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Big ideas

The Real Reason Some Nonprofits Stink at “Digital” (And Why It Is Getting Worse)

Dilbert vagueness plan

Within some organizations, “going digital” is causing more problems than it’s solving. This isn’t because of the people who work in digital. It’s because of the people who don’t.

I’ve posted briefly on the dangers of separating “digital” and “marketing,” but this topic arose quite explicitly on the very first day of the annual MuseumNext conference last month and was inspired by a presentation from museum pro, Koven J. Smith. (Sidenote to make good on a promise:  the slides from my keynote at MuseumNext are available here.)  Though the seeds of this article blossomed at a museum-oriented conference, the threat is relevant for many nonprofit organizations and businesses in general.

“Are you saying that ideally nobody in museums should have “digital” in their title?” one person asked in regard to a point in Koven’s talk. He paused for barely a moment. “Yes,” he stated simply.

This idea was a small part of his argument (check out more of his rich thought-fuel here), but I think he’s onto something big…something that I observe everyday in my work with well-intentioned nonprofit organizations: We are breeding a culture of misunderstanding around the important role of “digital” in the future of our organizations and, frankly, it imperils the vibrancy of the very future that we are trying to ensure. “Digital” has been allowed to become an “other” (i.e. “not within my scope of work” and/or “something I don’t ‘get’”) for certain individuals in certain organizations, and, like most “others,” digital (as a concept) is misunderstood, abused, and used as a scapegoat for an organization’s cultural and structural shortcomings.

Dramatic? Maybe…but until we solve this issue, how can organizations steeped in these misunderstandings remain relevant and thrive in the future? Here’s why conceptually separating “digital” – as the rest of the organization understands it – is a problem that is making it harder for nonprofits to succeed.

 

1) It constantly reaffirms that “digital” is about platforms or technological skillsets and not about people (and it actually IS all about people)

Digital marketing and marketing are one in the same – they are both about people and behavior. Likewise, digital fundraising and fundraising are synonymous in successful organizations. Again, they are both about people and behavior. Digital touch can be as powerful in inspiring audiences as physical touch.  “Digital” is a way of communicating and connecting, not “knowing java” or “mastering Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm.” Sure, those skills may have value in the digital world, but they aren’t the point of “being digital.” Communication goals on real-time, digital platforms should serve the exact same purpose and mission as the rest of the institution.

An online donor is still a donor. For visitor-serving organizations, a website visitor is still a visitor (a person connecting with your brand and mission). The difference is the platform (“connection point”), and the goal is the same as “in real life.”  Digital – when it is used with audiences – IS “real life” and organizations will benefit from treating it as such.

 

2) Believing “digital” is about technology instead of people and behavior breeds a desire to simply translate real life to the digital realm (and that is generally a bad idea and waste of resources)

This, too, was a very popular topic of conversation amongst the thought leaders at MuseumNext: The very real-time nature of digital platforms necessitates different behaviors online than would take place in similar offline situations. For instance, a businessman may not check out your collections (if you’re a museum, for instance) at 10am in his pajamas “IRL.”  But, he can do so digitally…and that changes how we need to think about collections, engagement, social care, image rights, accessibility, membership retention, donor cultivation, and donor discovery. It’s not a one-way track wherein we simply “copy and paste” what’s onsite onto the web. That’s not engaging and it misses opportunities. If we didn’t deeply believe that “digital” was aligned more closely with technological skillsets than brand strategy, then we probably wouldn’t still be making these mistakes (i.e. posting our collections to the web or starting a simple blog, patting ourselves on the back for it, and wondering why nobody engages with it.)

 

3) It excuses leaders for being out of touch with the market (which is a glaring sign of bad leadership)

To paraphrase another point made at MuseumNext: It’s okay (and maybe even cute) if your grandmother doesn’t know what Twitter is or how exactly it is used. It’s absolutely NOT okay for today’s leaders, fundraisers, curators, and administrators to not be minimally facile with Twitter, Facebook and basic platforms or means of modern day engagement. Ignorance isn’t cute. It makes you less qualified for your job.

A basic facility with engagement platforms doesn’t mean everyone needs to be tweeting up a storm 24/7 – but if someone claiming a position of influence or leadership doesn’t understand what Twitter is, its benefit as a social force, or how people use it, then you’re dealing with a willfully ignorant, disconnected person. Good tip for organizations whose solvency depends on making connections with the market: Don’t hire people who live in holes.

Tough love moment (which I’ll admit may be funny because I’m an energetic, camp counselor type): I’m talking to you, people who say “digital just isn’t my thing” and write it off as something that isn’t worth your time to minimally understand. You sound stupid. Personally, finance isn’t my innate passion – but I’m a professional, functioning adult and, as such, I make an effort to understand the basics of how the world around me works.   There are no excuses for choosing ignorance and disconnection – especially for people in the nonprofit realm who often claim “education” and “engagement” as their raisons d’être.

 

4) It makes digital teams a dumping ground for nebulous projects

Koven Smith MuseumNext It’s difficult to read, but Koven‘s slide references a quote that was made jokingly, but may be indicative of a larger point: “If my co-workers say, ‘I don’t get this,’ it’s automatically in the digital department.”

When the digital department becomes a dumping ground for all things tech-oriented, an opportunity is lost. “Digital” is not necessarily the same as “IT.” Again, it’s about people, strategy, engagement, and utilizing new platforms in creative ways. When “digital” devolves into a language that certain employees cannot speak or a thing that they’re allowed not to understand, they become more removed from the world that we live in. That excuses and further cultivates an out-of-touch team… and that could be deadly for the future of your organization.

Does this mean everyone needs to run out and learn code? Again, no. Not even a little bit. But join the conversation and start thinking more strategically about organizational goals and creative engagement. It’s okay if you don’t know CSS (of course), but understand what the CSS is trying to achieve.

5) It silos marketers from content (which makes it harder to make connections to audiences)

“Digital” often resides somewhere around marketing within organizations – and that’s good! But if “digital” is considered too much of an “other,” then it forces web engagement teams to operate on their own. Social media is an every-department job, and often, creative engagement is as well. Marketers have no connective content without the aid of other departments. Basically, if we conceptually divide “digital” from the strategic functions of the organization, then we lose the very benefit of being “digital” – creating connections to people and creating meaning that will inspire a desired behavior (e.g. donation, visitation, participating in a beach clean-up, etc.).

 

Basically, when people in organizations stubbornly section out “digital” as something associated simply with technological skillsets, they are admitting to being out of touch with the very people that they are trying to serve. (P.S. Museum visitors and most bigger nonprofit donors for other kinds of organizations profile as “super-connected” with broadband access at home, work, and/or on mobile). When it comes to the inevitable pace of innovation, there is no comfort in yesterday.

If you don’t care to “get” digital, then get out of the way. Your organization is trying to effectively serve a social mission and it has important work to do.  

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Community Engagement, Education, Leadership, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom 4 Comments

There Is No Mission Without Money: Why Cultural Organizations Need To Get Smart About Pricing Practices

museum admission line

This article concludes a four-part series intended to help visitor-serving organizations understand and respond to emerging trends that will impact their financial and mission-related goals. Learn more about the series here. 

Austerity measures and the loss of heretofore “reliable” funding mechanisms pitched many European cultural organizations into a tenuous financial state and catalyzed a conversation concerning the sustained solvency of visitor-serving enterprise worldwide. In an increasingly competitive market where volume-based strategies (such as an ever-increasing attendance) are less likely remedies to the new economic reality that emphasizes earned revenues, 2014 will mark the year when organizations will need to “get smart” about leveraging data to develop intelligent, efficient price indices. In turn, analysis of an organization’s pricing structure will likely – and necessarily – foster additional discussion concerning the creation of more effective affordable access programming.

Nonprofits are increasingly competing with for-profit organizations as private companies capitalize on shifts in market behavior toward supporting social causes. The market – and especially millennials – are also increasingly sector-agnostic, meaning that simply being a nonprofit doesn’t necessarily indicate to audiences that your organization is providing more social value than a private company.   This is one of the reasons why visitor-serving organizations that highlight their mission outperform museums that market themselves primarily as attractions. 

It’s time to pause and think about your organization’s relevance – and relevance is determined by the market and the support that your organization is able to summon. In short order, museums that cannot survive a “natural selection” and appeal to audiences will sink due to lack of support (relevance), while those that remain solvent and vital (while also pursuing their mission), will enjoy sustained success.

 

1) Here’s why your organization needs to think about revenue and pricing right now (and more than ever before):

 

A) In general, fewer people may be attending your organization because of negative substitution of traditional visitors so increasing attendance may prove challenging in the near-term.

Visitor-serving organizations’ (VSOs) “historic” visitors are leaving the market at a faster rate than new high-propensity visitors 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” high-propensity visitors. That may sound like a small difference, but 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 do 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 your emerging high-propensity visitors.

The good news: If museums begin to target and cultivate new audiences now, we should start to observe a broad attendance turnaround in year 2019 as emerging audiences (such as English as Second Language households) continue to acculturate into the “mainstream” market and if millennials (who will dominate the market in terms of number and purchasing power) have been engaged by VSOs. But the attendance trend still stands: In spite of overall population growth and even if your organization does its very best and starts evolving right now (as you should in order to get things back up when the market is ripe around 2019), there’s a good chance that your attendance numbers may flatten out these next few years.

 

B) Expensive special exhibits are often financial drains when compared to the potential alternative uses of these same funds.

Despite clear data that utilizing special exhibits to cultivate visitation is an ineffective long-term strategy and has particularly costly and detrimental consequences for organizations, many VSOs (and museums, in particular), get wrapped up in this bad, bad practice when times get tight.

In my world, we refer to organizations that prioritize special exhibits over building affinity for permanent collections as committing “blockbuster suicide.” And – though I won’t throw any organizations under the bus by mentioning their names – I’ll bet that you can think of an organization or two that has “committed suicide” in this way and is now in quite a financial pickle.  These museums train even their closest constituents to wait for expensive exhibits in order to motivate a return visit. Not only is this plan ineffective and ridiculously short-sighted, but it’s also very expensive.

In an economy that increasingly relies on maximizing earned revenues from a finite audience, the margin of financial success is very small. Many organizations cannot afford expensive vanity projects that do little to improve net revenues but add significant costs to their financial model.  Alternative uses of funds that focus on improving the visitor experience frequently realize better returns than the costs to actualize a “special” exhibit.  While many organizations have become very astute at calculating per capita revenues, it may also be wise to similarly calculate the per capita operating costs attendant to serving your visitors.  We reliably observe that exhibits increase per capita operating costs at a level that exceeds any short-term increase in per capita revenues.  In other words, there is little evidence to recommend the viability of special exhibits as a sustainable revenue maximization strategy.

 

C) Visitor-serving organizations that discount to increase word of mouth and drive attendance experience the backlash of negative reputational equities.

What about social media? Can’t we use that to drive attendance? Yes, data suggest that utilizing social media to increase reputation in order to drive attendance is effective and indeed you should! However, when times get tight financially, we see many organizations resort to offering discounts via social media…and offering discounts via social media is a big mistake. This practice cultivates a “market addiction” that has long-term, negative consequences on the health of your organization.

Moreover, the more steeply you discount, the less likely visitors are to return. (Here’s the data again). People also tend to value what they pay for. Those who visit your organization at a discount are also statistically less satisfied with their experience and report more negative reviews than those who come in at full price (Hey, you devalued your brand first!). So much for crossing your fingers for better word of mouth as the result of a discount…

 

 

2) Now look at how most organizations decide how to price for admission:

Many organizations price their admissions based on what we at IMPACTS have termed “unintentional collusion.” Take a look back in time to your most recent conversation about pricing. The origin of your pricing framework probably went something like this:

IMPACTS unintentional collusion pricing

This happens because organizations misunderstand a fundamental principle of pricing.

Museums actually have different reputational equities and thus differing values that the market is willing to pay for a unique experience. If you’re a zoo that is charging the same admission as a nearby children’s museum (or vice versa), then your organization may be ignorantly “leaving money on the table” by relying on the comparative price of a neighboring or “like” organization. Each museum actually has an optimal price index (often best derived as the result of data-based price analyses) wherein the optimal price to visit an organization maximizes revenues without demeaning attendance potential. Along these same lines (and for the reasons stated above), I’d like to offer up a concept that is increasingly critical for the long-term health and vitality of many VSOs:

The amount of revenue that your organization secures is more important than the amount of attendees that walk through your door.

Many executive leaders and board members have a shockingly hard time understanding this necessary – and completely pragmatic – evolution in visitor-serving “business” practices. Many have been hardwired over time to think of success as the number of people that walk through the door. (Why do we even think this way anyway?! It’s an outdated preoccupation with a relatively meaningless nonprofit output.)

The most direct and savvy way to reap the benefits of your labors cultivating evangelists and working to increase your reputation?  Utilizing it to increase your revenue. And when attendance plateaus at the time that your brand is at its most premium, the most efficient way to do this is to adjust your admission price accordingly.

 

3) Optimized pricing will necessitate conversations about affordable access programming that serves lower-income and other underserved constituencies (in other words, programming that actually works)

If your organization has been value-advantaged (“leaving money on the table”) when it comes to your admission price, then raising the price of tickets may, indeed, increase the barrier for low-income households to attend your organization. Because affordable access is often a key part of many organizations’ missions – or even required in order to be eligible for certain grants and government funding opportunities –  getting smarter about pricing will mean getting smarter about affordable access programs as well.

Experience at IMPACTS has shown time and time again that many affordable access programs are extremely inefficient. Specifically, many affordable access programs achieve startlingly little in terms of providing targeted benefit to low-income households and, instead, allow discounted access to those who would otherwise be able and willing to pay full price. These programs are neither capturing low-income households, nor are they increasing revenues so that museums may more effectively and efficiently fulfill their missions. They are glorified discount programs that organizations offer so that they may check off a symbolic box of “affordable access.”

As visitor-serving organizations realize the need to pay attention to pricing and maximize their investments, there will be incentive to re-evaluate affordable access programs so that they actually work. Namely, that they provide an opportunity for low-income households and other targeted underserved audiences to visit the organization without concurrently discounting admission for those who would be willing to pay full price for your unique experience.

All of this is a long way of saying that nonprofit organizations are finally going to have to think about money and stop defending outdated nonprofit dogmas that tend to demonize revenue as a “necessary evil.”  Museums, zoos, aquariums, performing arts and other cultural organizations are big business – accounting for $135 billion in annual economic activity and more than 4.1 million jobs.  Instead of considering volume of visitation as a key performance indicator, we ought to instead focus on meaningful outcomes and recognize that our collective ambitions to achieve social good require revenues.  In other words, there is no mission without money. 

 

*Photo credit: Telegraph, AP (The photo choice has nothing to do with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s pricing!)

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Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Big ideas, Branding, Community Engagement, Exhibits, Management, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Social Media, The Future, Words of Wisdom 2 Comments

Finding: Museums That Highlight Mission Financially Outperform Museums That Market Primarily as Attractions (DATA)

seafood watch

This article kicks off a four-part series intended to help visitor-serving organizations understand and respond to emerging trends that will impact their ability to achieve their financial and mission-related goals. Learn more about the series here. 

Data suggest a “new” draw to your organization that is now key to engaging both visitation and donor support. Well, actually, it’s not “new” – it’s the reason why your organization exists: Your mission. How credibly the market perceives your organization in terms of your ability to effectively deliver on your mission has a very strong positive correlation with your organization’s financial performance.

An analysis of the recent financial performance of a large and representative number of visitor-serving organizations coupled with the public perceptions of these same organizations reveals an outcome that may not be surprising for those who keep tabs on consumer behaviors: Organizations perceived as “best-in-class” in terms of mission delivery reliably outperform organizations that rely more on their reputations as “attractions” when it comes to their financial bottom lines.  In other words, mission and business are not in conflict – being superlative at your mission is good business!

There are three overall findings relating to the “mission is good business” trend:

1) Organizations perceived as more credible actors in terms of fulfilling their mission financially outperform peer organizations whose reputational equities relate primarily to their roles as attractions

IMPACTS collects and analyzes attitudinal and awareness data for 224 visitor-serving organizations in the US (and that may even include your own). This data and analysis informs the development of key performance indicators that reveal trends and correlations affecting visitor-serving enterprise.  The charts below indicate the relationship between 35 visitor-serving organizations’ financial performance in terms of “revenue efficiency” coupled with the market’s perception of these same organizations’ “reputational equities.”  (In the interest of maintaining appropriate confidences, I’ve “anonymized” the findings)

First, a few quick definitions (with advance apologies for the analytical jargon):

Revenue Efficiency: A composite metric contemplative of onsite-related earned and contributed revenues (e.g. admission, contributions, grants, membership, programs) contemplated relative to the cost to deliver onsite services (i.e. operating expenses) and the number of persons served onsite.  Generally, a more “revenue efficient” organization exhibits more favorable financial key performance indicators (e.g. greater revenues, greater net operating surplus) and reduced financial volatility than does a less revenue efficient organization.  Data informing the IMPACTS revenue efficiency calculation are commonly available in an organization’s financial statements, annual reports, and Form 990 filings.

Reputational Equities: A composite metric contemplative of numerous visitor perceptions such as reputation, trust, authority, credibility, and satisfaction that collectively indicate the market’s opinion of an organization’s relative efficacy in delivering its mission.  As mentioned previously, IMPACTS collects perceptual data from 224 visitor-serving organizations in the US to inform its reputational equities calculation.

KYOB aquariums reputation and revenue

Aquariums are a good place to start because (a) in addition to tackling the mission of inspiring audiences, they are also increasingly engaging audiences on broader conservation issues; and (b) aquariums tend to be more reliant on earned revenues than their museum and zoo brethren who may have greater public funding and/or endowment support. In short, absent the safety net of large endowments and government appropriations, aquariums are among the most market-driven businesses in the nonprofit sector, and translating positive reputational equities has an enormous financial benefit for these organizations (and, in inverse, lessened reputational perceptions bear tremendous risk to an organization’s bottom line).

Generally, revenue efficiency follows reputational equities (so working to increase reputational equities tends to positively affect revenue efficiency). Thus, we can reasonably surmise that year 2014 may bring continued challenges for Aquariums H, I, K and L should they choose not to prioritize remedy for their lacking perceptions as credible actors when it comes to delivering on their missions.

KYOB zoos reputation and revenues

Much like aquariums, the zoos that are perceived as credible actors in regard to their mission achieve the greatest revenue efficiency. Again, in the example indicated by the assessed zoos, the relationship between reputational equities as a predictor of financial success is clear and compelling.

KYOB museums reputation and revenues

Again, when segmented by museums (in the above example, all of the assessed organizations would be rightfully classified as either “art” or “natural history” museums), the trend holds true: Those museums perceived by the market as the most esteemed in terms of fulfilling the promise of their missions achieve the greatest financial performance.

You’ll notice that out of the 35 organizations represented in this assessment, Museum H is the only organization that does not indicate the relationship between reputational equities and financial performance – and, even in this exception to the trend, the difference is very slight.

 

2) Your organization must increasingly be MORE THAN an attraction but it still must be an entertaining attraction.

The reputational equity metric is contemplative of overall satisfaction and data indicate that providing an entertaining experience is an extremely important component of visitor satisfaction. To be clear: The data do not support abandoning efforts to deliver an entertaining experience in the hopes of enhancing your organization’s reputation as a credible, mission-related authority. Instead, data support efforts to underscore your social mission and demonstrate topic expertise alongside location-based content to help drive visitation and provide insight into the entertaining and inspiring experiences that you provide.

Simply put, people want to visit organizations that are more than just attractions.

 

3) The importance of underscoring reputational equities is likely to grow as millennials increasingly comprise a greater percentage of museum audiences

The analysis indicating the relationship between favorable reputational equities and financial performance for visitor-serving organizations aligns with multiple findings concerning the influence of social missions (in business-speak, think “corporate social responsibility”) on consumer purchasing behaviors. Namely, people – and especially millennials – are more likely to purchase products that support a mission.

The data has long suggested that millennials are particularly public-service motivated, and as Gen Y has become a more powerful market segment (indeed, millennials are the largest generation in human history), organizations have experienced a “market shift” in support of organizations that support “social good.”

That sounds great for educational, conservation, and cultural organizations such as museums, aquariums, and zoos, right? Well…maybe not…especially because millennials are generally sector agnostic. Millennials tend to support organizations and businesses that appeal to them regardless of whether or not there is 501(c)3 designation involved. (In other words, while the IRS may care about your tax-exempt status, the market increasingly does not!) This means that in terms of securing support, many nonprofits are “competing” directly with for-profits for the market’s time, attention, and resources.

Organizations that have marketed themselves too heavily as attractions without underscoring their mission and social impact have lost a valuable opportunity to differentiate themselves as superlative to a critical demographic. Potentially worse yet, they may have built their reputations based on motivations that millennials don’t care about. Case-in-point: Take a look at what millennials want out of a zoo, aquarium, or museum membership compared to older generations.

Organizations that the market favorably perceives as more than “just an attraction” tend to financially outperform organizations perceived primarily as attractions.  Money follows reputational equities. Zoos, aquariums, and museums that have been trying to “sell” the wrong brand attributes may find themselves struggling even more in the future as emerging audiences emphasize mission and social impact as vital attributes of the relationship that they seek with the organizations that they support.  Year 2013 was only the tip of the iceberg. Perceptions are changing and the data affirms a strong, encouraging trend:

Finally, it’s cool to be kind.  More than that, it’s plain good business.

National Aquarium cleaning debris

National Aquarium

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Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Generation Y, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, The Future, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

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.

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Leadership, Management, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, The Future, Words of Wisdom 3 Comments

Minding Your Ps and Qs: The Importance of Early Adopters in Marketing Your Nonprofit (DATA)

Early Adopter

Nonprofit marketers increasingly understand the importance of reach and remaining top-of-mind when it comes to building affinity with potential visitors and donors in the digital era.  In a perfect world – one with unlimited resources – we would simply throw money at our marketing channels until everyone heard our message. However, in the real world of finite marketing budgets, many organizations mistakenly target the broadest swath of their market under the misguided notion that maximizing marketing efficacy depends on a “target the majority” strategy.

Instead, the modern nonprofit should understand that the number of people who see your message (i.e. how many) is significantly less important than the imitative value of the people who see your message (i.e. who).

Savvy marketers understand the critical importance of targeting “Market Makers” (as opposed to the broader market) to efficiently generate and sustain sales velocity…and the reasoning behind this strategy is undeniable.

As a friendly heads-up: I’ll warn you all that this post is a little wonkish (bear with me!), but for those of us who don’t have a degree in economics, here’s the play-by-play from an English major with a master’s degree in public administration (read: not math) who gets to see these items in action every day in her work with IMPACTS.

 

1. No amount of paid media (“P”) overcomes a lack of reviews from trusted sources (“Q”) when it comes to elevating reputation, driving attendance, or securing donations

IMPACTS - Diffusion of messaging

This model (which I’ve shared before) also demonstrates how dramatically marketing has changed in the last twenty years. Paid media (“P”) used to be the fastest way to reach the most people. Now – thanks to technology – we have more real-time access to reviews from trusted resources (“Q”) than ever before…and the ability to promulgate these views with the press of a touchscreen.

While some organizations seem to be afraid of harnessing the power of “Q“, sophisticated organizations may view this shift as one of the best things happening in the marketing world. We’ve flipped the influence potential from outlets controlled by third-party publishers and broadcasters to one primarily influenced by our own relationships with our audiences! Now, marketers have the opportunity to reach people and foster relationships via a much more effective and influential method (i.e. word of mouth from trusted sources).

 

2) Certain people have higher “Q” values than others (and thus serve as more trusted resources for spreading your message)

IMPACTS - importance of Q value

We all have a friend who, when they make a recommendation, we listen. These are the friends whom we consider to be “in-the-know.” They’re the first ones to go to the new, cool restaurant, and the first to sport the season’s best fashion.  In marketing-speak, they have a high “Q” values (AKA “high imitative values”). Like positive reviews in The New Yorker or The New York Times, reviews from these high “Q” value folks can make a world of difference for an organization. These folks are likely your “Market Makers” – the trend-starters and experts that get your organization’s ball rolling…and keep it in motion.

Similarly, we probably all have a friend (erm…or two) who, when they make a recommendation, we smile and nod but won’t touch that product with a ten-foot-pole.  These people have low “Q” values and, unfortunately, many organizations target these folks just as much as high “Q” folks with their broader marketing strategies.  Worse yet, without endeavoring to identify and target  “Market Makers,” an organization may be wasting valuable resources on “Laggards” who only adopt a product when it is on the precipice of being passé.

 

3) The “Q value” of the individuals you target determines the “velocity” of your message (how sustainable it will be over time)

IMPACTS - Q velocity

Imagine the adoption model above as a roller coaster. Now imagine that your organization’s goal is to engage the maximum amount of the audience.  As anyone who has screamed their lungs out while plunging down the big hill surely knows, the higher up the roller coaster starts, the more velocity the roller coaster has available to propel itself up and over other obstacles. If the ride starts at a height that is insufficient, the cart will not have the requisite velocity to reach its desired destination (i.e. your maximum audience).

In other words, if you start your marketing effort by “marketing to the middle” (i.e. the early majority), then the models suggest that your efforts will only gain the necessary velocity to carry your message through the late majority.  Sure – this strategy stands to reach 68% of the audience…but it ignores the most influential Market Makers who promise long-term relevance and sustainability.  Perhaps this explains why many visitor-serving organizations have essentially flat-lined their levels of visitation in spite of growing populations levels.

 

Bottom line: To increase reach and promote your brand most effectively, it is critical that your nonprofit targets Market Makers.

The web and social media allow for personalization. Taking the time and energy to identify and target high “Q” individuals (content creators, online critics) is among the most efficient, impactful, and valuable type of market research available to an organization.

Does this mean that the only folks who should matter in your nonprofit marketing strategy are Innovators and Early Adopters? Of course not. Your organization must be ready to engage other audiences, as that is – of course – the goal of targeting Market Makers: To leverage their imitative behaviors to help you reach broader audiences.

Clearly, not all online audiences are of equal value, yet organizations regularly (lazily?) develop strategies for their online audiences as if they were a single, homogenous constituency.  This is akin to developing “a targeted strategy for all things that breathe.” It is time for organizations to think of their online audiences with the same degree of segmenting sophistication that they lend to donors.  Identifying your Market Makers, targeting these highly influential persons with your messaging, and trusting their imitative values to amplify your message to the balance of the market are the hallmarks of an efficient and effective marketing strategy.

Who knew that your mother was such a prescient marketer when she told you to mind your Ps and Qs? (Sorry, guys. I had to…) :-)

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom 3 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.

 

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. We are a little over four months into 2013 and I’ve already made a few five-figure gifts this year, as well as several four-figure and three-figure gifts. They don’t quite yet add up to six figures annually but, someday soon, I’d like to reliably give that much on an annual basis. (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

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 colleendilen in Big ideas, Community Engagement, Generation Y, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom 20 Comments

Two Critical Reasons To Target Your Fundraising & Nonprofit PR Strategy Toward Millennials (DATA)

It seems as if everyday I’m seeing another “best-in-class” organization announce a smart, new nonprofit PR strategy designed to better engage millennials. Millennials are the largest generation in human history, and represent the second-largest demographic in terms of buying power. Millennials also think and communicate very differently than their generational predecessors – and, accordingly, require different marketing and communication strategies.

There has never been a better time to have a public service mission because millennials are (relatively speaking) optimistic about their financial futures, and they consider themselves to be particularly generous. Data concerning millennial perceptions point toward two, informative reasons to target Gen Y with marketing and fundraising efforts:

 

1) Millennials are less worried about their families’ financial futures than are older generations, making them beneficial comparative targets for fundraising and marketing efforts.

Chalk it up to unique characteristics of Gen Y or the general optimism of youth, but millennials are not only less worried about the financial futures of their families than older individuals, but they are less worried than they were in 2008. Older individuals, however, are more worried. This suggests that there’s an opportunity to cultivate affinity with this demographic, as they may perceive themselves as being able to support your nonprofit in the future if they cannot support you right now.

While millennials certainly are feeling the effects of being the “screwed generation,” data suggests that we remain optimistic about our long-term futures…even more so than folks who could be considered “less screwed.” And, while millennials are spending more than they earn, they are still spending (and, thus, could be supporting nonprofit charitable causes if engaged adequately).

Regardless of whether members of this demographic have the money right now to make up your major donors (some do!), they believe that they will – and they are rather confident about it. Engage this demographic now so that the payoff will be there later. When they get the money (if they don’t have it already), make sure that your organization is top-of-mind and a quality relationship is already intact.

 

 2) Millennials consider themselves to be particularly generous compared to the self-perception of older individuals, presenting a potential opportunity for organizations to tap into Gen Y’s sense of self.

When IMPACTS pulled this data, the company CEO called me and asked, “On a scale of one-to-ten, how generous do you consider yourself to be?” I said eight. He burst out laughing and said, “and so do all of your buddies!”

Perhaps I should be embarrassed, but I’ll own up to the truth behind that finding! The self-perceived generosity of “my buddies” has been stable over the last few years – and it’s rather high! It is especially high compared to the dip in self-perceived generosity that older individuals have experienced.

This is good news for museums and nonprofit organizations because this data suggests that generosity is built into our own self-perception. We think of ourselves as “giving” people.  Conceptually, giving to nonprofit organizations fits nicely with our own personal brands. It’s our job as nonprofiteers to match up the desire to be generous with social missions. Marketing your nonprofit and targeting engagement initiatives toward members of Gen Y will pay off in the future (if it hasn’t already) – but engagement needs to start now. Increasingly, nonprofit organizations’ “bread is buttered” by this new, enormous demographic.

 

Given this (and other compelling) data, doesn’t it seem silly that any organization would continue to exclusively target their efforts toward individuals who are more financially “worried” and consider themselves to be less generous than those who make up a significantly larger, more optimistic generation?

 

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 colleendilen in Community Engagement, Generation Y, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Service Motivation, The Future Leave a comment

How Generation Y is Changing Museum and Nonprofit Membership Structures (DATA)

Looking for a copy of the address that I delivered at the Iowa Museum Association Conference last week? You can find it here.

Millennials (folks roughly between the ages of 18 and 33) are the largest generational segment of the U.S. population. This generation has different values and mindsets than those of the generations that preceded them – and they are far too large in number for museums and nonprofit organizations to ignore. Organizations that are not marketing to millennials are not only missing an opportunity to reach a new audience, but failing to engage the audience that will increasingly dictate their organization’s operations for the next 40 years (at least).

But it isn’t just marketing departments that have begun incorporating changes to appeal to Millennials. The changes must be incorporated into a larger community relations and nonprofit PR strategy. Because online engagement is increasingly critical for buy-in among all generations, it must be applied not only to marketing, but also to fundraising. Membership teams, in particular, will need to re-work their operations and offerings in order to sustain and grow their number of supporters. In fact, IMPACTS has already uncovered the need for museums to revise how they tell the story of membership benefits.

While conducting research on behalf of a prominent visitor serving organization (VSO) with a conservation-related mission, IMPACTS uncovered an interesting finding. We asked respondents a series of questions related to identifying what they consider to be the primary benefits of membership to the organization.  Once compiled, we found that sorting frequency of mention and strength of conviction information uncovered a telling divide between potential members above and below age 35.

Free admission was the pronounced, primary benefit of membership for both age groups. However, benefits two–through–five on the lists do not have any additional commonalities. Moreover, the type of benefits are very different.

Extant data indicate that members of Generation Y are public service motivated and appreciate a feeling of belonging and connectedness with one another and with a cause. This is consistent with the responses gathered from millennials in the data above. Instead of being interested in the more “transactional perks” of membership, this generation desires a feeling of connectedness with a broader social good.

Because members of Generation Y want different things from museum membership than generations before them, museums will need to adapt how they are selling memberships – or at least work to increase connectivity-to-a-cause vibes. Would a person considering membership to your organization feel that they are “making a positive impact” more than simply receiving “advance notice of upcoming activities?” Museums and visitor serving organizations must sell memberships by focusing more on their public services and social responsibilities than the traditional, more transactional benefits that motivated membership in the past.

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future 7 Comments

5 Critical Nonprofit PR Strategy Tips for Marketing to Millennials (DATA)

Last week I had the honor of speaking about how to market to millennials at the 30th Annual California Travel Summit in Sacramento, California.

There is a lot of information out there on millennials: how we behave and communicate, what we value, what motivates us, and countless articles with tips about how to interact with this generation in the workplace. One thing is for sure: at about 90 million strong, this generation is the largest in human history and will someday – extremely soon – make up the very vast majority of our institutions’ stakeholders, constituents, customers, staff members and supporters.

Millennials are often defined as folks born between around 1980 and 1995. “True Millennials” – those born between 1981 and 1989 who are included in every millennial definitional timeframe and make up a majority of existing millennial data – are at a critical age for the economy. They are between 23 and 31 years old with the youngest of them graduating college and developing the habits that will carry them through adulthood, and the oldest taking up leadership positions in organizations around the globe. These “kids” are not kids anymore; they are emerging as your primary audience, and understanding this demographic no longer means “preparing for the future.” The future is already upon us.

Qualitatively, I’m beginning to find that when I write an article or present a speaking engagement with the words “millennial” or “generation Y” in the title, the audience, attendees, and evangelists for these forums tend to be millennials themselves. Yes, we have a reputation of entitlement and believing we are important, but will organizations really wait for millennials to infiltrate the highest leadership positions before prioritizing engagement with this enormous audience? In other words, will generational turnover need to fully occur before certain nonprofit organizations pay attention to this demographic? If this is the case, than these organizations – and thus their worthy, social causes – will arrive too late to the “business solvency” game and risk becoming quickly irrelevant.

Here are five critical insights into the millennial mindset (and increasingly, the general public’s mindset) that should be integrated into an organization’s public relations strategy:

 

Millennials are public service motivated so right now it is cool to be kind. Nonprofits often have social missions, and now is the time to play that up and differentiate yourself from for-profit competition.

Members of Generation Y are increasingly sector agnostic; just being a nonprofit doesn’t necessarily give your organization a competitive boost in the “do good” category. With the rise of corporate social responsibility, and trust, transparency and communication reigning as general best business practices, for-profit companies are increasingly adopting “values” that have traditionally been associated (or hoped to be associated with) the nonprofit sector. If you’ve got a mission, flaunt it. Data suggests that it will help you maintain organizational solvency in the long run – both with millennials and with the evolving public at large.

 

The Experience Economy is an article written in 1998 by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore that describes the evolution of business economies. In it, Pine and Gilmore predict that the upcoming economy after the current service economy will be the experience economy: an economy wherein businesses must create memorable events for customers and the memory itself becomes the product.  There are arguments and data to support that if this truly is the next economy, them the millennial mindset is spearheading it.

But the customer experience does not start and stop when a visitor walks through the door and into a visitor-serving organization. It starts long before (on social media, TripAdvisor, when they call your organization for directions or try to reach you on Twitter) and doesn’t end unless the visitor wants it to end at some point (you must be continually accessible on platforms to facilitate engagement even after the visit is over). For organizations that are successful in engaging millennials, these things will not be considered an “added bonus,” but a continual best practice. Consistent, personal interactionsare key to engaging this crowd.

 

There’s so much information out there and we only have so many hours in the day. A.O.A.D.D. was coined by Pew Research in regard to millennials, but this “disorder” is thought to be age defying. Millennials have been called “multi-tasking machines.” Keep this in mind when constructing your marketing message or even composing your Facebook statuses.

As we move to a more visual web, pictures may be key. The analytics firm, Simply Measured, found a 65% aggregate increase in engagement for pictures and videos posted on Facebook Pages. Why? Pictures don’t require a click or quick skim of dense content in order to be accessed.

 

Millennials came of age with social technology. The oldest of us had email in junior high school. Millennials don’t know very much of a world without computers, and data shows that we don’t have that “social media is making us all less connected” mentality that some members of older generations occasionally espouse. In fact, Millennials think technology offers them a way to actually grow closer to friends and family. In addition to the facts above, it’s been uncovered that:

  • 33% of Millennials are more likely to buy a product if it has a Facebook Page compared to 17% of non-millennials.
  • 43% of 18-24 year olds say texting is just as meaningful as an actual conversation with someone over the phone.
  • 47% of Millennials (versus 28% of members of other generations) say that their lives feel richer when they are connected to people through social media.

In other words, the connections that Millennials are making to brands and to one another online are real. Organizations will benefit by understanding this and taking it seriously.

 

Warholism is a term associated with millennials thanks to Tina Wells, CEO of Buzz Marketing.  Warholism is “the unending quest for fame and the desire to attract attention by any means.” According to Wells, millennials are using social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook to achieve stardom. The lesson for organizations looking to inspire engagement with millennials? Help them be famous. Let them participate. Allow them to have input. Let them be an active part of your marketing and PR plan.

In terms of current trends, a big part of this is knowing how to say thank you. Recently, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese individually thanked 4,800 fans who liked a Facebook status by listing each of them in a 6:42 minute song. Or take a lesson from AT&T who created 500 custom YouTube videos to thank its 2 million fans. Does your organization need to do something like this? Probably not. But allowing your evangelists to be a part of your presence is a good best practice for engaging millennials – and getting creative online usually helps.

 

I have posted my presentation with more information from the California Travel Summit on Slideshare, which includes data from IMPACTS regarding the reach, trust, and amplification current marketing channels. Have questions, comments, suggestions, or items to add? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Generation Y, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Service Motivation, Social Media, Technology, The Future 3 Comments

Millennials and Social Media: Why Nonprofits Need Them to Survive

This video is a must-watch for all nonprofit leaders.  It is a keynote given by John Racanelli, CEO of the National Aquarium Institute, at the most recent Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) conference in Atlanta. Though the speech is geared toward zoo and aquarium folks, the message here is powerful, relevant, and well-articulated for all organizations with a social mission. It is about inspiring change, remaining relevant, engaging audiences and telling stories. As with most speeches worth sharing, it’ll likely give you goosebumps. Start at minute 7 if you are pressed for time, but really, I encourage you to watch it all if you can. There is incredible thought-food here and you won’t regret it.

Within the speech, Racanelli discusses the importance of understanding and engaging Millennials. He also discusses the communication method that we grew into and have thus developed an integrated knack for understanding: social media. At some points in the keynote, Gen Y and social media are discussed separately. At other points, they are explained together. The brilliance of this speech, though—and perhaps the reason why it is so powerful—is that all of the talking points (industry evolution, remaining relevant, social media, inspiring audiences, creating change, building emotional and social bonds between people) are interconnected… and that interconnectedness seems to be necessary for zoos, aquariums, museums, and nonprofit organizations to accomplish their goals.

Often, I find that my most valued contribution to my line of work is my role as an “ambassador for my species” (the Millennial species, that is). I travel nationally and internationally to work with ZAMs and help nonprofit leaders develop ideas and initiatives by contributing a Generation Y mindset (actually, to aid in online engagement, but I cannot always divorce the two). More often than not, I’m the youngest person in the room by at least twenty years. And I’m the youngest person in the fancy restaurants, always.

We Millennials are a unique group. We are also very confusing. Especially in regard to motivation and especially for boomers (and even X’ers) trying to speak to us in our language: Boomers worked their way up the professional hierarchy but we don’t have much regard for that ladder.  Generation X fought for workplace autonomy but we’d all rather work collaboratively. And then there’s the issue of money: we are the most educated generation in history, and we have by far the most debt. However, when looking for jobs, we seek out the ones that provide mentorship, work/life balance, an opportunity to “do good” in the world, and allow us to hang out with our friends. Heck, we even value the use of a mobile device to connect with our friends more than a high-paying salary. In addition to this, we are generally skeptical about long-term loyalty to an organization,  (raising the question, “how do we get these kids to commit!?”)  … but we’ve got some good points, too! We are entrepreneurial, optimistic, and civic-minded. (Or better stated, confident, connected, and open to change).

No matter how you cut it, understanding both the growing importance of Generation Y and online engagement are absolutely necessary in order for organizations to not only remain relevant, but to inspire individuals to create positive, social change. Extrapolating (completely independently) from the powerful points made in Racanelli’s keynote, Millennials and social media – both separately and combined- provide some not-so-secret sauce for moving organizations forward. Here’s how:

 

Millennials and social media make it possible to tell the compelling stories that will achieve social change. As John Racanelli points out, “We, in this industry, have one of the most powerful platforms for which to tell our stories, if we tell them extremely well.” Stories (telling them and showing them) are essential in communicating social missions. We create buy-in, awe, and wonder by telling stories. As Racanelli points out: ZAMs (and all nonprofits, I’d argue) have the capacity to inspire people. That’s a role that we live up to through the stories that we tell, exhibits and programs that we share, animals/artifacts that we care for, and broader conservation/education goals.

  • Generation Y knows how to tell stories and share information virally. Millennials like to share information—which has actually garnered us negative attention. But this characteristic has some pretty serious organizational benefits, too. Millennials tell stories all of the time, and we are often well-connected to peer groups outside of the workplace. Growing up on social media, this generation already thinks in organic, online content- the kind that tells the best stories online. Many of us use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr personally. And arguably more than previous generations, we have a good grasp on what is/is not likely to be spread, shared, and well received by our peers in these spaces.
  • Social media and word of mouth marketing can increase the credibility of stories: That sounds silly, right? It’s not. People trust their friends and social media keeps people connected to their friends (and, lucky for us, their friends’ interests). This is good for organizations because barriers to entry are low for spreading a message online; people can experience a nonprofit’s story from a computer at home, on their own schedule, and they can save, share, and revisit information as desired. Social media keeps organizations “top of mind,” which aids in attracting donors and evangelists. (As a related side, social media has the potential to be especially important in telling stories for zoos, aquariums, science centers, and other organizations with animals. In fact, organizations that serve animals (and children) have the greatest success on social media. ZAMs can find a way to tap this, too.)

 

Millennials and social media help bring people together to build communities for change. John Racanelli calls zoos and aquariums “a sociological force with power to bring people together around ideas.” That’s a good quote, I think, for reminding ZAMs of their social power. It’s post-on-the-whiteboard worthy. But I like this one, too: “The sooner we see visitors as communities, the sooner we can activate them.” Change “visitors” to “evangelists,” and you’ve got a message that is relevant to all nonprofits.

  • Generation Y is hard-wired for social connectivity, increasing information-share and creating communities. As mentioned above, Millennials are a social, well-connected bunch within their circles. They are also public service oriented and they care about change. This makes for a winning combination: Millennials think globally and act locally. It takes connections to connect folks, and Generation Y’s social mind-set is ideal for connecting people, spreading social messages, and managing communities- especially on social networks.
  • Social media provides a platform for “rallying the troops” and building a community that is location independent. Social media can play upon the strength of weak ties  in accomplishing goals related to “rallying the troops” online. We know from experience now that social media can be an effective tool for organizing movements and bringing people together on issues. Here’s an article from Mashable about how even a smaller organization made it happen. (Please notice that this is an example tied to people coming together for the benefit of animals—Oh, the possibilities for ZAMs!)

 

Millennials and social media help increase public-facing transparency, which elevates trust in the organization. Here’s another little verbal gemstone from the keynote that, I think, is worth sharing: “Well, Of course [zoos and aquariums] matter. I believe our real challenge is to honor the trust our constituents and communities place in us by giving them the hope, the motive, and the inspiration to be part of the solution.” This equation cannot happen without first inspiring trust in an organization. Gen Y and social media can help.

  • Generation Y aims to build trust- and more than that, Generation Y can be most trusting. Or, at least more trusting toward organizations than Generation X or Boomers ever were, as Racanelli points out. We’ve got some over-share going on and when friends or organizations don’t also share organic, timely messaging, we lose trust. We wonder what is being hidden. Our trust is hard to gain through traditional marketing methods. Millennials are beneficial in the area of building online trust because it ties in to the way that we understand organizations ourselves.
  • Social media is a mecca for word of mouth marketing and honest reviews of organizations, helping to bring to light the effective “behind the scenes” of organizations. The best organizations on social media embrace this. They use online platforms to share “behind the scenes” information that creates a community of “insiders” (read: potential evangelists and free agents for your cause). Studies have found that people online don’t trust an organization’s website as much as they trust social media sites. Social media sites are thought to be more honest and transparent… and using them well can help increase a nonprofit’s perceived trustworthiness.

 

Millennials are not the only demographic using social media. Not by a long shot. But Generation Y came of age when social media was the cool, new thing. It is integrated into our daily lives. Most of us do not keep on top of happenings in the social technology realm because we are paid to be in-the-know on such topics. On the contrary, we do it because it is how we connect with our friends and how we understand the world.

Use us to help your organization spread its social mission.

Here’s a link to the quiz from Pew Research (How Millennial are you?) that John Racanelli mentions. And if you want to read a bit more on the role of Millennials in the workplace, check out an article that I was asked to write this Summer for Museum Magazine.

Posted on by colleendilen in Generation Y, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future 5 Comments