People Trust Museums More Than Newspapers. Here Is Why That Matters Right Now (DATA)

Actually, it always matters. But data lend particular insight into an important role that audiences want museums to play Read more

The Top Seven Macro Trends Impacting Cultural Organizations

These seven macro trends are driving the market for visitor-serving organizations. Big data helps spot market trends. The data that Read more

The Three Most Overlooked Marketing Realities For Cultural Organizations

These three marketing realities for cultural organizations may be the most urgent – and also the most overlooked. This Read more

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

The short answer: No. Mobile applications have been a hot topic for a long while within the visitor-serving industry. Read more

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

Here’s a round-up of the primary reasons why people with an interest in visiting cultural organizations do not actually Read more

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

Community Engagement

Schedule Drives Visitation to Cultural Organizations And Nobody Is Talking About It (DATA)

Examining Schedule- the top influencer for visitation

 Organizations often overlook the single biggest factor influencing attendance. Here’s the data that nobody’s talking about. 

The schedule of a potential visitor plays a leading role in a visitor’s decision to attend a cultural organization, but many organizations don’t think twice about schedule (focusing instead on items such as cost of admission, special events, or the content of a program or exhibit). These items are not unimportant, but the data on the importance of considering audience schedule is unassailable. Want more people to visit? It’s time to understand the leading roles that schedule and hours of operation play in the decision-making process.  

Let’s use data to bust some popular myths about visitor motivations, and take a look at four misunderstood bits of information regarding the role of “schedule” in the visitation decision-making process:

 

1) Schedule is the single biggest factor contributing to visitation (not cost or specific content)

It makes perfect sense: If a visitor-serving organization is not operating when people can or want to visit, then those people aren’t going to visit. In Western Europe, folks are more willing to schedule their work and personal lives around visiting a cultural organization that has a good reputation. (Of course, a shorter work week and more generous vacation time allowances in Western Europe help create more schedule flexibility!) In the United States, that’s just not happening.

IMPACTS- Discretionary decision making utility model A high-propensity visitor is a person who demonstrates the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization. These are the people who are most likely to visit our organizations, and they are “where our bread is buttered” in terms of visitation. People in the United States – including high-propensity visitors – do not generally reorganize their lives in significant ways in order to visit cultural organizations if their operating hours are inconvenient or conflict with work (or school) commitments.

Notice also that schedule is a significantly more important factor in the decision-making process than is cost for high-propensity visitors. Keep in mind that many “minority majorities” and (especially) millennials qualify as high-propensity visitors – and that high-propensity visitors are not necessarily the same as historic visitors. (There seems to be this weird idea that millennials and “minority majorities” are the same as affordable access audiences and are unwilling or unable to support cultural organizations…but there’s abundant data demonstrating that this is not the case – though we do desperately need to get better at attracting these emerging audiences.) The key to meaningful engagement for people who are interested in your content may not be cutting admission by $5 (which data suggest doesn’t work), but, instead, may be establishing hours of operation that better conform to our audience’s preferences.

 

2) Take a close look at when you are open and when audiences are easily available to visit (because they often are not the same)

Take a look at this data from the National Attitudes, Awareness and Usage Study of 98,000 adults and counting. You’ll notice from the last four bars that folks generally do want to visit cultural organizations! You’ll also notice from the first two bars that although folks indicate an interest in visiting, fewer actually do visit. What gives?

IMPACTS - Visitor Attitudes

We dug in a little bit deeper as to why people who report interest in visiting cultural organizations may not actually visit: For people who would like to visit a cultural organization but haven’t visited, schedule conflicts (including ill-suited hours of operation) are the primary barrier. Take a look at how these schedule conflicts stack up:

 IMPACTS - Visitation Barriers

Work schedule conflicts make perfect sense as the leading barrier to visitation for folks who may be otherwise interested in attending an organization. Think about it: Most of the time, cultural organizations with operating hours are generally only operating when people are at work! And some potential visitors have professions that keep them busy working during the weekends as well.

Weekend activities are precious. For potential visitors who do not work on the weekends, there’s steep leisure activity competition – including simply staying home and binge watching Netflix. And when folks can take a holiday (as seen in the data above), there are often other commitments to tend to that take precedent – such as visiting family. Moreover, students tend to be in classes during traditional weekday hours of operation.

When we add all of these things up, it begs the question: How do cultural organizations determine their hours of operation? Do we have these hours because that’s how we’ve always done it? And, knowing what we know about today’s connected, real-time world, would we still choose to be the most inaccessible in the early mornings before folks head to work and in the evening when they have their most discretionary leisure time?

Of course, this issue may require an industry evolution (revolution?) to resolve. We’ve spent years training audiences to visit us during holidays and weekends (a tacit acknowledgment that 9a-6p schedules may suit no one but our staff). Retraining audiences is hard to do…but changing the public perceptions of cultural organizations and better serving our missions may necessitate a good, hard look at how we approach our hours of operation.

 

3) Organizations are unlikely to move visitation to a shoulder season without risking overall attendance

Perhaps the biggest industry misconception about schedule as a motivator for visitation may be that many organizations think that they can change it. This is a difficult – if not impossible task – and more often than not, results in a very poor reallocation of resources.

Take a look at this 10-year analysis of attendance by month to 78 US visitor-serving cultural organizations. The analysis indicates clear “peak” and “off-peak” seasons. This data indicates the time periods when people want to visit cultural organizations (given the current schedules that cultural organizations keep) – clearly illustrated by the fact that these are the times when people are, in fact, actually visiting.

IMPACTS -Monthly attendance to VSOs

The chart below organizes the monthly attendance data by season. The summer season accounts for nearly 37% of total attendance. Also, the spring season, driven by the traditional spring break holiday from school, accounts for approximately 27% of an organization’s total annual attendance.

IMPACTS Seasonal attendance to VSOs

Now that we’ve established that the market obviously has clear seasonal visitation preferences, let’s bust some backward thinking. It is a myth to believe that efforts during off-peak seasons can easily “make up” for poor performance during the peak spring and summer months. Think of it this way: If your organization welcomes 200,000 visitors per year, and 14% of them are visiting in July, an emphasis on increasing attendance during the month of October (when only 6% of visitors historically attend) is not going to produce the total visitation impact as would maximizing peak season attendance. This is especially true in our world of finite resources. Increasing an investment in an off-peak season often means reallocating investments from peak seasons. This alternative use of funds is very unlikely to produce a net benefit for the organization.

