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Big ideas

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

teaching innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s why:

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

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

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

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

 

2) Understanding those behaviors and motivations informs other industries

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

5) Much of the data conceptually belongs to you

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

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

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

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

Data proves it.

 

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

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Museums, Nonprofits, The Future, Words of Wisdom 3 Comments

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

Marketoonist- Risks

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

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

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

Here’s why:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Community Engagement, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future 5 Comments

The Role of Email Has Changed. Here Is How to Evolve Your Communication Strategy (DATA)

RIP email

llustration by Sam Manchester/The New York Times

The efficacy and best practices related to email as a marketing channel have changed. Data suggest that email is less effective in reaching large quantities of people than it was even a few short years ago. But, can an organization use email to reach the right quality of people? Maybe.

I recently shared updated data from a Media Consumption and Usage Study conducted by IMPACTS that demonstrated a trending decline in the overall, weighted value of email as a marketing channel.There’s been some additional buzz about the decline of email, and worries about this changing platform seem to be lingering – especially in light of the big data I recently shared at MuseumNext. “I see that there’s a decline in email,” one attendee noted. “Email is working just fine for my organization.”

Indeed, organizations shouldn’t give up on the platform – especially if it is helping their organization achieve its goals – but it’s important to recognize the changes taking place that alter your market’s perceptions and usage of email:

IMPACTS Public sources of information 2011 - 2014

 

1) The overall efficacy of email as a communication channel for reaching mass audiences has dwindled

It used to be all about email lists – buying them, swapping them, getting people on them – and then “spamming” folks with marketing messages. It was about quantity of people more than the quality of people. Not anymore. Thanks to the increasing and massive trend toward personalization in marketing messages (due, in large part, to “touch points” made possible via social media), email is now a less effective method for engaging large quantities of people. The data indicate that mass messaging holds lesser value to audiences…and we observe people “opting-out” and unsubscribing to content that is not particularly relevant to them.

And folks can afford to opt out because – unlike the earlier days of email – there are much more personalized, real-time information channels promising greater connectivity readily available to them.

 

2) Email may now be better utilized for cultivating current audiences that already have an affinity for your organization

Email’s relative stability in terms of trust and amplification potential indicate that while it may not be wise for it to be your organization’s primary engagement or audience acquisition channel, it may still offer value by adapting its application to better serve current constituencies. Email should be approached as an “opt-in” opportunity for those who are budding brand evangelists. In other words, this communication method may be better suited for moving potential stakeholders through an engagement funnel instead of as a means to engender general awareness of programs, events, etc.

 

3) Your organization should not necessarily stop sending emails

Just because a channel’s weighted value is changing doesn’t mean that it’s wise to abandon the platform – especially if it is working for you in terms of helping to meet your financial and mission-related bottom lines. What this does mean is that your email strategy should not be stagnant – when it comes to email, a sound strategy may be to “ride the wave until it crashes.”

Obviously, people still use email; however, they are using it in different ways and expect more personalization than email typically delivered in the past. Know this. Adjust. Watch the market. If something is still working, then, hey, it’s still working! That said, (and as is true with all communication channels) sending email for email’s sake without understanding how or if it is contributing to your goals remains an unwise idea.

 

4) Start exploring other channels that will help achieve your goals

While it’s not a bad idea to keep “riding the wave [that is email] until it crashes,” it would be advisable to concurrently cultivate engagement on other platforms in preparation for the inevitable crash. Heretofore, if your organization has been relying heavily on email, then it may be a good idea to consider building communities and strategies on other platforms so that you aren’t stuck with antiquated outreach tools that the market deems obsolete. Alternative channels and platforms that capitalize on real-time, ongoing, personalized communication generally involve social media or other web-based platforms…now is the time to start developing capabilities and capacities in these arenas before it’s too late.

 

5) Understand that email has changed and will keep changing.

Email has maintained its perception in regard to trust (i.e. how trustworthy it is perceived to be as a communications channel) and amplification values (i.e. how easy it is to share the message). You can see the data broken down by reach, trust and amplification here. It makes sense that amplification has not changed as it’s just as easy to hit “forward” today as it was in 2011. As other platforms evolve, how people view and use email will evolve as well. It is not used for the same purpose as it once was thanks to new information channels. The roles of organizations’ websites have also recently changed due to the presence and capabilities of social media. Know that things are changing and the relative strengths of communication channels are certain to keep changing, too.

 

An exciting aspect of leading an organization in today’s world is the incredible access provided by web-based platforms and how digital assets (and how the market perceives and interacts with them) constantly evolve. Wise organizations realize that the world is moving and it is unwise to maintain the same strategy for communication platforms year after year without considering changes in the market.

In sum, email is not dead…but it has certainly evolved. Many organizations have not caught up. If they don’t then, well, you know what Darwin had to say on such matters…

Darwin on change

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

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

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

Dilbert vagueness plan

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Data Update: Efficacy of Various Marketing Channels (Social Media Still Top Spot)

DIlbert Social networks, games, and phones

Data indicate that social media continues to be the fastest growing and most influential marketing channel. Social media is an enormously important component of your overall marketing and communication strategy. In fact, data support it as one of the most efficient and effective channels to engage your users and constituents.

IMPACTS tracks data regarding the reach (i.e. the relative efficacy of each channel in terms of its ability to deliver a message within any defined duration), trust (i.e. the perceived credibility of various sources), and amplification (i.e. the re-distribution potential) of various information channels. I originally posted baseline tracking data in 2012, along with an analysis of the reach, trust, and amplification measurements – all of which collectively contribute to the “overall value” metric.

 IMPACTS Overall Value of Information Sources

Having trouble seeing the data? You can open it here:  IMPACTS Updated Overall Value for Sources of Information – 2014

This data derives from a Media Consumption & Usage Study with a sample size of 13,584 adults from North America and Western Europe, and was most recently updated courtesy of a project with Stanford University.  The grace of time has solidified trends suggesting the ascendancy of certain information channels that are increasingly vital to an effective communications strategy. Below are a few notes on the updated findings. Mostly, the findings echo and reaffirm suggestions indicated from previous years.

1) Social media delivers the greatest overall value as a marketing channel and information source

Thanks in large part to the reach (i.e. the ability to reach audiences during a defined duration) and amplification capabilities (i.e. the re-distribution potential) of this platform, social media continues to grow in terms of its overall value as a marketing and communications channel. Digital “touch points” continue to play bigger and bigger roles in cutting through online noise – especially because of the real-time nature of this platform and the ability to have and view more personalized interactions.

 

2) Data do not currently support a finding that word of mouth is suffering because of technology

While word of mouth (person-to-person interactions) experienced a steep decline in 2012, its value has remained relatively stable since. This indicates that, indeed, people are still communicating beyond of the web (e.g. SMS and phone calls fall within this category of communication). While this may be shocking to… well, no one…it is interesting to monitor this channel – especially as it relates to the weight of peer review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor.

 

3) Mobile web and peer review sites remain on the rise

Mobile web continues to represent a growing channel. IMPACTS data contemplate “mobile web” separately from “web” so that we may both follow this trend and also assess if the platform (e.g. smartphone) plays a role in the perception of the channel. (In other words, does the market attribute different levels of trust to the web when accessed via smartphone or another method?) Peer review sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor remain influential. This finding underscores the importance of third-party endorsements when contemplating potential behaviors. In fact, channels that represent paid endorsements (e.g. direct mail, television, radio) exert relatively little influence on the market when compared to their testimonial-based counterparts.  [According to the model of diffusion, the coefficient of imitation (i.e. what people say about you) is 12.85 times more important to building reputation than the coefficient of innovation (i.e. what you say about yourself).]

 

4) Web is affected by the real-time nature of social media channels

While this is an interesting metric to continue to watch, the decrease in web may be affected by the preference for more real-time, ongoing, “living” communication such as the type of communication provided by social media. The role of your website has changed – and this data underscores that it continues to change. Increasingly, the role of your website may be to facilitate and support communication on social platforms, which data suggest may play a more important role in motivating a desired offline behavior.

 

5) Print media and more traditional channels remain in general decline

This may also relate to the model of diffusion (see #3) and an emerging market preference for “personalized” communications (i.e. the perceptual opposite of “mass” media). Moreover, these traditional channels are more difficult to access in today’s world. A strong caution: These numbers do not intend to suggest marketing fund allocation or an advertising plan. Television or print may play an important role in a campaign and should be contemplated as a component of an integrated strategy.

 

6) Email is losing ground

While email retains its place as a reliable communications tool, its overall value is decreasing (which has been predicted and reported even a few years ago). When it comes to email, it may be a good idea to “ride that wave until it dies”…but be ready to catch a new wave as soon as it does! In other words, it’s a good idea to be thinking about and cultivating other methods for retaining constituents if email is currently your primary method.

 

This data serves as yet another reminder of the recent, rapid evolution in the ways that people communicate, spread information, and find value in marketing messages. This is more than just anecdotal word on the street; it is compelling evidence of the way that our society behaves. It remains true that CEOs and managers slow to “believe” in the power of online platforms and social media may need to lower the printed brochure in their hands, put away the flyers, and move their communications into the present.

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Community Engagement, Generation Y, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, The Future Leave a comment

Is your Nonprofit Living in the Past? Nine Outdated Ways of Thinking That Are Hurting Your Organization

Where complacent brands go

If any of these outdated beliefs still linger within your organization, then your nonprofit may be suffering both in terms of finances and mission delivery. It’s time to retire these obsolete practices once and for all:

 

1) You separate marketing and digital marketing because you think they are different

This is generally indicative of an organization that thinks “digital marketing” is more about mastering tools and platforms (e.g. Facebook) than mastering a long-term engagement strategy to strengthen your organization’s brand and mission.

Symptoms may include:

  • Digital initiatives that may appear cutting edge but don’t actually contribute to your organization’s mission or financial bottom line
  • An inability to activate online communities to behave in your organization’s interests despite having numerous fans on multiple platforms

 

Treatment: Certainly, organizations benefit from having a team that excels in online community management and maintains a thorough understanding of social media tools and digital engagement opportunities. That said, it is critical that these team members maintain constant involvement with the broader marketing and public relations leadership so that they may be empowered to integrate a strategy for ongoing engagement that yields returns rather than simply utilizing social media tools for social media’s sake.

 

2) You identify online donors and you treat them differently than offline donors

A donor is a donor. The means of conveying funds to an organization is irrelevant…it’s like treating a donor differently because they used a check for a gift instead of a credit card.  Basic courtesy and “real life” donor cultivation techniques should prevail regardless of how a person chooses to give. A donor who gives online shouldn’t be any less deserving of a personal thank you than a person who gives face-to-face, yet, somehow, the reliance on automated gift acknowledgments remains a practice for many organizations. Similarly, because a donor gives onsite may not mean that the individual does not expect the organization to recognize them when they interact on social media.

Symptoms may include:

  • A general lack of donor retention
  • An even greater lack of donor retention for those identified by the organization as “online donors”
  • Difficulty transitioning donors to the next level of giving

 

Treatment: Gather information and cultivate “online donors” just as your organization would cultivate “offline donors.” Similarly, if a “real life” donor engages with the organization online, acknowledge them and value their digital endorsement and communication. Treat donors online the same way that you would in person – just because something can be automated online doesn’t mean that it should be! Personalized touch points and cultivating the relationship are still critical practices.

 

3) You think marketing and fundraising serve independent functions

Marketing no longer serves as simply the megaphone for an organization. Today, marketing often provides critical touch points that serve to create meaning for audiences and connect them to the organization. This isn’t very different than fundraising.  A failure to recognize the importance of marketing and fundraising working in concert to achieve an organization’s goals may have negative consequences.

Symptoms may include:

  • Inability to identify new, potential donors
  • Few donors actively engaging with your organization online
  • Difficulty transitioning persons with interest in the organization into meaningful donors

 

Treatment: From an org chart perspective, marketing and fundraising departments certainly need not be one entity. However, it is critical that these departments (and the organization as a whole) recognize that the path to success in terms of donor identification, member retention, and donor cultivation lies in an intimate, real-time relationship between marketing and fundraising experts. The fundraising team (next-level meaning-makers) needs the input of the marketing team (and their real-time touch-points with audience members) to identify potential donors and aid their cultivation through an engagement funnel. In fact, social media is the new force empowering giving decisions.

 

4)   You think marketing performs a service function for the organization

If you still think that marketing plays a service role within your organization, then it’s time to catch up.  The role of this team has evolved from being the one-way voice of the organization (i.e. its mouth) to being its eyes and ears as well. More than ever before, it is the job of the marketing department to know, listen, and build relationships with your constituents. By necessity, successful marketing teams are increasingly expert about your audience.

Symptoms may include:

  • Low interest and engagement in initiatives and programs
  • Perceived irrelevance of your organization by the market
  • Difficulty getting attention from audiences
  • General lack of general success of new initiatives

 

Treatment: Consider the input of the marketing team before moving forward with initiatives instead of demanding that they “market this” (maybe not-so-great idea) after its actualization.

 

5)   Your social media managers operate in a silo 

Social media is an every-department job so access to the rest of the organization – especially experts – is critical for creating compelling content. A bad idea: Hiring an outside company to run your social media if you are an organization that builds reputation based upon being “expert” or builds affinity by telling powerful stories that are best communicated with the passion of an insider (which is basically all good stories).

Symptoms may include:

  • Several marketing-related messages on social platforms (which generally do not perform well)
  • Lack of audience engagement on digital platforms
  • Inconsistent social media posting
  • Lack of compelling stories that adequately communicate the passion of your nonprofit
  • Social media posts that demonstrate mission drift

 

Treatment: Make sure that folks working within your organization embrace the importance of sharing stories and are open to aiding social media managers in creating compelling content. Also, do your social media yourself or with a partner that has ongoing access to your entire organization. Your stories are your lifeblood.

 

6) You think the more followers, the better

This one is no surprise by now: The number of social media followers that you have is not necessarily indicative of the strength of your online community. It’s far better to have 1,000 followers with a genuine passion for engaging with your organization and sharing your message, than 100,000 fans that don’t help your organization reach its goals. In fact, having a lot of inactive followers dilutes your community and makes it appear as though you have bad content because not many people are interacting with you, despite your high fan number.

Symptoms may include:

  • An inability to activate fans to act in your organization’s interest despite high fan numbers
  • Distraction from achieving the organization’s true goals due to fixation on unimportant metrics
  • An inability to retain true fans due to superficial content that yields more “likes” than real affinity

 

Treatment: Quit focusing too heavily on fan count (and certainly do not dilute your community by buying fake fans). Pay attention to metrics that matter, and share content that inspires true evangelism. Instead of “the more followers, the better,” think “the more meaningful engagement related to our mission, the better.” If and when those ambitions cross, then that is great.

 

7)   Similarly, you think your number of website views adequately measures online success

It doesn’t. In fact, data suggest that online audiences are more likely to carry out desired behaviors (like making a donation, buying a ticket if you are a visitor-serving organization, etc.) if they are sent to social media platforms or peer review sites (TripAdvisor, etc.).

Symptoms may include:

  • Distraction from actual, meaningful metrics
  • Preoccupation with a metric that is not indicative of success
  • Directing audiences to platforms that are less likely to result in a desired behavior

 

Treatment: The role of your website has changed. Consider website views in the greater context of your overall digital engagement strategy. Understand that this number does not show the folks who are engaging with your brand or researching it on other sites.

 

8) You deny the necessity of brand transparency

This means purposefully leaving your key evangelists out of the loop in regard to big decisions and happenings – it’s always a bad idea. Thanks to the web, we live in a “show and not tell” world and potential constituents make decisions about your brand based upon what you “show.” In sum, transparency is a critical value for successful online communications

Symptoms may include:

  • Negative sentiment or reactions from audiences on social media channels
  • Audience misunderstanding of or disbelief in an organization’s goals or objectives for a given project
  • Lack of trust in organization
  • Constituents “opting-out” of involvement with the organization

 

Treatment: Question someone who tells you to purposefully hide critical information that may aid audiences in understanding your brand or internal thought-processes (whether it is an internal or external person). Times have changed. As is the case in real life, organizations are consistently finding that, indeed, honesty is the best policy.

 

9) You need an industry example before carrying out an initiative that may help you meet your goals

Web engagement best practices are constantly evolving – and so are the platforms upon which engagement often occurs. This means that – from time to time – your organization may come up with an idea for online engagement that may help your organization better reach its goals…but your idea hasn’t been tried before. Far too many organizations prefer not to invest time and resources in a new opportunity unless there is an extant case study available for analysis and consideration. Invariably, it is the laggard organizations – ever fearful of innovation – who are left behind while admiring others’ bold inventions.

Worse yet, some organizations would seemingly move forward with very bad or detrimental ideas simply because they’ve seen other organizations launch a similar initiative.  If your organization is more comfortable copying mediocrity than innovating success, then prepare to soon be irrelevant.

Symptoms may include:

  • Lack of original engagement ideas
  • Lack of superlative perceptions of your organization among audiences
  • Missed opportunities to build affinity and cultivate evangelists
  • Execution of initiatives that do not match the goals of an organization

 

Treatment: Just because an organization carried out an initiative doesn’t mean it was successful or that it is a surefire win for your organization.  View the initiatives of others with due scrutiny or admiration and act accordingly with regard to your own organization’s goals and values. Also, if your organization has an idea for a new initiative that hasn’t been done before, perform a SWOT analysis and if the strengths outweigh the weaknesses, consider giving it a shot. You just might end up being an industry leader.

 

If these old notions still permeate your organization, it’s time to change.

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

Announcing: Student Sponsorship Opportunities to Attend MuseumNext Conference 2014

MuseumNext3

Know any upcoming museum leaders? IMPACTS wants to help museum-and-innovation-loving students attend MuseumNext’s 2014 conference in NewcastleGateshead, UK by offering sponsorships to ten attendees…and applying is simple!

I almost never utilize Know Your Own Bone as an announcement board, but this opportunity is near and dear to my heart. An important part of “future-proofing” organizations is investing in the people who will someday be leaders.

Now in its sixth year, MuseumNext  is a “must attend” event for anyone interested in museum innovation.
The 2014 conference will take place June 18-20 in NewcastleGateshead, UK and will offer more than 40 presentations, workshops and sessions.
MuseumNext attracts delegates from across the globe and offers a unique chance to network with those shaping the future of museums.

IMPACTS is offering ten students the opportunity to attend the conference with a bursary which will cover conference attendance and two nights accommodation in NewcastleGateshead.

Applying is outrageously simple: To apply for an IMPACTS bursary, please email izzy@sumodesign.co.uk with your name, university, and relevant coursework by May 18th 2014. MuseumNext will then select 10 students at random to receive this support.

As many of my readers know by now, I am thrilled to be a keynote speaker at MuseumNext’s 2014 conference. I’ll be digging deeper into one of my favorite topics: The relationship between digital and physical “touch” and the important role that it plays.

Please pass this information along to any ambitious up-and-comers who may be interested in the possibility of attending the event!  So many amazing people supported me when I was a student, and I am grateful and delighted that IMPACTS will be paying it forward in this way. Please help spread the word!

 

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

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

Dilbert mobile

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

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

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

 

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

(Baby Boomer lessons are always relevant)

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

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

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

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

 

2) A little respect goes a long way

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

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

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

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

 

3) Education is important to boomers

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

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

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

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

 

4) Achieving organizational change is MUCH harder than you think

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Generation Y, Lessons Learned, Management, Nonprofit Marketing, The Future, Words of Wisdom 5 Comments

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

museum admission line

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Visitor-serving organizations’ (VSOs) “historic” visitors are leaving the market at a faster rate than new high-propensity visitors are entering the market, creating a negative substitution phenomenon that does not paint a bright future (or present, for that matter) for VSOs. In fact, for every one historic HPV that leaves the market, they are being replaced by 0.989 “new” high-propensity visitors. That may sound like a small difference, but these people add up! Keep up your hard work reaching your traditional audiences and – for no fault of your own – negative substitution factors would suggest that an organization currently serving one million annual visitors will attract 946,000 visitors five years from now (that is 54,000 fewer people, and a likely corresponding decline in membership and program participation). This troubling “glide path” also considers that you’ll be doing everything that you can do to meet your current audience’s needs, and continue to market to them like exceptional rockstars! This data suggests that the key to long-term organizational solvency is to evolve our engagement strategies to include your emerging high-propensity visitors.

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

IMPACTS unintentional collusion pricing

This happens because organizations misunderstand a fundamental principle of pricing.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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