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

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

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

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

MoMA Sees Reputation Boost After Displaying Muslim Artists (DATA)

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

Five Videos That Will Make You Proud To Work With A Cultural Organization

Let’s pause and celebrate the hard and important work of working with cultural organizations. Talk of defunding the National Endowment Read more

Data Reveals The Worst Thing About Visiting Cultural Organizations

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

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

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

Financial Solvency

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

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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.

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

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

family visiting museum

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

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

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

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

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

IMPACTS US Composite Visiting Party Construct

 

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

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

 IMPACTS HPV Visiting Party Construct

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

1) The number of families attending VSOs has decreased

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

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

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

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

3) Grandparents are the new babysitters

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

IMPACTS Historic visitor substitution

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

1)   Rich, white people are having fewer children.

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Urgent Evolution: Marketing Your Nonprofit to the Audience of Tomorrow (DATA)

Trust Your Audience: Data Debunks Nonprofit Social Media Fears

the scream

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

IMPACTS- Trust in Marketing Channels

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

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

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

 

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

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

Smithsonian Facebook Comment

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Adapt or Die. New Rulings on Social Media in the Workplace and What They Mean for Nonprofit Organizations.

Dilbert Social Media Fear

It’s no secret that some nonprofit organizations have been defensive about allowing folks to interact or “contribute” to the organization’s reputation or area of expertise online. (This terror is the basis of recent discussions regarding radical trust, for instance.) And, in a way, the terror makes sense from more traditionally minded members of the workplace – nonprofit organizations are heavily scrutinized and already have many stakeholders as it is (board members, constituents, donors). Understandably, (though perhaps inexcusably) social media and online engagement may be scary-to-the-point-of-suppression for those who don’t fully understand how it has changed the way that we communicate, connect with one another, and access information.

Some organizations have tried to exert control by putting forth aggressive social media policies. In fact, a nonprofit organization is the opening case study in this week’s The New York Time’s article summarizing recent court rulings concerning social media policies.

These recent rulings do not indicate that social media policies are a bad idea; rather, they suggest that social media policies that aim too strongly or aggressively to limit freedom of speech (and then use these policies to take away jobs) are a bad idea.  But, in reality, organizations too ignorant to understand the role of social media in society may be doomed to confront significantly larger problems than disgruntled, chatty staff members. Assuredly bad though that may be, developing a reputation for a lack of transparency and suffering from the negative word of mouth that inevitably results from stifled and contrived social media communications is likely to jeopardize an organization’s relevance in the competitive market much more quickly than a Negative Nancy with a Twitter account.

Here are some key take-aways from the article regarding rulings:

  • Recent rulings by the National Labor Relations Board “generally tell companies that it is illegal to adopt broad social media policies — like bans on “disrespectful” comments or posts that criticize the employer — if those policies discourage workers from exercising their right to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions.”
  • “But the agency has also found that it is permissible for employers to act against a lone worker ranting on the Internet.”
  • The agency has pushed companies such as General Motors, Target and Costco to rewrite their social media rules.
  • National Labor Relations Board officials “say they are merely adapting the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act, enacted in 1935, to the 21st century workplace.”

 

The critical take-aways for nonprofit organizations from these recent ruling are less tactical and more strategic and conceptual – and absolutely necessary. Here are four guiding principles that nonprofit organizations may benefit by adopting:
 

1) Stop being scared of social media

Web and social media are the public’s number one method of accessing information – and social media plays a leading role in driving the decision to visit a museum or other visitor-serving organization. Social media is critical to increasing online reputation, which directly aids in long-term financial solvency. An organization that runs from social media, or tries too hard to control it rather than contemplating how the organization may benefit from digital communications, may risk speedy irrelevance. For quote-lovers, a harsh reality of being a leader may be summarized here: “You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable.” The world moves. Times change. Social media is here and it’s important.  Embrace it. Or, if you prefer photo quotes, this one may be more inspiring…

 seth godin quote

2) Consider what your social media policy is supposed to do

Not all social media policies are stifling. In fact, having a smart social media policy is wise for nonprofit organizations. Effective social media policies should:

  • Provide staff members with the tools and information required for them to optimally communicate with/about the organization. Chances are your employees actually want to help your organization succeed online. Show them how they can do that.
  • Outline expectations for social media interactions, etc. Have an organizational Code of Conduct? This is a good time to remind folks that these rules apply offline and online.
  • State that leaders are open to feedback…and encourage team members to channel thoughts that may reflect negatively on the organization to higher-ups who intend to listen and work to find viable solutions instead of broadcasting their critiques to the less specifically-concerned web.
  • Remind staff members that negative posts about the organization indeed reflect poorly on the organization. Again, chances are that your employees are actually out to elevate the organization and its mission.
  • Underscore items that staff members truly should not communicate. For example, if members of your organization have security clearances or work with sensitive or confidential information, restrictions concerning the disclosure of this information should be clearly articulated. In other words, be detailed about what is okay to share and what is off-limits.
  • Encourage social sharing. Let staff members know that positive word of mouth marketing has an impact on promulgating your mission. If staff members believe in your cause, encourage them to share it personally.

 

3) Understand that staff member satisfaction (now more than ever) strongly affects the reputation of your organization and, ultimately, your success.

It may require a bit of a change in the minds of executive leaders, but thanks to the increased use of social media, staff members are also critical stakeholders in much the same way as are donors, board members and other constituents. It’s been vogue for some time now for leaders to issue generic platitudes along the lines of “Our most important resource is our people,” but this sentiment, while arguably always true, is now on display to the world.  Smart organizations know how to leverage these most valuable resources.  Staff members are your behind-the-scenes evangelists – the people whom the world looks to for the “inside scoop” about how your organization functions. What is best for them is – increasingly often – also best for you and your organization. Understanding this is critical for creating a successful social media strategy. As recent rulings indicate, dealing with lone perpetrators who conduct real offenses on social media may be actionable by punishment…but don’t assume that all staff members are “out to get you,” or cannot be relied upon to promulgate positive, personal messages. If you don’t trust your online audience, online audiences will not trust you. The same rule applies in this day and age for employees. More to the point, if you lack sincerity in declaring the importance of your people, then be prepared for your people and constituents alike to rightfully judge you harshly.

 

4) Know and accept that your “internal” culture is external

Like the merging of personal and professional realms that increasingly seems to be occurring in society today, the line has also dissolved between what happens inside of your organization and what happens outside of it.  Recent rulings indicate that there isn’t “protection” for organizations on this front. In fact, nonprofits and businesses alike may do themselves a grave disservice by ignoring the connection between internal culture and how that culture is perceived externally. Anything your organization says or does to upset staff members may indeed be held against you. And – in the age of social media and the desire for transparent organizations – perhaps it should be. This is not a reason to be scared of staff members. Instead, it is a reason to empower them and pay attention to them. Organizations may benefit by paying extra attention to their internal cultures because if the culture or morale is negative, chances are that connected staff members may have communicated this fact on social media. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be hurtful to the organization. Perhaps the employee felt that they had nowhere else to go.  Regardless of the rationale, their communications regarding their grievances have been deemed a reasonable exercise of their First Amendment rights. The best way to prevent an unfortunate airing of an organization’s dirty laundry is to prevent it happening in the first place. Maintain a positive, supportive culture internally and give staff a safe forum to discuss key workplace issues. If “lone workers” promulgate unfair, inaccurate, or inappropriate messages, deal with those situations individually. And, chances are, if you are truly cultivating a positive culture, those “lone workers” will indeed be “lone workers.”

 

These recent rulings are indicative of the fact that society at large is still adjusting to how to adapt to social media and the changes in communication that it brings. Down the road, other rulings may be inevitable as society tests the limits of social media and online behavior. As new legal regulations develop, intelligent organizations will continue to adapt.

If your nonprofit has a social media policy with “blanket” rules for behavior on social media, you haven’t done anything wrong. But it is your responsibility to evolve and stay legally ahead-of-the-game. If your organization’s policy is too broad, now may be the time to open it back up and write in more details or discuss appropriate repercussions for violating the policy. And when you close the policy and roll out the changes, understand that you may not be closing it for good. And understand that that is okay.

 

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!

*Photo credits to mediabistro.com and Venspired.com

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

Social Media: The Every-Department Job in Nonprofit Organizations


So, this “Internet” thing? It’s here to stay. It’s perhaps a hefty statement, but in this age of increased transparency and digital communication, your marketing team may well be the single most valuable department in your organization. (I’ll explain…)

Marketers aren’t increasingly important because they are necessarily smarter or have more talent than do the valuable resources in your organization’s other departments. It’s because the job of the communications, marketing and public relations professional has evolved from being a single funnel to media outlets streamlining promotional messages on behalf of an organization, to serving as several funnels to different, targeted demographics based on content from several different departments in a manner that achieves an organization’s long-term goals. Today, great marketers in visitor-serving organizations show the world how every other department shines. (And when they do it well, they shine, too)

It’s no secret: As I’ve said before, social media does not belong to the marketing department. It’s critical to open up communications between your marketing department and other departments. Your organization will need all of these connections in order to succeed in attracting visitors, building affinity for your brand, connecting people to your cause, and securing donors. Consider this. Here are six critical keys to social media success, and all six rely on cooperation with other departments:

 

1. Killer content (Marketing needs Education)

Engaging content is the key to success in social media. Content is currency. Engaging content keeps organizations top-of-mind and increases reputation – a key driver of visitation. It keeps your nonprofit in folks’ Facebook newsfeeds and gets you re-tweeted, shared and liked. It increases your reach and online audience. Content drives interaction, which drives affinity, which drives support. Arguably the best place to find this engaging mission-related content is from your organization’s scientists, educators, and interpreters. They are natural suppliers of fun-facts – they can uniquely tell you when behind-the-scenes activities take place, and they generally provide the “wow factor” for education-based content.  Moreover, because many members of this department are public-facing, they already know what visitors consider interesting. Without the Education Department, marketers would have nothing to share except updates on their morning meeting about media ad buys… and, fortunately, they know better than to tweet about that!

 

2. Community management (Marketing needs Visitor Services)

Did you know that 42% of individuals using social media expect answers to the questions that they ask online within one hour? This is often made difficult because many nonprofit organizations (and shockingly, several museums) still “go dark” on the weekends (typically, the busiest times for museums)! Social media is increasingly a platform for customer service – and timeliness counts. Marketers must rely on an organization’s Visitor Service team in order to provide important information regarding pressing customer service questions.  We call this “social care” and it is critical online. Nielsen has released their 2012 Social Media Report . Take a look at some of their findings:

 

3. Cultivation of evangelists and supporters (Marketing needs Fundraising)

I just lied for consistency purposes. In reality, Fundraising needs Marketing. Online giving continues to grow by 13.1% year over year, and online giving currently accounts for 6.3% of total giving. BUT organizations do a disservice when they assume that online giving is the only type of giving strongly connected to marketing. Web platforms and social media are the single most powerful marketing channels used for obtaining information – including gaining information for making visitation or giving decisions. Even if someone gives in-person, over the phone, or by mail, chances are that the connection was strengthened by digital communications. Marketing and Fundraising Departments can (and should!) work together to make lists of potential evangelists who are likely to spread the organization’s message, and social media can help identify folks with an existing affinity for the organization with the inclination and/or propensity to become members or donors. I’ll be so bold as to highlight an increasingly-relevant truism: Marketers don’t need fundraisers to be successful at marketing, but fundraisers need marketers to be successful at fundraising. In my experience, “old-fashioned” fundraisers hate this…but, generally, when you take stock of the current condition, “old-fashioned” fundraisers aren’t succeeding right now.

 

4. Unique initiatives (Marketing needs Exhibits)

This ties back to killer content. Exhibits teams have access to important, exclusive information that can pique online interest. They know when there’s a big, wrapped mystery being delivered on the loading dock, which animals are giving birth, why exhibits are placed where they are, and (like their colleagues in the Education Department) they know a nice bit about how people learn. Most importantly, they can facilitate unique initiatives like online animal-baby naming contests and help arrange special programs/experiences that can be value-adds as prizes for online engagement (Related note: Please don’t offer discounts over social media. The short-term, “subsidized” bump in engagement has significant, long-term, negative consequences for nonprofit organizations.) Exhibits teams can help allow for open authority opportunities that increase reputation, open conversation and “make everyone a curator.”

 

5. Ability to experiment (Marketing needs Executive Leadership)

Social media and online engagement best practices and measurements evolve, so goals need to evolve, too. For instance, most of the museums that I work with don’t have a real budget for Facebook aside from human capital or full-time equivalents (read: someone’s time). However, Facebook’s recent changes to Edgerank (Facebook’s status-delivering algorithm) have made the platform more pay-to-play with promoted posts and sponsored stories. Now, organizations would be wise to consider that maximizing engagement on Facebook may require a sustained monetary investment. It also makes compelling content from various departments even more important.  In sum, social media isn’t about evolution…it’s about revolution.  Changes are nonstop, big and fast. Leaders need to embrace the inevitability of change.

 

Also – and much more importantly – executive leadership buy-in is a key element to creative engagement. The best, most-famous examples of online engagement in museums (think Museum of Science and Industry’s Month at the Museum, or Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Online Dashboard, or museum directors betting artwork on the superbowl) required not only permission, but a willingness on leadership’s part to take on these initiatives.  To take engagement to the next level, marketers need to understand that yesterday’s “how-to” manual is already obsolete. To have permission to innovate better practices in this rapidly evolving space, marketers need to be talking to leadership.

 

6. Human Tone (Marketing needs Human Resources)

Social media policies are best practices in organizations. In the digital era, folks want to know the people behind the computer screens. This also means that audiences can be drawn to staff members with their own online brands. These brands and real-life experts can be very helpful for organizations seeking to increase their respective reputations. Here are some famous ones in the museum world.  However, organizations also risk having folks say inappropriate things online, share private information about an organization, and occasionally display less-than-awesome online behavior. The Human Resources Department plays a critical role in managing staff members’ online behaviors – they are a marketer’s “safe harbor.”

 

We do our organizations a grave disservice when we shrug and call communications – and especially social media – “Marketing’s job.” Increasingly, social media is everyone’s job (at least parts of it).  Successful organizations understand the need for everyone to participate in the overall communications effort. Marketers don’t merely communicate, they collaborate.  We aren’t solely about content, we’re about connection.  And, the best amongst us understand that we can’t do it alone.  Our success – indeed, the success of our organization – is a product of giving EVERYONE in the organization doing the most important job.  We’re all marketers.

 

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!

 

Photo edit based on meme by KSB

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Social Media: The Every-Department Job in Nonprofit Organizations