Market to Adults (Not Families) to Maximize Attendance to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Marketing to adults increases visitation even if much of your current visitation comes from people visiting with children. Here’s Read more

Why Those With Reported Interest Do Not Visit Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Data suggest that a sizable number of people report interest in visiting cultural organizations…and yet over thirty percent of those Read more

MoMA Sees Reputation Boost After Displaying Muslim Artists (DATA)

Here’s what market research reveals about MoMA’s decision to display artwork from artists hailing from the Muslim-majority nations affected Read more

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 Read more

Data Reveals The Worst Thing About Visiting Cultural Organizations

The primary dissatisfier among visitors to both exhibit AND performance-based cultural organizations is something we can fix. What is the Read more

People, Planet, Profit: Checks and Balances for Cultural Organizations

It’s a time of change and evaluation for cultural organizations – and that’s a good thing. The societal current Read more

Myth Busting

Information Overload: How Case Study Envy Stifles Nonprofit Success

whatever competition does

Between numerous conferences, written reports, podcasts and other resources, nonprofits should have no problem accessing an abundance of industry case studies. And smart organizations actively seek them out in order to appropriately consider precedents. However, too many nonprofits seem to distract themselves from opportunities by making inappropriate comparisons between other organizations and their own. They risk the loss of their own identity when they become too easily seduced by the (alleged) successes of others.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the nonprofit industry – one with an innate value for transparency and a culture that celebrates collaborative knowledge transfer – is so often easily misled by these “success studies.” Arguably, nonprofits are the most communicative of any business sector.  Due to a culture of sharing, organizational risk aversion, and a very mature business model, there isn’t a lot of “secret sauce” in the nonprofit space.

“So how can nonprofits be considered laggards when it comes to building effective ‘business’ strategies?! We’re in constant dialogue. We listen to one another!”

Well, maybe that’s the problem.

Having a lot of information is good. Not taking the time to develop a culture of thinking about it critically is bad. While sharing experiences certainly has undeniable advantages and can positively inform organizational strategies, I’ve noticed a detrimental trend in how nonprofit organizations discuss the operations of perceived industry leaders whom they’d like to emulate. Namely, nonprofits seem increasingly less able to differentiate between models and examples, and this confusion creates unrealistic expectations that may hinder the success of organizations.

When considering case studies and the operations of other nonprofit organizations, it may help to keep in mind the following four items:

1) Many singularly successful organizations are terrible models

IMPACTS collects intelligence concerning 224 visitor-serving organizations in the United States. Data indicate that the US public overwhelmingly considers the Monterey Bay Aquarium to be the “best aquarium in the world.” Increasingly, we hear organizations (and not just aquariums) attempting to emulate the Monterey Bay Aquarium in the hopes of similarly increasing their own reputations, securing their financial futures, maximizing audience engagement, etc.

(I am exploring the category of aquariums (again) because the aquarium industry has a clear, defined market leader. Museums, symphonies and zoos have tighter “line ups” with greater variance in public opinion concerning which is the “best.”)

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a wonderful example of a world-class organization achieving enviable business and mission successes…but, as far as being easily replicated, it is a terrible model. Consider: The Monterey Bay Aquarium is the dominant – and near exclusive – major attraction in a very popular coastal destination.  It is led by one of the most influential leaders in the global conservation community.  It opened its doors unburdened by debt or other financing obligations. The lists of singular superlatives associated with the Monterey Bay Aquarium could go on…but, I think that you get my point. While it is easy to identify the attributes and practices that make the Monterey Bay Aquarium an acknowledged market leader, it is very difficult to duplicate these conditions.

Do other organizations also have some of these things? You bet. Do they have all of them? No. Similarly, your organization likely has its own, unique conditions. (Monterey is the example I am using here to make a point. It is not the only organization with unique conditions and the promise or potential of a successful enterprise).

(Uh oh! I feel a bad analogy coming on…) Other organizations cannot reasonably expect to copy the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “recipe for success” because they aren’t working with the same ingredients (or, for that matter, the same kitchen and same executive chef). Organizations have their own unique ingredients (and kitchens and chefs), and they have to optimize those to best respond to their own unique opportunities.

 

2) But organizations can provide helpful examples

Continuing with my horrible “recipe for success” analogy, if you spot an admired market leader that shares some of the same ingredients as your organization, noting how they successfully utilize these ingredients may help your organization cook up an equally tasty dish. In fact, if you add on to the case study by contemplating and incorporating your own unique advantages, you may end up with something even better (for you) than your would-be model.

For instance, although Monterey Bay Aquarium is a terrible model (again, in the sense that they – like many other organizations- aren’t replicable), their ability to experiment and take on unique initiatives in creative ways provides several examples that may benefit the balance of the museum and nonprofit industry. Examples may be broad and deal with the evolution of best practices, or serve as case studies for engaging the market.

As an aside: Question case studies. Sharing case studies (especially in conference settings) is frequently a way that organizations pat themselves on their own backs, but just because a case study was shared doesn’t mean that the initiative aided in securing donations, getting people in the door, or increasing brand reputation. There are some gemstones, but there’s also a lot of hot air out there. Be wise enough to tell the difference.  (People regularly ask me what are some of the biggest differences that I observe in my work with both for-profit and nonprofit clients.  Easy!  Whereas the nonprofit case studies presented to industry colleagues are invariably sunshine-filled, self-congratulatory success stories, the vast majority of case studies that I observe being presented in the for-profit world are cautionary tales of woe, struggle, and failure.  I don’t know what to make of this dichotomy, but I think it is interesting).
 

3) If you aspire to replicate a model, you jeopardize your relevance

If a similar organization with the same brand equities that you strive to achieve already exists (i.e. if you have a true model), then your organization is probably less relevant and you may be cannibalizing the market and unnecessarily dividing the resources needed to efficiently tackle the shared social mission.

However, a “conceptual model organization” that exists in another market could be a valuable tool – provided that two conditions are met: 1) You understand how this organization (its positioning, reputation and resources) differs from yours and you create a plan for optimizing these same areas uniquely for your own equities; and 2) You understand that successful organizations evolve to meet market needs and opportunities. What was true and a “best practice” yesterday may not necessarily serve as a suitable precedent for tomorrow. Your model will change its operations over time (especially if it is a good model), and you will likely need to change yours, too. Frequently, the best things that a “conceptual model organization” can be are thought provoking and inspirational – its practices may not be transitively applicable. 
 

4) Making nonprofit best practices the basis of your business strategy is a bad strategy

Another disadvantage of the “sharing” nature of the nonprofit industry is that organizations often become more caught up with what other organizations are doing than paying any attention to their markets – which (decidedly unlike the behaviors of other nonprofits) is directly correlated to their financial and social success. (Read: It doesn’t matter at all how many other nonprofits are utilizing social media. What matters is that the market is utilizing social media as its single most influential, go-to source of information.)

Think it’s great that your nonprofit is almost at the industry average for email open rates? Congratulations on being almost mediocre. (Tough love? Maybe. But think about it: You won’t catch successful for-profit companies celebrating benchmark victories…so why do we allow ourselves to frame averageness as “achievement?”) We can do better than simply keeping up with the Vastly-Underperforming-And-Almost-Broke Joneses. It’s important to be marketing your nonprofit and creating programs for the folks that actually matter – not to keep company with peer organizations (a large portion of which may be flailing).

My advice to nonprofits with one eye on their neighbors: Take what you can from case studies as applicable, but don’t get caught up in becoming another organization.  Gosh darnit:

Be yourself oscar wilde

(Full disclosure: As the Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS, I work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium…and, for that matter, with a number of other aquariums, museums, performing arts organizations, zoos and similar visitor-serving enterprise. The reason that I reference the Monterey Bay Aquarium as a specific example is two-fold: (1) Data compellingly indicate its public perception as “best in class,” and thus a natural topic for case study; and (2) It is a frequently cited aspirational “model” suggested to me by other aquariums – as well as several other types of visitor-serving organizations – when they reference a third-party entity.)

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 Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 6 Comments

A Hint for the Future of Museums: Europe is Looking to US Aquariums

In my line of work (developing predictive data) and my spot in that line (analyzing and applying data on behalf of organizations equally concerned with social and fiscal bottom lines), opportunity often comes from keeping a pulse on the market. Along these lines, I’ve recently experienced shifts in my professional world that may be illustrative of the future of museums and the broader nonprofit community.

"7 hours and 57 minutes until I am officially based out of Chicago AND London! Let's do this!"

