds, but about the impact you make every day in the lives of loved ones, and the greater context of your community.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous, Nonprofit Marketing 1 Comment