Q: What if an organization reallocates some of its resources from peak season to off-peak season? A: It’s not usually a wise financial move. Here’s a case study from my work at IMPACTS that clearly demonstrates the point. Consider the recent example of a large visitor-serving organization (annual attendance >1,000,000) that developed a strategy to increase year-end visitation during the holiday season by reallocating some audience acquisition investments that had been traditionally deployed during the peak season. As a heads-up, this was a relatively modest reallocation of investments and the organization was still investing at a considerable level during the peak season…just not as much as it had in the past. Let’s call this reallocation of resources in an attempt to alter visitation the organization’s “shoulder strategy.”

IMPACTS Shoulder season investment case study

Attendance during the holiday season did improve by 1.17% – but at the expense of attendance during the peak season (which declined by 4.00%). More importantly, a 1.17% increase in attendance during the holiday season only equated to an additional 3,306 visitors…while the 4.00% decrease in peak season performance cost the organization 108,840 visitors. In other words, it proved impossible for the organization to “make up” peak season attendance during an off-peak period by reallocating peak-season resources to the off-peak period. Here’s a look at this information another way.

IMPACTS Shoulder season strategy outcome chart 

There are few meaningful ways to fully compensate for underperformance during a peak season by emphasizing the off-peak season, nor is it likely that a significant investment in the off-peak season will return significant attendance benefits to the organization when compared to the potential of that same investment deployed during a peak season. Schedule is simply too important of a factor to our audiences for them to alter their behaviors to suit our preferences – after all, we don’t define our peak seasons, our audiences do!

Certainly, there are things that an organization can do to try and encourage attendance during less popular months – but don’t rob from peak seasons to pay for an off-peak opportunity. Your organization needs to make its hay when the sun is shining.

When trying to encourage greater visitation during off-peak seasons (hopefully through additional investment rather than taking from peak season resources), remember that discounts artificially increase visitation and change visitation cycles. In fact, discounts do a whole host of not-awesome things for your long-term bottom line. When you discount, you are simply displacing visitation from another season, decreasing visitor satisfaction, devaluing your brand and – perhaps most importantly – decreasing the likelihood of any return visitation at all.

 

4) Attendance loss from unexpected closures is greater than most organizations realize (and it is not generally replaced)

We are often wrong about the impacts of an unforeseen closure for two, big reasons that are important to understand beyond the framework of attendance and revenue projections. When an organization is closed at a time that it might otherwise be open, visitation generally is NOT displaced to other times of the year. And, to top it off, we lose more people than simply those who had planned to attend the organization that day. I wrote a separate post about this earlier this year when snow was hitting the East coast, and it’s worth revisiting here.

Take a look at the math and see just how much we underestimate the lost annual attendance due to unplanned, short-term facility closings. The chart below illustrates data from 13 organizations over a three-year analysis and includes a range of cultural, visitor-serving organizations (each represented by letter). The “Expected Decline” value indicates the number of visitors as a percentage of annual market potential that were expected to be lost by an unforeseen facility closure. If an organization’s market potential analysis suggested attendance of 1,000 visitors on a given Tuesday, and the organization was instead closed that day, then the expected decline in annual market potential would be 1,000. Pretty logical, right? The “Actual Decline” value indicates the actual, observed percentage decline relative to an organization’s annual market potential.

IMPACTS- Immitative value applied analysis

 

 Every organization quantified in the study indicated an actual decline greater than the expected decline. There are two, important reasons why expected and actual decline do not align in commensurate measure.

First, organizations underestimate attendance loss during these days because they do not understand the role that schedule plays in visitation. When people plan to visit an organization, but those plans fall through, visitors are not likely to simply “come back next month.” Those visits are generally lost.

Second, when we close for any reason, we don’t merely lose the people who were going to visit. We lose the recommendations, social media posts, and shared stories of all of the people who were going to visit that day – and the impact of the loss of earned media can be huge. In fact, for every one visit lost due to an unplanned closure, the net annual impact on market potential averages a decline of 1.25 visitors. Thus, if a sustained interruption to your operation results in 20,000 fewer visits, then the annual impact of this business disruption is likely to be lost attendance of 25,000 when compared to your organization’s market potential. Again, you can read more about this here.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that organizations never have unexpected closures! Things happen for which we cannot always plan – and sometimes situations arise which simply make it unsafe for staff or visitors to make it to our institutions. What I am saying is that we consistently underestimate the “now or not-anytime-soon” nature of schedule as a primary influencer of visitation decisions.

 

Considering the critical role that schedule plays in audience motivations, one would think that we’d talk about our hours of operation at least as often as we discuss our reputations, our special exhibits/programs, and our admission cost. But we don’t. As cultural organizations, we talk a lot about accessibility. However, many of us seem to overlook the most basic foundations of this concept – our schedule and open hours. It’s time to take a hard look at the primary barrier to visitation so that we may more effectively carry out our collective missions of making the world a more educated and inspired place.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for some video fast facts! Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

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

The Simple Reminder that Significantly Increases the Likelihood of a Successful Nonprofit Initiative

Want to increase the chances that your organization’s initiative will inspire action on behalf of your mission? Don’t forget this simple, guiding equation.

As nonprofit cultural organizations, we are constantly asking audiences to act in the interests of our missions. We ask them to do all sorts of things such as pay us a visit, make donations, become members, volunteer, or even take a political stance. Today’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video includes a simple – yet all too often forgotten – tip that significantly increases the chances of success for your organization’s initiatives.

Think about the most successful programs and initiatives that your organization and others have carried out. Chances are, no matter what the goal, the initiatives followed this simple equation: An organization’s goals + market preferences = action.

equation for successful initiiativeIt sounds so simple, right? But too many organizations act as if it’s not an equation at all. Most organizations act as if it is possible to effectively inspire action simply by communicating an organization’s goals. What do we think we are…mind controllers? (Although – hey, ethics and morality aside – a bunch of mission-driven folks with the power to get people to make the world a better place simply by saying so might not be so bad…)

Here are some reminders when considering a new initiative and its likely success:

 

1) Old habits and expectations die hard

Organizations often forget that there’s more to inspiring action beyond simply communicating goals because we are used to simply communicating our own goals! Think about it: In the past, organizations (and the world in general) relied on one-way communication channels such as print media and radio in order to transmit their messages. Traditional media channels allow organizations to talk at audiences, but they do not allow organizations to talk with audiences. Basically, they are big mouths – with no ears or actual way of communicating via the messaging medium at all!

Today’s digital communication channels are more dynamic and they require a shift in leadership mindsets in order to effectively be deployed. These channels now allow organizations to talk with their audiences. Like traditional media, they can have mouths that allow them to “speak” messages outward – but they also have ears to let audiences speak back to organizations on the same channel. Depending on the initiative, communication channels today can even be considered to have arms in that they allow organizations to actively integrate audience engagement into the initiative in real time!

 

2) Digital connectivity increases the need to be relevant

Because we can talk with audiences, we need to be even more relevant in our messaging with regard to considering market preferences. We have no excuse for not knowing our audiences and their preferences today. After all, we are constantly connected to them!

In fact, these dynamic communication channels necessitate that we do consider market preferences. There’s no more excuse for simply “telling” audience members that something is important without considering that the interaction may be more like a conversation than ever before.

On this website, I often write: An organization can declare importance, but the market determines relevance. In other words, sometimes it doesn’t matter how loudly an organization uses its mouth to shout that something is important. If people don’t care about it and if it doesn’t match what they want, then that message is irrelevant.

 

3) Integrating market preferences is a no-brainer

Generally speaking, being aware of your audiences and their wants, needs, and interests – as well as how they prefer to communicate and create connections – is a no-brainer.

Trend data can help your organization spot emerging market preferences – but your organization may spot some of these same trends on its own simply by listening to your audiences. And when these preferences are detected, it’s important (and perfectly sensible) to utilize them in order to inspire connection and engagement. Current market preferences include things like personalization, participation, transparency, and social responsibility. If your organization is thinking about carrying out a new initiative, it will help to consider these items within your organization’s engagement strategy.

Initiatives that are contemplative of what the market wants or needs are more likely to inspire action. It may not sound like rocket science, but it’s a reminder that the world is changing, and that our operations and concepts of “business as usual” must continue to evolve as well.

In many ways, we need our audiences – and the behaviors that we aim to inspire within them – more than they need us. We live in a new world of communication and connectivity – and organizations that consider themselves conversationalists instead of lecturers will stand to benefit from this perspective.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for more fast facts! Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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, Fast Facts Video, Fundraising, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on The Simple Reminder that Significantly Increases the Likelihood of a Successful Nonprofit Initiative

Three Tips To Help Nonprofits Increase Success When Pursuing For-Profit Partnerships

Tips for for-profit partnership

Let’s stop telling companies that it’s their privilege to work with us for free – and, instead, show them why we are great partners.

I like to consider myself a double-agent. I work for a for-profit company, but I work with nonprofit visitor-serving organizations. I’m trained in nonprofit management – and I am kind of like this dog that was raised by cats and thus thinks he’s a cat. As I hang out on top of this fence, I can see both yards – and there seem to be a few nonprofit assumptions that don’t quite fit with things on the business side.

I get to see the “partnership pitch” from all angles. I work with nonprofits that make these pitches, and IMPACTS works with for-profit companies that get these pitches. Not a week goes by when IMPACTS itself isn’t approached with opportunities for partnership with amazing organizations. But the proposed partnerships in all of these situations often fall short because there isn’t much consideration of how these theoretical partnerships would work from the not-nonprofit side. In order to increase chances of success, nonprofits must consider the perspective of the person at the other end of the phone or email account to whom they are “pitching” the partnership.

Perhaps you’re looking for a for-profit partner to provide food, consulting services, or even to make a donation. Here are three things for nonprofit organizations to keep in mind that will help increase the chances of success when approaching a potential for-profit partner:

 

1) Consider what is in it for the potential partnering company

This sound obvious, but it very rarely happens. Usually, when a nonprofit organization is asking a company to “partner,” it is code for “I’d like you to do something for free or at a very reduced cost.” There are very few companies with the mission to make a nonprofit successful, so creating a true partnership relies on the nonprofit communicating why this relationship is beneficial to the company. It means speaking their language and articulating how this partnership is not only going to support your mission (this part is usually obvious), but how it is going to help the company succeed.

It is helpful to articulate how the partnership may enhance a company’s profitability – but be careful about what you think benefits of your partnership may be. As a heads up: Successful companies probably aren’t relying on you to market them. Thus, “We’ll market for you!” can be a nice bonus, but it’s a total misread as a driving benefit worthy of partnership on its own merits. Nonprofits often struggle to prioritize marketing investments – but smart for-profit organizations (like the one with which you’re probably seeking to pursue a partnership) generally do not. For what organizations ask a company to invest in the way of sponsorship, a company could likely otherwise achieve a much more effective marketing outcome. The primary benefit of a partnership to the company must be articulated, and indeed, it usually involves connecting the brands. But the primary benefit usually isn’t about the organization doing marketing, it’s about what that partnership means. That meaning is worth directly articulating.

One reliable benefit of a partnership is that it may lend credibility to a company in a specific space or contribute to a corporate social responsibility platform. If there’s mutual benefit, then it’s a partnership. Otherwise, it’s pure philanthropy or the company is a vendor and you should pay them. Organizations may benefit by taking a moment to think through their proposed benefits so that they may speak the same language as the company when pitching a partnership and more directly articulate some of the great benefits that they can bring to the table.

 

2) What is in it for the company is usually not your mission alone

It’s not enough to simply have a social mission – all companies and organizations seem to have social missions today. And the market is generally sector-agnostic – meaning that they don’t care much whether an organization is for-profit or nonprofit as long as it demonstrates impact.

Moreover, nonprofits are not super good and for-profit companies are not super evil – so approaching outbound communications with this mindset isn’t very helpful. In fact, in my experience, the thought that companies are innately morally inferior to nonprofits resides much more in the nonprofit world than from the for-profit world – and that may be a product of today’s more transparent, social-good centric society.

Not every nonprofit is a good partner, and those that are good partners aren’t necessarily good fits for partnership. Like organizations, companies choose which partnerships they want to form – and having a social mission doesn’t make any organization an automatic fit. For example, if a company wants to support informal learning and that’s what you do, then an organization must be prepared to communicate impacts and demonstrate why that investment is best made in your organization. The company may be your dream partner – but is your organization similarly a dream partner for this company? Even if a company believes in your mission, they may still choose to support an organization that serves the same mission, but may be a better fit for partnership.

“Partner with us because it’s the right thing to do,” is not usually a persuasive primary reason for partnership. Again, that’s philanthropy. Similarly, I’ve seen many emails wherein organizations write something that seems to be saying, “We are X organization! It’s really in your best interest to work with us. Everyone knows we are great!” But it often doesn’t occur to this organization that sometimes your brand isn’t enough, and there’s benefit in being tied to your impact. Impact can be a huge differentiator. 

 

3) Decide to REALLY be a good partner

Especially for cultural organizations, the problem starts here: Many are still elitist organizations. Many museums and cultural centers were founded by wealthy benefactors and seem to operate a bit like elitist social clubs. There are millions of dollars of art hung on the walls of some of these institutions and it’s not unusual for even frontline staff at some cultural organizations to have master’s degrees. We work in important, symbolic buildings, and we work for the good of the people – even though data suggest that we still have real trouble engaging diverse audiences and some popular programs intended to reach these people actually make the issue worse. (I just got real there, but I’m trying to make a point.) Nonprofits often approach companies as if it is a privilege to partner with the organization. The reality is that some of us have a view of ourselves that doesn’t conform to today’s economies or the current social condition – and this view seems to often come out when approaching a potential partner in order to obtain goods or services.

Nonprofits do amazing things – but when we call a not-partnership a partnership (even politely), we look kind of out-of-touch. Instead of going into the conversation assuming that we are worthy of any partnership because of “who we are,” organizations may have more success by pausing to realize that we are approaching this for-profit company because of who they are, too. Partners are equals.

 

Nonprofits and for-profits love the word “partnership.” (And why shouldn’t we? It’s an important word and concept.) However, many organizations don’t practice what they preach. If we considered that word, we wouldn’t say some of the things we say. We wouldn’t shamelessly ask for services and act like the business on the other end should give us what we want for free or reduced price just because we say we care about something. We wouldn’t say the word so much because we’d realize that sometimes we’re not asking for a partnership at all. We’re asking for a handout.

Nonprofits can be excellent partners that bring credibility and respect to for-profit companies. However, a precedent to partnership must be a willingness to consider the mutual benefits of the relationship and a critical analysis of our own capabilities. Most of all, our actions need to trump our words – instead of telling companies how awesome we are, let’s show them.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Three Tips To Help Nonprofits Increase Success When Pursuing For-Profit Partnerships

Which Is More Important for Cultural Organizations: Being Educational or Being Entertaining? (DATA)

From a visitor’s perspective, which is more important for cultural organizations: Being entertaining or being educational? Here’s what the data says.

This week’s Fast Facts video briefly outlines a data-informed aspect of the “Entertainment vs. Education” debate.

There seems to be an ongoing tension within organizations regarding the relationship between providing an entertaining experience and an educational experience for visitors. All too often, we seem to act as though the two forces are at-odds with one another.

Sometimes, the entertainment value of a visit to a cultural organization gets an internal bad rap. After all, cultural organizations are mission-driven and one of their goals is often to educate. “Entertaining” occasionally seems to be a sort of dirty word – much like considering visitors as “customers” and the idea of “selling” admission. They are concepts/words that might make some staffers uncomfortable. In the best interests of the organizations that we love, however, we need to at least embrace these ideas or risk less solvent futures.

The truth is that providing education and entertainment are both important to our visitors – and knowing exactly how these elements contribute to the visitor experience may help inform future strategies and conversations. So, let’s take a look at some data from a visitor perspective and get to the bottom of this relationship.

 

1) Entertainment drives visitor satisfaction and re-visitation

To tackle the question regarding the importance of entertainment versus education, let’s start by considering the data that goes into developing a visitor satisfaction metric.

Individual evaluation criteria – such as entertainment and education values – aren’t weighted equally because the market is not influenced by them equally. Many organizations aiming to achieve higher overall satisfaction measures mistakenly believe that every aspect of a visitor’s experience is equally important – and that’s just not true. To visitors, some criteria (such as employee courtesy) have more weight than others (such as the quality of the gift shop). With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the weighted attributes that influence overall satisfaction – informed by the market and IMPACTS Research. (These data derive from the National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study of more than 98,000 US adults concerning visitor-serving organizations.)

IMPACTS Overall satisfaction weight

Yes, folks. This is indeed a data-informed chart of exactly how much each aspect of the visitor experience contributes to overall satisfaction when visiting a cultural organization such as a museum, zoo, aquarium, historic site, performing arts event, etc.

Entertainment experience is the single greatest contributor to overall satisfaction. Education value influences only about 5% of overall satisfaction, whereas entertainment value influences more than 20% of overall satisfaction. Favorability is the visitor’s perception of how “likeable” the organization and its experiences are – and the entertainment quotient of the experience contributes even more to overall satisfaction than does favorability. That’s saying something.

The fact that entertainment value drives visitor satisfaction is cut-and-dry and non-negotiable. And any company or organization telling you otherwise is likely paid by an entity that really, really doesn’t want to evolve. Providing an entertaining experience is absolutely critical for visitor satisfaction, and, thus, return visitation. In short, cultural organizations need to be at least somewhat entertaining in order to stay alive.

 

2) Education justifies visitation

It’s clear that providing an entertaining experience is more important for satisfying visitors – but education isn’t chopped liver. Data suggest that being educational plays a critical role in justifying a visit to a cultural organization after the visit is over.

Take a look at this data from IMPACTS (again, from the National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study):

IMPACTS Primary visit purpose

Learning something new and different, seeing something new and different, and wanting a child to learn something new and different are the top three stated responses regarding the primary purpose of a visit after that visit is over. This is a big deal, because it means that while the educational aspect of an organization’s mission may not necessarily bear extraordinary influence on how satisfied a visitor is during their onsite visit, it is thereafter recalled as a primary factor motivating the visit – and this is good news! It helps to reinforce the purpose of cultural organizations externally, underscoring our drive for social good. (And this has financial benefits, too. Organizations that highlight their mission financially outperform those marketing primarily as attractions!)

 

In sum, entertainment value makes a visit satisfying but education value helps justifies a visit. Successful organizations aim to make education entertaining. It’s not a battle, but a balancing act wherein fun and learning work hand-in-hand to make both visitors and the organization better.

