Audience Insights: Organizations Overlook the Most Important Clues

Clues for increased satisfaction and visitation are often right under the noses of cultural organizations. I frequently hear executive leaders Read more

Do Expansions Increase Long-Term Attendance? (DATA)

Sometimes it feels like nearly every cultural organization is taking on a major expansion project. But do these projects Read more

Over 60% of Recent Visitors Attended Cultural Organizations As Children (DATA)

You may have guessed it was true – but here’s why this statistic matters. The idea that those who visit Read more

Cultural Organizations: It Is Time To Get Real About Failures

Hey cultural organizations! Do you know what we don’t do often enough? Talk about our failures. It’s a huge, Read more

How Annual Timeframes Hurt Cultural Organizations

Some cultural executives still aim for short-term attendance spikes at the expense of long-term financial solvency – and they Read more

Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

Special exhibits don’t do what many cultural organizations think that they do. If fact, they often do the opposite. Read more

Millennials

Five Things I Have Learned As A Millennial Working With Baby Boomers

Dilbert mobile

I am a millennial and I work almost exclusively with baby boomers. My responsibilities require collaboration with many CEOs and CMOs – high-achieving folks who, as you may imagine, are overwhelmingly high-expectation, climbed-the-ladder Baby Boomers with a well-developed sense of workplace professionalism and appropriateness.

Members of Generation Y operate very differently than baby boomers. Basically, the worlds in which both demographics grew up are vastly different. While boomers generally evidence terrific loyalty to their employers, millennials tend to switch jobs frequently. While paycheck size is a significant (and understandable) professional motivator for many boomers, generation Y has different workplace motivations. Perhaps most notable of all, millennials are the first generation of digital natives – and real-time transparency, connectivity, and technical advances have fundamentally altered how generation Y relates to brands, their employers, and even each other. Because of these differences, there is no shortage of articles, memes, and silly videos that touch upon the frustrating differences that occasionally make it difficult for millennials and boomers to get along in the workplace.

While conceding a bit of a struggle at first, I’ve picked up some incredibly valuable lessons as a millennial whose professional success depends upon straddling both the “digital native” (and often perceptually entitled) world of generation Y and the hierarchical (and often perceptually outdated) world of baby boomers.  Here are my five most valuable lessons that I’ve learned as a millennial “change agent” at work in the land of Baby Boomers:

 

1) The more things change, the more they stay the same

(Baby Boomer lessons are always relevant)

This may sound stupid at first. Of course baby boomers have valuable words of wisdom thanks to years (more than us, to be sure!) of workplace experience – but I mean this on a deeper level. A big part of the disconnect between millennials and baby boomers seems borne of the fact that millennials are generally boomers’ children. Due to age dynamics alone, there seems to exist a perception that either generation – whichever one you are NOT in – is out of touch with reality and/or somehow less informed.

Over client dinners, hard conversations about organizational change, and informal chats with executive leaders, I have learned to deeply understand that lessons relayed from baby boomers about their careers and even personal lives are always (always, always) relevant. In fact, they are gold and generally must be married to any “New Age” ideas in order to achieve success. Maybe this is the millennial in me (we value mentors), but if you listen to the underlying message and focus less on matters of style, you will be hard-pressed not to find a lesson or takeaway that doesn’t apply to your profession today.

An example: I’m not saying that print media is making a comeback anytime soon (a point that is still difficult to communicate during an allocation of resources conversation), but the want to be represented on credible, trusted media outlets (as print has been traditionally perceived due to its diligent review processes) is still a relevant communications objective.  In today’s Digital Age, the market places similar trust in peer review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp.  The medium may change, but the strategy remains the same: The market places great value in testimony from trusted resources.

Instead of rolling my eyes (in my head, of course!) and thinking, “Does this person really think that an article in this print-only magazine is going to be a game-changer for the organization?” I now understand the takeaway is that the organization would benefit from a visible, credible endorsement…regardless of the communication channel. And, in turn, part of my responsibility to the organization is to demonstrate the efficacy of other platforms – web, social media, peer reviews, etc. – to achieve the organization’s objectives.

 

2) A little respect goes a long way

(How you say something can be more important than what you say)

I am guilty of misunderstanding this. In fact, I am so guilty of acting upon some of the more cliché characteristics of my generation that this “lesson” is one that I’m still working to perfect (even having experienced the benefits when I get it right)! My generation often walks right up to the CEO when there’s something that we’d like to communicate – and I observe this happening with millennials in nearly every organization with which I work. This “ambush” reliably seems to stun the CEO who has lived his/her professional life honoring a very specific hierarchy.

Sample size of one here, but I don’t think that we do this at all to be disrespectful. On the contrary, this seems to happen when we are trying to express a concern or truly want to be helpful. Millennials get mocked a bit because on our youth soccer teams, everyone got the MVP trophy. We are all “friends” with bosses and parents on Facebook. We operate in horizontal – not vertical – structures…and we have been raised to believe that our viewpoints matter equally.

Here’s the lesson: It’s not always what you say to the CEO, but how and when you say it that is most important. Our millennial viewpoints don’t always matter to executive leaders. Actually, this is true in life: not everyone’s viewpoints are always the most important viewpoints to anyone other than the person talking. But, if I do have something to say, I find that it has an infinitely better chance of being heard if I abide by the established workplace protocol. Bursting into the CEO’s office and word vomiting generally doesn’t do justice to the passions of our thoughts. As a millennial, it is to my net benefit to respect the way that baby boomers function.  Abiding by a protocol is not compromising the integrity of our ideas – it is a smart tactic to ensure that our ideas gain the maximum traction in the eyes of leadership.  When it comes to the respect that millennials crave, well, you get what you give.

 

3) Education is important to boomers

(Even if the market is over-saturated with advanced degrees)

I could write a whole blog post about how interesting this is to me, and I write this as someone with some level of academic pedigree. Certainly, an educated millennial seems more likely to be respected by a baby boomer than a millennial with less educational experience. However, I have experienced this preference in several over-the-top, ridiculous circumstances.

Millennials are over-educated. The market is extremely over-saturated with advanced degrees, and MBAs in particular are a dime-a-dozen insofar as this achievement is increasingly common and may not be at all indicative of one’s professional capabilities. That said, I observe many baby boomers holding millennials to very high educational standards. This lesson is more of an understanding than anything else: advanced degrees matter to this generation (which may be why the children of this generation have so dang many of them). It’s difficult: Though those with professional degrees do generally earn more, data suggest that many advanced degrees are not worth their price tag. However, though it is likely that you won’t make your money back, many baby boomers really value this “checkmark.” The rationale behind this perhaps over-valuation is simple: Boomers  find a level of assurance in academic pedigree, and often rely on one’s academic credentials to defend their trust in your work or counsel.  (“They have a Super-Impressive-Sounding advanced degree from Fill-in-the-Blank-Good-School University, so surely they’re qualified!”)

If you have this card, play it…but also realize that this “card” may matter less to future generations – especially if/when “degree inflation” experiences its inevitable correction.

 

4) Achieving organizational change is MUCH harder than you think

(Watching Boomers adjust is more helpful than watching Gen Y)

Here’s why: Millennials have a reputation for being fast-paced, preferring nontraditional workplace structures, and being connected, entrepreneurial, and nimble. I’m not saying that it’s easy for us to manage change but – let’s be honest – we’ve been in the workplace for relatively little time, so altering our professional foundations may not be quite as big of a deal as someone with decades of experience. Changing a long established, diverse culture is something very different than building a startup of like-minded millennials. When it comes to leadership skill sets, I have learned that a builder builds. A change-maker, however, must rescue everyone from a burning building, let the whole thing burn down, and then rebuild the whole thing. (Yes, I love bad metaphors.)

I’m not saying that a baby boomer CEO of an established organization is innately more…anything…than a millennial CEO of a startup. What I am saying is that the leadership challenges that these positions face are very different…and I fear that my millennial colleagues and I often approach them as if they are the same.

By far and away the most valuable and informative professional (and even personal) learning moments that I have encountered involve observing baby boomers in leadership roles during times of tremendous change. Very many are moving – and they are doing it thoughtfully. For how much I hear my generation gripe about how “slow moving” and “unwilling to adapt to change” older generations may be, I challenge anyone to observe a baby boomer with decades of wisdom leading his or her entire organization into a new era to NOT truly admit, “Okay…Geez, this is rough.” (And then – in that form of admiration that we have reserved only for such leaders as Master Splinter or Mr. Miyagi – “I hope that one day I will be able to do this…”)

Thankfully, every time in my career that I’ve grown frustrated and thought, “Why is this change so hard?!” I’ve had the opportunity to observe a boomer gnawing away at details, serving as a charismatic leader, and just downright making it happen step-by-step and piece-by-piece.

 

5) We are much more the same than we are different.

It frequently occurs to me – especially when I am frustrated by a seeming hesitance to adapt to new ways of thinking – that we millennials may be faced with these same challenges down the road. Right now they feel so distant and incomprehensible. “The world turns and I know that.” I hope that 30 or 40 years down the road, we still know that – and that we embrace a new generation of leaders. By then, we, too, may be similarly at our wits’ end by the young whippersnappers infiltrating the workforce that we’ve dominated for the last half a century with new methods of communication and different motivations.

Mostly, I’ve learned this: Yield. Do I think we’re a special generation? Kind of, yes. (Really – what kind of millennial would I be if I said otherwise?!) But what I’ve learned most is that boomers are, too. (Yes, those same symbolic leaders of print media and ceremonial hierarchy.)  I don’t intend to preach, to lecture, or to appease. I simply intend to share my own lessons as a member of that first generation of digital natives that has (in this current moment)  shaken up how we do business, how we create change, and how we pursue dreams.

I’m proud to be a member of generation Y (most of the time), but I’m proud and grateful – and even downright lucky – to be able to work so closely with so many inspiring baby boomer leaders that serve as the lighthouses for millennials. My ships (our ships?) would be directionless without them.

…Did I mention that I have a thing for bad metaphors?

Is this a childhood legend or a boomer leading a nonprofit toward organizational change? I cannot tell anymore (but maybe if I get to be Leonardo, then I don't mind).

Is this a childhood legend or a boomer leading a nonprofit toward organizational change? I cannot tell anymore (but maybe if I get to be Leonardo, then I don’t mind the confusion).

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 Millennials, Sector Evolution, Trends 8 Comments

The Relevance Test: Three Key Concepts to Future-Proof Nonprofit Organizations

Ivory tower

Ivory towers are proving fragile.

Many visitor-serving organizations benefit from “outside-in” thinking and have ceased depending solely on experiential intuition and other “inside-out” ways of thinking that have previously – and perhaps alarmingly – allowed a kind of Ivory Tower mentality to infiltrate many museums.

The dawning of the Age of the Internet has brought about many necessary changes in the way that people think and behave, and, thus, what people have come to expect from the organizations that they support. Digital, real-time tools now allow for transparency, the ability to communicate ongoing impact, and the ability to personally connect with organizations 24/7. Indeed, the market now expects – demands, really – transparent insights from organizations.

These changes shape the way that we interact and connect within our communities, create meaningful experiences, manage new demands for open authority, and inform our overall expectations of visitor-serving organizations.

While recognizing the progress that has been made, here are three new conflicting perceptions that visitor-serving organizations must internally resolve in order to remain relevant in our ever-evolving era:

 

 1. Prescription vs. Participation

What does your organization offer? Stale, outdated organizations offer a form of prescription. Today, however, if your organization believes that it is offering a form of treatment (i.e. to “teach” something, or to get people to believe something), then your organization is prescribing its experiences to folks who haven’t asked for a diagnosis. In short, if you haven’t first proven your relevance to people (let alone your unique relevance) then it’s hard to be relevant.

Offering participation and exploration encourages visitors to be active and uncover their own “truths”…for themselves. Thanks in large part to the amount of information available on the web, people expect to explore and make decisions for themselves. This is a big reason why open authority (basically, organizations finding ways to “open” their authority to the public) is increasingly important for visitor-serving organizations – and all other organizations for that matter.

This may trace back to the mission statements of visitor-serving organizations. Organizations aiming to “inspire” or “cultivate” may manifest themselves more dynamically than organizations aiming to “educate,” “demonstrate,” or “present” (exhibits, for instance). The former examples empower visitors; the latter examples remove this power. Many of our nation’s most prominent visitor-serving organizations’ mission statements are still self-oriented (and innately less relevant and impactful) rather than people or community-oriented. This may deeply affect how your organization functions…and, more critically, how your constituencies relate to your organization.

 

2. Tuition vs. Admission

Why are visitors paying to visit you? Most organizations call it “admission” – but is that how your organization internally considers the transaction?

When it comes to the overall satisfaction of a visitor’s experience, entertainment plays a leading role, and education is often used as a secondary or post-visit justification for visitation. Organizations that prioritize providing an educational experience may benefit by ensuring that it does not come at the cost of an entertaining experience.

Believing conceptually that your organization offers a form of “two-hour tuition” also demonstrates a misinformed viewpoint as to what makes a visit meaningful to your audiences. Namely, data demonstrate that who you are with and the memories folks make are more important that what they see at a visitor-serving organization. If you think that the thing that truly matters is the nuance of your unique collection of Monets, then you’re missing a bigger, data-supported benefit of what you offer your visitors: memories, experiences and opportunities for personal interaction.

 

 3. Institution vs. Community

What do you work to strengthen? Imagine how it would affect internal perceptions of your organization if you replaced every mention of the “institution” with the word “community.” Board members would sit at meetings and question, “How does this support our community?” and “What do we need to do to help our community prosper and grow?”

Because the market is the actual arbiter of your organization’s success (And, yes, I have been reminding you of that in nearly every single post), you need your followers infinitely more than they need you. Though it’s difficult to remember at times, your visitors could survive without your organization (though, yes, the world would be a little more drab and your mission more underserved)…but you cannot survive without your stakeholders. You need donors, visitors, supporters, evangelists…if you’re not cultivating them, then you aren’t serving your institution at all.

Ignore your community (both onsite locally and the potential national communities that you may serve digitally), and you risk ignoring the lifeblood of your institution. In other words: If you misunderstand or underestimate the deep connection between your institution and the socially-motivated community that you’re cultivating, then you risk rapid irrelevance.

 

Visitor-serving and other types of organizations must evolve – but this need for change extends beyond the obvious technology-enabled issues related to digital engagement. Perhaps the most important ways that organizations are evolving are more fundamental, more systemically pervasive than tactical: Ivory towers are proving fragile.  Instead of protecting and insulating an organization, they imperil and isolate its advancement.  Our opportunity comes not from on high (read: “in the tower”). It is born on the frontlines and lives at eye-level.  The organizations that thrive will connect and merge with the outside world.  “Inside-out” is yesterday.  “Outside-in” is tomorrow.  You choose where you want to be.

 

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, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 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!)

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, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

How to Utilize Social Media to Actually Cultivate Donors (And Why You Need To Do It Right Now)

marketoonist community management

This article is part of 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. 

Conversations involving social media with many fundraisers often result in eye-rolling and a terse, “That’s not my job!” as those tasked with securing an organization’s contributed revenues deflect responsibility to the marketing/PR team. Here’s the thing though: Online engagement has evolved to the point where it is nearly impossible to optimize fundraising efforts and maximize donor retention without utilizing digital communications – and that includes social media.

All signs (consumer motivation data and social media behavioral trends) are pointing toward the need for organizations to look beyond “vanity metrics” like fan and follower count and focus on the quality and strength of varied relationships formed on social media platforms – particularly ones that drive the gate (if you’re a visitor-serving organization) or cultivate monetary support. Simply put: A fundamental shift is occurring in terms of how successful organizations view online fundraising and donor cultivation.

Here are three critical items for organizations to come to terms with that affect how your organization may optimize social media and online donor cultivation:

 

1) Once and for all: Realize that the quality of your fans and your ability to activate them in your interest is significantly more important than the quantity of your fans

Would you rather have 100,000 Facebook fans or 1,000 active donors and supporters? Chances are that your organization is hoping to utilize social media to get something done rather than utilizing social media for social media’s sake. It’s time that we call vanity metrics exactly what they are and break through the noise of social media metrics that misleadingly influences too many organizations. In many situations, it’s an organization’s very desire to utilize social media metrics and data that lead strategy execution astray. Let’s start actually thinking about what these metrics mean.

The problem with metrics like fan and follower count is that they actually mean very little for your organization – especially if the increased reach is falling on ambivalent ears. What matters is not how many people ‘like’ you online but who you are able to activate through engagement online.

The days of “one size fits all” outbound social media communications are officially over. Your organization’s fans and followers are not all of equal value to your nonprofit’s relevance and long-term solvency – and treating every “like” the same way means purposely sabotaging your ability to achieve organizational goals through social media. (1) Members/donors, (2) Influencers, and (3) Evangelists are three categories of fans that have particular payoff to your nonprofit. Intelligent, strategic organizations benefit by creating content that stimulates these particular stakeholders.

A mission-related post may get less general engagement, but your reputation increasingly has a direct correlation to the level of support your organization secures. Securing a content share from a member (thus allowing for personal promulgation of your brand from someone to whom your mission has meaning) is more important than a content share from somebody who just thinks you posted a pretty picture (but doesn’t feel a connection to your organization). The market is the arbiter of your organization’s success, and knowing what makes your high-value supporters and evangelists (not just your overall target market) tick is critical for building the most helpful community for your organization.

 

2) Make online personalization part of your engagement and donor cultivation strategy

Personalization is one of the biggest and most discussed (and arguably one of the smartest) conversations taking place for all organizations and businesses right now. Case-in-point: I’m honored to be a keynote speaker at MuseumNext, Europe’s conference on innovation in museums, in June of this year and personalization is so increasingly critical to organizational success that it is identified as one of the four, key themes of the whole conference. I think they hit the nail on the head: “Our audiences increasingly expect experiences which are tailored to them. How are museums moving beyond one size fits all to accommodate the different needs of individuals?”

Opportunities for personalization (which increases relevance, garnering attention and aiding in building affinity for brands) are being explored for onsite experiences – but this mindset also must be applied to online engagement. Specifically, potential donors/members, influencers, and evangelists increasingly require personalized communications in order to optimize chances for activation (i.e. behaving in your organization’s interest).

How can you utilize personalization to cultivate donors online? A key to online personalization is actively engaging select audience members instead of being passive – or just waiting for them to tweet you or write on your wall. For starters, know who your stakeholders actually are and how they behave online (this often starts with compiling a list of key stakeholders and their social media platforms). This isn’t rocket science: Make a private Twitter list and pay special attention to your key influencers’ tweets, be active, and wish them a happy birthday (for example)! Other ways to create these individual touch-points is through diligent social care, or “social CRM” (responding to individual comments and questions on social media platforms in a timely and thoughtful fashion) – a community management necessity that is too often overlooked.

“Yikes!” you’re thinking if you’re a leader in your organization, “this is going to require a lot more manpower!” Yes. Yes, it is…but the importance of digital touch-points will not disappear any time soon.

 

3) Most importantly: Stop treating online donor cultivation as a separate beast and understand that it is a cornerstone of a broader cultivation and retention strategy

I often get the feeling that executive leaders somehow believe that supporters who give or may be cultivated online must be aliens who exist only online …or that online donor cultivation may be somehow different than offline donor cultivation. Here’s news that should be refreshing and empowering to organizations that are a bit intimidated by digital platforms: It’s not.

As a reminder: A donor online is still a donor “in real life.” Their money is still money, and their support is still support. They have the same motivations as offline donors, expect the same treatment, and expect the same personalization and attention as those who choose to give via a different method. Simply put, they are human.

Cultivation should happen for individual donors both online and offline. Instead of conceptually carrying out varying initiatives online for “online donors” and offline for “offline donors,” organizations should realize that online donor cultivation is not separate but, instead, an integral aspect of a broader cultivation strategy.

In sum, instead of viewing “online giving” and cultivation as a donation conveyance channel, smart organizations are realizing that it is an increasingly important (and expected) component of a broader donor cultivation and retention strategy, and that it – like all other fundraising communication methods – is more about the people than the platform or giving method.

At the end of the day, fundraising and donor engagement initiatives will continue to evolve in the online space – just as more traditional engagement methods evolve. This evolution will necessitate more informed, personalized donor cultivation leveraging real-time platforms.

 

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, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 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 destination.

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

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, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

What Museums Can Learn From Online Dating (Hint: Touch Really Matters) (VIDEO)

*Accessing this post via email and having problems viewing the video? You can watch it here

Is social media hurting the onsite visitor experience? Data suggest that in today’s world, museums need to be masters of both offsite communication (social/earned media) and onsite, face-to-face communication in order to be successful. Increasingly, a museum’s business strategy cannot thrive without one or the other.

Here’s a handy (pun intended) concept that I recently presented for thinking about the relationship that “digital touch” and “physical touch” play in driving museum visitation and maximizing visitor satisfaction.

Westmusings

I was honored to have had the opportunity to take part in the Western Museum Association’s first-ever WestMusings: Ten Minute Museum Talks in October in Salt Lake City.  What Museums Can Learn From Online Dating briefly traces a museum visitor from the visitation decision-making process through a museum visit and demonstrates how “digital touch” and “physical touch” work together to “seal the deal” of getting folks in the door to experience sparks of informal learning.

Here are those slides about reputation up close (what motivates the visitation decision and the diffusion of messaging).

While I spoke about museums in connection to online dating, I had the opportunity to take part in the WestMusings initiative with three, fabulous museos who imparted their own wisdom regarding museums and their connection to similarly creative topics: Scott Stulen of the Walker Art Center spoke about cat videos, James Pepper Henry of the Heard Museum spoke about culture clashes, and Carrie Snow of the Church History Museum spoke about roller derby (in full roller derby attire, no less)! Intrigued? Check out their WestMusings here.

 

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

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

Myth-Busting Museum and Nonprofit Best Practices. Is Your Organization Celebrating its Own Demise? (DATA)

mythbusting

It sounds dramatic, but it’s true: Many organizations still apply “best practices” for short-term wins that data suggest leave them far, far worse off in terms of achieving their long-term goals.

As I’ve recently reported, If I weren’t providing market insight and analysis for museums and nonprofits for a living, I’d want to be a host of the show “Mythbusters.” It occurs to me, however, that in my own profession, I already get to do a whole lot of myth-busting.  And I’ve written a whole bunch of myth-busting posts to boot!

Here’s a myth-busting round-up of my three, favorite situations in which executives and board members most frequently (and cheerfully) celebrate their own decline. Dramatic? I’m channeling my fit-for-TV alter ego.

 

1) The Myth of the Special Exhibition that Permanently Boosts Your Attendance

The hope that visitors to special exhibits will become your regular museum-goers is often where this myth begins (It’s just not true) – but it runs far deeper. Blockbusters are anomalies – NOT a sustainable business plan. Museums that frequently feature these kinds of exhibits find themselves engaged in “death by curation” – a vicious cycle of having to host progressively bigger and more expensive exhibits in order to maintain their level of visitation over time as visitors create connections with transient highlights rather than the museum’s permanent collections. (In my line of work, dependency upon special exhibits is also fittingly called “blockbuster suicide.”)

At best, these special exhibits support an unsustainable, short-term increase in attendance that often leaves executives patting themselves on the back. Next year, when that same executive must pay double for another special exhibit that yields only a portion of the hopeful attendance boon, the executive will usually blame the exhibit instead of considering the short-sightedness of the business strategy.

 

2) The Myth of the Social Media Discount that Helps Your Organization Achieve Its Goals

Offering discounts or giving away your admission for free is generally a bad idea – and it’s an extremely bad idea to do this on social media. Like “death by curation,” offering discounts (even once) via social media channels creates a cycle that is detrimental to your organization’s strategic goals. Specifically, it creates four, huge problems: 1. Once offered and promulgated by your organization, your community comes to expect more discounts. 2. (And perhaps most importantly) your community will wait for discounts. Once so trained by an organization to respond to discounts, the data compellingly indicate that potential visitors will actually defer a full-price visit and, instead, watch your social accounts for a chance to come for less money. 3. The steeper the discount, the less likely the visitor is to come back again. (This is symptomatic of having perceptually devalued your experience to the point that it loses all its hard-earned premium connotations.  In other words, discounts frequently succeed in doing little more than “cheapening” your reputational equities.) 4. Discounts rarely capture new audiences. Instead, they allow folks who would have otherwise paid full-price (that’s moola for your mission!) to come for less money.

 

3) The Myth of Social Media Success Metrics

There are just so many myths here. Here’s some bustin’: Your number of followers on social media channels doesn’t matter because not all social media users are of equal value to your organization.  Thus, smart organizations know better than to rely too heavily on vanity metrics because they are not key performance indicators, but, instead, diagnostic metrics. Website metrics are not immune to these myths as well. For instance, your organization may reasonably aim to get eyes on its website or feet in the door (if you’re a museum). Increasingly, organizations cannot do both.

 

There are loads of busted myths all over Know Your Own Bone – but these three are my very favorite.  I think that is because they are extremely prevalent and seem to be deeply engrained in the way that many executives view success.

Runners-up include the fact that what people see at the museum is less important than who they are with, and entertainment is more important to visitor satisfaction and long-term solvency than education. For nonprofits looking to hire social media positions, here are some counter-intuitive tips: don’t hire for Klout score and absolutely skip someone with long-term, formal schooling in social media…and scratch that “professional writing experience” requirement. Someone too focused on this may not be your best bet for an accessible tone on social media.

In fact, Know Your Own Bone may be an entire blog about data-informed nonprofit and museum myth-busting and future-proofing. Hmmm…I like that. It makes me feel a bit like a superhero defending the honor of visitor serving organizations! Now, back to the action-packed task of dominating PowerPoint slides for this week’s Meetings of Myth Devastation! (Wait…Not cool? Did I lose you? Oh well…It was fun while it lasted.)

 

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

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Myth-Busting Museum and Nonprofit Best Practices. Is Your Organization Celebrating its Own Demise? (DATA)

3 Market Changes That Have Completely Altered the Role of Marketing in Nonprofit Organizations

Word of mouth cartoon

 

Gone are the days of marketing from the inside-out…When the exhibits teams would decide on the new attraction and leave it to the marketing team to get folks in the door. Now, in order to remain relevant and solvent, nonprofit organizations must market from the outside-in.

The increasing importance of the role of technology in our lives has brought about several changes in how the market interacts with organizations, raised the stakes in brand communication (with a new emphasis on accessibility and transparency), and even altered how we maintain our own personal relationships. This era of stakeholder (donor and constituent) empowerment has also changed the way that smart, sustainable organizations operate on the whole…not just how they “market.”

The old, inside-out method of marketing: Nonprofit boards of directors, exhibits teams, program executives or other content gatekeepers decide on the next, big feature or program for an organization – often based solely on “experiential intuition” and supported by little or no market data.  In other words, the “Someone Important – a would-be expert – just decides” method of content development.

Once the decision is made, marketing teams are notified of the content and charged with the task of bringing people in the door to see/experience the content that this important person/committee likes. It’s a self-protecting system for higher-ups and other departments: If people didn’t come, it was the marketing department’s fault.

The new, necessary outside-in method of marketing: Organizations actively listen to their audiences and collect market data to determine what kind of content the organization’s visitors and supporters want. Instead of marketing and PR teams responding to executive committees alone, things are increasingly the other way around: Marketing folks are the experts on your audience and they work with decision-makers to determine which programs will engage the maximum audience (and, in turn, attendant revenues). Instead of being informed of what to “sell,” marketing teams within the most successful organizations that IMPACTS works with (nonprofit and for-profit clients alike) are brought on board in the earliest phases of the content development process to lend voice to the market’s preferences.

Here are three, critical evolutionary changes that serve as key reasons why organizations benefit by “marketing” from the outside-in:

 

1. There is an increased emphasis on product and experience (mostly, because you cannot hide it if people do not like your product or service)

How many times have you looked at your on-staff social media pro and asked urgently, “How can we increase our Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews?!” (Some CEOs even ask me this with the assumption that the answer lies in somehow “mastering” social media sites!) Your social media pro can’t increase your peer review ratings on their own because peer reviews are a result of audience experiences with your product or service. Marketers can frame the experience, provide critical clarification, and manage customer service on public platforms after the event, but you cannot sweet-talk your way out of several already-posted negative peer reviews harping on the same product or service downfall. In today’s world of transparency with the increased importance of word of mouth validation, smart organizations increasingly understand that sometimes maintaining support and affinity is dependent upon listening to audiences and then changing the product.

Increasingly, organizations are finding that they should not just have special exhibits – they should aim to have special exhibits and permanent collections that people want. (I’ll put extra emphasis on permanent collections because we can trace “Blockbuster Suicide”  to many of the financial perils currently faced by many museums).

 

2. Welcome to the age of the empowered constituent/supporter (and the increased need for audience interaction and participation)

Thanks in large part to the real-time nature of social media and digital platforms, today’s audiences are armed with vast amounts of real-time information. So much information, in fact, that audiences prefer to make decisions on their own or with the help of peer review sources (the value of which is on the rise). Indeed, if your organization isn’t particularly attune to the market (or chooses to selectively ignore potentially negative feedback as “anomalistic”), then there is an excellent chance that your audience may have more “visitor intelligence” than you do.

The role of the curator is evolving, and people now prefer to experience and interact rather than to be told what to do/think. We are seeing an increase in audience participation and crowdsourced exhibits. With these trends possibly re-defining the staid reputation of museums and other visitor-serving organizations, the “come to this because I told you so” method of thinking about marketing doesn’t work as well. It’s an outdated, inside-out approach to cultivating visitors. Today, organizations build stronger affinity when they articulate the value for the visitor (i.e. “What’s in it for the audience?”) rather than messages wherein the only apparent “gain” is the admission revenue (i.e. “What’s in it for the organization?”).  And, really, the “Because I say it will make you smarter” rationale doesn’t cut it as a major component of the value proposition.

Simply put, in order to articulate value to your visitor, you have to know your visitor now more than ever before.

 

3. Nonprofits sometimes determine importance, but the market always determines relevance (and organizations that misunderstand this now experience expedited financial strife)

I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth repeating: As highly-credible topic-experts and trusted authorities, nonprofits often are able to declare “importance.” However, if the market isn’t interested in your area of expertise or does not find it salient in their lives, they may deem your “importance” to be irrelevant. All too often, nonprofits generally misunderstand the role of the public as the ultimate arbiters of an organization’s relevance…and how much they need supporters and diversified revenue streams simply to stay afloat.

When we forget this, we get caught up and sidetracked by things like Judith Dobrzynski’s recent “High Culture Goes Hands-On” article in the New York Times. We forget that at the end of the day, we need to attract attendees, members, donors, and supporters…and that a museum that is closed cannot serve its social mission.

Due to the speedy share rate of vast amounts of information, we now live in a time when irrelevant messages are easily drowned out by other priorities – and even more-relevant “noise!” This may possibly expedite financial woe for organizations unwilling to consider the wants and needs of their audiences.

We must keep up or get left behind. We must evolve (like every other being, entity, or industry that has ever existed) or risk extinction. Increasingly, a big part of our evolution is discontinuing old habits of marketing from the inside-out, and instead keeping tabs on the market so that we may contemplate the best ways to operate from the outside-in.

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 5 Comments

Entertainment vs Education: How Your Audience Really Rates The Museum Experience (DATA)

museum experience flickr

When considering the overall satisfaction of visitor-serving organization (VSO) attendees, data indicate that not all aspects of the experience are created equally. In fact, the individual components that collectively comprise a visitor’s onsite experience may run counter to many VSO’s differentiation and engagement strategies. In terms of maximizing visitor satisfaction, VSOs may not truly understand “where their bread is buttered,” and this misunderstanding may result in serious financial repercussions.

IMPACTS gathers data to inform the development of key performance indicators concerning 224 visitor-serving organizations (zoos, aquariums, museums, theaters, symphonies, etc.). One of the key performance indicators that we regularly quantify for specific organizations is “overall satisfaction.”  Overall satisfaction is a composite metric (i.e. a metric informed by a multiplicity of data inputs yielding a single output) that contemplates 10 source evaluation criteria (e.g. employee courtesy, admission value, retail, etc.)

In developing the overall satisfaction metric, IMPACTS doesn’t weight each evaluation criteria equally because the market isn’t influenced by each criterion equally. As indicated in the table below, the market determines the “weight” of individual criteria based on each criterion’s relative contribution to the visitor’s perception of overall satisfaction.  (The formula to calculate the respective weight of any individual criteria contemplates such factors as frequency of mention and strength of conviction.  The overall satisfaction metric updates in “near real-time” based on the most contemporarily available data so as to accurately reflect seasonal influences on the visitor experience.)  Perhaps most interestingly, in my observation, the weight of any single evaluation criteria tends to vary very little between organizations.  In other words, please don’t make the mistake of assuming that your organization is somehow indemnified from the implications of this data because you’re a symphony…or an aquarium…or a museum.  The data simply doesn’t support any notion of “exemptions” for certain types of VSOs.

IMPACTS Overall satisfaction by weighted criteria

These weighted values may be used to inform resource allocations to maximize overall satisfaction (which data indicate are critical for securing positive word of mouth, repeat visitation, etc.). The values may also inform marketing strategies for museums so that they may best communicate the educational experiences that they…oh, wait…

Well, this is awkward.

 

1. Museums may overvalue educational assets as a differentiating factor positively contributing to visitor experience.

Unfortunately for many museums’ social missions, visitors indicate that the quality of an organization’s “educational experience” matters relatively little to overall satisfaction. Many of you may have – at some point or another – heard of/been involved with a museum leadership team that is convinced that it cannot fail because of the number of academic minds at the helm that are working to further the museum’s superstar educational opportunities. Regardless of the organization, I’ll bet that they are either strapped for cash and/or rely disproportionately on public funding or grant and contributed income – which means that in the world of “Museum Darwinism” (or heck, according to the plain old rules of economics), these museums may be at financial risk.

Data suggest that museums may not be looking in the mirror clearly when it comes to understanding the value of their educational assets. Will you be a successful organization (in terms of market relevance and long-term solvency) if your greatest experiential asset is your mastery of first-rate, dissertation-worthy, you-get-a-master’s-degree-equivalent-in-a-visit content? Sadly, no. The market is the ultimate arbiter of your organization’s success, and the data suggest that even the most educational VSO risks relevance if the experience isn’t entertaining…

Oy. I said the other “E”-word…

 

2. Deny being an entertaining entity at your own risk.

As nonprofit organizations with valuable social missions, we can get rather feisty when someone compares our entity to Disneyland…and museums aren’t Disneyland for all of the important reasons that drawing that comparison probably makes nonprofit stakeholders squirm. That said, the market attributes a higher value to “entertainment experience” than any other criteria – even the overall satisfaction summary (“sum of its parts”) metric!

Organizations that try too hard to promote education at the expense of providing an entertaining experience are truly missing the mark. Remember: your organization only has the opportunity to communicate what is important after the market dubs you relevant. If nobody wants to visit, then nobody is going to participate in the educational experience that you are trying so hard to perfect.

 

3. Education and entertainment are not mutually exclusive. Aim to be BOTH but understand how each aspect individually contributes to your reputational and experiential equities and strategize accordingly.

Knowledge is power, right? If you didn’t know it (or at least suspect it) already, you do now: the market at-large cares comparatively little about the super-specialness that is your educational experience. And that’s sad for museum leaders…but the weighted value of “entertainment experience” isn’t necessarily bad for museum leaders. The knowledge of this data may make VSOs more prepared to serve both functions effectively or, better yet, make educational experiences more entertaining.

The trick may be to understand the role that each of these aspects plays within the market – and what that means for your organization. On one hand, many VSOs are nonprofit organizations with a mission to educate and some research has shown that seeking an educational experience may justify a visit for some. However, the market considers “educational experience” a relatively small piece of the overall satisfaction puzzle when visitors actually have their onsite experience.

Considered collectively, I think that it may prove worthy to further parse the differences between motivation and justification.  I observe a compelling abundance of data that suggest that entertainment is the primary motivation for a visitor experience, whereas education is often cited post-visit as a justification for having visited.  In other words, all being equal, the public will often choose an experience with an educational component over “pure entertainment” – provided, of course, that all is actually equal!  Education will not compensate for a deficiency of entertainment.

Henry David Thoreau (a personal favorite who receives a hat tip for my blog title, Know Your Own Bone) advised, “When a dog runs at you, whistle for him.” The power of this data comes in embracing the findings rather than trying harder to deny them.  Let’s strive to be the most entertaining educational entities possible.

After all, who decided that “entertainment” was the enemy of “education” anyway?

 

*Photo (and cute kid) credit belongs to Flickr user Jon van Allen

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, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution 11 Comments

A Cure For Point of Reference Sensitivity: Why Visitor Satisfaction For Your Nonprofit Is Lower Than It Could Be

opinion_of_our_productIMPACTS data indicate that visitors to zoos, aquariums and museums (and other visitor-serving organizations such as historical sites, theaters, symphonies, etc.) who have never previously visited any other like organization rate their experiences 18.1% higher in terms of overall satisfaction and 14.8% higher in terms of value for cost of admission than visitors who had previously visited any other zoo, aquarium, museum, etc. Further, as the number and frequency of one’s visits increases, a visitor’s level of satisfaction and perceived cost for value of admission tends to decrease.

This is just fine if your art museum (for instance) is the first art museum that your every guest has ever visited, but it has a host of potential repercussions on your organization’s bottom line (like tackling a social mission and achieving long-term financial sustainability) if you’re the second art museum someone visits. Or third, or fourth, or fifth….

This phenomenon is known as “Point of Reference Sensitivity” and suggests that the market’s expectations are being constantly reframed by recent experiences. In short, as the market gains familiarity with an experience, it becomes increasingly harder to “impress” the market.

So, what can be done to minimize the deleterious effects of Point of Reference Sensitivity? [I will henceforth refer to Point of Reference Sensitivity as “PoRS” because a) that’s just the kind of relationship that we’ve developed and b) it sounds a bit like a disease, which may be appropriate.] PoRS is an important consideration for visitor-serving organizations with regard to key performance indicators, and not even the very best visitor-serving organizations in the world are immune to its negative effects. The commonality of PoRS, however, does not mean that it is unimportant to your own organization’s reputational performance. Just because many other organizations suffer from PoRS doesn’t “even the playing field.” The market – not other organizations – are the ultimate arbiters of your organization’s success…and data suggest that despite your best efforts (great exhibits, well-trained staff, thoughtful access programs), you are still likely to experience a decline in satisfaction over time from a sizable portion of your audience simply because folks visited other organizations before they walked in your door.

The good news is that strategic prioritization and effective PR/communications practices may provide both prophylaxis and remedy against even the most stubborn case of PoRS.

What causes PoRS in visitors?

Qualitative research related to these findings suggest that PoRS may be due, in part, to a “been there, done that” mentality that tends to accompany repeat visitation to “like” organizations. The research suggests that this sentiment stems from a perceptual belief that “like” organizations (think of one zoo compared to another zoo, or one art museum compared to another art museum) share an elemental “sameness” that challenges the market’s ability to differentiate the unique attributes of individual organizations. Further exacerbating PoRS is the premium that we tend to psychologically ascribe to “firsts” – first love, first car, first baseball game, first kiss. When someone first visits a zoo, it may be the first time that they have ever seen live animals up close, but upon visiting a second zoo, there is a loss of “newness of experience.” There may be other factors that contribute to PoRS: Perhaps the first zoo visited is in an individual’s hometown and is a point of civic pride. Perhaps the newness of the experience is matched with a memory of sharing the experience with a favorite friend or family member, thus creating a unique, personal remembrance that is difficult to duplicate and impossible to top.

How is PoRS hurting your organization?

Reputation is a leading driver of visitation, and reviews from trusted resources (such as word of mouth recommendations from friends, peer review sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor, and even social media) are the strongest contributing factors to building your reputation (12.85x greater than any paid advertising channel). Aside from the more obvious impacts of lower guest satisfaction metrics and potential declines in the likelihood of repeat visitation, PoRS may also affect your organization’s word of mouth value. This may result in securing fewer visitors, fewer opportunities to cultivate donors with affinity for your organization, and fewer evangelists to amplify and promulgate your organization’s mission.

How can your organization overcome PoRS?

Data based on visitor feedback suggest that the solution may be very simple in theory: Be more unique. One way to do this is to utilize social media and other communication resources to underscore what differentiates your organization as a unique experience. Focusing more on your mission – as opposed to your existence as a “destination” – may help. An emphasis on mission-related content may allow your organization to increase its relevance beyond being a visitor-serving destination on real-time, online platforms by more actively defining the public perception of your museum. If your organization can cultivate a reputation as “more than just a visitor-serving organization” prior to a guest’s arrival, then your organization may also improve its satisfaction-related metrics.

It seems that our mothers were onto something – “You’re judged by the company that you keep.” PoRS is particularly insidious amongst the perceptual middle ranks of visitor-serving organizations – those places that are so “destination-focused” in their communications that they end up positioning themselves as “just another museum” (or zoo, or aquarium, or botanical garden, etc.) The overcome may be in elevating your organization from the sameness of a sector by differentiating not only your experience, but by the means by which you achieve your mission (the impacts that you have and the differences that you make).

As stakeholders for visitor-serving organizations, we tend to believe that the entities that we serve (or support, or visit) are unique and superlative.  Our challenge – and, indeed, our opportunity – is to similarly articulate these differences to our visitors so that they, too, consider us as more than a place. What makes your organization unique is probably not the artifacts that you house, the collections that you keep, or the building within which you keep them. What makes you unique is the outcomes that you achieve by fulfilling your mission… and communicating these outcomes is the best defense against a nasty case of PoRS.

 

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, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments