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The Three Most Overlooked Marketing Realities For Cultural Organizations

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Are Mobile Apps Worth It For Cultural Organizations? (DATA)

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Breaking Down Data-Informed Barriers to Visitation for Cultural Organizations (DATA)

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Community Engagement

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

Information Overload: How Case Study Envy Stifles Nonprofit Success

whatever competition does

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

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

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

Well, maybe that’s the problem.

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

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

1) Many singularly successful organizations are terrible models

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

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

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

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

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

 

2) But organizations can provide helpful examples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be yourself oscar wilde

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

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

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 6 Comments

5 Key Reasons Why Social Media Strategies Are Different Than Traditional Marketing Strategies

Company achievements

Social media and web-based platforms function differently than “traditional” marketing/PR platforms. While this may be obvious to some, I work closely with many experienced executive leaders who have been formally trained (and then formally practiced) more traditional marketing and communication methods. Perhaps the differences between digital and other forms of communication is something that some leaders are hesitant to acknowledge because the dramatic changes hearkened by the digital revolution might suggest that years of experience are somehow suddenly less relevant  – but I know several brave leaders who have spoken up on behalf of their years of experience doing what has historically worked…until now.

Why IS marketing and communications on social media and web-based platforms so different than marketing on NON-web-based platforms? Why don’t the same rules apply as they have for decades? Why are the lessons from the classic MBA canon (like the Harvard Business Review staple of Chester Burger’s How To Meet The Press) so outdated?  And how could key aspects of entire marketing curricula at the prestigious universities that were attended by our best and most accomplished nonprofit leaders be considered increasingly irrelevant? Surely, marketing is still marketing…

Indeed, marketing is still marketing. But times have changed (and are rapidly changing). The importance of social media in an organization’s business strategy is undeniable. We have a new platform that didn’t exist in the past – and it has changed a whole heck of a lot about how organizations “do” Communications…  perhaps because it has so drastically changed how the market views Communications.

1) Social media is not advertising. It is a different, more effective beast.

Social media is more influential than other forms of “traditional” communication when it comes to spreading your message. To explain, reviews from trusted resources (including channels such as social media and word of mouth testimonials) have a value 12.85 times greater than paid media (broadcast, radio, and other types of traditional advertising). Therefore, there’s no amount of paid advertising that can realistically overcome a deficiency of earned media. Thanks to the real-time, public nature of the web, marketing and PR have been supercharged and we are now able to maximize this other half of the messaging model. Though this model has always existed, word of mouth tended to resist scale and relied largely on one-to-one or one-to-many interactions.  The dawning of the digital age has introduced unprecedented scaling capabilities to many of our communications – where once we had Siskel and Ebert (two people speaking to many), we now have Rotten Tomatoes (many people speaking to many). Because of the introduction of scale – borne largely of digital technologies – earned media and reviews from trusted sources have never been so accessible, obtainable, contemporarily relevant, and critical for an organization to succeed.

 

2) Social media disproportionally influences market behavior

Digital platforms like web, mobile, and social media currently have the highest efficacy among marketing channels in terms of overall, weighted value (contemplative of the market’s perceived trust, and reach and amplification capability of various communication channels). This is especially true compared to more “traditional” channels such as radio and printed materials. In fact, the weighted values attributed to these channels have experienced dramatic decreases even in the last year! Instead, folks are looking to social and web-based platforms to acquire the intelligence to inform their decision-making processes – and these platforms play a significant role as the go-to source for information on leisure activities (salient if you are a museum), especially among those most likely to attend a visitor-serving nonprofit.

 

3) Social media involves evolving technologies and platforms

Unlike largely “fixed,” static media such as print and radio, the mechanisms by which digital messages are delivered and the context within which individual members of the market receive these messages is constantly in-flux. Social media and digital communications depend on rapid innovation, changing platforms, and evolving social mentalities that sink or swim in real-time. They require a strategic flexibility to succeed, and often necessitate experimentation in order to understand how to best reach particular audiences through online engagement. The classic marketing texts of the past remained relevant for decades because – arguably until now – organizations could have one spokesperson, they did have the time to prepare responses before meeting the press, and they could leave a lot more behind closed doors.

 

4) Online engagement necessitates perceived accessibility in order for organizations to succeed

The alarmingly condescending-in-hindsight, stilted tone of past marketing and PR campaigns has gone by the wayside in the age of social media. In essence, the world has become more transparent and people want to know more about the brands that they support – nonprofits included! In the past, organizations could often divulge only what they wished, but now organizations must answer straightforward questions posed on public platforms in real-time, or watch their reputation and consumer-base shrink… also in real-time. In short, this change challenges the way that many in the past have been taught to “communicate with the press.” In today’s world, organizations communicate directly with the public. And they need to be likeable and relatable.

 

5) Social media is real-time and 24/7

Though it was historically done more passively, brands have always been building relationships in real-time – even while the CEO or other appointed spokesperson was off the clock. People have spread valuable word of mouth messages at cocktail parties and talked shop on the back nine of a golf course for generations. However, from a broad public perspective, it was generally understood that an organization’s “real people” were not accessible outside of the historic “nine to five” workday. Today, the real-time nature of digital platforms have made organizations accessible at all hours and in all situations. And the public especially utilizes these platforms during moments of crisis – the very times when organizations in the past may have been particularly grateful for the ability to remain silent as they got their PR ducks in a row.  Moreover, organizations are expected to respond to inquiries on social media platforms in real time. 42% of individuals using social media expect answers to questions that they ask online within one hour. Unlike traditional media that runs as per a schedule and a plan, social media requires active management and necessitates the implementation of real-time PR strategies…all day. Every day.

 

Are all of the marketing (and even broad strategy) baseline best practices taught in MBA courses of the past and cultivated for decades becoming completely irrelevant? Of course not. However, societal and technological evolution may find these long-time graduates and folks “with X years of experience in the industry” challenging themselves to re-purpose their experiences to better apply to today’s marketing environment.  In fact, I’d propose that perhaps those seasoned individuals willing to embrace social media and digital engagement may be our greatest industry assets in adapting strategies to best suit evolving technologies. Many of the marketing best practices of the past are directly at-odds with today’s practices, and leaders who can evolve their own thinking may be the most successful in leading their organizations into the future. 

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

1) Why London?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

IMPACTS Visitor Serving Organization Earned Revenue

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

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

IMPACTS - Visitor Serving organization endowment backstop

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

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

Early Adopter

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

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

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

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

 

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

IMPACTS - Diffusion of messaging

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

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

 

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

IMPACTS - importance of Q value

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

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

 

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

IMPACTS - Q velocity

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

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

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

time treasure talent

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

IMPACTS staff perspective of board role

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

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

 

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

 

IMPACTS Board perspective of board roles

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

 

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

 

IMPACTS Board and staff perspective of board roles

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

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

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

 

In Their Own Words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution 7 Comments

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

millennials-360

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

2) Nobody likes a millennial donor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

*Photo credit belongs to philanthopicintelligence.net

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, Fundraising, Millennials, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 24 Comments

Marketing Your Nonprofit to Audiences that ACTUALLY Matter

dilbert_mediocrity

This is a bit of a tough-love post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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