I could have guessed that,” many of you may be saying. Well, that’s good. Now when we enter conversations from either the mission or revenue angle, we can be a bit more informed by visitor-driven, industry-wide data. There may be some hard facts to face here, but they are important: We need to prioritize being both educating and educational – and quit thinking of “entertainment” as a dirty word.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for more fast facts! Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

The Five Best Reasons to Add Millennials To Your Nonprofit Board of Directors

Don’t have any millennials on your nonprofit board yet? Your future might be tough.

There are a whole heck of a lot of good reasons to target millennial visitors and supporters. They are not visiting cultural organizations at representative rates, they aren’t magically “aging into” increased care for arts and culture, and – perhaps most importantly – data suggest that millennial audiences are an organization’s best audiences.

But what about how cultural organizations are engaging millennial leadership within institutions? We need to pay attention to this, too. I’ve posted on this topic before, but this one is so important that I made a little Fast Facts video about it. It’s time to get more millennials involved on nonprofit boards of directors – particularly for larger, prominent organizations with annual operating budgets >$30 million and/or annual attendance >1 million for visitor-serving organizations. Representation on these types of boards seems to be particularly lacking…and that’s terrifying, as many smaller organizations often emulate the practices of their larger cohorts.

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

The time has come for organizations to sink or swim based on how effectively they engage millennials…and that may be particularly hard to do when nobody tasked to govern and lead these organizations is actually a member of this generation. 

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

Don’t have at least one millennial on your board of directors yet? Here are five, critical reasons to implore the nominating committee to start cultivating some impressive millennials to serve on your nonprofit board right now:

 

1) Millennials represent the largest generation in human history

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

 

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

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

 

3) Millennial support is necessary from a policy standpoint

…And if your organization does not get millennials involved in understanding policy-related challenges and opportunities from a leadership buy-in perspective, you may be “voting” against your own best interests. In fact, millennials may significantly influence the outcomes of the next six presidential elections – starting with the upcoming election in November! Indeed, this depends upon millennials actually voting, but building any aspect of your organization’s survival strategy upon 90 million people not turning out for elections is a stupid strategy. Moreover, millennials will eventually dominate a vast majority of government leadership positions…mandatory government retirement policies dictate this math. Inviting millennials onto your board helps ensure that your organization’s best interests are well-represented and maximally protected.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Like this post? You can check out more Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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 Fast Facts Video, Millennials, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on The Five Best Reasons to Add Millennials To Your Nonprofit Board of Directors

Three New Trends For Cultural Organizations That Are Not New At All

News ideas for cultural organizations that are actually old ideas

Those “new” trends that need to be embraced within cultural organizations? They aren’t new at all…so let’s stop being scared of them. 

If you work within a cultural organization, then you are probably aware of some of the new, big trends and ideas confronting organizations right now: Making organizations more participatory and social, embracing innovation, securing word-of-mouth engagement in our connected world, and framing collections so that they are right-now relevant. Sometimes it feels like organizations may never be able to successfully welcome and adopt these new changes…

Here’s the thing, though – none of those are new concepts.

The very first museums were founded on many of these ideas. In reality, solitary experiences, primarily showcasing the past, and relying on traditional marketing channels to get the word out are the new concepts. What organizations are trying to do today may simply be examples of returning to their roots. 

Here are three of the oldest, “new” trends with which organizations are currently wrestling:

 

1) Solitary experiences are new (Social experiences are old)

Let’s start with arguably the best example of a type of cultural organization that underscores “existing in silence and appreciating the art” – classical music organizations. I’ve told this story once, but it is worth repeating: I was with the IMPACTS team in a meeting with Stanford University discussing the engagement of students and community members alike in classical music. The group began discussing opportunities around “shaking up” the way that audiences experience classical music, and the merits of making the concert-going experience more “social.” One of the University’s leaders suddenly exclaimed, “It’s getting back to performing Handel in the same, social way that the music was experienced in Handel’s time!”

We all stopped in our tracks. We thought being social in this environment was more of a new idea. Lifting the demand for silence at certain programs? Serving food (chewing while listening)? World-class musicians performing important, inspiring, and moving pieces while listeners mingle? Many might consider that sacrilegious!

In reality, the concept of orchestrating isolated cultural experiences in shared spaces is the relatively new idea. In Handel’s time, music was enjoyed socially – audiences ate, drank, and generally partook in all sorts of merriment while musicians filled the concert hall with beautiful melodies. Why is being social in shared spaces considered “new” when it was the very way that many types of art were originally intended to be enjoyed, discussed, and explored?

After all, dedicated listening to classical music only accounts for 20.9% of all classical music listening activity – and the behavior doesn’t vary as dramatically between students (i.e. “young people”) and non-students as some might suspect. Some organizations may choose to focus their programmatic offerings to try to fit into that 20.9% of their audiences’ dedicated listening time…but why not create programs to include the other 79.1%?

The data below represent the classical music listening behaviors of 915 undergraduate students, and 2,115 non-student adults living in the San Francisco Bay Designated Market Area. The commonality of behavior is particularly interesting as students and non-students alike spend approximately 80% of their time listening to classical music while also doing something else.

IMPACTS - dedicated listening behaviors

These data are particularly interesting because they indicate self-selected cultural behaviors. Classical music listeners – arguably among the most “traditional” of contemporary cultural participants – report that only about 1/3 of their time spent engaging with content is experienced in a state of solitude (e.g. dedicated listening or while reading). The balance of their engagement invites connection and a public context – while traveling, while dining, while cooking, while exercising. For the vast majority of time for its listeners, classical music accompanies another activity or supports a social context…it is not a dedicated activity.

Yet, too many organizations that present classical music create environments focused solely on dedicated listening, and, indeed, actively dissuade a social context. And these organizations are not alone – there seems to exist a false dogma in some organizations that dedicated, solitary experiences are the preferred way to engage with a cultural experience. The data suggest otherwise. The fact that the earliest art museums may have started as private collections viewable only to those close to the collector further highlights the importance of social connection. Viewing these collections required a connection to another person. Perhaps the audiences of Handel’s time had it right – culture may be a component of a greater, social experience.

Not convinced of the power of social interactions in cultural organizations? Consider: Data suggest that who people are with is more important than what they see at an organization, and social interactions significantly increase visitor satisfaction.

 

2) Traditional media for marketing purposes is new (Securing earned endorsement from visitors is old)

The concept of embracing digital engagement feels like a big change…so much so that non-marketing staff members seem to be “not my job-ing” it in many institutions. But let’s look past the relatively new creations of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and consider what these digital platforms actually do and why they are so influential: They allow for the increased potential to connect people and share messages.