“7 hours, 57 minutes until I’m officially based out of Chicago AND London! Let’s do this!” (4/1/13)

In April, I officially joined the ranks of part-time expatriates (and long-haul commuters) when IMPACTS asked me to help open our London office while also maintaining a “home base” in Chicago.  Preparations for our London office enabled me to hire a Digital Marketing Manager to provide additional support to our projects, and also challenged me to be more thoughtful about how I could focus my efforts to best serve our clients.  A few months removed from my hop across the pond, I’ve been reliably asked two questions from colleagues, other museum professionals and even friends and family – the answers to which are closely related and may provide interesting insight to the museum industry:

1) Why London?

The obvious answer: proximity. I am in London largely because it is an accessible base for much of the work that IMPACTS is currently performing on behalf of visitor-serving organizations (e.g. museums) throughout the Americas, Europe and the Middle East.

The more interesting answer: market demand in Europe for the American nonprofit business model. You read that right! Any quick glance at the news tells stories of shifting economies that have created an unprecedented struggle for many of Europe’s most treasured museums.  While not-too-long ago many of the elite European institutions might have politely sneered at the suggestion of adopting a more “American model” of doing business (especially “nonprofit business!”), these sentiments are quickly shifting.

The “American model” (as it is colloquially referred to in my dealings) is a euphemism for a visitor-serving business that doesn’t rely on government support (or grants or endowments) and, instead, is a market-driven enterprise whose success hinges on engaging a diverse, sustainable constituency.

In other words, many of the world’s greatest museums – the ones that we Americans revere and admire with a distant and mysterious “otherness” – are looking to U.S. visitor-serving organizations as sources of inspiration, innovation and know-how when it comes to reinventing their business models to best respond to their current economic conditions.

2) Why do you spend so much time working with aquariums?

It’s true. I do find myself increasingly spending more time and energy working closely with aquariums. Here’s the end-game: We have an interest in aquariums because they are often cited by our clients as best-in-class practitioners of the “American model.” (Stick with me, other-types-of-museum folks. I’ll connect the dots…)

IMPACTS works with nearly every form of visitor-serving organization from art museums and symphonies to science centers and botanical gardens, and there’s one thing that we’ve found to be generally true: The market-driven practices developed by aquariums may have the greatest impact and “usability” for exalting the entire visitor-serving industry.  While the role of aquariums as models may seem surprising to many of America’s most venerable museums, the relative esteem with which U.S. aquariums are internationally regarded evidences itself in my work on a daily basis. In fact, the European organizations (including many art museums) that I work with have less interest in the “best practices” of American art museums and, increasingly, more interest in those of American aquariums.

Here’s why.  There are two conditions that make U.S. aquariums of particular interest to the global museum and visitor-serving industry:

 

A) The U.S. aquarium business model is motivated by market demand (and not overly dependent on grants, endowments, or government funding)

This is not to say that aquariums do not seek to obtain grants or secure government appropriations – but, as a group, the chart below indicates that aquariums tend to rely least on contributed and dividend revenues when compared to other types of visitor-serving organizations:

IMPACTS Visitor Serving Organization Earned Revenue

Theoretically, if government funding were to cease on a macro-level tomorrow, aquariums (as well as select museums, theaters, science centers and other more self-reliant organizations) may have the greatest chance of keeping their doors open long-term.

Also, after evaluating a representative sample of 224 U.S.-based visitor-serving organizations, aquariums generally have the smallest endowments relative to their annual operating budgets – perhaps suggesting that aquariums must be particularly attuned to the market since they have less “cushion” in their revenue streams. We see outcomes of this market responsiveness all the time: While some museums are hiring extra grantwriters and expanding their lobbying efforts for funding, many aquariums are hiring social media and online community managers because they understand that digital engagement helps drive attendance. Of course, smart museums also realize this and are hiring these kinds of people, too – but as the chart below illustrates, the lack of a “safety net” places a particular financial imperative on aquariums to be responsive to market opportunities:

IMPACTS - Visitor Serving organization endowment backstop

 

B) Many aquariums regularly invest in active, global, social missions that extend beyond education and research

I can hear you now: “But all museums aim to change the world!” I know. This does not mean that other missions are any less important – simply that many organizations with which I work consider aquariums to be at an interesting intersection between topic expertise and “right now” relevance…particularly when it comes to prominent, controversial issues such as climate change and other environmental topics. In short, while the social missions and operations of aquariums tackle education and research (two critical items that are also common among other, select visitor-serving organizations), they also take up the battle of ocean conservation. The initiatives attendant to this addition are particularly timely, global, and live in a rather elusive “save the world” space.

It’s a seemingly at-odds and extreme combination:  Aquariums may be considered among the most “for profit” of organizations in that they rely heavily on earned revenues, but they also aim to be among the most globally impactful among organizations pursuing active, social missions.

 

I “go deep” in my work with aquariums because helping them evolve and perfect their business model to remain solvent in both fiscal and social terms provides the lessons that help other organizations achieve their similarly aspirational ideals.

I’m intentionally speaking in terms of sector generalities – not all zoos rely on government funding, not every museum lives on its endowment, and, for that matter, not all aquariums are truly bringing their A-game to the “save the ocean” effort. The organizations operating with the objectives of being both market-relevant AND “big mission-serving” (aquarium or not) may be our best models for the future of museums. They can survive on their own, and they can do it while serving a very large-scale social mission.

 

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 Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: The Nonprofit Social Media Data Dilemma

marketing and sales cartoon

Everyone seems to be all about the world of “big data” right now. And – as a data nerd who gets her professional kicks in that same space – I’m not (even a little bit) complaining. I’ve found in my work with IMPACTS that nonprofits are placing an incredibly strong emphasis on data collection and analysis. Ostensibly, organizations paying careful attention to their social media data may seem an encouraging trend, but in our age of information overload many organizations are misplacing emphasis on the wrong metrics – or misinterpreting the meaning of these metrics. In essence, social media metrics are becoming nonprofit (and even business) fool’s gold. 

Social media data is critical to understanding how your organization best engages with the market – and this knowledge is critical to achieving your goals. However, social media data are diagnostic metrics and NOT key performance indicators (KPIs). They inform how your organization is doing on social media…NOT the overall health of your organization. (They are related…but not the same.) Confusing the meaning and rightful application of this data can put organizations on a very arduous, frustrating path. Is a healthy organization active and engaging on social media? You bet. But high engagement numbers on social media mean absolutely nothing if your organization isn’t getting more people in the door, increasing membership renewal rates, facilitating donor-related conversations, or achieving any number of the goals that indicate the solvency and relevance of an organization.

Am I getting too jargon-y with all of this “KPI” talk? Here are some clarifications:

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): KPIs are used to evaluate the ongoing success of an organization or a particular initiative. Success is often defined in terms of making progress toward achieving the strategic objectives that optimize the solvency of an organization. In other words, KPIs have a direct correlation to desired outputs (fundraising, visitation, etc.). For instance, for our nonprofit visitor-serving partners at IMPACTS, we measure items related to market sentiment that include metrics such as reputation (e.g. top-of-mind metrics), educational value, satisfaction, value-for-price perceptions – and other items that correlate directly to the “health” of an organization and its ability to achieve its bottom line objectives.

Diagnostic metrics: Diagnostic metrics are data points that contribute to KPI performance and aid organizations in pinpointing specific opportunities. In the online space, these metrics allow organizations to observe how effectively they are engaging audiences. However, these metrics cannot “stand-in” for KPIs because they are a sub-measurement of assessment criteria (i.e KPIs) that lead to desired behaviors. For instance, on the surface, certain social media diagnostic metrics may look positive, but if they aren’t elevating your reputation (a key driver of visitation), then…well, a “like” is just a “like.” Diagnostic metrics are also helpful for “listening” to audiences, and informing organizations of opportunities for improvement.

Here’s how they work together (flow chart style):

IMPACTS - KPIs and Diagnostic metrics

And here are three, critical points to consider concerning social media metrics:

1) Social media metrics do not directly measure your bottom line (so keep them in perspective)

A measurement indicating online reach, for instance, only measures online reach. Just because your organization reached a large number of people with a social media status doesn’t mean that anyone paid attention to it, that it was the right message, or that it strengthened any individual’s connection to your organization. Is does mean that the message had the opportunity to build a bit of affinity among a certain number of people. This is not your bottom line. More meaningful metrics include donor giving, membership acquisitions and renewals, and attendance.

2) Even when social media metrics are high, they can still be at-odds with KPIs (making it HARDER for your organization to achieve its goals)

This is a big one. If you are evaluating the efficacy of your digital strategists and social media community managers strictly by Facebook Insights numbers – knock it off (please). These metrics can be purposefully and even accidentally inflated to the detriment of organizations.  “Gaming” this system is child’s play for even the most neophyte of social media professionals.

To cut to the chase: If you’re measuring social media efficacy strictly by social media numbers and rewarding staff based on these metrics, you’re actively setting up your organization to fail. Your team may feel pressure to offer discounts or post superfluous updates that will artificially increase engagement rates (i.e. good for them in terms of their performance evaluation), but these practices will ultimately increase visitor dissatisfaction, devalue your brand, marginalize your mission, and demean your perceived reputation as “expert.”  Have you asked yourself this question: If we’re so popular online,  how come nobody is coming in person?  Chances are that you’ve created ineffective, misleading evaluation criteria based on social media metrics and not true KPIs.

3) You do not control the platforms providing key social media metrics. (They actually control YOU)

TANSTAAFL (pronounced: “TAN – staf –ful”) was a common “word” on campus at my alma mater. It stands for “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” (though it came from science fiction writer Rober A. Heinlein, the term was popularized by Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago professor – hence, the popularity on campus).  Sometimes organizations get so caught up with the ability to report numbers that they forget to think critically about social media metrics. Specifically, they forget about the concept of TANSTAAFL as it applies to social media.

Facebook and You - Product being sold

Over 15 million businesses, companies, and organizations have Facebook pages and sometimes Facebook metrics have bugs. Actually…a lot of the time Facebook metrics have bugs. At IMPACTS, we attempt to correct for bugs by gathering insight information from several organizations and normalizing it, comparatively…but if you’re a single organization, you likely don’t have this opportunity and you are, well, a wee-bit stuck with whatever information or misinformation Facebook shows you. Organizations that run more than one Facebook page likely know first-hand how common system-wide bugs are for individual pages. If you notice a bug in your Facebook Insights, the best that you can do is contact Facebook and hope – over the course of several months – that they will fix the bug. Here’s a thing to remember: Your organization is using Facebook for free or at a low cost (if you aren’t constantly buying ads, or promoting or sponsoring posts) and there isn’t a direct incentive to fix your Insights bug (that you may or may not know that you have). In short, these metrics should not be the MOST important metrics or the ONLY metrics for your organization.

There’s no doubt that social media measurement is absolutely and increasingly critical to effectively engage audiences and remain relevant with the market. These metrics are NOT unimportant. But with social media metrics being relatively accessible to non-expert evaluators, and absent the considered interpretation and analysis of their “true” meaning, organizations risk confusing isolated data points with KPIs.

Bottom line: Social media is a tool for achieving your organization’s goals. Social media metrics help organizations assess how well they are using these tools.  However, these metrics are not the end-all-be-all assessment tool in your organization’s toolbox…and organizations that misunderstand how to evaluate these metrics in terms of larger organizational goals risk confusion, frustration, and may jeopardize their long-term success. 

 

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, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 2 Comments

Time, Treasure, Talent: Priority Confusion on Nonprofit Boards Limits Success (STUDY)

Finding: Nonprofit board members grossly overestimate the importance of their own time and talent, and believe personal philanthropy to be the least of their responsibilities in the “time, treasure, talent” continuum.

time treasure talent

For nonprofit executive leaders, “Give [money], get [money], or get off [the board]” seems to have been a board development maxim since the beginning of nonprofit-time. Despite this fact, many CEOs consistently struggle to raise meaningful funds from their board members. This may be due to a convenient untruth that board members may be using as an excuse to sidestep the “give, get, or get off” maxim: The belief that time, treasure, and talent are of equal value to a nonprofit organization.

A recent study conducted by IMPACTS reveals that, among visitor-serving organizations, there is a stark perceptual delta between executive leadership and board members when assessing the primary asset that board members bring to their organizations. And perhaps unsurprisingly, this difference of opinion regarding board responsibilities is pronounced within “smaller” organizations (i.e. those serving 500,000 or fewer visitors annually).

IMPACTS (the predictive technology company for which I work) was engaged to develop intelligence and analysis concerning the efficacy of nonprofit boards of trustees.  The related research and interviews sought to improve the understanding of the optimal role of the board as it relates to the governance and operation of the contemporary, nonprofit, visitor-serving organization.

The data collection processes included quantitative intelligence gathering and qualitative interviews with both the executive leadership and members of the boards of 49 nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations (e.g. aquariums, museums, performing arts organizations and zoos).  The study sought to include a broad, representative sample of nonprofit organizations of various types, usage levels, and annual operating budgets.

 

1) Staff leadership believe that securing funds is by far the most important role of board members

 

IMPACTS staff perspective of board role

Giving/securing “treasure” for an organization is clearly identified as the most important role of a board member by CEOs and other executive leaders. Lending “talent” (think of an attorney on the board providing legal counsel) holds significantly less value according to these same leaders.

Qualitative assessments from leaders reveal that the delta between “treasure” and “talent” may be in large part due to an organization’s strong preference to buy talent with treasure (as opposed to relying on the “in-kind,” donated talent of their board members). Executive leadership tends to believe that this type of “hired,” on-demand, best-in-class talent puts the organization in a better position to succeed than does a board member who is potentially less specifically qualified and/or has less time dedicated to the organization. (Not to mention the fact that many nonprofit organizations have conflict of interest policies that limit or restrict a board member’s participation in aspects of the organization’s operation.)

 

2) With the exception of larger organizations, board members believe that lending their own talent is their key role and raising funds is the least of their responsibilities

 

IMPACTS Board perspective of board roles

An argument may be made that organizations serving greater than 500,000 annual visitors are necessarily larger operations and may reliably attract more experienced, “sophisticated” board members than smaller organizations. This type of board member may have more experience on a greater diversity of boards, and may have a better understanding of the needs of nonprofit organizations and their own role on the board.

 

Key Finding: Nonprofit board members over-emphasize the importance of their own time and talent

 

IMPACTS Board and staff perspective of board roles

Some may say that my interpretation of these assessments assumes that the nonprofit CEOs have a better perspective of what will lend success to an organization than board members themselves. I’d like to propose an alternative point of view in regard to the survey outcomes: Board members seem to believe that their biggest contribution is a thing that the organization isn’t always asking for (i.e. their respective talents), and the single thing that many organizations require most to keep their doors open is the very thing that many board members do not view as their primary responsibility (i.e. treasure). From this perspective, some organizations serving 500,000 or fewer visitors per year (or boards of any nonprofit organizations with “smaller” annual revenues) may be stuck in a cycle:

Nonprofit board members may disproportionally view their own “talent” as beneficial because they don’t perceive that the organization possesses equivalent talent on-staff. So, because the organization lacks internal capacities, its board members disproportionally value their  own (occasional, off-staff) “talent” – but in valuing their talents over their “treasure,” they limit the organization’s ability to develop more robust resources and capacities. Thus, the organization comes to depend on board “talent” largely because its board members choose not to alternatively supply the organization with sufficient “treasure.”

Does this mean that board perspectives are unimportant? Most certainly not. The experiences and connections afforded organizations by their board members are important assets. However, if they don’t positively impact the long-term solvency of an organization in a meaningful way, then these connections may not be worth as much as “status board” members seem to believe them to be. Connections, networks and experiences are all latent benefits that may be made manifest in terms of an organization’s financial health. Unlike these potential latent benefits that board members lend to an organization, donations provide direct benefit.  Ultimately, organizations quantify financial health in numbers – and numbers don’t lie.

 

In Their Own Words:

“I think that it takes all three (i.e. ‘time, talent, and treasure’) to be a great board member. Arguably the greatest talent of all is realizing that your time is less valuable than your treasure.”- Chief Executive Officer, attendance = 500,000 – 1 million 

“A particular challenge for many of our new board members is the time that it takes for them to understand that we didn’t ask them on the board because of their professional abilities and talents. We asked them on the board to gain access to the wealth that the practice of their professional abilities and talents has enabled.”- Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees, attendance = 250,000 – 500,000

“I’m proud of the way that our board has evolved. It now understands it has an absolute and significant giving imperative. With all due respect to our board members’ abilities and talents, if you don’t give in a meaningful fashion, then you are short for our world.”- Chief Executive Officer, attendance = >1 million

“It drives me crazy that we still have board members who think that their job is to critique staff decisions, plan galas, and stuff envelopes. As a donor, it is embarrassing that the outside world considers these people to be my peers.” – Member, Board of Trustees, attendance = 100,000 – 250,000

“The best thing about leading a large organization was saying goodbye to the ‘bake sale boards’ of my past where every financial crisis was met with a social-status-elevating fundraiser that never netted any real funds but was deemed a success if it got the chairwomen mentioned in ‘Town & Country.’”- Chief Executive Officer, attendance = >1 million

“As a board member, you have two obligations: Number One is your fiduciary obligation to the organization. Number Two is your financial obligation to the organization. The entire ‘time, talent, and treasure’ discussion is bunk – a board member’s duty is to ensure that the organization is able to buy the time of those resources possessing the most talent.” Chief Executive Officer, attendance = 250,000 – 500,000

“Honestly, our board is a joke. They want to derive every social benefit and milk every professional network that comes from being on our board, but they don’t think that they should pay for the privilege. We’ve let ourselves become a status symbol…the worst sort of trophy wife. What I would do to fire the whole lot of them and start over!” Chief Executive Officer, attendance = 500,000 – 1 million

“On our board, it is both implicitly and explicitly understood that you pay for the privilege of your vote. There is no representation without taxation. If you don’t like our arrangement, then, frankly, we’d prefer that you not serve on our board.” – Chief Executive Officer, attendance= >1 million

“Over the years, I’ve been asked to speak to other boards about how they, too, can increase their respective board giving capacities. Invariably, they cite an inability to ‘attract heavy hitters’ to their boards. I ask them to survey the room – the so-called ‘heavy hitters’ don’t keep company with people who don’t value personal philanthropy. No one wants to be the deep pockets on a board who subsidizes their fellow board members. So, if a board wants to raise more money, the first step that they need to embrace is significantly increasing their own personal giving in the hopes of attracting more like-minded philanthropists. The second step often involves stepping aside and allowing these philanthropists to assume your position on the board. The best board donors try to replace themselves with even better donors on a regular, ongoing basis.”- Chairman of the Board of Trustees, attendance= > 1 million

“I appreciate how invested with their time our board members are, but I’d be lying to say that I didn’t wish that they weren’t equally invested with their money. We struggle to meet the giving benchmarks of our peers. My board’s answer to EVERYTHING is ‘Let’s have a fundraiser!” or “Let’s try for this grant!” – never anything out of their own pocket. They’re in love with other peoples’ money.”- Chief Executive Officer, attendance = 250,000 – 500,000

“A sure sign of a lousy board is a bunch of ‘talented’ people on your marketing committee. That’s where organizations dump the folks whose sole currency is hot air.”- Chief Executive Officer, attendance = 100,000 – 250,000

 

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 Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution 7 Comments

6 Sad Truths About Fundraising That I Have Learned as a Millennial Donor

millennials-360

Hi, nonprofit executive leaders and board members. My name is Colleen Dilenschneider. I am a Millennial donor and I exist.

 

And data suggest that I’m not alone in being a millennial donor, either.

First, let’s be honest: I’m not a crazy-huge donor that is going to make-or-break your nonprofit operations (yet…). That said, I’ve made a personal decision to prioritize charitable giving as I’ve grown in my career by making several four and five-figure gifts (And more to an organization in which I serve on the Board.)  I intend to be a lifelong giver to philanthropic causes. Hey, I’m a millennial – realistic or not, I’m optimistic about my financial future. And, no, not a single penny of that came from my parents (who data suggest aren’t as long-term financially supportive as we millennials may think they are). Like my peers, I am public-service motivated and I care about making a difference.

I learned an awful lot about nonprofit solvency through the pursuit of my Master of Public Administration in Nonprofit Management degree, but one thing’s for sure: I’ve learned a LOT more about fundraising as a donor than I ever could have dreamed of learning while studying fundraising.

Millennials – those roughly between the ages of 21 and 35 – represent the single largest generation in human history. Come 2015, Millennials will have more buying power than Baby Boomers, and then this massive demographic will have a stronghold on the market for the following forty years at minimum. Thanks in large part to the web and social media connectivity, we function and think very differently than the generations that came before us. Nonprofit organizations that are not targeting this population right now in terms of building affinity and creating personal connections may find themselves suddenly irrelevant within the next decade.

Here are six sad truths that I’ve uncovered about the realities of nonprofit fundraising as a millennial donor:

 

1) Nobody thinks you can give any money so nobody asks you

I’m not complaining about this one as a donor, but I absolutely want to call attention to it as a person working to strengthen the nonprofit sector. Aside from our colleges and universities (efficacy of their methods aside), not many organizations are earnestly prioritizing folks under 35 as donors or even cultivating the relationships required to secure future gifts from millennials. Yes, a great number of millennials are in debt and our unemployment rates are high, but there are nearly 90 million of us, and common sense should tell organizations that out of a population so large, surely some of us are capable of supporting those organizations that we care about.  More simply put, donors are generally the exception and not the rule for many organizations, so why do organizations tend to focus on the “average millennial” as a rationale to not actively cultivate their support when they apply an entirely different standard to every other donor segment?

 

2) Nobody likes a millennial donor

This one has been my single biggest detour in making donations. When you’re a millennial donor, two very important types of people directly associated with the organization really, really dislike you…and don’t hide it even a little bit:

Board members don’t like millennial donors: In at least two cases, I’ve made donations similar to or larger than those made by over half of the board members of some notable organizations (and I’ll remind you that I’m no multi-millionaire). Though I thought about neither board at the time of my giving (and didn’t intend to do anything but give), it became very clear through consequent communications with the organizations’ CEOs and my own connections to specific board members that…well, if I was hit by a bus, there might be a select group of “public-service motivated” Baby Boomers that wouldn’t mind.

This hurt at first, but I get it. My giving as a non-board member (let alone someone their children’s age) makes them accountable for their own “age and stature-appropriate philanthropy” and forces them to honor their implicit obligations to get or give meaningful funds. Or, more directly, it makes them look bad – especially because board members of mid-to-large sized nonprofit organizations (“status boards”) often try to keep young folks out of sight for other reasons. We millennials are indeed innately threatening in many ways (sheer size and our different methods of connecting with other generations and the world around us, etc). But when a new generation knocks on the door and enters society’s living room, there is no ignoring the new tenants. After decades of simply talking about it, older generations begin to suddenly understand that they may need to fit more, different people on the couch at some point. And they get mad. It is not easy to fire yourself for your own underperformance. That couch is pretty comfy.

Millennial fundraising and major gift officers don’t like millennial donors: While one could argue that millennial giving is good for nonprofit organization board members because the associated dislike is simply a symptom of necessary evolution, they aren’t always the biggest barriers to giving…sometimes those are millennial fundraisers and major gift officers.

We millennials are a connected and “equal” bunch. On our soccer teams growing up, everyone was a MVP (watch this and laugh…or cry). We are also very socially connected and generally care about being liked by our peers. When a CEO asks a millennial fundraiser to “court” another millennial, the interaction that ensues is usually NOT what the executive leader probably envisioned. In one-on-one conversations, our colloquial millennial nature takes the conversation very quickly off of the “let’s talk about how you can help the organization and/or strengthen your connection with us” track to a “prove yourself” narrow-eyed inquisition of what I’ve done with my life to be sitting there. (I simply prioritize giving!) My sample size is disturbingly high in encountering this situation and it seems to be more rule than exception.  Once I even received a very direct and condescending, “So tell me why our CEO asked me to speak with you today.”

In the history of the planet, I’m pretty sure that nobody has ever talked down their own achievements and apologized for their “available funds” faster than a millennial donor in front of an unnecessarily-personally-threatened millennial fundraiser. I nearly always walk away feeling like an awful traitor to my generation.

That said, I have also had fun and valuable conversations with a select few millennial major gift officers who have themselves strengthened my relationship with an organization. One thing that may be the difference? The millennial fundraisers who have made me feel good about potential giving seem to be the ones that feel good about themselves and understand the value of their skillset. I know firsthand that these specific individuals have access to their CEOs and executive leadership, and that leadership looks to them as experts in fundraising. Bottom line: value millennial employees and you’ll have a better chance of attracting millennial donors. (I cannot stress this point enough. Also, to be honest, a vast majority of millennial fundraisers that I’ve encountered seem to unfortunately fall into the first category – not the second – so please don’t write this off.)

 

3) You will probably be asked for large funds via snail mail

My first ask for a five-figure gift was delivered to me via snail mail. For years, I’d been looking forward to the moment when I’d be seriously courted by an organization (nerd alert), and this was my very first little donor heartbreak. The broader market increasingly mistrusts direct mail and its overall efficacy as a communication method. It should come as no surprise that this decline is far more drastic for millennials and younger generations. To be blunt, older folks: what we millennials receive in the mail is mostly bills. When millennials give, they are looking for an emotional connection and to be a part of something. We aren’t emotionally connected with a high level of affinity to our bills. A thoughtful, hand-written thank you after making a donation? Well, that’s a personal touch and a completely different story.

 

4) Even though you could not possibly be more findable on the web and giving money feels very personal, the person who asks for support will know NOTHING about you

Even though details like what you ate for dinner last night may be all over your social networks, the person who asks you for money and the person who thanks you (if you get a personal thanks aside from your form letter for tax purposes – even with bigger gifts it doesn’t always happen) will know NOTHING about you. Amazingly, many haven’t even taken the time to figure out where you live or what you do for a living.

Here’s just one example in my collection: A coordinator for an organization that I believe in contacted me to ask for support from IMPACTS (where I work) on a project that I think is particularly valuable for the nonprofit sector. She sent us a general proposal for funds that was obviously not intended for a company like IMPACTS. When I asked her to please write out a less boilerplate request (read: something actually contemplative of anything about the company and its giving priorities) so that I could in turn recommend a gift to our founder, she sent me another generic letter that still did not acknowledge the company, our potential “fit” with the project, or even my own work as an employee within IMPACTS (which related to the project). I was then reminded several times of the upcoming “deadline to give.” When I explained both my passion for the project and my disappointment with the generic, thoughtless asks, my company CEO said, “Let’s wait and see if they notice our silence now. If they mention anything specific to us at all, we’ll give them $25,000 on the spot.” Needless to say, it never happened.

 

5) Pick only one: Giving online (convenience) or receiving any real acknowledgement of your gift (dignity)

Online giving (an option that nonprofit leaders often seem to think they’ve taken their time and energy to do just for us) is another big no-win for larger-scale millennial donors. If you give online, you get an automated email of thanks and rarely receive a more personal follow-up – if you receive a follow-up from a real human being all – which can be even more heartbreaking than the automated response (see item #4). This is true even if you make a five-figure gift online (true story, folks). It seems that because you’re not handing a check directly to a human being who feels responsible for saying thank you, you generally won’t get one.

But to digital natives, this “worthy/unworthy of attention” differentiation doesn’t exist between giving methods – except that giving online tends to work best for us. Millennials believe that technology makes life easier (a win for online giving), but that it also makes things more real-time and personal (a lose for online giving follow-through in most situations). Thus, the way that online giving is currently carried out simply doesn’t adequately suit our needs (or arguably, anyone’s). Providing online giving mechanisms may be seen by millennials as a way to provide real-time thanks and connect on multiple platforms to retain donors long term…not as an automated system to remove the responsibility of human touch from the giving equation.

It’s a textbook example of pandering to out-dated legacy systems. Traditional fundraising mechanisms have been around for years, but organizations seem to treat the web as an “add-on” to a broken system, rather than letting market behaviors drive the development of something that should already exist. Even our most national nonprofit organizations take a “Blockbuster Video” approach, fearing evolution so severely that they resist anything but baby-step adaptation until they are nothing but a memory.

 

6) You will be courted lovingly until they get into your pants (pocket), but then you are just a booty call.

As I mentioned before, millennials want to feel like they are a part of something and making a difference. Smart organizations do a great job of letting you know how your funds will help move their missions forward, and it’s truly exciting to hear the statistics and feel like you have the opportunity to help! However, my experienced truth is that after you make a donation, there’s a good chance that you won’t soon again feel this involved.

Unless I work directly with the organization, I tend to be “forgotten” after I give…until it’s time to raise more money. As a donor, I understand the statistics about low donor retention rates.  As a millennial, I also have expectations (that are rarely realized) after I make a donation that the organization knows who I am and recognizes when I amplify their messages on social media channels. (Most don’t. Fundraising and marketing are very similar departments but they don’t often seem to communicate regarding donors). I’m a donor and proven evangelist after I give, and it seems that several organizations miss that I (and my peers) are good targets for encouraging other donations.

I am fiercely proud of the organizations that I’ve chosen to support financially, and I hope to support them well into the future. I don’t think I’m abnormal. There are a whole lot of millennials out there and we want to make a difference. I hope for the sake of the nonprofit organizations that I love and those that my peers and I may come to love in the future, that they start speaking the same language as their evolving audiences. And that they do it fast. At some point in the rapidly-approaching future, a majority of nonprofit donors will have to be millennials, or the organizations that we love simply won’t exist. 

 

*Photo credit belongs to philanthopicintelligence.net

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fundraising, Millennials, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 24 Comments

Inequality: A Nonprofit Social Media Best Practice

stand out fish 1“All men are created equal.” No doubt you’ve heard that before, and no doubt I’d have a hard time finding a public-service motivated nonprofiteer who would disagree with that sentiment. I personally agree with it…except when it comes to social media. And if you’re a smart nonprofit organization, you may risk the efficacy of your entire marketing strategy if you don’t understand that inequality of social media followers should be a founding principle in your social media plans.

Simply put, your organization’s fans and followers are not all of equal value to your nonprofit’s relevance and long-term solvency – and treating every ‘like’ the same way means purposely sabotaging your ability to achieve organizational goals through social media. Some types of fans and followers are much, much more important than others in terms of increasing amplification, spurring visitation (if you’re a visitor-serving organization) and inspiring donations.

Like most matters of organizational strategy, social media is about “knowing where your bread is buttered.” Many nonprofit organizations misunderstand the distinct importance of unique online audiences or individuals, and instead, calibrate their efforts to the average “potential supporter.” Forcing striations of unique audiences to a “mean” misses opportunities for deeper, more meaningful engagement with higher-value individuals and wastes precious resources trying to attract folks that aren’t likely to engage with your organization beyond a status “like.”

As a reminder, many of the “rules” of real life (both social and business-related) generally apply to social media – perhaps foremost amongst these truisms being Pareto’s Principle (i.e. the “80-20” rule).  Applied to social media, Pareto holds that 80% of your engagement and support will come from but 20% of your audience. 

So what audience members should demand most of your social media attention? Pay special heed to these folks:

 

Members/donors

Sounds obvious, huh? Does it sound so obvious that the person running your social media channels has access to a list of members and donors right now? Probably not. (Quick! Email or print a list and run it over! It’s cool…. I’ll wait here.) If you’re like most visitor-serving nonprofits, membership and marketing/communications operate separately, and this separation often means that this critical (and very simple) little action item has been overlooked… along with several others.

In fact, this overlook is indicative of a necessary shift in how we think about the relationship between marketing and membership in the digital age. As I’ve mentioned before, membership increasingly needs the marketing department to function – not the other way around. However, your organization needs both departments to keep its doors open. Contemplating the role of social media in cultivating donors and members is a must for organizations. Knowing who these supporters are and where their interests lie provides the marketing folks with the information that they need to a) identify these individuals; b) pay special attention to their interactions on social sites; and c) utilize this information to inform content strategy to ensure that these high-value individuals remain actively engaged.

A goal of social media for many organizations is to inspire visitation and cultivate donors (and social media is pretty darn good for that). As a little hint: those who have already proven their affinity through membership or a donation are likely to be those who will support you again and potentially provide ongoing support. If you don’t know who they are and what they like (or you’re missing an opportunity to target specific content to these audiences), then you risk losing this valuable, precious market to a competitor (for-profit or nonprofit) who is paying better attention to their wants and needs.

 

Influencers

Influencers are bloggers or other content-creators with a high-perceived word of mouth value across a range of personal networks. This is the category in which the elusive and powerful “mommy bloggers” make their appearance for many organizations. If properly cultivated, content creators provide a trusted voice to share your mission messages.

Ample data support the importance of targeting Influencers as a key component of an organization’s social media strategy. For example, 29% of consumers trust blogs over other forms of digital marketing, and blogs are even more likely than Facebook to influence a purchase decision. Influencers aren’t just bloggers. They are also active on other social media platforms. But beware to judge the strength of an Influencer simply by their follower numbers. Influencers with smaller, more focused followings sometimes have more influence than those with a larger following.

A little bit of paying personal attention can go a long way in inspiring affinity.  On a personal note, I really like to run. Though my tribe on social media is generally nonprofit and/or marketing folks, Brooks (the running shoe company) pays special attention to me. They send me free running shoes and, in turn, I know that they want some link-love and positive word of mouth when I just can’t help but share a race-related update…and I’ll give it to them willingly. Why? Because they simply let me know that they are paying attention to me. They have mentioned this blog. They keep track of what I like. I feel like they know me. I have purchased far more of their gear as a result of these efforts than the cost of their investment, and just learning a bit about me could not have taken more than five minutes of their time. There’s both a lesson and an opportunity here for nonprofits.

Another personal example? My alma mater’s Twitter account sometimes converses with me and other alumni. Without being asked, I made an online donation last month simply because they occasionally remind me that they are paying attention to me and make me feel like part of a community.

Social media unleashes the same dopamine that is released when you physically interact with someone, and we get a physiological and psychological rush of this feel-good chemical when we share things on social media. Nonprofits may do well to capitalize on this phenomenon to build affinity among those Influencers who can amplify your messages and cultivate more/higher-level visitors and donors. The broad action items are rather simple: 1. Identify these people. 2. Uncover their personal points of connection to your organization. 3. Start a conversation. Good-case-scenario: you’ll have cultivated a potential supporter. Awesome-case-scenario: you’ll have cultivated a socially influential supporter.

 

Evangelists

Evangelists are folks who have a high level of affinity for your organization’s mission and brand. These people like you (they really like you, not just Facebook-like you) and pay close attention to your content. They think you’re cool, interesting, and just downright important. High-level Evangelists are often also members or donors – and they may be Influencers as well. Some Evangelists may be non-members who are likely to share your message or support your organization with a visit (if you’re a visitor-serving nonprofit), and are ripe and ready for another level of engagement – say, providing support by attending a special fundraising event.

There are varying levels of Evangelists, and this is a broad term that we use for “folks who like you and want to help you.” They do this in different ways: Some may provide financial support, but the most common method of support that I observe is via the re-amplification of your messages. At the risk of over-simplifying this audience, these are your Facebook “sharers” who promulgate your content to their networks.

To be clear, the vast majority of people who “like” you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter (or any other platform, for that matter) are NOT higher-level Evangelists. In fact, most of your audience on social media channels likely falls into a “low-to-mid-level Evangelist” category – occasionally engaging with your organization from time-to-time but without making the brand a clear part of their online identity. To be sure, these lower-level evangelists are important. Content should aim to spark a connection with them to bump them into higher-level categories. However, these folks are not nearly as important as those who speak out about you and consistently let their friends know that they “real-life-like” your organization. Organizations should focus on higher-level evangelists because they are your likely repeat visitors and have potential to lend real-life support – either through valuable word of mouth marketing or future financial contributions.

Among online audiences, real-life donors/supporters, Influencers, and Evangelists are the most important folks to target with your nonprofit PR strategy. The quality of your fans is far more important than the quantity of your fans on social media platforms. If your organization isn’t paying special attention to key audience members, then your social media strategy is likely leaving both money and mission-amplification on the table. And these are things that most organizations cannot afford not to lose.  Not all audiences are created equal.

 

*Image photo credit  belongs to nexlevelvision.com

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

Marketing Your Nonprofit to Audiences that ACTUALLY Matter

dilbert_mediocrity

This is a bit of a tough-love post.

The nonprofit sector has lots of hard-working people trying their gosh-darn best to create social change. And, yet, there are still far, far, far too many organizations headed by smart, thoughtful leaders flailing in their attempts to concurrently achieve their missions and ensure their long-term financial futures.

Many of these same organizations have researched their perceived competitive sets to learn from their nonprofit colleagues and peers…and, well, perhaps this is part of the problem.  Namely, many nonprofit executives are collecting information and doing everything in their power to keep up with nonprofit-dubbed best practices….and, perhaps that’s why a lot of them are still flailing…and why many will ultimately fail.

As a sector, many nonprofit organizations have confused “pervasive practices” with “best practices.”

These nonprofits are doing it wrong. Our hearts are in the game, but we continue to grapple with the same issues that have always challenged our effectiveness: burn-out, low-pay, fundraiser retention, donor cultivation, long-term solvency, etc.  Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Perhaps many of us have been called “insane” for sticking to the hard work that we do but, arguably, too few people call us out for doing the same thing over and over and thinking things are going to change.

I have a proposal of where to start stopping this insanity: Nonprofits must pay significantly more attention to the market. The market – not internal audiences and certainly not other nonprofit organizations – determines your organization’s relevance and long-term sustainability  

Here are some friendly reminders that may help your bottom lines of promulgating your mission AND promoting long-term financial solvency:

 

1) Nonprofits often determine importance but the market always determines relevance

Nobody caresLet’s not undervalue the critical role of our organizations: Many nonprofits are rightfully perceived as “content experts” in their respective fields and, as such, are highly-credible, trusted authorities.  In other words, as “experts,” nonprofits often are able to declare “importance.”

However, if the market isn’t interested in your area of expertise or does not find it salient in their lives, they may deem your “importance” to be irrelevant.  All too often, nonprofits misunderstand this relationship (or generally misunderstand the role of the public as the ultimate arbiters of an organization’s relevance), and spend significant time and resources essentially “talking at” people with their important voices.  These practices don’t amount to dialogue – and they certainly don’t foster the types of meaningful, lasting relationships that we are all endeavoring to develop with our audiences.

A part of even staying alive in the digital era is “showing” and not merely “telling.” Content is king, and building personal connections helps to provide opportunities to prove relevance and open the door to conversation regarding your “important” content. If you make your organization relevant through storytelling, you can help audiences understand what is important and why. But, and again, this is a harsh truth: If you are telling your story and solely explaining its importance without first establishing its relevance, then the market will speak…by not acting.

When evaluating the effectiveness of an organization’s messaging, I always revert to the most basic of marketing principles: What’s in it for the audience?  In other words, does my “important” message articulate a personal benefit to the target audience?  If your message doesn’t articulate a meaningful personal benefit, then it is likely to be deemed irrelevant.

 

2) The market determines the means by which nonprofits best communicate (not the other way around)

Many organizations are not adequately investing time and resources into web and social media support – in spite of abundant data that compellingly indicate that these are the most important marketing and communication platforms. Often, nonprofit leaders simply don’t understand social technology platforms (or are scared to dive in), and just keep chugging along trying to create impact through direct mail, brochures, billboards and 15 second spots on drive-time radio…in spite of data clearly indicating that no amount of paid advertising can make up for a lack of word-of-mouth advocacy like that achieved via social media.

Moreover, the more “traditional” marketing channels are considered less trustworthy than real-time communication channels, so sticking to these methods doesn’t do your organization any reputational favors. (And if your methods are so outdated, perhaps the audience may similarly perceive that your message cannot be that urgent. The market won’t wait for you to catch up.)

Here’s the point: You can have the best message in the world, but if you shout it into to an empty room, then it doesn’t matter. Nobody heard it. Instead, go to the room where the party is taking place and share your message through the channel that works best for your audiences and not the channel that makes you most comfortable.

 

3) The market (not other nonprofits) informs your strategy, so beware of unintentional collusion

follow the leaderJust because other nonprofits are doing something, doesn’t mean that they are doing it right or achieving a desired outcome…or even that they have any special information that you don’t possess. Often, nonprofits become subject to what we at IMPACTS call “unintentional collusion.” In other words, they base their practices off of what other nonprofits are doing, assuming (often incorrectly) that the nonprofit that started the trend either had some sort of “insider knowledge,” or that the decision yielded positive results. Time and time again, this proves untrue.

If you want to know what works or if something may be a good idea, look to the market and your audiences’ behaviors – not to the average operations of other flailing nonprofits. Nonprofit executives should care what the market is expecting, and not what other nonprofits are doing. For some reason, this seems to be a hard one for many institutional leaders. If the best that you want for your nonprofit is to be mediocre, then aiming for the middle or matching your marketing efforts to industry averages is the way to go. My guess, though, is that this is not what you want for your organization.

When it comes to informing your strategy, use case studies from successful organizations – for-profit and nonprofit alike – that are similar to your own in content, promised personal benefit, and primary audience. In other words, find the best of the best and learn from their examples. (Please note: By “the best of the best” I mean the organizations that are actually achieving their missions and performing well financially…not those organizations who may be getting by on perceptions that don’t align to their current fiscal realities.)

Talk to other executive leaders to discuss the outcomes of their most impactful initiatives, and match their experiences to market data to find out if a similar initiative would work for your organization. If all nonprofits aim to be the best they can be and are contemplative of how to reach their section of the market, then the industry can be elevated. If we all revert to the “average,” we cannot evolve. If we cannot evolve, then we cannot thrive in an increasingly competitive, fragmented world.

Nonprofits don’t seem to have a hard time paying attention to one another or paying attention to their own internal desires but, perhaps ironically, nonprofits are less frequently equally contemplative of the market. As a reminder to nonprofits: You need your followers more than they need you. Pay attention to what they want or you may be left alone on a soapbox self-importantly talking about yourself to a family of tumbleweeds.

 

*Image photo credit (in order) belongs to Dilbert, Hugh MacLeod, Eloqua and Funny-pics.

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

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 10 Comments

Non-Nuclear Proliferation: Who is REALLY Visiting Museums Nowadays?

family visiting museum

Is your nonprofit or museum still operating under the assumption that most of the folks visiting zoos, aquariums, museums, and performing arts venues are doing so with their nuclear families? Think again. Data concerning visitor-serving organizations (VSOs) reveals that travel party constructs have evolved. While only seven years ago a majority of visitors attended VSOs with their nuclear families, the majority are now visiting with significant others.

Why does this matter? Well, if you don’t know who your audience is, then it is more difficult to target them or retain their support. And keep in mind: Your “audience” is a dynamic group comprised of both online and onsite persons, as well as would-be and actual visitors alike. In other words, just because you are marketing your nonprofit to families and households with children doesn’t necessarily mean that they comprise the majority of your audience.

In fact, my colleagues and I at IMPACTS have observed this evolving reality within many of our client VSOs.  Several clients who have been predominantly marketing to their perceived, “traditional” base (i.e. the nuclear family) have had to adapt their engagement strategies to recognize the emergence of persons who visit without children.

To illustrate this change, I’ll present two sets of data: one for the U.S. composite audience (which includes travel party construct data for a representative sample of the total US population), and another for high-propensity visitors (HPVs, or those persons possessing the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that tend to suggest an increased likelihood to visit a VSO). One quick note: The data represent “discretionary consumer behaviors” – that is to say, it does not contemplate educational groups, field trips, and other group-motivated activities.

Let’s start by examining the change in travel party constructs for the overall U.S. population:

IMPACTS US Composite Visiting Party Construct

 

Notice that the dominant travel party construct has changed from “with family” to “with spouse.” Currently, nearly 50% of the overall U.S. population visiting a VSO is doing so without a child (quantified above in the “By self” + “With spouse” + “With friends” categories). This same cohort grew by 11% during the relatively brief tracking period!

Now let’s take a look to see with whom high-propensity visitors (HPVs, or, the folks that largely butter your bread) are attending organizations…

 IMPACTS HPV Visiting Party Construct

For HPVs, we witness a similar decline of people visiting with children…and, keep in mind, this behavior is amongst those persons most likely to visit your organization in the first place! Here are four noteworthy takeaways from the data:

1) The number of families attending VSOs has decreased

During the quantified duration, VSOs experienced a 10% decline in family visitation (from 41.8% in year 2006 to 37.5% in year 2012) and a 13% decline amongst HPV families.  Part of this decline relates to our evolving demography – there is a corresponding decline in “birth over death rate” amongst the educated, affluent populations that have historically comprised many VSOs core audiences.  Fewer children means fewer “traditional” families…so if your VSO’s primary selling point is “great for the kids,” then you may expect to see a fall off in your attendance numbers.

2) The number of folks attending VSOs as couples has increased

Among the overall US population, the percentage of people visiting VSOs with their spouses or significant others increased 14% during the assessed duration.  For the same period, “HPV couple” visitation increased by 10%.

Many organizations are observing this increase in “couples” visiting VSOs and are tailoring their marketing efforts accordingly.  At IMPACTS, we are often tasked by clients to assess the relative “favorability” (i.e. do people “like” the campaign) and “actionability” (i.e. how likely is the campaign to motivate visitation) of potential advertising campaigns, and what we increasingly find is that while “family-centric” advertising may risk engaging adults without children, more couples-focused messaging generally does not alienate family audiences.  Why?  The market has an intrinsic understanding that many VSOs are well-suited for families and children… often the “break-through” market for additional engagement is couples without children.

3) Grandparents are the new babysitters

Grandparents are increasingly important decision-makers when it comes to bringing a child to a VSO.  This may be symptomatic of more dual-income households or of a broader societal trend toward more grandparents raising their grandchildren, but the prominence of grandparents as both heads of households and proxy parents is clear.  Many VSOs have acknowledged this trend by re-imagining their family membership programs to be more contemplative of grandparents.  Other organizations are adjusting their marketing and communication techniques to better engage this growing market segment.

4) The evolution of the travel party construct is not a museum phenomenon, but a reflection of the overall market

When you consider all of the data, the shifts that we’re observing in terms of travel party construct aren’t at all surprising.  Rich, white folks – who still make up a substantial number of HPVs  – are having fewer children. From a societal point of view, the traditional “family” has undeniably evolved. Baby boomers – another demographic that has a high percentage of traditional HPVs – are bringing their grandchildren to their favorite museums, operas, and botanical gardens.  And, of course, the Baby Boomers are a huge generation – so a corresponding increase in people visiting with grandchildren makes chronological sense. Generation Y – the largest generation of all  – is taking over the market, having children later in life (and, thus, are more likely to visit with friends or significant others), and also having children out of wedlock (and, thus, are more likely to visit without a spouse).

 

At IMPACTS, we develop specific data for our VSO partners and it yields very similar findings across the board. In nearly every case, the organization is a tad surprised to learn that while they had their noses to the grindstone, the world turned. These changes affect not only how VSOs target audiences for marketing purposes, but also how they cultivate members, gather financial supporters, create appropriate programs, and engage with online and onsite audiences.

Still not a believer? Though the percentage of movement may seem small, it is indicative of a significant trend. If you can, take a moment to visually survey your current visitors. Suddenly, you may realize that the world is changing and it’s taking your museum with it.

 

*Top image photo credit belongs to Margaret Middleton’s On Exhibit

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Non-Nuclear Proliferation: Who is REALLY Visiting Museums Nowadays?

Urgent Evolution: Marketing Your Nonprofit to the Audience of Tomorrow (DATA)

IMPACTS Historic visitor substitution

There are many reasons why your visitor-serving organization should be marketing to Millennials and other emerging audiences in order to ensure its long-term relevance and solvency. However, the single most urgent reason to target these audiences is that the “historic” museum visitor market is slowly dwindling, and organizations that do not evolve their marketing strategies risk long-term survival.

At IMPACTS, we collect ongoing, nationwide (and crazy-massive) data sets of the US market, and have uncovered the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes that tend to suggest one’s likelihood to go to or otherwise support a visitor-serving organization (zoo, aquarium, museum, botanic garden, performing arts organization, etc.). We call folks possessing these indicators high-propensity visitors (HPVs). While individual organizations may have slightly varying HPVs, we’ve found that there are several characteristics that a vast majority of organizations’ audiences share. And we’ve found something alarming: visitor-serving organizations’ (VSOs) “historic” visitors are leaving the market at a faster rate than new HPVs are entering the market, creating a negative substitution phenomenon that does not paint a bright future (or present, for that matter) for VSOs.

In fact, for every one historic HPV that leaves the market, they are being replaced by 0.989 “new” HPVs. Sound like a small difference? These people add up! Keep up your hard work reaching your traditional audiences and – for no fault of your own – negative substitution factors would suggest that an organization currently serving one million annual visitors will attract 946,000 visitors five years from now (that is 54,000 fewer people, and a likely corresponding decline in membership and program participation). This troubling “glide path” also considers that you’ll be doing everything that you can to meet your current audience’s needs, and continue to market to them like exceptional rockstars! This data suggests that the key to long-term organizational solvency is to evolve our engagement strategies to include our emerging HPVs. This means – as an industry – evolving our target audiences.

Though we observe broad negative substitution indicators for VSOs nationwide, the specific data referenced above contemplates VSOs residing within the top 50 metro markets as determined by Nielsen (a cohort representing nearly 70% of the US population).

 

Why is this happening? Our data points to three primary reasons:

 

1)   Rich, white people are having fewer children.

(Too blunt or refreshingly direct?) For the vast majority of U.S. visitor-serving organizations, this demographic represents their historic visitor. These folks are statistically more likely to have the household income, leisure interests, educational attainment levels, and psychographic profiles that tend to suggest an increased propensity to visit a museum, zoo, aquarium, botanic garden, performing arts venue, etc.

 

2)   The United States population is growing increasingly diverse with folks that aren’t currently planning a visit to your organization.

(I’m going for “charming directness” again!) Museums and other cultural visitor-serving organizations have not yet succeeded in breaking the conceptual barrier of being top of mind destinations for non-HPVs. At IMPACTS, we see disappointingly low perceptions of zoos, aquariums, museums, and performing entities as “a place for people like me” in the minds of emerging audience members.  (We call these perceptions “attitude affinities.”) Though select organizations are successfully executing strategies to engage these emerging audiences, the large-scale wave of change that we are seeking may only occur when we can alter the overall perception of VSOs as a sector.

 

3)   Millennials are taking over the market, but VSOs are reluctant and/or slow in figuring out how to attract them.

Millennials can be a gosh-darn confusing bunch for older generations to understand. As digital natives, we simply think differently. If you feel like your organization is always trying to play catch-up to capture this audience, it’s because most VSOs are!

Millennials (born roughly 1980 to 1995) represent the single largest generation in human history (nearly 20 million kiddos larger than the Baby Boomers) and too few organizations are currently cultivating them as donors or even potential visitors. Some aren’t targeting Millennials because older generations just don’t see how they could be that important in driving business (“My kids can’t dictate how I do things!”) Well, most Millennials aren’t kids anymore, and the sheer volume of this generation means that they are already starting the lead the market. Some believe that Millennials just won’t be significant donors so they aren’t cultivating this group (despite evidence that – despite debt and student loans – this generation is incredibly confident about its financial future and may be more financially responsible than older generations). Other VSOs aren’t targeting Millennials because they simply don’t know how or don’t have the proper skillset on staff. (If that’s your thing, here are some baseline pointers for marketing to Millennials). Regardless, this is a demographic that nonprofit organizations simply cannot afford to ignore. As “historic” HPVs – who think and behave in a way that executive leaders understand – leave the market, there will be a void. In fact, this largely contributes to the negative substitution at hand.

 

In sum, visitor-serving organizations need to evolve their target audience in a big way. And they need to work together to do it soon. Data suggests that many visitor-serving organizations are already observing the challenging effects of  negative substitution (e.g. declining attendance levels).  Of course, this doesn’t mean altogether ignoring the “historic” visitor that is currently many an organizations “bread and butter”…because, indeed, these people will continue to visit (albeit in increasingly smaller numbers).

Negative substitution quantifies the urgent need to evolve, and moreover, compellingly indicates the risk of “standing still.” In order to foster a change in market perception of VSOs as welcoming and relevant, organizations will need to start adapting their engagement strategies and outreach initiatives. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Really? Another thing that I need to worry about in the midst of so much market change?” The answer is, “Yes.” Let’s start worrying. Let’s evolve.

 

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, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Urgent Evolution: Marketing Your Nonprofit to the Audience of Tomorrow (DATA)

Trust Your Audience: Data Debunks Nonprofit Social Media Fears

the scream

Despite the myriad good reasons to be using social media (including data indicating social media’s leading role in motivating visitation and donor support), some nonprofit organizations and museums have been hesitant to open content-related communications to online audiences. They wonder: What if someone posts something bad about us? What if they use our Facebook page to promulgate viewpoints that are contrary to our mission or practices? What if they say something inaccurate on our expert page?

Data suggests that fears regarding radical trust may be largely unfounded and/or dramatically over-emphasized. Why? Because there is proof that people do not believe everything that they read online. Though this may sound axiomatic or silly to some (“Of course people don’t believe everything that they read online!”), organizations that don’t trust their online audiences to make informed, intelligent assessments often cite this doubt as a justification to not embrace open authority. Simply put, many organizations are frightened by social media and the means by which it empowers online audiences to express their respective points of view – which may be negative about the nonprofit, factually incorrect, or even “irrational.”

The data concerning this reticence to trust is quite clear: Organizations that instinctively move to limit communications – or react to a crisis only when standing on the sidelines is simply no longer an option – are failing their constituents. Here are three things to consider regarding reticence to engage on social media due to fears of opening authority to others:

 

1. Data suggests that social media is used by the public to gather information to form opinions… and not as a tool to dictate facts

Online audiences visit your social media sites to assess how you react and engage with the public in order to determine their level of personal affinity with your organization. They want to make their own decisions about what they think about your posts…and, similarly, they consider comments from others (and your responses to these comments) as key components of their information-gathering process.

Consider data from IMPACTS regarding the general public’s trust of various marketing channels and note the level of trust that the public ascribes to social media:

IMPACTS- Trust in Marketing Channels

I’ve posted this data before highlighting the reach, amplification, trust and overall weighted-values of various information channels. It may well be the single most “expensive to acquire” data freely available to nonprofit organizations on Know Your Own Bone. (Read: I hope that you’ll please take advantage of this free-to-you information that was originally funded by for-profit clients. After all, that’s why I write!)

This data indicates the public’s relatively low trust in social media when compared to other information channels with higher publication thresholds (e.g. newspapers) and “traceable,” credible endorsers (e.g. word of mouth). While the findings suggest that social media is, overall, the most powerful channel as a source for information, it additionally indicates that the public understands that there are some crazy people on social media.

Online audiences do not believe that other fans typing on Facebook walls are writing truisms in stone. While these comments may exist for the world to see, what is more important is how organizations react to these comments…

 

2. Online interactions establish relevance and transparency… and may clarify negative comments that organizations fear

As described previously, online audiences referencing your website and social media platforms are making decisions about how to feel about your organization. It is important that you are transparent, trustworthy, and authentically engage with these potential online evangelists. Some may even test you like this little lady did in her post on the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Facebook page…

Smithsonian Facebook Comment

This interaction demonstrates the importance of responding to comments and interactions on your social sites – even, at times, when “negative” comments strike. If the museum hadn’t responded, the public may have perceived that the museum does not pay attention to online audiences, so why bother engaging? Worse yet, such perceived indifference may have actually inspired additional negative sentiment. At the very least, not-yet visitors to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History may consider that perhaps the museum is indeed “really boring” without having uncovered that feedback from this user was not sincere.

Nonprofit leaders need not fear comments such as the one above because being an “online organization” allows for both social media users and the nonprofit to uncover information that may aid other users in determining their level of trust in these communications.

 

3. Online interactions provide constructive feedback that, if acted upon, may position your nonprofit to evolve and thrive

While some executive leaders may claim to fear comments from less educated audiences than their own employed “experts” posting on social platforms, many may actually be concerned about receiving plain old negative feedback that stakeholders might observe on these same sites. They may fear that these critiques might then resurface in board rooms or donor conversations.

Avoiding feedback by denying a platform for conversation is rejecting low-hanging fruit to aid in the improvement of the organization. For executive leaders or marketing managers for which this is the case, well, you may have bigger issues within your organization than not being active on social media.

As the world changes (new technologies arise, new generations take the lead…), organizations confront numerous challenges. Often, the severity of these changes is correlated with how quickly the organization can evolve and adapt in alignment with changing constituent and stakeholder needs. Organizations that fear feedback may already know that they are behind the times. The solution to this is not to back away, but, rather, to consider embracing the insight that social media interactions may provide for your organization.

Leaders may be surprised how positively a simple, “Thank you for your feedback. We hear you and we’re getting started on fixing that by…!” resonates with online audience members with thoughtful, informative gripes (provided, of course, that you indeed start to address issues that arise and further complaints do not surface that may indicate insincerity). Also, executives and managers may breathe a little more easily knowing that – if a comment is legitimate – your organization probably (hopefully?) has the knowledge required to respond to thoughtful, negative feedback in a considered and helpful manner.

All this is not intended to suggest that negative comments do not have the ability to impact your brand. Instead, it suggests that organizations who fail to actively engage their audiences, do not respond to interactions, and adopt a “hear no evil” position when confronted by a challenging comment are doing themselves a grave disservice by not treating these moments as important customer service (and audience engagement) opportunities. In the end, if an organization rightfully considers thoughtful, negative comments as opportunities to listen, obtain feedback, and improve, and if the public is already considering the veracity of fan comments, what plausible excuse remains for an organization to fear social media?

You can’t argue with crazy. And, you can’t argue with facts. The public has figured this out. Isn’t it time that nonprofit organizations catch-up with the public when it comes to the ways and means by which we communicate with our constituents?

Barely a few weeks removed from our nation’s most recent Inauguration, please excuse me as I play off of arguably the most famous inaugural address in our history to drive an important point home for nonprofit executive leaders: When it comes to social media, perhaps the only thing that we have to fear is fear itself.

 

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, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments