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Community Engagement

How Nonprofits Use Language as a Barrier to Progress

Inigo Montoya - You keep using that word

Want to be a relevant, digitally engaging, and future-facing organization? You may be starting out on the wrong track. While it seems like a no-brainer, the first step is to actually understand what those words mean…because it seems that many executive leaders and staff members may not.

Before you skim ahead and chalk up these issues to “semantics,” consider that when a term is used incorrectly by leadership within an institution, other members of the organization begin to use it in the same way. When these important – and, definitionally, misunderstood – terms become “cheat” words for industry evolution, problems emerge. At the very least, the organization (if not the industry) is destined to be laggard until we either get the meanings right or someone creates a NEW word to represent the thing that the original word should have meant in the first place.  These matters of “semantics” are misguiding our industry.

Misusing (or perhaps unintentionally “redefining”) important concepts for strategic evolution happens constantly. I see it in my work every day – not to mention in public communications from nonprofit CEOs. Perhaps it’s because I’m a digital native myself, or because I work primarily with Baby Boomers to whom these words may seem relatively new in a contemporary context, or because I’m constantly in the thick of conversations regarding strategic change with my clients…but I find myself consistently feeling like Inigo Montoya (without the cool ‘stache) when words like “relevant,” “digital,” “engagement,” and the “future” come up. Interestingly, it seems that the meanings of these four important words have been jumbled together.

Cheating ourselves by not truly considering the meanings of these words may be playing a role in declining attendance to visitor-serving organizations and their increasingly grim business models. It’s certainly not helping us correct the effects of negative substitution facing the industry.

Let’s dive into these examples. Here are those four words that nonprofits often “cheat” themselves out of by (knowingly or unknowingly) redefining their meanings. In no particular order, ladies and gentleman…

 

1) Relevant (vs. current)

It seems that when someone asks, “How can we make our organization more relevant?” the proposed solutions involve tactics that are current (e.g. utilizing social media, providing analysis of a current event on a blog, or adding a widget to a website). But what if the question was phrased, “How can we make our organization more meaningful to our constituents?” (That, folks, is the true opportunity embedded within the word “relevant.”) When we use or interpret “relevant” to mean “current,” we miss the boat on more important conversations with greater potential to elevate individual organizations and the industry at large.

Being relevant is about connectivity, not content. Connectivity is king. Being current can certainly go a long way in making your organization more relevant to individuals, but promulgating the use of “relevance” to instead imply “current” shortcuts important conversations about how to actually connect with constituents and inspire them to act in the interest of your organization’s mission.

 

2) Engagement (vs. social media interaction)

Without a doubt, fostering engagement is critical for securing support in the information age. The more folks feel a connection with your organization by whatever means, the more relevant (yes, the real meaning of the word) an organization may become. Like being “relevant,” “engagement” is about connectivity. It heightens an organization’s ability to foster feelings of affinity that motivate a desired behavior.

Engagement actually means “to become involved in.” Engagement does not mean, “create a moment of semi-detached, low-level maybe-interest on a trackable social media platform”…so let’s stop using it that way. We miss out on important discussions about impact and strategy (and confuse ourselves by further  contributing to the social media data dilemma) when we reduce “engagement” to simply mean something like “Facebook likes.”

 

3) Digital strategy (vs. technological skillset)

I’ve saved the two most important for last. Industry misuse of the word “digital” may be the entire reason why many organizations aren’t very good at translating it into visits, membership, financial support, or even lasting engagement. Here’s a truth bomb: “Digital strategies” are actually real-life, human-being engagement strategies. As much as many folks working in organizations want to write “all things digital” off to the IT guys (or even the marketing department alone), humans do not think in HTML. Technological skillsets come in handy when deploying tactical, isolated aspects of these strategies. In other words, “digital strategies” are not necessarily about platforms, but about people. So executives should really stop saying, “I don’t understand that” as an excuse for digital illiteracy. This actually translates into, “I know nothing about how to engage our audiences – particularly on their preferred platforms – and I probably should not continue to hold my current position given how remarkably unqualified I am relative to the moment.” The data is pretty unassailable on this front.

Want to dig deeper into this dilemma? Here are five reasons why conceptually separating out “digital” is a problem that is making it harder for nonprofits to succeed.

 

4) Future (vs. present)

Talking about the “future” of organizations may be holding them back. Many industry resources supposedly focusing on “the future” are actually communicating about emerging trends that are happening right now…and when we call them “the future” we do ourselves a grave disservice for several reasons. (For a full run-down, check out this article.) Among those is the fact that calling things that are happening in the present “the future” excuses putting off critical issues, implies uncertainty (even though the data is anything but uncertain), and this misuse of the word also fosters a false and undeserved sense of “innovation” when many organizations are not even keeping up with the day-to-day realities of the world that we live in.

 

These “matters of semantics” are playing big roles in the progress (or lack thereof) of nonprofits and visitor-serving organizations. My hope is that by identifying these “cheats” we may open our minds (and our mouths) to having bigger, more meaningful conversations about the future of our own organizations and nonprofits at large.

 

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, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

Signs of Trouble For The Museum Industry (DATA)

Main Hall and Stairs Mational Museum Warsaw

As the US population grows, the number of people attending visitor-serving organizations is (still) in general decline. And this is a very big problem for sustainability without a digital-age shift in our business model.  It’s not just museums. Many visitor-serving organizations – science centers, historical sites, aquariums, zoos, symphonies, etc. – are failing to keep pace with population growth.

Consider: In the five-year duration spanning 2009-2013, the US population increased by 3.5% from 305.5 million to 316.1 million. The majority of this growth occurred in major metropolitan areas – the very population dense regions where many visitor-serving organizations are located. Indeed, nearly one in seven Americans live in the metropolitan areas of the country’s three largest cities – New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

However, during the same duration, data indicate that attendance at many nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations has declined. In fact, of the 224 visitor-serving organizations contemplated in the 2014 National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations (NAAU), 186 organizations (83.0%) reported flat or declining attendance. And this is neither a regional nor curatorial content-specific finding – the study representatively contemplates visitor-serving organizations of every size, type, and area.

Many organizations are hesitant to acknowledge attendance challenges…especially when they have historically cited being the “most visited” as an indicator of their expertise and effectiveness. I sense that pressure from governing boards also plays a role – particularly as many organizations have been tasked to maximize earned revenues (often inevitably linked to visitation). Perhaps most concerning of all are attempts to blunt the challenge by proposing half-measures as remedy – you’ll no doubt recognize the “don’t worry, we’re going digital!” excuse and the related practice of sending mid-level staff to innovation conferences as attempted evidence of progress. (This last excuse may be especially worrisome as it seems that many staff members tasked to “innovate” may not actually be empowered to carryout their plans for advancement.)

But, regardless of the excuse, the numbers suggest that our industry risks becoming less relevant to future audiences. What does this mean to visitor-serving organizations? Let’s look at a few examples. (Note: To keep this from being a huge, overwhelming chart, I pulled out major metro markets and a few areas cited as “up and coming.”)

KYOB VSO attendance - IMPACTS

To illustrate, the population of the Atlanta, GA Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) has increased in the past five years by 9.4%. During the same duration, visitation to the Atlanta-area organizations contemplated in the NAAU study indicates an attendance decline of 4.6%. Think about that – if engagement were keeping pace with population growth, an organization with an annual attendance of 1,000,000 in year 2009 would reasonably expect to welcome 1,094,000 visitors in year 2013. Instead, on average, the studied organizations saw attendance decline from the theoretical 1,000,000 visitor level in year 2009 to 954,000 visitors in year 2013. Measured against the expectations of population growth, visitor engagement underperformed by 140,000 visitors!

The expectation would be for attendance to increase alongside population growth – otherwise, it is indicative of underperforming the opportunity.  Again, the findings are stark and concerning for organizations in the engagement business:

KYOB VSO Performance against expectations - IMPACTS

In most any other business, if you saw the market steadily increasing in size and your product’s usage in steady retreat alongside it, you’d likely think, “This business model sucks.”

Well, our business model sucks.

Confronted with this evidence, I’ve heard leaders recycle tired strategies of securing larger donations from an aging donor base, and plans to gain more grant funding from governments and foundations. Generally, they aim to “pivot” from a reliance on earned revenues to (hopefully…fingers crossed!) additional contributed revenues. Except no. The visitor-serving industry doesn’t need to pivot. It needs to reset.

Here are three behaviors we need to adapt to reset our current condition:

 

1) Stop citing poor previous efforts as evidence that something will not work

Some visitor-serving organizations will declare that they “already tried” something after investing only the most minimal of resources necessary to claim effort. This is a surefire recipe for failure …yet, it happens all of the time. Here’s a quick example: Many organizations will offer options to buy tickets online and simply invest enough to create a webpage for it. Then when nobody uses that method to buy tickets they say, “Look! We tried that and nobody bought tickets that way!” Actually, nobody bought tickets that way because your site wasn’t mobile friendly, it takes 10 different screens to buy a ticket, it requires several pages of personal information, it’s confusing and time consuming, and it costs more. Often it’s an organization’s own fault when data-informed things don’t work, but organizations frequently take a half (or maybe a one-tenth) approach to something and basically (knowingly or unknowingly) set it up for certain failure. This is just one, basic example.

“Our crummy product failed, ergo everything related to this project won’t work” justifies stagnancy by masking it with false wisdom. Organizations think that they are cutting-edge for trying something without any conviction, and that the wisdom they received from their inevitable failure justifies closing the book on really big things like digital engagement. How does this even make sense? This type of excuse-making is a shortcut to irrelevance. Just stop doing it.

 

2) Stop defending past decisions

This seems to be a particularly hard one for many leaders to embrace. After all, it may be human nature to defend one’s past decisions as “right” and “good.” And, at the time when they were made, they probably were. But times change. Today, we are witnessing incredible changes – many borne of technological advancement – accelerating progress at a revolutionary pace. By what rightful reason do we think that we’re exempted from the prevailing changes affecting the rest of the world?

Just because you spent thousands and thousands of dollars on print material doesn’t spare you from the necessity of hiring an online community manager. On a more substantial investment scale, those millions of dollars that you invested in a new entrance to facilitate faster put-through times doesn’t exempt you from developing a mobile ticketing platform that may make ticket counters increasingly obsolete. This is a lesson to learn in real-time (as opposed to retrospectively): Repairing and updating past decisions is often more time-consuming and, ultimately, more expensive in the long run than starting anew. It’s OK – heck, even encouraged – to approach the current condition untethered to the past. That was then, this is now.

 

3) Embrace the inevitable path of progress

Max Anderson, CEO of the Dallas Museum of Art, gave a short ignite talk at the most recent Museum Computer Network conference. The topic of his talk was how to “persuade your museum director to help you” (i.e. how to get him/her to invest in “innovation”). From the beginning of the video it’s easy to see one of the biggest, most glaring problems in our industry: He begins his talk by asking how many museum directors are at the conference. Very short awkward silence ensues…followed by laughter. Really?! Are even our conferences about innovation and new ideas attended primarily by middle managers?!

The reason for the lack of executive decision-makers at many conferences is not necessarily the fault of museum CEOs (as the conferences aren’t always adequately geared toward Directors). But it’s not wholly the task of middle managers to communicate and justify the imperative to remain relevant to CEOs either. There’s a messed up barrier to betterment here, and it has more to do with a flawed structure than simple lexicon within an antiquated museum hierarchy. His talk is absolutely true, probably staggeringly helpful, and thus amazingly messed up at the same time.

We’ve developed this detrimental idea that “digital” has to do with “tech” (not people), and “innovation” isn’t necessary for survival. Max Anderson’s “primer on the psychology of museum directors” underscores that the status quo (and, of course, legacy!) is what museum directors are primarily interested in…but the status quo isn’t working to bring in more people by creating crowds OR buzz. Efforts to abide the current condition fundamentally ignore the challenges imposed by a broken model. Changing lexicon is a pivot. Pivots sound pretty. Pivots sound agile. After pivoting, however, you may be facing in a different direction but you’re still standing in the same place.

Millennials – the largest generation in human history – may necessitate an update to the visitor-serving model in the information age. These “kids” will soon have kids, who will eventually have more kids, and if we continue to ignore the reality of negative substitution in our attendance, then we may soon have no museums, aquariums, or symphonies for those “kids” to go to at all. (OK – perhaps some hyperbole. We likely won’t have zero museums. Just more empty ones.)

 

The forces of change that propel the world forward are not going away. If we don’t change our model to one that is more sustainable, then we risk going away. This is a moment when our biggest barrier to engaging emerging audiences is holding dear to our increasingly irrelevant plans and practices. We need a reset. And it’s up to all of us to put our heads together and make it happen.

 

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, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 11 Comments

Six Urgent Reasons To Add Millennials To Your Nonprofit Board of Directors

Millennial board members

If your organization doesn’t have at least one millennial on its Board of Directors, then you may be setting your organization up for a difficult future. 

I cannot help but notice that the Boards of Directors of many large nonprofits are missing representatives from a critical current constituency – millennials. Strangely, this seems to especially be the case within large nonprofits (annual operating budgets >$30 million, or attendance >1 million for visitor-serving organizations)… And that’s particularly terrifying, as many smaller organizations often look to larger ones for cues to the future.

Missing millennial representatives on the board doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t loads of important conversations taking place about how to better engage millennials. It seems that many organizations are stuck in the mud of dialogue instead of finding traction in actually doing something constructive to meet this opportunity where it counts most. I’ve found that it’s not uncommon at many board meetings for there to be numerous Baby Boomers – and a few members of Generation X – waxing poetic about the urgent need to “engage millennials”…without any input from actual millennials.

The fact remains: The millennials aren’t coming.  They’re here now.  The time has come for organizations to sink or swim based on how effectively they engage millennials…which may be particularly hard to do when nobody tasked to govern leading organizations is actually a member of this generation. 

To be fair, there are some organizations that are moving forward and integrating millennials into their boards and strategic decision-making processes. I’m a millennial serving on the Board of Directors at the National Aquarium during an incredibly important time for the organization’s future. I’m grateful for this opportunity…but I also know that I’m one of relatively few millennials on the board of a larger nonprofit or a museum.

Don’t have at least one millennial on your Board of Directors yet? Here are six, critical reasons to call up the nominating committee and work on getting some impressive millennials aboard your nonprofit Board right now.

 

1) Millennials represent the largest generation in human history

…So not having at least one of them on your board may be a bit out of touch. Until Generation Y came along, baby boomers represented the largest generational cohort in the United States. However, at nearly 90 million strong, millennials have baby boomers outnumbered by an estimated 20 million people. As boomers age, the divide will continue to grow. This statistic alone should be more than enough to make executive leaders pause to consider the future of their organizations. Moreover, millennials will begin to tip the scales in buying power in the United States next year, and our economy will be feeling the impact by 2017.

 

2) Millennials will have primary influence on culture and society for an unprecedented duration

…So not having one on your board is delaying an inevitable future and holding back progress. I’ve written about this fact more directly before, but here’s a reminder: Millennials who have children are not having as many of them as their baby boomer parents. Moreover, Gen X (which is only roughly half the size of Gen Y) is simply too small in number to give birth to a future, large generation. Simply put, America’s birth-over-death rate is not increasing at the historic rates established by Baby Boomers. This means that millennials will remain the largest generational demographic in the United States for a much longer period of time than did the Baby Boomers – or any prior generation to date.

 

3) Millennials will significantly influence the outcomes of the next six presidential elections

…And if your organization does not get millennials involved in understanding policy-related challenges and opportunities from a leadership buy-in standpoint, you may be “voting” against your own best interests. Indeed, this depends upon millennials actually voting, but building any aspect of your organization’s survival strategy upon 90 million people not turning up for elections is a stupid strategy. Moreover, millennials will eventually dominate a very, very vast majority of all government leadership positions…mandatory government retirement policies dictate this math. Inviting millennials onto your board helps ensure that your organization’s best interests are best protected.

 

4) Engaging millennials requires immediate, strategic shifts in leadership mentalities

…Far beyond simply “using social media.” Engaging millennials isn’t merely a communication medium opportunity (especially because data suggests that millennials are not even close to the only audiences using social media). Engaging millennials requires new ways of thinking about marketing, development, human resources and operations, and even new strategic practices regarding things like membership. Millennial board members may provide valuable perspective regarding their own peer group and generational mindset.

 

5) What your organization actually DOES is more important than ever before

…And aiming to be seen as an organization welcoming millennials without actually welcoming millennials where it counts may actually be detrimental to your bottom lines. We live in a world now where everybody (not just millennials) increasingly look to real-time platforms to make decisions. People want to assess an organization’s promise, reliability, trustworthiness, and impact on their own – guided largely by perceived transparency. If your organization is actively trying to engage millennials, then it’s doing something smart (for the reasons mentioned above), but if it’s doing it without also empowering millennials where it counts (in the Board Room and the future of your social mission), then the story is incongruent. Thanks in large part to the web, we live in a “show vs. tell” world – and if what you say doesn’t match what you do, people are likely to notice.

 

6) Millennial board members can help connect your organization directly to millennial donors

…Because millennial board members can be every bit as valuable as other board members. Despite a strange want to promulgate the concept that millennials never do and never will actively contribute to nonprofit organizations, data suggests that most millennials actually do contribute. Yes, millennials donors exist and your organization is probably messing a lot of things up trying to engage with them even if you think you’re doing it right. (Here are six sad truths that I have learned as a millennial donor.) But the good things about adding other, more diverse members to your board are still true for millennials: insight, connectivity to the right people, an “in” with a valuable group of up-and-comers, and fresh perspectives.

 

With all of these reasons why it is absolutely critical to add quality millennials to your nonprofit’s board of directors, it makes me wonder why I don’t have many friends on the boards of larger nonprofits at all? It begs the question, “What are current board members of nonprofits so afraid of?” Change? Shifting tides? Loss of power? Diminished relevance?

Generational change and progress are inevitable – and they are horrible reasons to cripple the evolution of mission-driven organizations. The new first imperative of power should be not to retain it but, instead, to share it. That is the stuff of a true and worthy organizational legacy.

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Millennials, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

The New Trickle Down Effect: Why Nonprofits Are Innovators for Industry

teaching innovation

The company for which I work annually invests millions of dollars to help nonprofit organizations better understand and engage with their donors and visitors… and nonprofit leaders should know why.

It’s been a while since I wrote about myself, so I hope that you won’t mind my taking a moment to point out a trend: Inevitably, after talking shop with readers of “Know Your Own Bone” (but who may not know much about IMPACTS), there’s an awkward moment of silence before I’m asked, “So, why do you do what you do, and how does it…work?”

It sounds like a strange question, but I’ve come to understand exactly what they are asking.

Here’s a bit more about my “day job,” but, on “Know Your Own Bone,” my mission is to make accessible “big data” and data-informed analysis to nonprofit organizations for free (i.e. no advertisements, promoted opinions, sales pitches, etc.) Of course, this response often begs a few follow-up questions: How can I do this and feed myself? And how is this not detrimental to IMPACTS?

It’s no secret that there isn’t generally a massive pile of cash associated with helping nonprofits, and yet I work with a for-profit company that invests millions of dollars to help organizations better understand their market opportunities. It almost risks sounding like an example of “Do as I say, not as I do” – except, it’s decidedly not.

Nonprofit organizations are infinitely complex, and helping to understand how the market engages with that sector has proven incredibly valuable to the other sectors that IMPACTS serves. Indeed, when it comes to innovation, some of the best R&D happening in our space is being pioneered by nonprofits. For once, the “Next Practices” are trickling down from the nonprofit sector to the corporate world.

Here’s why:

1) Motivating visitation and/or giving decisions relies on understanding a series of complex behaviors

While it’s true that nonprofit organizations are not always the quickest to evolve, they rarely get the pat on the back that they deserve for working in an industry that can be exponentially more complex than that of most private enterprise.

Consider this visitor-serving organization example: Getting someone to visit a museum (or theater, symphony, science center, botanic garden, aquarium, historic site, etc.) requires an understanding of many multi-faceted, high-barrier motivations and behaviors. To get to a museum, for instance, a family would need to decide the visit would be worthy of their time, prioritize that experience over every other leisure time pursuit (including staying home and relaxing!), find an open day in everyone’s schedules, get the family dressed and into the car, drive to the museum, park, pay for that parking, play real-life Frogger hustling across a busy street, pay for admission, explore the facilities with the kids until they get tired, stop for snacks (if the kiddos get cranky), avoid (or embrace) the gift shop, then return to the car and fight traffic on the way home…

(Pant, pant…) There is a lot about consumer behavior to understand there…and we haven’t even yet begun to consider the philanthropic motivations that play an important role in helping nonprofits thrive. Perhaps now one can start to understand how – when compared to motivating engagement with nonprofit organizations – getting someone to buy a car, go to a movie, or even vote for a political candidate seems downright simple!

 

2) Understanding those behaviors and motivations informs other industries

Contrast the task of motivating the behavior of visiting an organization with the task of, say, motivating that same small family to enjoy a specific television show in pajamas in the comfort of their own home. If you are a member of the entertainment industry trying to get folks to watch a show – or even sign up for an “on demand” entertainment delivery platform, there is much less to understand and far fewer barriers to engagement.

Understanding why folks behave (or, for that matter, do not behave) in the interests of nonprofit organizations provides IMPACTS with incredible data and insight attendant to extremely complex behaviors, the transitive applications of which frequently inure to the benefit of comparatively less-complex behaviors such as, say, watching television.

Yes. What you work hard to understand and do in your day-to-day jobs at your organization actually informs how other industries do business…because the behaviors that nonprofit organizations motivate are complex and understanding them sheds light on the “hard to measure” aspects of human behavior and motivation. Unlocking the key to complex human behaviors and motivations is the secret sauce in many a corporation’s recipe for success…and the pioneers in this research are often nonprofits.

 

3) People. Planet. Profit. (You actually have THREE bottom lines)

Nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations must not only sustain themselves (some more than others), but they must also serve their communities (people) and social missions (planet). That’s a whole lot to think about compared to private entities – which, generally, are primarily obligated to the single bottom line of profit.

At the risk of some simplification, “profit” is relatively simple to figure out. People and planet – ostensibly selfless business motivations – are a little more inscrutable. And, yet, in our modern era where corporate social responsibility is increasingly good business, there is a growing need to better understand the more intricate aspects of human behaviors.

Again, this doesn’t even touch upon the topic of philanthropy – the motivations of which defy traditional utility curves.

Most simply put, nonprofit organizations are metaphorically juggling three balls at once…while many corporate entities are consumed by the one ball that they have up in the air. Add to this circus the fact that, well, two of your juggling balls are rather strangely shaped. (I love bad metaphors.) Understanding the expertise that goes into juggling three balls at once helps make the work of those with only one or two balls a whole lot easier.

 

4) Nonprofiteers are better than they think (but the imperative to evolve remains urgent)

Visitor-serving organizations, like many nonprofits, can get a bad rap. They are sometimes called slow-moving or culturally antiquated. Negative substitution of audiences is making increasing attendance difficult and long-siloed structures impede abilities to be agile and adaptive. CEOs of nonprofits are generally paid less than their for-profit peers, and retaining talent in a highly-competitive market can be a struggle.

However, consider again that visitor-serving organizations work every day to motivate a series of complex behaviors intended to inspire folks to act in the best interest of not only themselves, but of their larger communities. While some organizations have become accustomed to patting themselves on the back for achieving mediocracy, it’s important to keep in mind that, in many ways, the continued relevance of nonprofits and visitor-serving entities in the face of many challenges is quite a remarkable feat!

I think people who work in nonprofits are the best kinds of fighters. That’s why I’m lucky to get to work with them and that’s why I feel passionate about hounding my company to continue to help them.

 

5) Much of the data conceptually belongs to you

Providing data and insight in a transparent, open-fashion feels like a good practice. Doing the right thing is a reward unto itself. And, in terms of the means of effectuating knowledge transfer, “giving away” information for free is the very nature of blogging.

I don’t think it’s fair to gather information about human behavior regarding visitor-serving organizations and simply sit on it for monetary purposes. Luckily, the company for which I work doesn’t think that either. So I get to share some of it here. I am grateful for that.

The more information I share, the more I hope that I can garner your trust and provide aid as a valuable resource. If I can do that, the data will be more helpful…and the changes we are seeking will have greater impacts in our communities.

Leaders of nonprofit organizations: pat yourselves on the back. What you’re doing is hard, important, and paving the way. 

Data proves it.

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 4 Comments

The New Realities of Advertising Costs (Hint: You Are Getting Less Than You Think)

Budget expenses

Many nonprofit organizations misunderstand the increasing costs of advertising – and it’s costing them dearly.

It’s that season when organizations are preparing their budgets for the upcoming year. For many of us in the communications space, tis the season of spreading tough-love  in the hope that nonprofit organizations don’t hamstring themselves with a flawed “save one’s way to prosperity” approach to budgeting for marketing expenses – especially social media and advertising. Increasingly, advertising is not an optional expenditure – it is a basic cost of doing business for any organization that relies on the time, engagement, or concern of audiences (…which happens to be most organizations).

When it comes to budgeting for a necessary advertising investment, a tremendous challenge confronting many nonprofit organizations is a reliance on precedent behaviors to inform our future planning efforts. The advent of digital technologies amplified by an increasingly platform agnosticism market have rendered many of the traditional “rules” of advertising obsolete. The communications world – and, in turn, the advertising world – is in a period of significant revolution and reinvention. A dogmatic beholdenness to the past is likely to leave an organization forever behind.

Here are two important points that your organization should keep in mind when it comes to the basic cost of advertising:

 

1) The cost of advertising has increased dramatically in recent years and many organizations are not keeping pace with inflation

Though you may be spending more, you are probably getting less return on your advertising investment than you were a few short years ago. The few percentage points that organizations add to their advertising budgets each year is simply insufficient when contemplated in the context of the escalating costs of advertising.

For instance, in my experience, even forward-thinking organizations keep their annual ad budgets relatively stable (“Hey, this is how we’ve always done it!”) and will sometimes add 5-10% if there’s a special program or campaign taking place that they’re trying to promote. The thing is, while organizations think that they are spending more (because they are actually spending more), they are increasingly getting less.

Take a look at the chart below. The chart indicates examples of observed advertising costs during the last five years.  For relativity purposes, the escalating cost factors have been standardized and charted as index values.

 IMPACTS cost of advertising

“Blended CPM” indicates the growth in costs “blended” across all media types (i.e. broadcast, radio, print, digital, outdoor, etc.) as observed by the actual media plans of twelve IMPACTS clients.  CPM is an acronym representing the Cost per One Thousand impressions.  Thus, the average observed costs to advertise have increased by 41% in the five-year duration ranging from years 2010-2014.

As additional examples of advertising costs, within the same five-year duration, the chart indicates that the costs of a 0:30 second advertisement during the Super Bowl and Grammy Awards broadcasts have respectively increased by 60% and 105%.

We are living in an increasingly personalized world that emphasizes speed and convenience. We can simply TiVo, Apple TV or On-Demand our way out of most ads on our favorite television shows because we watch these shows at our convenience. Because of this, programs that folks watch live (e.g. sports, news, award shows, etc.) command premiums when compared to the costs of similar programming a relatively few short years ago.

In the simplest terms: Yes, on average, your organization will need to have increased its advertising budget by at least 40% in order to match your advertising efforts of five years ago. If you’ve added less than 40% to your budget, then your organization may actually be achieving less advertising impact than you were in 2010.

In the end, it’s a lesson in business and economics: You cannot just throw a bit more money at something year over year and get mad when you don’t get correspondingly “more” in return. If you’re not increasing the budget at the rate of what things cost, then you’re actually getting less. This lesson seems particularly challenging for nonprofit boards to understand when they are confronted with a proposed increase in the advertising budget. “So, if we spend more money on advertising, how much more support will we get?” is a perfectly reasonable question posed by many a board member. However, the question from board members probably ought to be, “If we don’t sustain significant investments in our audience acquisition strategies, how many visitors will we lose…and what will be the costs of trying to re-acquire them in the future?”

 

2) The first thing that organizations often cut is marketing (despite the increasing importance of funding in this area)

Compounding matters is the fact that – despite an abundance of the well-publicized reasons why it is a terrible idea – many organizations trying to balance budgets still seem to cut the marketing budget first.

This may be particularly relevant for visitor-serving organizations (museums, theaters, symphonies, gardens, aquariums, zoos, etc.) as these types of organizations are having a rough time meeting attendance goals. The anxiety associated with this causes organizations to deny data and do a lot of dumb things (and maybe some more dumb things) that will hurt them even more in the long run, and cutting marketing budgets in the Information Age is another one of them.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for traditionalists and specialists within organizations, but marketing is increasingly important for the survival of your organization. For many of the most successful organizations, marketing is at the center of strategic conversations. It’s a big change for many entities! And, organizations aren’t solely deciding that this should be the case…the market is deciding for them. As I say in nearly every post: Organizations can sometimes determine importance, but the market determines relevance.

Mix one part “not keeping up with the cost of advertising” with one part “cutting your marketing budget” and watch your audience awareness dwindle to record lows. For those persons in the nonprofit sector who may continue to balk at the idea that they need to spend more to acquire, engage, and communicate with their audience than they did five years ago, I ask you: What makes advertising exempt from the most basic laws of inflation? Again, these cost increases are the most basic costs of doing business.

 

For marketers, it is a tough road ahead: The “This is how we’ve always done things” and “Last year plus five percent” approach to budgeting and media planning that permeates many organizations is an increasingly doomed strategy. In a way, this post isn’t exclusively about marketing or advertising. It’s about a new way to think about the constantly evolving world that we live in. The world waits for no one. We need to keep pace or risk being left behind.

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on The New Realities of Advertising Costs (Hint: You Are Getting Less Than You Think)

6 Strategic Reasons For Membership Teams to be Involved with Social Media

Geoff Cartoon - Keeping old customers

An organization’s social media initiatives are every bit as important for the membership department as they are for the marketing team when it comes to the long-term solvency of your organization.

It’s not news that social media is an every-department job, but changes in Facebook algorithms seem to have increased the desire to develop social media postings that go “wide” with reach instead of “deep” with constituents. This distraction of focusing on the quantity of those engaged instead of the quality of engagement is hurting organizations – and may be particularly challenging for membership and development teams trying to integrate their functions.

I was recently asked by Blackbaud to conduct a webinar that addressed the role of social media in engaging key constituencies.  I developed “Get Strategic: How to Engage With Members in a Digital Age” to help Blackbaud share my thinking on this popular topic.  (Click on the link to hear a recording of the webinar – It’s free!) Here’s a link to the slides.

I also thought that it might prove helpful to summarize a few takeaways from the webinar that may be particularly urgent for membership and development departments to consider as they plan their organizational futures. The importance of various departments beyond marketing and communications strategically contemplating how they best engage their current and emerging audiences can be a difficult topic for many organizations to tackle for two, unfortunate reasons:

  •  Many professionals (especially in the nonprofit sector) still ignorantly invoke “not my job” on many matters concerning digital communications to the detriment of both their professional functionality and the efficacy of the entire organization.
  • The “siloed” and increasingly outdated structure of more traditional organizations (including many visitor-serving organizations) is challenged by the need to work collaboratively among departments to create the kind of cohesive strategy that is prerequisite for successful digital communications.

 

In my estimation, development teams generally aren’t any more guilty of these organization-hurting offenses than any other department. However, a lack of collaboration between development/fundraising and marketing/communications comes at perhaps one of the most extreme expenses for a nonprofit organization.

Here’s why:

 

1) A member online is a member offline (and vice versa)

Too often, organizations create membership or donor cultivation strategies (or even marketing strategies) and then develop completely independent digital membership and donor cultivation strategies (if they have them at all). A member online is a member offline. You wouldn’t get to know somebody at a party and then completely ignore them and all of the things that you learned when you see them again at a different party. That would be rude and particularly confusing for your new acquaintance (or old friend) – and yet organizations act like this all the time when it comes to melding online and offline experiences. This miss seems to stem from one, basic misunderstanding: that digital strategies are somehow about technology or skillsets and not about a means of engaging people.

Hint: Communication on digital platforms operates a lot like communication in real-life. Membership retention is about PEOPLE – not technology. In real life, we expect people to be transparent, express human sentiment, listen, and be responsive. Those same communication expectations exist on social media.

 

2) Social media is not only valuable at the start of an engagement funnel. It is arguably even more important in the middle where members reside

When folks talk about social media and digital platforms – perhaps especially the marketing department – it’s often discussed as a starting point in an engagement funnel that hopefully leads to visitation (and, then, perhaps membership or donor cultivation). And, social media does aid in reaching new people and support relationship-building at the beginning of that funnel.  But it’s also critical that an organization utilizes social media to deepen connections with your mission because people on social media operate at all levels of an engagement hierarchy – not just at the beginning. If your organization is only putting out content that goes “wide” (or helps to increase reach), and not “deep” (or, content that deepens affinity with your cause), then it’s going to be difficult to turn folks from visitors into more consistent supporters.

Members are in the middle of the funnel – which is a particularly interesting place for a group to reside. They are supporters beyond a basic visitor, but who also hold the promise and potential of becoming donors. In a lot of ways, this is a make-or-break group to engage! They could go either way – and often (in fact, more often than we admit) their decision to renew or not to renew is based upon our own strategies for membership retention and how successfully we engage with this key audience.

 

3) Not all social media followers are equal

In fact, social media inequality is a best practice among successful organizations.  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” or opportunity for social care the same way means purposefully sabotaging your ability to achieve organizational goals through social media.

Social care (or social CRM, which is responding to inquiries and taking steps toward active community management) is one of the most important and overlooked aspects of social media communications and brand engagement – and it is increasingly expected by your audiences. It’s a good idea to prioritize social care across the board, but active engagement may be particularly important when it comes to keeping stakeholders like members and donors satisfied online.

 

4) Those likely to be members (of cultural organizations) profile as being particularly connected to the web

High-propensity visitors (HPVs, as we perhaps unfortunately refer to them at IMPACTS) are folks who display the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood to visit a visitor-serving organization (museum, aquarium, zoo, historic site, symphony, theater, botanic garden, science center, etc.) These are the people who profile as likely to visit your organization – and also to become members. We have some fun facts about HPVs, but perhaps one of the most critical of all is this: High propensity visitors (and thus likely members) are 2.5x more likely than the composite market to profile as “super-connected.” This means that they have access to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile device.

No matter how you cut it, your members are a connected bunch (Even more so than the composite market, which also places a great deal of value in digital communications.) Ignore this unassailable fact at your own peril.

 

5) The desired membership product is changing

I saved the most important thought for last. Data suggest that (aside from the free admission perk) the desired membership product may be changing from the more “attraction-oriented” benefits of the past (access to member-only events, other discounts), to more “mission-oriented” benefits (a feeling of belonging, supporting the organization). This is especially pronounced among Millennials – or members of Generation Y. (You can find more information on this in my slides from the webinar)

If your membership is struggling among younger audiences, it may be because you (a) don’t offer the desired membership product; or (b) you offer it, but continue to be communicating it in an incongruent “sales-y” way. In sum, know what matters to your potential constituents – and make sure you are not only offering a membership product based upon the correct motivating benefits, but that you are communicating them in befitting manner.

To the folks thinking, “Nope. Nope. Nope. Millennials don’t want to become members.” I say, “Data suggests that you’re wrong. And your defensive way of thinking indicates that you may be ineffectively communicating the motivating benefits of membership.” It’s time organizations get on this. There are young members to be cultivated!

 IMPACTS data - Millennials and Membership

 

6) Make sure social media posts often aim for depth of engagement instead of breadth (because Facebook changes are distracting organizations from doing this)

In the midst of the frenzy associated with Facebook decreasing its organic reach for organization pages, folks seem to be very preoccupied with their ability to utilize content to go “wide” (get a lot of engagement) instead of going “deep” (get the right kind of engagement from the right kind of people).  A healthy social strategy includes both content created to get new folks in the engagement funnel AND strengthen the “passion-connection” that ties an individual to your organization online. (In marketing jargon terms, we call this “strengthening affinity.”) While there are many things that may be done to cultivate members online, making sure that you’re posting the right kind of content is perhaps the most critical.

Next Wednesday (August 27th) I’ll post about immediate opportunities to more deeply engage members that will include ideas from the webinar and some other near-term opportunities to better connect with your digital audiences. If you want to make sure that you don’t miss it, you can subscribe to Know Your Own Bone and receive emails when there are new posts. (Already get these emails? Keep your eyes peeled next Wednesday…and thanks for being a consistent reader! I deeply hope that KYOB provides helpful thought-fuel for you and your organization!)

The web has changed our organizations more than simply “adding a social media arm.” It affects every department within an organization – and because digital engagement strategies are about PEOPLE, it arguably most affects those departments that work directly with audiences. It’s time for organizations to work together to ensure that their digital endeavors are doing more than getting people in the door.  We must also be aware of how digital engagement impacts the experiences that members and higher-level constituents have with our organizations. There’s work to be done!

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on 6 Strategic Reasons For Membership Teams to be Involved with Social Media

Why Talking About The Future of Museums May Be Holding Museums Back

Marketoonist- Risks

What if we took some of the time that we spend patting ourselves on the back for thinking about “the future” and use it to better adapt to the world we are living in right now?

Before I jump in, I need to come clean and admit that I’m not innocent here. I’ve been (proudly) called a futurist for visitor-serving organizations and I even say that, for a living, I help “future-proof” nonprofit organizations. Some of my favorite resources and those that I believe to be the most thoughtful focus on “the future” (like the Center for The Future of Museum’s blog – which is worth checking out for its valuable thought-fuel). But here’s the thing:

While those ideas shared by our industry’s most engaging thought leaders and go-to resources may be “future-facing” (as in, they are sure to increase in relevance in the future) they are not actually about the future. Yes, it is a matter of language that is confusing things. Using the word “future” when we are talking about the “present” may be harmful to organizations because of what the word “future” means. Many resources focusing on “the future” are actually communicating about emerging trends that are happening right now…and when we call them “the future” we do our organizations a grave disservice.

Here’s why:

1) Things that get characterized as “the future” within the museum industry generally are not about the future at all

Check this out: Embracing millennials, mastering community management on social media, opening authority, heightening engagement with onsite technologies, breaking down ivory towers with shifts from prescription to participation, engaging more diverse audiences, utilizing mobile platforms, understanding the role of “digital,” breaking down organizational silos…These are things that we frequently discuss as if they are part of the future. But they aren’t. In fact, if your organization hasn’t already had deep discussions about these issues and begun evolving and deploying new strategies at this point, then you may arguably be too late in responding to forces challenging our sector today.

 

2) Calling it “the future” excuses putting off issues which are actually immediate needs for organizational survival

What if we called these things “The Right Now?” Would it be easier to get leadership to allocate resources to social media endeavors or deploy creative ways to grow stakeholder affinity by highlighting participation and personalization?  Are we excusing the poor transition from planning to action by deferring most investments to “The Future?”

Basically, we’ve created a beat-around-the-bush way of talking about hard things that separates successful and unsuccessful organizations. For many less successful organizations struggling to find their footing in our rapidly evolving times, their go-to euphemistic solution for “immediate and difficult” seems to be “worth thinking about in the future.” When we call it “the future,” we excuse ourselves from thinking about these issues right now (which is exactly when we should be considering if not fully deploying them).

Contrast this deferment strategy with those of more successful organizations who invariably and reliably “beat the market to the spot.”  It isn’t pure chance and serendipity that underpins successful engagement strategies – these are the product of ample foresight, planning, investment and action…all of it done many yesterdays ago!

 

3) The future implies uncertainty but trend data is not uncertain

Moreover, common wisdom supports that “the future” is uncertain.  “We cannot tell the future.” Admittedly, some sources that aim to talk about the future truly attempt to open folks’ brains to a distant time period. However, much of what is shared by those we call “futurists” is not necessarily uncertain. In fact (and especially when it comes to trends in data), we’re not guessing.  I’ve sat in on a few meetings within organizations in which trends and actual data are taken and then presented as “the future” or within the conversation of “things to discuss in the future.” Wait. What?

Certainly, new opportunities evolve and trends may ebb with shifting market sentiments…but why would an organization choose uncertainty over something that is known right now?

 

4) We may not be paying enough time and attention to right now

I don’t think that referring to “right now trends” as “the future” would be as potentially damaging to organizations if we spent enough time being more strategic and thoughtful about “right now trends” in general.  Many organizations seem to be always playing catch-up with the present.  If organizations are struggling to keep up with the present, how will they ever be adequately prepared for the future?

 

5) Talking about “the future” sometimes provides a false sense of innovation that may simply be vanity

To be certain, we all need “wins” – especially in nonprofit organizations where burnout is frequent and market perceptions are quickly changing. The need for evolution is constant and the want for a moment’s rest may be justified. That said, it seems as though talking about “the future” (which, as we’ve covered, is actually upon us) is often simply providing the opportunity for organizations to pat themselves on the back for “considering” movement instead of actually moving. To have the perceived luxury of being able to think about the future may give some leaders a false sense of security that they aren’t, in fact, constantly trying to keep up with the present.

 

Talking about “the future” seems to mean that you are talking about something that is – yes – perhaps cutting edge, but also uncertain, not urgent, not immediate, and somehow a type of creative brainstorming endeavor. While certainly brainstorming about the actual future may be beneficial (there are some great minds in the museum industry that do this!), it may be wise for organizations to realize that most of what we call “the future” is a too-nice way of reminding organizations that the world is turning as we speak and you may already be a laggard organization.

Think about your favorite museum or nonprofit thinker. My guess is that you consider that person to be a kind of futurist, but really, you may find that they are interesting to you because they are actually a “right-now-ist.” They provide ideas, thoughts, and innovative solutions about challenges that are currently facing your organization.

This is all a long way of saying something incredibly simple, but astoundingly true: The future is now.  Let’s start treating it that way.

 

A quick aside: Speaking of “the future is now,” I’ll be conducting a free webinar with Blackbaud tomorrow (August 14) at 1pm Eastern entitled “Get Strategic: How to Connect With Members in a Digital Age.” You can sign up here!

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 5 Comments

Six Reasons Why Content Is No Longer King (And What Now Holds the Throne)

Know Your Own Bone - Connectivity is King

“Content is king” is confusing people and the reign is over. There’s a different ruler in town that is driving successful organizations: connectivity.

“Content is king,” said Bill Gates famously as the chief executive of Microsoft in 1996.  And for a while, there was little reason to disagree with Mr. Gates’s assessment – so much so that this mantra has been used by marketers the world over.  It makes sense: You need content to inspire folks to act in your organization’s best interest (i.e. become a member, purchase a ticket, make a donation, etc.).  But the reign of content has ended and – while still important – the saying is becoming quickly outdated in today’s increasingly digital world. In fact, the repetition of this saying is causing, cultivating, and excusing misunderstandings among organizations’ staff members. 

Let’s clear the air and work together to update the saying so that it can be more effectively applied to the purpose of inspiring action in today’s world. There’s a new king in town. Today, connectivity is king.

 

1) The concept of content as king is causing some problems

Let’s get one thing straight: Content is not unimportant. Compelling content creates the bridge that often inspires connectivity. However, our misbelief that content remains supreme is causing certain organizational problems that risk growing more deeply-rooted each day. Here are some symptoms of the outdated notion that content remains king that may actually jeopardize an organization’s solvency. Each of these conditions are symptomatic of a content-centric organization that deeply believes that what it outputs is more valuable than its outreach.

 

2) Connectivity is about your organization and its relationship with other people (Content is just about your organization)

The marketing channels about which the “content is king” saying may have originated were one-way communication channels. In other words, they were channels that generally gave your organization a “mouth” (e.g. television, radio, billboards, etc.). However, today’s most effective and efficient marketing channels have mouths and ears. That is, they provide a means of supplying feedback for the organization in addition to being soapboxes (e.g. social media, peer review sites, email, etc.).  Thus, it makes sense that the driving force in cultivating a desired behavior may have evolved to be more about linking up with an individual by way of a shared passion or situation than about an organization itself.

In other words, content is not necessarily about your audience. Cultivating connectivity, however, breeds and helps to strengthen a relationship with your brand and organization. Connectivity happens when an organization presents a passion or platform that resonates with a potential constituent. It’s about both the organization and the potential constituent. It’s the passion/subject/topic/mission/sentiment that bonds (or interests) the constituent to what your organization stands for.

 

3) Connectivity is necessarily relevant (Content can be irrelevant)

Connectivity is definitionally personal in that it is depends on something being of personal interest to an individual.  That  means that connectivity is necessarily relevant. Content, on the other hand, risks self-orientation that may not answer one of the most important questions that communicators should ask themselves from the perspective of potential constituents when they put out content: “So what?”

 

4) Connectivity is prerequisite for action (Content can operate in isolation)

Remember (because I mention it in nearly every post): Your organization can sometimes determine importance, but the market always determines relevance. In other words, you can talk…but unless people are connected to what you’re saying, nobody may be listening. Simply put: Without connectivity, nobody cares about your organization.

Connectivity is a prerequisite to action (e.g. signing a petition, securing a donor, summoning support, selling a ticket). Content, however, can easily operate in isolation if it isn’t thoughtful and/or doesn’t inspire connectivity.

 

5) Content can be the bridge that provides a pathway for connectivity (but if connectivity is not present then your content is pointless)

This is where connectivity emerges as the true “king” in today’s environment. Certainly, content is critical. Arguably, there could be no connectivity without content. However (and this is where folks are getting confused), there can be a great deal of content without connectivity.  Not all content is connective.

Connectivity that’s created through a shared interest in a topic, idea, mission, purpose, or sentiment aligned with your organization’s brand and values is powerful.  Otherwise, your content will likely fall on deaf ears…and certainly not inspire engagement and supportive behaviors

 

6) Connectivity is about your whole organization and its mission (Content is viewed as marketing jargon)

Because “content” tends to fall under the conceptual categorization of one-way communication, the idea of “creating content” often falls to the marketing or public relations department. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But what IS a bad thing is when people “not my job” content creation. Today, communication and content creation is an every-department job.  Worse yet, the problem of silo-ing the important work of creating connectivity is often exacerbated within organizations due to some staff members’ ridiculous associations with the word “digital.”

 

Connectivity can be sparked when the content being communicated communicated is deeply-rooted within your organization and mission. It may seem strange to some leaders, but the ins and outs of your day and your passions matter to your audiences. Often, to audiences, the transparent, unvarnished insights of how and why you do what you do in pursuit of your mission is every bit as important as what you are doing.

There’s a reason why marketing messages increasingly perform poorly in terms of engagement: People want to know what’s really going on…not simply receive your sales pitch (which, frequently, is the charge of the marketing department).  The most connective content often comes from other departments who represent the core of what you do. The marketing team’s best role is strategically making the balance of your organization’s content accessible (i.e. inspiring connections).

 

Let’s stop aiming “to content” and instead aim to connect.

If you supply content, they will come? Nope. Not necessarily.

If you supply connectivity, they will come? It’s much more likely.

At our best, our organizations do more than provide education…even more than provide memorable experiences in the case of visitor-serving organizations.  We provide and facilitate meaningful interaction – connectivity.  By connecting people to people, people to places, and people to ideas, we transcend mere content and provide pathways to engagement.  People – not artifacts – change the world.

Content isn’t dead, but connectivity assuredly is king. 

Long live the king.

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 4 Comments

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 engagement and engagement 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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 8 Comments