The advent of digital engagement platforms did not create a new phenomenon – it provided a way to more effectively tap into the motivators of human behavior that have always been there. Earned media and reviews from trusted resources (like those that take place on digital platforms) drive visitation to cultural organizations. Again, this model of diffusion isn’t new – it’s how reputations have always been earned and promulgated. After all, how else could museums secure attendance before the development of radio and television advertising? (That’s a trick question. Access to collections of artwork in particular was often a matter of connections to the people running the collections, which again leads us to the importance of word of mouth endorsement. There likely wouldn’t have been ads for these particular types of institutions before they were more broadly accessible.)

IMPACTS model of diffusion

Regular readers know that I love this data. Note that what people say about your organization (the coefficient of imitation (Q)) is 12.85 times more important in determining reputation than what you pay to say about yourself (the coefficient of innovation (P)) – And reputation is a driver of visitation to cultural organizations.

Spinach is to Popeye as social media is to word of mouth endorsement. Here. Allow me to take this metaphor too far:

Popeye earned media

Social media is about engaging people. It is not about computers or cells phones. In the cartoon above, think of computers (or “technology”) as the can. It’s not the can that makes Popeye strong. It’s the connectivity potential of what is in it. In a 1800s version of this cartoon, the can would be a marketplace and the spinach would be a friend communicating a face-to-face recommendation to attend a cultural event. Indeed, that same spinach is still just as good today, but that spinach has never been “traditional media.” Comparatively, “traditional media” as a motivator is a new concept – and it plays a different role in motivating visitation.

 

3) Focusing on the past is new (Innovation and informing future discoveries is old)

Being innovative often gets a bad rep as being risky more than being necessary for cultural organizations, and the task of being relevant may be beginning to sound like jargon. But cultural organizations have always been equally about the future as they are about the past. The goals of inspiring wonder and curiosity are equally beholden to history as they are to a hopeful future. Thinking that cultural organizations are more about the past than the future or the present is a new idea…and maybe that’s why we can’t seem to shake that “boring” stereotype.

Many of the world’s early museums were cabinets of curiosities. These cabinets of curiosities were collections that often consisted of artifacts and also new discoveries – or curious objects with histories yet to be uncovered and stories yet to be told. There was an element of these collections that was current and thus real-time relevant. Instead of simply “teaching” folks about things that we already knew, they were often collections focused on what we were finding out. Think of it as perhaps collecting puzzle pieces to inform the world in which we live. I think that cultural organizations might struggle less with relevance if we thought of ourselves as providers of clues and summoners of curiosity…and less like archaic teachers.

Even today, what seems to be picked up and discussed most regarding museums is how they impact our future knowledge. When we can bridge the gap and demonstrate how the past may inform the future (or the present), that’s when we are most relevant. That’s common sense and it’s not new. It’s not an “innovative” concept. We were once encyclopedic collections of things that made folks feel like discoverers and knowledge collectors…not places that made folks feel like they were being “informed.”

I think focusing on the past (as opposed to how the past connects to the present) is dangerous. I think that’s what is holding us back and may be providing an excuse for some institutions to be lazy, and to even complain about the need to be relevant. Why would any cultural organization complain about the need to be relevant?!

Relevance, connective experiences, and operating based upon earned endorsements are among the oldest attributes of cultural organizations – and that’s great news! It means that we can give them a little bit less strength as overwhelming forces.

It means we’ve totally got this.

 

Like this post? Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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 Comments Off on Three New Trends For Cultural Organizations That Are Not New At All

The Hidden Value of Millennial Visitors to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Data suggest that millennial visitors possess three behavioral characteristics that make them cultural organizations’ most valuable audiences.

Okay, okay. You’re sick of talking about the importance of reaching millennial audiences…even though industry data suggest that cultural organizations are not attracting these audiences at the rate that we should be AND millennials are not “growing into” caring about arts and culture. But let’s put all that aside for a moment…

This week’s KYOB Fast Facts video covers three behavioral characteristics that data suggest make millennials particularly important audiences. I’ve written about them before with the data cut a bit differently.

Take a look at these findings from IMPACTS that compares three behavioral characteristics of Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965- 1979) and millennials (born 1980-2000) who profile as high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations (i.e. museums, performing arts organizations, aquariums, historic sites, etc.). That is, they demonstrate the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization. Like much of the data that I am able to share here on KYOB, it comes from the ongoing National Attitudes, Awareness, and Usage Study.

High Propensity Visitor Indicators -Millennials

Let’s briefly go over these findings one-by-one:

1) Millennial visitors are most likely to come back within the year

Millennials are revisiting more often than other generations. In fact, millennials make up the majority of visits to cultural organizations because they are revisiting these types of organizations. And this is awesome! It means that attracting millennial audiences gives us bang for our audience acquisition buck. In fact, with index values under 100 for both Baby Boomers and members of Generation X, non-millennials are actually unlikely to revisit a cultural organization within one year.

Coming back is important because it helps these audiences grow potentially longer-lasting relationships with these institutions. Why focus on attracting cultural center-loving individuals who are likely to pay a single visit to a cultural organization when there’s a whole host of cultural center-loving millennials that are likely to visit more than once?

 

2) Millennial visitors are most likely to recommend a visit to a friend

Sometimes our reputation for having big mouths pay off! Millennial visitors are more likely than Baby Boomers or members of Generation X to recommend a visit to a friend when they have a good experience. This means that not only are millennial audiences most likely to revisit a cultural organization within a one-year duration, but they are also most likely to tell others to do the same. Talk about payoff!

 

3) Millennial visitors are the most connected visitors

This is important: All high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations profile as being “super-connected.” That is, they have access to the web at home, at work, and on mobile devices. Though the web plays a big role in the connectivity of millennials, it is undeniably critical for Baby Boomers and members of Generation X as well (as evidenced by index values coming in at over 100 for all three groups). If you work for a cultural organization and you are trying to get people in the door, data suggest that the web is insanely important in order to effectively attract any demographic. Got it? Good. I’ll move on…

It’s great that millennials are most likely to come back and also to tell their friends to pay a cultural organization a visit…but they are also the most connected audiences among the three generational cohorts – by a long shot. The constant connectivity of millennials means that this audience shares messages with their friends and family (likely also high-propensity visitors) with a reach that’s a bit like traditional media on steroids.

 

When you put all of this together, the case for prioritizing millennial engagement is rather compelling. While a Baby Boomer may visit once per year and not necessarily recommend their experience to a friend, millennial visitors are more likely to come back and tell LOTS of their friends to do the same. Millennials may be the best connectors to other millennials – and perhaps simply to other people in general.

When data are considered, the task of reaching millennials may even seem less like a burden and more like an opportunity. (Too much? Okay. I won’t push you. I’ll just encourage you to scroll back up to the chart and let the data do the talking.)

 

Like this post? You can check out more Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on The Hidden Value of Millennial Visitors to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

The Surprising Reason Why Organizations Underestimate Attendance Loss During Closures (DATA)

Know Your Own Bone - Underestimate Attendance During Closures for Cultural Organizations

When cultural organizations experience unforeseen facility closures, they lose more visitors than simply those who were planning to visit that day. Here’s why.

While the following data may be particularly timely after Winter Storm Jonas, cultural organizations (museums, zoos, historic sites, performing arts organizations, etc.) are consistently way off when adjusting annual attendance projections due to closures. This includes closures due to weather, irregular operations, storm damage, fire, utility failure, criminal activity, or anything else.

No matter the reason for the closure, we dramatically underestimate the overall impact on annual attendance. It’s generally a huge bummer when we have to close for unforeseen circumstances and take the attendance (and, for many organizations, revenue) hit. But knowing why we are so frequently wrong in quantifying the total impact of these closures may help us better understand visitors and develop more realistic contingency plans for lost revenue and attendance.

We are often wrong about the impacts of an unforeseen closure for two, big reasons that are important to understand beyond the framework of attendance and revenue projections. When an organization is closed at a time that it might otherwise be open, visitation generally is NOT displaced to other times of the year. And, to top it off, we lose more people than simply those who had planned to attend the organization that day. The reasons for this happening are important for organizations to understand.

Take a look at the math and see just how much we underestimate the lost annual attendance due to unplanned, short-term facility closings. This chart illustrates data from 13 organizations over a three-year analysis and includes a range of cultural, visitor-serving organizations – each represented by letter.

IMPACTS- Immitative value applied analysis

The “Expected Decline” value indicates the number of visitors as a percentage of annual market potential that were expected to be lost by an unforeseen facility closure. If an organization’s market potential analysis suggested attendance of 1,000 visitors on a given Tuesday, and the organization was instead closed that day, then the expected decline in annual market potential would be 1,000. Pretty logical, right?

The “Actual Decline” value indicates the actual, observed percentage decline relative to an organization’s annual market potential.

Every organization quantified in the study indicated an actual decline greater than the expected decline. There are two, important reasons why expected and actual decline do not align in commensurate measure.

 

1) Lost attendance is not usually displaced to another date

“They’ll come back later,” some staff say. Well, most likely they won’t. Not this year, at least. Data suggests that it is incorrect to assume that lost attendance due to an unforeseen closure is somehow magically reallocated to other periods during the calendar year.

IMPACTS- Discretionary decision making utility model

Extant data indicates that schedule has the single greatest influence on a would-be visitor’s decision-making process. This analysis reaffirms that if a scheduled visit is interrupted by an unforeseen closure, then these affected visitors are unlikely to visit the organization in a proximate chronology. In other words, if a snowstorm in February forces a closure that results in a loss of attendance, then these would-be February visitors are unlikely to visit come April or July.

It is a miscalculation for an organization to simply distribute attendance lost due to a closure to the remainder of the year. Those 4,000 visitors who stayed home these past few days while the snowflakes fell during Winter Storm Jonas? They’re likely gone…and annual budgets should be adjusted accordingly.

That’s a bummer, but it makes sense. It accounts for lost annual attendance that at least matches the expected decline. But why do organizations lose more visitors than those who were planning to visit on the date of the closure during the remaining course of the year? It’s a good question with a very important answer.

 

2) Recommendations and social sharing from those who would have visited are lost (and that is a much bigger deal than we realize)

This lost visitation has a sort of “double-whammy” effect for many cultural organizations as they are reliant on word of mouth and other testimonial factors to help engage audience and motivate attendance. (This is particularly true for organizations in those regions where visiting friends and family is a primary driver of tourism and travel. If your plan was to take a visiting friend or family member to a local museum, but a water main break forced the cancellation of that visit, well, that museum lost out on both the organizing party’s visit and also the guest.) When we close for any reason, we don’t just lose the people who were going to visit. We lose the recommendations, social media posts, and shared stories of all of the people who were going to visit that day.

And many organizations do not factor this into their adjustments. Fortunately, thanks to data, today we can. For every one visit lost due to an unplanned closure, the net annual impact on market potential averages a decline of 1.25 visitors. Thus, if a sustained interruption to your operation results in 20,000 fewer visits, then the annual impact of this business disruption is likely to be lost attendance of 25,000 when compared to your organization’s market potential.

Wait! We lose real people because of lost word of mouth endorsement? Yes. It’s not just hot air: Word of mouth endorsements are a BIG factor driving the attendance numbers for cultural organizations – and every year, the attendance to cultural organizations with unforeseen closures prove it. Consider the analysis: Of the 13 organizations quantified in the study, the average attendance decline due to unplanned closures was -4.45% compared to market potential. However, the actual decline in annual market potential was observed to be -5.56%. Again, due to word of mouth and other “imitative behaviors,” the loss of every one visitor equates to a total annual decline of 1.25 visitors. 

It’s important to remember that recommendations and social media posts that would have resulted had the organization not closed that day are no more impactful than recommendations based on experiences that take place on any other day. Word of mouth recommendations and social sharing are always playing a role in a cultural organization’s actual, onsite visitation numbers. This fact right here, folks, is a dang good reason to go hug your social media community manager who facilitates the sharing of experiences and word of mouth endorsements. This is also a good time to remember that millennials – who are most likely to recommend a visit to friends – are largely underserved by cultural organizations.

 

Unforseen closures stink. We’re never excited to learn that our organizations have lost the financial support that would have been gained from onsite visitation. We rely on that support to carry out our missions. And, considered in that light, this data really kicks us when we’re down. (It stinks when data does that.) But this information stands to make us much smarter. Embracing these realities allows us to more properly adjust attendance and revenue numbers so we aren’t down in the dumps later due to unrealistic expectations.

Perhaps most importantly, these findings underscore the importance – and the numbers of real, flesh-and-blood visitors – affected by the important role that word of mouth endorsements and shared stories have in helping us to share our experiences with more people. And in the end, that’s kind of cool, right?

When we educate and inspire people, it really does bring in more people to educate and inspire.

 

Like this post? Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

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

Nonprofit Recognition: What Matters More To Visitors Than Your Tax Status (DATA)

Do visitors know that museums  and other cultural organizations are nonprofits? Data says: Nope. Here’s what really matters to audiences about your organization.

This week’s Fast Facts video covers a big misconception that folks working within cultural organizations (often unknowingly) promulgate: That being a nonprofit is a key differentiating factor to their audiences. As it turns out, data suggest that your organization’s tax status is relatively unknown among visitors and non-visitors alike.

This video explores the data. Not a video person? (That’s cool. You do you.) Here’s what you need to know:

 

1) The majority of people in the US do NOT think cultural organizations are nonprofits

Check out this data from IMPACTS that uncovers the percentage of the US adult population that believes that cultural organizations such as museums (e.g. art, science, history), zoos, performing arts centers, botanic gardens, and aquariums are nonprofit organizations. Like much of the non-proprietary data that I am able to share on Know Your Own Bone, the findings informing this analysis come from the ongoing National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study of 98,000 adults (and counting).

KYOB- Nonprofit recognition data

The findings may be a tad alarming to some. I’ve personally heard the “but we’re a nonprofit” excuse for not keeping up with financial realities (among other things) more times that I can count. This data flips the popular excuse for lack of evolution on its head. Not only are most non-visitors to these institutions not aware that cultural organizations are nonprofit organizations, but over half of the people who do visit these types of organizations are unaware that they are nonprofit organizations.

Take a look at history museums, for instance. Only 47.2% of visitors to history museums know that they are nonprofit organizations. The other 52.8% of visitors (over half) are unaware that they are reliant on philanthropic support: They believe that the organizations are for-profit entities, or government-funded operations that are otherwise provided for by their taxes.

Regardless of the reason for the misperceptions, more than half of visitors to ALL cultural organizations do not believe that they play any role in keeping these organizations healthy or alive after walking in the door. Beyond paying admission (to what they consider a business) or paying their taxes (to an organization with free admission because their taxes fund a government-operated entity), the majority of visitors risk believing that there is no further need for their support.

 

2) The market is sector agnostic

The misconception that these types of cultural organizations do not need support as nonprofit organizations is a problem – but how big of a problem? We’ve created a situation wherein people think admission to cultural organizations is largely either a pre-paid entitlement (thanks to taxes), or a fee paid to a for-profit company. Admission to most cultural organizations are neither of these things.

Tied to the misconceptions regarding the need to support cultural organizations is another market-based truth: Today’s audiences are generally sector agnostic. This means that they don’t much care about an organization’s tax status. They care about how well your company or organization does what it claims to be expert at doing. Loyal Know Your Own Bone readers (you guys rock) know that I’ve shared this nonprofit recognition data before in a post about how, today, for-profit and nonprofit organizations compete against one another. At IMPACTS, we continue to find evidence supporting this fact nearly every day.

Let’s be honest: Market confusion makes sense in the case of many nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations. We’re nonprofit, but our operations often follow a traditional economic utility curve. In other words, unlike giving to a charity that supports the homeless, people are “paying” for the personal experience of visiting our organizations. But unlike SeaWorld (for instance), those revenues cycle exclusively back into our social missions to educate and inspire…because that’s what 501(c)3 organizations do. And that brings up another potential point of confusion: Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal Studios are for-profit companies – and SeaWorld hits the “we’re mission-driven” button hard (or rather, it tries to). It makes sense that the market might give up on differentiating visitor-serving nonprofits from for-profits! And until recently, most nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations were marketing themselves primarily as attractions – NOT mission driven organizations. Some laggard nonprofit visitor-serving organizations still do…

 

3) The tax status of cultural organizations is not their differentiating factor

So far this is looking bad. Our audiences largely don’t know that we rely on their support in order to stay alive and they are sector agnostic so they, in a sense, don’t even care that we are nonprofit. So what do our audiences care about? How well we carry out our missions.

But nonprofits don’t “own” social good, and that’s a big reason for evidence of the market’s sector agnosticism. Corporate social responsibility is a necessity for companies today. There are countless articles on the importance of for-profit companies “doing good.” It is a key tactic for gaining more customers. And that’s interesting because there are still some cultural organizations that do this weird, outdated thing where they try to overlook their social advantage and exclusively promulgate “visit us today!” messages (and even offer discounts that devalue their brand and cause even more sector confusion for cultural organizations). It’s like some of them are trying to be like Disney World…

Being good at your mission is good business. Data demonstrate that organizations highlighting their missions outperform organizations marketing primarily as attractions. Perhaps, in all of our “But we are a nonprofit” excuse making, we missed the true differentiator that has provided us that tax status in the first place: Our bottom line of making a difference.

Our key differentiator is not our tax status, but that our dedication to making a difference is embedded in the very structure of how we operate. There’s a thought that we need to run “more like for-profit companies” (and in some ways we do, but the blanket directive is an ignorant miss). But look around. For-profit companies are actually trying to be more like us in the sense that they want audiences to know that they stand for something that makes the world a better place.

 

4) Communicating nonprofit status is critical in order to make the case for support (but it is a secondary communications goal)

When people don’t know that we are nonprofit organizations, it is a lot more difficult to secure members and donors. For that reason, we do need to better communicate our need for support. But perhaps before we ask for support, we need to do a better job showing the world what supporting us means. In other words, the lack of knowledge about our need for support may be indicative of a long-term communication and programmatic failure.

We educate. We inspire. We connect. We conserve. We teach. We change the world, one mind at a time. But perhaps the misconception about the need for support stems from our own communications focused not around how we change the world, but how we don’t change the world: “Visit!” “Discount!” “New exhibit!” Those messages are important, but are they most important? After all, can we blame the market for not knowing that we are nonprofit organizations if we bury the missions and ideals that are the foundation for our existence in more commercial messages and programs?

 

Fewer than half of U.S. audiences are aware of the nonprofit status of cultural organizations. That’s a big deal, because it makes it harder to secure support. But it’s also a good reminder that audiences are increasingly sector-agnostic, and our competitive advantage may not be our tax status, but what our tax status means: That we are here to change the world.

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment