Audience Insights: Organizations Overlook the Most Important Clues

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

Do Expansions Increase Long-Term Attendance? (DATA)

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

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

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

Cultural Organizations: It Is Time To Get Real About Failures

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

How Annual Timeframes Hurt Cultural Organizations

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

Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

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

Community Engagement

Visitation to Increase if Cultural Organizations Evolve Engagement Models (DATA)

Tipping pointAttendance to cultural centers is on the decline, but data suggest that forward-facing organizations may see improvements by 2020. Here’s why.

Overall, data suggest that attendance to visitor-serving organizations is in a general state of decline relative to population growth – and this may suggest a problem with the current visitor-serving organization business model. For organizations that fail to adapt their engagement strategies to respond to emerging audiences, there’s abundant reason to believe that their attendance levels may continue to stagnate or decline. However, data suggest that those organizations willing to evolve their thinking about emerging audiences and access programming stand to benefit by overcoming the negative substitution trends that are currently depressing attendance. There is a reasonable expectation that evolutionary, agile organizations will experience sustained increases in attendance as this century enters its second decade.

Here’s what your organization needs to know about negative substitution, acculturation, and access programming opportunities…and how they are shaping the future of visitor engagement:

1) Negative substitution of audiences is affecting attendance (and it is happening NOW)

While the US population continues to grow, the historic audiences of visitor-serving organizations (i.e. those audiences with the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes that indicate a propensity to visit) have been in a state of general decline. One of the reasons for this circumstance is the negative substitution of audiences. Negative substitution is quantified by a deficiency of “replacements” for the historic visitors who exit our markets. For every one person who exits the market, there is fewer than one person to replace him/her.

Currently, for every one high-propensity visitor to visitor-serving enterprise that leaves the market (through death, relocation, or migration), only 0.948 similar high-propensity visitors are entering the market (typically via birth or relocation). When people leave the market without a sufficient number of “replacements,” we have negative substitution.

Why is this happening? For one, affluent, educated white people (i.e. historic audiences) are having fewer children and/or getting older and/or relocating to emerging markets, and visitor-serving organizations on the whole have yet to sufficiently cultivate the engagement of a newer kind of high-propensity visitor. In other words, on the whole, we’ve done a relatively poor job becoming places where emerging audiences (e.g. millennials, Latinos, etc.) feel comfortable declaring “This place is for people like me.” We refer to this as attitude affinity – a perceptual measurement of if a particular market segment believes that an organization is welcoming to them.

Incidentally, emerging audiences (most commonly Latino and other historically underserved populations) are playing a major role in population growth. Historically “underserved” audiences are increasingly the mainstream audiences of the future…and failure to cultivate their engagement may risk a generational alienation from our organizations.

Ultimately, this downward trend demonstrates the failure of access programming within visitor-serving organizations. If the past few decades of access-motivated initiatives had been successful, then we would not be experiencing negative substitution. Instead, we would have cultivated these audience members to become our current visitors. Demographers and researchers have been writing about this inevitability for some time.  If our programming had proven responsive to this opportunity, then we would be experiencing audience visitation that increases alongside population growth. That’s not what’s happening.

 

2) Misunderstanding access programming jeopardizes long-term sustainability

Many organizations incorrectly consider “access” primarily in terms of affordability.  If simply offering a reduced admission was a cure-all to access issues, then very few organizations would still have underserved audiences at all.  The presence of a continually underserved audience indicates the failure of an organization’s access programming.  In the past, organizations could perhaps put access issues on the back burner and get it away with it – there were enough traditional high-propensity visitors to support the organization.  However, as the traditional market shrinks and historically underserved audiences grow to become an increasing majority, the issue of access can’t be de-prioritized any longer.  The future well-being of many visitor-serving organizations hinges on their ability to connect with these audiences. The reality is that effective access programming engenders trial and usage by cultivating new audiences as eventual regular visitors – an organization’s lifeblood.  Access isn’t primarily about price. It’s about eliminating every barrier to engagement.

Do the data suggest letting everyone visit for free?  No.  Of course not.  The data indicate that time is more valued than money for the vast majority of audiences.  A person thinking about visiting a zoo on a Saturday in June is very unlikely to delay their visit until a Tuesday in November simply because of cost.

Access programming is significantly less about affordability than strategic sustainability. This is where organizations are being inappropriately emotional about business matters, and misguided ideas about “affordability” are lessening the solvency of some organizations. Today, there exists compelling, data-informed science that suggest that cost is overstated as the primary barrier to engagement (schedule reliably trumps cost). Think of it this way: If $34.95 proves unaffordable to select audiences, so will $24.95 or $29.95…or any other realistic “discount” from the general admission basis. In terms of true affordability, nearly any price diminishes the visitation potential for our most affordability challenged audiences.

Price is not panacea when it comes to affordability. And affordability is not antidote for access. Price is a revenue optimization tool that provides organizations with the resources to support access programming that, in turn, cultivates the engagement of future audiences.

If you want to be relevant to the audience of tomorrow, you better be working to engage them today.

 

3) Acculturation improves future outlook (provided organizations update engagement models)

IMPACTS- HPV substitution ratios

But there’s hope! Check out this graph from IMPACTS. It demonstrates substitution ratios derived from a predictive modeling process for US visitor-serving organizations. The Y-axis indicates the antecedent term (the first value) in the substitution ratio.  Thus, an antecedent term <1.00 indicates negative substitution – for every one person exiting the market, there is less than one person to replace them.

Why does the trend improve in the future?  Acculturation. Emerging audiences tend to adopt “mainstream” behaviors over time – including, potentially, engaging with visitor-serving organizations such as museums, zoos, aquariums, performing arts centers, etc.

Think of the observed differences between first, second, and third generation immigrants to the US. For example, the first generation of immigrants may not speak the language, may have gone to school overseas, may tend to live in clusters of like ethnicities, etc. The next generation was born and raised in the United States – and may be more acculturated than their parents…but still retain certain behaviors due to household customs (English as Second Language, etc.). However, the third generation tends to be even more acculturated, with fewer traces of “old country” behaviors.

Because population growth is being driven by births of second and third generation Americans, acculturation represents a tremendous opportunity to engage these emerging audiences – provided, of course, that organizations have cultivated a relationship with these audiences before they enter the mainstream. Significant research indicates that relationships with brands are often cast during a person’s early, formative years – a failure to cultivate the engagement of a less acculturated first or second generation audience member may effectively preclude the future engagement of a fully acculturated third generation audience member.

The good news about this data? Organizations that intelligently and diligently evolve their engagement models during this critical time stand to benefit from the positive impacts of acculturation in the near future. The perhaps challenging news? Organizations will need to be thoughtful and actively evolving before 2020 (i.e. the predicted “tipping point” in the audience acculturation projections) so as to cultivate the support of these future audiences before they enter the mainstream market.

This isn’t a “Let’s just wait until 2020 to get serious” situation. This is a “If you start thinking strategically and work hard now, then you’ll see a payoff in 2020” situation.

Interestingly (and unsurprisingly), technology accelerates acculturation. This means, of course, that utilizing digital platforms and cultivating real-time communications with emerging audiences is critical for organizations. This is also another compelling reason for leaders to listen to PR and social media staff members throwing around the word “innovation.” In many ways, the industry doesn’t need to “pivot” (that mindset created many of the challenges that visitor-serving organizations are facing today) – it needs to reset.

Organizations that invest in cultivating more strategic “access” models today will be able to take advantage of the engagement benefits suggested by the predicted acculturation trends. Yet again, the time-proven lesson proves true: You reap what you sow.

 

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

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

Group Tour Interest in Decline: Why Museums Should Invest Elsewhere (DATA)

group tours

Investing in attracting tour groups is an increasingly futile endeavor for museums. Here’s the data and what to do instead.

Many visitor-serving organizations increasingly bemoan the challenges associated with the leisure group tour market. (This being a different attendance category – and revenue line item – than school groups.) Typically, visitor-serving organizations have salespeople dedicated to the process of soliciting tour groups. In other words, their job is to get group business.

This business has been in decline – and the data suggests that it’s not because the salespeople suddenly got bad at their jobs.  It’s because people do not want to go on group tours.  This makes sense: Ours is an era of personalization- every experience is tailored.  Group visits are the exact opposite – every experience is standardized.

Your organization isn’t imagining things: It’s harder to attract leisure tour groups today than in the past. Here are three, data-based reasons to utilize full-time staff (FTEs) in a way that is more likely to drive actual visitation than futilely increasing investments in the leisure tour group market:

 

1) People do not think group tours are a fun way to visit a museum

IMPACTS group tours are fun way to visit museums

The Y-axis in the chart above indicates the mean scalar variable response so as to indicate the level of agreement with the statement on a 1-100 scale.  Anything much below 60 tends to indicate a level of disagreement (i.e. “not fun”).

Perception of the enjoyment of museum visits through group tours not only started out at less-than-impressive levels when IMPACTS began tracking the metric in 2008, perception has since been in steady decline. This is also the case in regard to group tours to zoos and even cities, suggesting that it isn’t the museum group tour that’s “broken” – it’s the group tour concept itself. Similar data exists for sporting events, aquariums, theme parks…you name it. Again, the personalization trend is at odds with the standardized experience of group tours – regardless of the venue.

We decided to look into this a bit more, and the outcomes to this inquiry were also extremely telling (although perhaps altogether unsurprising)…

 

2) Group tours do not likely have a sustainable future

 IMPACTS group tours are fun chart

Like the previous chart, the data above also demonstrate a mean scalar variable response so as to indicate the level of agreement with the statement on a 1-100 scale. Again, dipping below 60 tends to indicate a level of disagreement (i.e. “not fun”). The data here is unassailable: The market – and especially millennials – do not think group tours are fun.

Millennials represent the single largest generation in human history and will make up the largest consumer segment of the market for the next 40 years at minimum. These folks don’t think group tours are fun – and their perceptions are declining rapidly. “We aren’t trying to attract millennials with group tours anyway,” you say? Well, the general market (even excluding millennials) doesn’t think group tours are much fun either.

This trend toward the negative perception of the enjoyment of group tours – like most evolution within the industry – mirrors the general market preference for more tailored experiences. On social media, the ads that come up in your newsfeed are picked just for you. Email has evolved to become a more personalized way to tell important stories than an opportunity to “spam” with broader messages. Audiences want to decide what they think of organizations for themselves. Today, everyone’s a curator. Group tours embody the opposite of these market preferences – the regulated, homogeneity of a common experience.

 

3) There are areas in which staff resources for group tours may be reallocated in order to truly drive visitation.

I think it’s interesting that some organizations that claim to not be able to afford to augment their social teams still maintain group salespeople.  The alternative use of those same funds would likely have a better ROI more broadly engaged to support the communications effort.

Digital engagement isn’t the only area in which data suggest alternative investments may yield more visitors and donor support. Indeed, any position that supports more personalized experiences has been proven to drive both reputation and satisfaction levels within institutions. Investing more in front-line staff and deploying personal facilitated experiences is an urgent need that many institutions are overlooking.

In short: Museums often have full-time staff dedicated to managing a program that many folks don’t even want. At the same time, there are data-supported audience “touch points” that may not be receiving adequate investment. Once a month, one of us at IMPACTS seems to get asked, “What can we do to improve our leisure group business?”  The answer is: Get out of the group business (and get into the personalization business)!

 

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

 
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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Trends 9 Comments

The Evolution of Nonprofit Leadership: We Need More Conductors

Conductor 1

Nearly everything has changed in today’s digital world – including the most important duties of executive leaders in successful organizations.

I’ve recently been involved in conversations exploring the new roles of executive leadership (the Chiefs) in today’s evolved world. Everything related to managing effective organizations seems to be changing – audiences, engagement mechanisms, desired public values, and even the roles of institutions themselves. Organizations are “flattening” hierarchical structures, opening authority, and some are even letting staff members work from home. Even the role of email and websites has changed. These are all very different and far more prevalent situations than they were even five years ago. As such, the way that executive leaders lead must evolve, too.

Today’s evolved world demands that Chiefs play the role of symphony conductor rather than first chair of an instrument within their organizations. In other words, the days of the Chief as “expert practitioner” have past. It’s more important than ever that Chiefs “conduct the symphony” rather than getting lost in the weeds (a place that – let’s be real – some Chiefs have been known to camp out)!

In this bad metaphor of Chiefs as conductors, the role of the CEO is to make sure that all of these departmental orchestras develop a cohesive symphony that is consistent with the organization’s overall values and objectives.

Today, organizations need conductors because even the most renowned first chair requires a maestro. Indeed, many of the most successful Chiefs have long been playing the role of “conductor” – and this skill has never been more valuable or in-demand. The world moves too quickly for Chiefs to be “expert” at everything in their department or organizations – and successful Chiefs benefit by orchestrating the collective talents of their entire team to achieve success.

Here are three reasons why the need for conducting skills has never been greater:

 

1) We are in the midst of revolution

The Digital Revolution (emphasis on the word “revolution”) is so named for a reason – nearly everything has changed. To ignore this unassailable fact is to actively refuse to evolve an organization to keep pace with the surrounding world. It is the equivalent of choosing irrelevance.

Further compounding the challenge of the revolution is that fact that it’s still happening. For example, Facebook algorithms change and the very tactic that works best one month can hurt your organization’s virality the next. New technologies create new advertising efficiencies – last season’s “tried and true” may be obsolete this season. It’s several full-time jobs just keeping up with the various aspects that go into a department. For instance, at IMPACTS, we are increasingly observing smart, forward-thinking organizations “outsourcing” aspects of their advertising strategy to more expert practitioners. This is not a knock on internal expertise – it is a compliment to the self-awareness of organizations that recognize the functional impossibility of maintaining expertise in an increasingly esoteric, evolving space. The advertising world is incredibly dynamic – it takes true experts who live and breathe it every day – to work with maximum efficacy. Increasingly, it’s simply too much for an individual working for one organization (without a grasp on the broader industry and without devoting significant resources to keeping up with day-to-day changes) to optimize an advertising plan.

Even a magical Chief who could stop time could not possibly hope to fully catch up on any one branch of their department – let alone all branches. Organizations increasingly need real experts. And organizations need Chiefs to hire these experts and trust them. Chiefs may benefit by realizing that – as awesome as they may be – it is unrealistic to think that they need to be more expert than the experts they’ve hired when it comes to the details.

When a leader plays the popular, “Now explain every aspect of this new thing to me while I fire back with actually-irrelevant, pre-digital revolution logic” game, the organization loses. If you’ve hired a good person, the only things a leader needs to consider are: “Will this work?” and “Does this fit with our organizational values?” and “Does this bring us closer to achieving our goals?”

 

2) Someone needs to preach to the choir

Sounds counter-productive, doesn’t it? In today’s world, though, it’s increasingly necessary. One of the most important roles of a good Chief is managing successful internal communications.

It’s difficult for conductors to successfully conduct when the sheet music hasn’t been distributed to the musicians. Worse yet, it’s even more difficult to sound like a brilliant symphony without hours of practice. Yet, in a rush to engage external audiences in our fast-paced world, organizations regularly underestimate the critical importance of taking a moment to get everyone on the same page. This is increasingly glossed over, and yet this is arguably more important than ever before given our real-time, digital world!

Reputation plays an important role in an organization’s success when it comes to garnering support – and managing reputation is a duty that every department – and the CEO and Board, of course – must work to carry out in concert. A good Chief communicates purpose and reinforces the “why” of the organization within their respective department and organization. Without this, nobody plays the same song at the same pace. Without first aligning internal messages – a function of relentless communication – it’s impossible for staff to successfully communicate externally.

 

3) You cannot rule from the mountaintop while stuck in the weeds

Organizations must be accessible 24/7 on real-time, digital platforms to answer questions and/or provide information from nearly all departments. The opinion of one, connected individual can have a real impact on an organization’s bottom lines.

If CEOs of the past needed to stand on the mountaintops to get a view of their kingdom, now they need to look out from space shuttles. Simply stated, today’s world demands that leaders develop a wider view of the institution and how it is perceived in order to develop strategy and confidently maintain an agile organization. If a leader is spending a disproportionate amount of time on one aspect of the organization (or one department), then they may miss the larger, more important, “big picture” aspects of the overall performance that they are supposed to be conducting.

More constantly-evolving areas of expertise (as we have in today’s world) mean more details with which Chiefs may unknowingly distract themselves. Real leaders don’t hide in the weeds – especially when their organizations need them most.

The opportunity here isn’t to simply encourage leaders to stop micromanaging.The opportunity is to clarify structures and roles to meet the opportunity of an evolved world. Today, successful leaders are conductors – they bring talented musicians together, communicate the song for everyone to play, and work hard to create beautiful music.

 

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

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on The Evolution of Nonprofit Leadership: We Need More Conductors

Audience Acquisition: The Cost of Doing Business for Visitor-Serving Organizations (DATA)

Visit us v2

Here it is: the data-informed equation for how much money organizations should be spending in order to maximize opportunities for financial success.  

Data suggest that approximately 70% of visitor-serving organizations are not investing optimal funding in acquiring audiences.

Marketing budgets seem to be an unnecessarily emotional topic for many nonprofit organizations. Optimizing marketing investments – like admission prices – are increasingly a product of math and science (read: decidedly not “intuition” or “trial and error”). They need not be based on fuzzy-feelings and inappropriate loyalties to failing business models that ignore the realities of the outside world.

We live in a pay-to-play world where organizations have to spend money to make money. When it comes to budgeting for audience acquisition costs, many organizations seem to have fallen into that familiar trap of “last year plus 5%” that lazily assumes the continued efficacy of the same old platforms and strategies. Of course, such a strategy completely ignores shifting advertising cost factors, evolving platforms and channels, and technological innovation. Say it aloud: Nonprofits do not operate in a vacuum and cannot afford to ignore the changed economies and technologies of the world around them.

Several organizations that have made this realization have asked IMPACTS if there is an equation to inform their audience acquisition costs so as to maximize their opportunities for financial success. And, the findings of a three-year study suggest: Yes, there most certainly is!

 

The key equation for acquisition costs

Let’s first establish a few definitions and “same page” this conversation:

Audience acquisition costs are the investments that an organization makes in advertising, public relations, social media, community relations…basically, anything and everything intended to engage your audiences.

Market potential is a data-based, modeled outcome that indicates an organization’s potential engagement with its audiences. For most organizations, “market potential” primarily concerns onsite visitation. In other words, it answers the question, “If everything goes well, how many people can we reasonably expect to visit us this year? (NOTE: Market potential may not match an organization’s historic attendance – organizations “underperform” their market potential all the time…for reasons that we’ll soon explore.)

Earned revenues are the product of admissions, memberships, merchandising, food and beverage, facility rentals…basically, all revenues attendant to the onsite experience that are supported by audience acquisition investments. These revenues exclude annual fund, grants, endowment distributions and other sorts of philanthropy.

Here’s the equation to maximize your market potential (as suggested by the recently completed three-year study):

 IMPACTS audience acquisition equation

Expressed another way: Optimal Audience Acquisition Costs = 12.5% of Earned Revenues. For example, if your organization generates annual earned revenues of $20 million, then this would suggest an annual audience acquisition investment of $2.5 million.

Further, additional analysis would suggest that 75% of the audience acquisition costs should be earmarked to support paid media (i.e. advertising). So, of the $2.5 million suggested above for audience acquisition, nearly $1.9 million should support paid media.  The remaining 25% (or, in this example, approximately $600,000) would support agency fees, public relations expenses, social media, community engagement – all of the programs and initiatives that round out an integrated marketing strategy. Forget to invest that 25% at your own peril. Earned media is critical for success and many social media channels are also becoming pay-to-play.

And now the other side: Why such a large percentage allocated to paid media? Again, ours is an increasingly pay-to-play world. Rising above the noise to engage our audiences frequently means investing to identify and target audience members with the propensity to act in our interest (e.g. visit our organizations, become members, etc.). There is tremendous competition for these same audience members – from the nonprofit and for-profit communities alike.  Think of the most admired and successful campaigns in the world – do Nike and Apple rely on 3am cable TV “bonus” spots that they get for a reduced rate and that don’t hit target audiences? Nope. While earned media plays a major role in driving reputation, paid media plays an important role in a cohesive strategy – and doing it right costs money.

 

The equation in action

How does the study suggest this equation? Check out the chart below. It indicates the relationship between performance relative to market potential (i.e. how well the organization actually performed when compared to its market potential) and the audience acquisition investments made by 42 visitor-serving organizations (including aquariums, museums, performing arts organizations, and zoos) over a three-year period:

IMPACTS - Audience Acquisition

The data strongly suggests that there is a correlation between an optimized audience acquisition investment and achieving market potential. It also indicates the perils of “underspending the opportunity” – a modest investment intended to achieve cost-savings may forfend exponential revenues. (Though the data never has – and likely never will – support it, many organizations seem to foolishly hold dear to the notion that they might somehow “save their way to prosperity.”)

Additional analysis indicates that the studied organizations invested an average of 7.9% of earned revenues toward audience acquisition…but only achieved 76.0% of their market potential. However, the organizations achieving ≥95.0% of their respective market potentials invested an average of 12.7% of their earned revenues toward audience acquisition.

In no instance did an organization investing less than 5.0% of earned revenues on audience acquisition achieve greater than 60.0% of its market potential.

Overall, the data suggests that the “sweet spot” for audience acquisition investment is in the 10.0-15.0% of earned revenue range. Splitting the difference (and further supported by the findings of organizations achieving ≥95.0% of their market potential in the study) gives us our 12.5%.

NOTE: Before we start parsing the nuances of media planning and creative approaches to advertising, let’s baseline the conversation by acknowledging that each of the studied organizations were led by competent persons operating with the best of intentions. Yes – “great creative” matters – but it doesn’t offset an inadequate marketing investment. Sure, a viral social campaign helps…but it doesn’t negate the importance of other media channels. In other words, there aren’t exemptions from the need to invest in audience acquisition for visitor-serving organizations that rely on earned revenues.

If your organization is struggling to meet its market potential, it may have less to do with all of the usual suspects such as parking, staff courtesy, special exhibits, pricing, etc. and more to do with an antiquated view of the necessity of meaningful marketing investments. Can your organization overspend? You bet. However, that doesn’t seem to be the problem confronting most visitor-serving nonprofit organizations. If your organization is struggling to meet its market potential, then it may be that in today’s pay-to-play world, you simply aren’t paying enough to play in the first place.

 

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 ). Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 18 Comments

The Game Has Changed: Nonprofits Now Compete with For-Profits (DATA)

Arm wrestling for profit

An organization’s nonprofit status may carry neither the perceptual weight nor the relevance that many leadership teams imagine…and nonprofits may be sabotaging their own opportunities for support because of it.

All organizations – not just nonprofits – are now in the business of promoting “social good” in order to gain support. The recent Super Bowl was an excellent example. From McDonald’s “Pay With Love” commercial, to Dove’s #LikeAGirl campaign, to all of the emotional daddy-love commercials tugging at our heartstrings, the world’s biggest advertising stage was full of attempts to demonstrate meaningful brand values. The integration of social values within business operations and communications – “corporate social responsibility” – is one of today’s most prominent business trends. And, this trend has a profound impact on nonprofit organizations because, today, the market demands transparency and authenticity to encourage support (e.g. donation, ticket purchase, etc.). The market increasingly expects organizations to articulate and demonstrate a “why” (or “so what?”) beyond “to make money.” In fact, many studies demonstate that social responsibility is no longer optional for businesses.

In other words, if your organization imagines one of its key differentiators to be its social responsibility, well, then your thinking may be at complete odds with the way the market perceives and evaluates all organizations (i.e. nonprofits and for-profits alike).

Consider this: A nonprofit organization’s “competition” for funds and market share isn’t limited to a similar organization down the street. It’s increasingly a myriad of entities within the for-profit sector. And, generally, these entities have a leg-up in allocating financial resources to help communicate and support their social missions.

Here are some considerations for organizations to remain relevant and meaningful in our age of social good for business’s sake:

 

1) Consider that people may not even know that you are nonprofit

“Wait. What?!” For many individuals working within nonprofits, this can be a big shock. However, time and time again in my work at IMPACTS, the data indicate that the majority of the same public that organizations endeavor to serve do not know that many nonprofits are actually nonprofits.

IMPACTS perception of VSOs as nonprofit

A majority of people – including visitors! – are unaware that these organizations are nonprofits. As the data indicates, the market’s lack of regard for an organization’s tax status extends to all types of visitor-serving organizations – so no one is immune to this condition. The question is: Does it matter? Well, if you consider your organization’s tax-exemption as a primary differentiator in a crowded, competitive market, then this data may be very alarming. However, if you tend to accept that the market is infinitely more interested in what you actually do as an organization than it is in the esoterica and vagaries of the US tax code, then this finding isn’t nearly so troubling.

We all know how challenging it can be to make a lasting impression. In the few precious moments when we hope to engage with our audiences, is the foremost thing that we hope to communicate about our tax status? And, if so, does the market even care? Which leads me to…

 

2) Audiences are increasingly sector-agnostic

The fact that people are confused about the nonprofit status of many organizations likely doesn’t matter.

Data suggest that 91% of global consumers will chose to associate with and support brands and organizations that provide some sort of social benefit over a product that does not. For nearly all brands right now, it’s cool to be kind.

For-profits are well aware of this and many have (or have had) campaigns that tie directly to a purpose, prominently including: Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative, Bank of America and Khan Academy’s Better Money Habits, Coca-Cola’s Ekocenter, and Toyota’s Meals Per Hour, and LifeBuoy’s Help a Child Reach 5. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. These initiatives are focused and generally easy to communicate and understand. This may be why the Pepsi Refresh Project didn’t do very well by comparison – and that also may be why many true nonprofit organizations are struggling when it comes to communications. But I digress…

While many of these types of initiatives include a nonprofit beneficiary, the fact remains (and, indeed, becomes glaringly obvious): People don’t need to donate directly to a nonprofit to support something that they believe in. They can simply buy fast-food fried chicken.

And, with that, BAM! We’ve attached the idea of “giving” to a traditional economic utility curve. This model is arguably more sustainable because the consumer actually gets something (a product or experience) in addition to the feel-good attached to supporting a cause. Whether nonprofits like it or not, this model changes the way people think about supporting causes.

It’s great that some nonprofits are benefiting from these campaigns. They are an opportunity for securing support from a for-profit company and can be very successful partnerships! However, many organizations neglect to consider what all of this may be doing to the general market’s attitude toward nonprofits. I’m absolutely not saying that these partnerships are a bad idea. I’m saying that to move forward, it may be best to recognize (and accept) this evolution we’ve helped to create in the market’s perception and their related progression toward a more sector-agnostic world.

 

3) Having a mission is money

It’s time that nonprofits remove the emotion that may be elicited by the use of the word “mission” so close to the word “money” and tackle this one head-on. I’m talking mostly to organizations that do provide a service, product, or experience and indeed operate – at least a little bit – based upon the concept of a more traditional utility curve (i.e. visitor-serving organizations).

Visitor-serving organizations that highlight their mission financially outperform those marketing primarily as attractions. At IMPACTS, we check in on this data every quarter and the connections between how well audiences believe that an organization achieves its mission continues to correlate with financial performance.

Yes, nonprofits are arguably and increasingly competing with for-profits – but not on how well these entities can be for-profit-y. For-profits are competing with nonprofits regarding how conceptually nonprofit-y they can be!

Transparent, social-good acting, for-the-best advocating, morally-sound, socially-valuable…the same perceptions that may have been traditionally associated with successful nonprofits are among the biggest wants of for-profits in today’s world. If your marketing team is all about discounts and sweepstakes and only posting about how people should “visit us!” tell them to knock it off. That’s not good business, and it’s not the sweet spot in which these organizations need to shine.

 

4) Demonstrating impact and prioritizing transparency are more important for nonprofits than ever before

Donors increasingly make decisions based more on the values that an organization shows by way of their actions and real-time communications on social media then what an organization tells in ads and individual status updates. The web empowers potential supporters to make their own decisions about organizations based on their overall perception of the brand. Organizations that don’t walk their talk generally suffer. Extreme cases are those of McDonalds and SeaWorld.

Right now, nonprofits risk being perceived as second-rate at achieving the very positive attributes that define them (i.e. being about more than making a buck).

Sharing compelling mission-related stories and providing real impact is at the heart of many nonprofit organizations, and its how they’ve kept the lights on for decades. In fact, people care more about how they feel when they give than how organizations spend their money. The reality is that many for-profits have more resources to elicit the very emotions that nonprofits try to summon…and that “giving” could be going somewhere else.

 

Nonprofits are masters of tugging at heartstrings and making the world a better place. Now – more than ever before – it’s up to all nonprofit organizations to do more than tell. It’s time to show how well we do what we do best. Our increasingly sector-agnostic world has changed the game. Organizations need to decide if they still want to be a valuable player and, if so, update best practices accordingly.

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

 

Photo credit:  © Nikolai Sorokin | Dreamstime.com

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

The Critical Role of Reputation in Nonprofit Success (DATA)

KYOB Even clean hands damage surfaces

A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well. – Jeff Bezos

The reputation of an organization drives its impact and solvency. Or, is it those things that create a good reputation? Reputation is neither the cause of success, nor the outcome. It is both. It’s a chicken-and-egg issue, and that may be why some organizations tend to focus on only one side of the equation.

 

Organizations can – and should – keep tabs on and aim to influence their reputations in order to experience greater success in terms of both solvency and mission-impact. If your organization is like most, you don’t have a single position devoted to managing reputation…and likely think that this responsibility should rest somewhere fuzzy within the marketing department. Today, with an ever-increasing emphasis on transparency and potential supporters wanting to make their own assessments on the worthiness of organizations, an organization’s reputation plays a more important role than ever before.

Managing reputation isn’t an issue of structure, skillset, or tasking – it is an outcome of a successful workplace culture. Here are five reasons why your organization will benefit by integrating discussions concerning reputation management into its culture:

 

1. A good reputation shows why your organization exists (and naturally attracts people who share a passion for your mission)

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it…The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.” –Simon Sinek

This was said by Simon Sinek during his TEDx talk on how great leaders inspire action that has been viewed over 20 million times. (It’s 18 minutes long, and is one of those inspiring, change-your-thinking videos that makes you want to send it to everyone with whom you’ve ever worked…or even marginally talked shop.)

If your organization is doing its job correctly, then the reason why staff members come to work every morning should be apparent. Your mission messaging should trump marketing as an attraction if you are a visitor-serving organization. In essence, your reputation is a reflection of your organization’s character and culture – and organizations will benefit by making sure that their reputation is strong, consistent, and, thus, without need of “hard selling.”

“If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of me.”- Dwight L. Moody.

 

2. Reputation drives success (by way of donations, relationships, attendance)

A good reputation means greater odds for the long-term financial sustainability of your organization (provided that you remain true to your values and address “crisis” with expediency, sincerity, and transparency).

For visitor-serving organizations, reputation plays a particularly important role in driving visitation. Data suggest that an organization’s “reputation” is a primary motivator for visitation for high-propensity visitors (i.e. those who demonstrate the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics that indicate a heightened likelihood to visit a museum, symphony, historic site, or other visitor-serving organization). (Regular KYOB readers are likely rather familiar with the data below!) Because museums are currently suffering lower attendance as an industry, the importance of understanding this relationship is especially urgent.

IMPACTS decision making utility model

A strong and stable reputation based on what you do best plays a logical role in building stronger relationships with other organizations, sponsors, politicos, and supporters.

 

3. Reputation conversation necessitates acknowledgement of the importance of online engagement

What makes up an organization’s reputation? Good question. Regular KYOB readers know that I talk about this…a lot. The answer is a little bit paid media (e.g. advertising) and a lot bit of reviews from trusted sources (particularly word of mouth and earned media – both of which are often facilitated by social media). In fact, reviews from trusted resources are 12.85 times more influential in terms of your organization’s reputation than is the advertising that comes out of a media budget.

IMPACTS -Diffusion of messaging Repuation

 Because real-time, online platforms play such a critical role in both cultivating and maintaining reputation, it is nearly impossible to intelligently discuss reputation without also contemplating (online and offline) engagement strategies. It means that organizations will need to talk about social media as it relates to organizational goals and the behavior of breathing human beings instead of reducing the conversation to “likes” and technological skillsets…and that’s a good, necessary thing.

 

4. Understanding your reputation requires understanding your audience (another best practice increasingly necessary for success)

In order to understand the strength of an organization’s reputation, that organization actually needs to listen to people outside of the organization. No, a person inside of the organization cannot determine current reputation. Create an image and build a culture to create a desired reputation? Sure. But nobody in the organization can talk about the organization’s reputation without first listening to feedback from your audiences. Only your market can lend insight into current perceptions of your organization.

Paying attention to the market is critical and it’s one of the main reasons why marketing has evolved from a service department to a strategy-oriented department.

 

5. Reputation management falls to everybody (because it falls to nobody)

Most organizations do not have a Chief Reputation Officer (aside from, perhaps, an overworked CEO), but there is budding conversation about why some organizations may want to consider it.

Reputation management is fundamentally different than a role that might be found within a marketing and communications department. It involves strategically managing and monitoring relationships with distinct constituent groups – including groups related to development, visitor services, community outreach, and government relations functions.

 

Even if an organization does appoint a committee or a position related to reputation management, we live in a time when not having the whole organization on board with your vision (or your “why” – see point #1) can lead to a fragmented reputation. Today, Benjamin Franklin’s words have never been truer: “It takes many good deeds to build a reputation and only one bad one to lose it.”

In sum, an organization’s reputation is one of its most valuable assets, and, as such, it’s time we start actively talking about it within every department.

 

We would all like a reputation for generosity and we’d all like to buy it cheap.

–Mignon McLaughlin

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

Most Popular Posts of 2014 for Museums and Nonprofits

KYOB Happy 2015What a year! From the strategic evolution of nonprofit organizations to marketing channel efficacy to the need for millennial board members… These are your (a rather focused tribe of industry leaders) favorite KYOB posts of 2014.

Thank you for reading, engaging with, and passing along Know Your Own Bone among your organizations and circles of industry professionals. I continue to be blown away by your passion for elevating mission-driven organizations – and I am honored to aim to provide market insight for such a thoughtful and hard-working bunch of nonprofiteers! I’m thrilled by the prospect that these posts may be providing value for your friends, colleagues, fellow board members and executives, and even college and graduate students. You folks motivate me to keep provide nonprofits and visitor-serving organizations with intelligence regarding market behaviors and perceptions and I hope that my work being a nonprofit/for-profit double-agent has been of value!

Here are KYOB’s most viewed and passed-along posts of 2014. These are the posts that my analytics suggest you emailed around the most, shared with your friends and colleagues, and got the most attention within graduate programs and professional development curriculums:

 

Why Social Media Is The New Force Empowering Giving Decisions

Here are three ways that social media engagement on real-time, digital platforms is changing the nonprofit sector and empowering potential donors to make more intelligent giving decisions.

 

Signs of Trouble for the Museum Industry (DATA)

As the US population grows, the number of people attending visitor-serving organizations is in general decline. And this is a very big problem for sustainability without a digital-age shift in our business model. Here are three behaviors we need to adapt to reset our current condition.

 

Five Things I Have Learned As a Millennial Working with 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.

 

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

Indeed, when it comes to innovation, some of the best R&D happening in our space is being pioneered by nonprofits. Here’s why.

 

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

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.

 

Six Urgent Reasons to Add Millennials to your Nonprofit Board of Directors

Don’t have at least one millennial on your Board of Directors yet? Here are six, critical reasons to call up the nominating committee and work on getting some impressive millennials aboard your nonprofit Board right now.

 

How to Score an Informational Interview: 7 Tips for the Information Age

“Picking someone’s brain” needs an update. Here’s how to actually get an “informational interview” in today’s world.

 

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

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.

 

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

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.

 

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

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

 

Cheers to an incredible 2015 for all of your mission-driven organizations! May this next year bring you and your organizations much success.

Thanks again for following along!

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Trends Comments Off on Most Popular Posts of 2014 for Museums and Nonprofits

How Nonprofits Use Language as a Barrier to Progress

Inigo Montoya - You keep using that word

Want to be a relevant, digitally engaging, and future-facing organization? You may be starting out on the wrong track. While it seems like a no-brainer, the first step is to actually understand what those words mean…because it seems that many executive leaders and staff members may not.

Before you skim ahead and chalk up these issues to “semantics,” consider that when a term is used incorrectly by leadership within an institution, other members of the organization begin to use it in the same way. When these important – and, definitionally, misunderstood – terms become “cheat” words for industry evolution, problems emerge. At the very least, the organization (if not the industry) is destined to be laggard until we either get the meanings right or someone creates a NEW word to represent the thing that the original word should have meant in the first place.  These matters of “semantics” are misguiding our industry.

Misusing (or perhaps unintentionally “redefining”) important concepts for strategic evolution happens constantly. I see it in my work every day – not to mention in public communications from nonprofit CEOs. Perhaps it’s because I’m a digital native myself, or because I work primarily with Baby Boomers to whom these words may seem relatively new in a contemporary context, or because I’m constantly in the thick of conversations regarding strategic change with my clients…but I find myself consistently feeling like Inigo Montoya (without the cool ‘stache) when words like “relevant,” “digital,” “engagement,” and the “future” come up. Interestingly, it seems that the meanings of these four important words have been jumbled together.

Cheating ourselves by not truly considering the meanings of these words may be playing a role in declining attendance to visitor-serving organizations and their increasingly grim business models. It’s certainly not helping us correct the effects of negative substitution facing the industry.

Let’s dive into these examples. Here are those four words that nonprofits often “cheat” themselves out of by (knowingly or unknowingly) redefining their meanings. In no particular order, ladies and gentleman…

 

1) Relevant (vs. current)

It seems that when someone asks, “How can we make our organization more relevant?” the proposed solutions involve tactics that are current (e.g. utilizing social media, providing analysis of a current event on a blog, or adding a widget to a website). But what if the question was phrased, “How can we make our organization more meaningful to our constituents?” (That, folks, is the true opportunity embedded within the word “relevant.”) When we use or interpret “relevant” to mean “current,” we miss the boat on more important conversations with greater potential to elevate individual organizations and the industry at large.

Being relevant is about connectivity, not content. Connectivity is king. Being current can certainly go a long way in making your organization more relevant to individuals, but promulgating the use of “relevance” to instead imply “current” shortcuts important conversations about how to actually connect with constituents and inspire them to act in the interest of your organization’s mission.

 

2) Engagement (vs. social media interaction)

Without a doubt, fostering engagement is critical for securing support in the information age. The more folks feel a connection with your organization by whatever means, the more relevant (yes, the real meaning of the word) an organization may become. Like being “relevant,” “engagement” is about connectivity. It heightens an organization’s ability to foster feelings of affinity that motivate a desired behavior.

Engagement actually means “to become involved in.” Engagement does not mean, “create a moment of semi-detached, low-level maybe-interest on a trackable social media platform”…so let’s stop using it that way. We miss out on important discussions about impact and strategy (and confuse ourselves by further  contributing to the social media data dilemma) when we reduce “engagement” to simply mean something like “Facebook likes.”

 

3) Digital strategy (vs. technological skillset)

I’ve saved the two most important for last. Industry misuse of the word “digital” may be the entire reason why many organizations aren’t very good at translating it into visits, membership, financial support, or even lasting engagement. Here’s a truth bomb: “Digital strategies” are actually real-life, human-being engagement strategies. As much as many folks working in organizations want to write “all things digital” off to the IT guys (or even the marketing department alone), humans do not think in HTML. Technological skillsets come in handy when deploying tactical, isolated aspects of these strategies. In other words, “digital strategies” are not necessarily about platforms, but about people. So executives should really stop saying, “I don’t understand that” as an excuse for digital illiteracy. This actually translates into, “I know nothing about how to engage our audiences – particularly on their preferred platforms – and I probably should not continue to hold my current position given how remarkably unqualified I am relative to the moment.” The data is pretty unassailable on this front.

Want to dig deeper into this dilemma? Here are five reasons why conceptually separating out “digital” is a problem that is making it harder for nonprofits to succeed.

 

4) Future (vs. present)

Talking about the “future” of organizations may be holding them back. Many industry resources supposedly focusing on “the future” are actually communicating about emerging trends that are happening right now…and when we call them “the future” we do ourselves a grave disservice for several reasons. (For a full run-down, check out this article.) Among those is the fact that calling things that are happening in the present “the future” excuses putting off critical issues, implies uncertainty (even though the data is anything but uncertain), and this misuse of the word also fosters a false and undeserved sense of “innovation” when many organizations are not even keeping up with the day-to-day realities of the world that we live in.

 

These “matters of semantics” are playing big roles in the progress (or lack thereof) of nonprofits and visitor-serving organizations. My hope is that by identifying these “cheats” we may open our minds (and our mouths) to having bigger, more meaningful conversations about the future of our own organizations and nonprofits at large.

 

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, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

Signs of Trouble For The Museum Industry (DATA)

Main Hall and Stairs Mational Museum Warsaw

As the US population grows, the number of people attending visitor-serving organizations is (still) in general decline. And this is a very big problem for sustainability without a digital-age shift in our business model.  It’s not just museums. Many visitor-serving organizations – science centers, historical sites, aquariums, zoos, symphonies, etc. – are failing to keep pace with population growth.

Consider: In the five-year duration spanning 2009-2013, the US population increased by 3.5% from 305.5 million to 316.1 million. The majority of this growth occurred in major metropolitan areas – the very population dense regions where many visitor-serving organizations are located. Indeed, nearly one in seven Americans live in the metropolitan areas of the country’s three largest cities – New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

However, during the same duration, data indicate that attendance at many nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations has declined. In fact, of the 224 visitor-serving organizations contemplated in the 2014 National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations (NAAU), 186 organizations (83.0%) reported flat or declining attendance. And this is neither a regional nor curatorial content-specific finding – the study representatively contemplates visitor-serving organizations of every size, type, and area.

Many organizations are hesitant to acknowledge attendance challenges…especially when they have historically cited being the “most visited” as an indicator of their expertise and effectiveness. I sense that pressure from governing boards also plays a role – particularly as many organizations have been tasked to maximize earned revenues (often inevitably linked to visitation). Perhaps most concerning of all are attempts to blunt the challenge by proposing half-measures as remedy – you’ll no doubt recognize the “don’t worry, we’re going digital!” excuse and the related practice of sending mid-level staff to innovation conferences as attempted evidence of progress. (This last excuse may be especially worrisome as it seems that many staff members tasked to “innovate” may not actually be empowered to carryout their plans for advancement.)

But, regardless of the excuse, the numbers suggest that our industry risks becoming less relevant to future audiences. What does this mean to visitor-serving organizations? Let’s look at a few examples. (Note: To keep this from being a huge, overwhelming chart, I pulled out major metro markets and a few areas cited as “up and coming.”)

KYOB VSO attendance - IMPACTS

To illustrate, the population of the Atlanta, GA Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) has increased in the past five years by 9.4%. During the same duration, visitation to the Atlanta-area organizations contemplated in the NAAU study indicates an attendance decline of 4.6%. Think about that – if engagement were keeping pace with population growth, an organization with an annual attendance of 1,000,000 in year 2009 would reasonably expect to welcome 1,094,000 visitors in year 2013. Instead, on average, the studied organizations saw attendance decline from the theoretical 1,000,000 visitor level in year 2009 to 954,000 visitors in year 2013. Measured against the expectations of population growth, visitor engagement underperformed by 140,000 visitors!

The expectation would be for attendance to increase alongside population growth – otherwise, it is indicative of underperforming the opportunity.  Again, the findings are stark and concerning for organizations in the engagement business:

KYOB VSO Performance against expectations - IMPACTS

In most any other business, if you saw the market steadily increasing in size and your product’s usage in steady retreat alongside it, you’d likely think, “This business model sucks.”

Well, our business model sucks.

Confronted with this evidence, I’ve heard leaders recycle tired strategies of securing larger donations from an aging donor base, and plans to gain more grant funding from governments and foundations. Generally, they aim to “pivot” from a reliance on earned revenues to (hopefully…fingers crossed!) additional contributed revenues. Except no. The visitor-serving industry doesn’t need to pivot. It needs to reset.

Here are three behaviors we need to adapt to reset our current condition:

 

1) Stop citing poor previous efforts as evidence that something will not work

Some visitor-serving organizations will declare that they “already tried” something after investing only the most minimal of resources necessary to claim effort. This is a surefire recipe for failure …yet, it happens all of the time. Here’s a quick example: Many organizations will offer options to buy tickets online and simply invest enough to create a webpage for it. Then when nobody uses that method to buy tickets they say, “Look! We tried that and nobody bought tickets that way!” Actually, nobody bought tickets that way because your site wasn’t mobile friendly, it takes 10 different screens to buy a ticket, it requires several pages of personal information, it’s confusing and time consuming, and it costs more. Often it’s an organization’s own fault when data-informed things don’t work, but organizations frequently take a half (or maybe a one-tenth) approach to something and basically (knowingly or unknowingly) set it up for certain failure. This is just one, basic example.

“Our crummy product failed, ergo everything related to this project won’t work” justifies stagnancy by masking it with false wisdom. Organizations think that they are cutting-edge for trying something without any conviction, and that the wisdom they received from their inevitable failure justifies closing the book on really big things like digital engagement. How does this even make sense? This type of excuse-making is a shortcut to irrelevance. Just stop doing it.

 

2) Stop defending past decisions

This seems to be a particularly hard one for many leaders to embrace. After all, it may be human nature to defend one’s past decisions as “right” and “good.” And, at the time when they were made, they probably were. But times change. Today, we are witnessing incredible changes – many borne of technological advancement – accelerating progress at a revolutionary pace. By what rightful reason do we think that we’re exempted from the prevailing changes affecting the rest of the world?

Just because you spent thousands and thousands of dollars on print material doesn’t spare you from the necessity of hiring an online community manager. On a more substantial investment scale, those millions of dollars that you invested in a new entrance to facilitate faster put-through times doesn’t exempt you from developing a mobile ticketing platform that may make ticket counters increasingly obsolete. This is a lesson to learn in real-time (as opposed to retrospectively): Repairing and updating past decisions is often more time-consuming and, ultimately, more expensive in the long run than starting anew. It’s OK – heck, even encouraged – to approach the current condition untethered to the past. That was then, this is now.

 

3) Embrace the inevitable path of progress

Max Anderson, CEO of the Dallas Museum of Art, gave a short ignite talk at the most recent Museum Computer Network conference. The topic of his talk was how to “persuade your museum director to help you” (i.e. how to get him/her to invest in “innovation”). From the beginning of the video it’s easy to see one of the biggest, most glaring problems in our industry: He begins his talk by asking how many museum directors are at the conference. Very short awkward silence ensues…followed by laughter. Really?! Are even our conferences about innovation and new ideas attended primarily by middle managers?!

The reason for the lack of executive decision-makers at many conferences is not necessarily the fault of museum CEOs (as the conferences aren’t always adequately geared toward Directors). But it’s not wholly the task of middle managers to communicate and justify the imperative to remain relevant to CEOs either. There’s a messed up barrier to betterment here, and it has more to do with a flawed structure than simple lexicon within an antiquated museum hierarchy. His talk is absolutely true, probably staggeringly helpful, and thus amazingly messed up at the same time.

We’ve developed this detrimental idea that “digital” has to do with “tech” (not people), and “innovation” isn’t necessary for survival. Max Anderson’s “primer on the psychology of museum directors” underscores that the status quo (and, of course, legacy!) is what museum directors are primarily interested in…but the status quo isn’t working to bring in more people by creating crowds OR buzz. Efforts to abide the current condition fundamentally ignore the challenges imposed by a broken model. Changing lexicon is a pivot. Pivots sound pretty. Pivots sound agile. After pivoting, however, you may be facing in a different direction but you’re still standing in the same place.

Millennials – the largest generation in human history – may necessitate an update to the visitor-serving model in the information age. These “kids” will soon have kids, who will eventually have more kids, and if we continue to ignore the reality of negative substitution in our attendance, then we may soon have no museums, aquariums, or symphonies for those “kids” to go to at all. (OK – perhaps some hyperbole. We likely won’t have zero museums. Just more empty ones.)

 

The forces of change that propel the world forward are not going away. If we don’t change our model to one that is more sustainable, then we risk going away. This is a moment when our biggest barrier to engaging emerging audiences is holding dear to our increasingly irrelevant plans and practices. We need a reset. And it’s up to all of us to put our heads together and make it happen.

 

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

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 11 Comments

Six Urgent Reasons To Add Millennials To Your Nonprofit Board of Directors

Millennial board members

If your organization doesn’t have at least one millennial on its Board of Directors, then you may be setting your organization up for a difficult future. 

I cannot help but notice that the Boards of Directors of many large nonprofits are missing representatives from a critical current constituency – millennials. Strangely, this seems to especially be the case within large nonprofits (annual operating budgets >$30 million, or attendance >1 million for visitor-serving organizations)… And that’s particularly terrifying, as many smaller organizations often look to larger ones for cues to the future.

Missing millennial representatives on the board doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t loads of important conversations taking place about how to better engage millennials. 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 fact remains: The millennials aren’t coming.  They’re here now.  The time has come for organizations to sink or swim based on how effectively they engage millennials…which may be particularly hard to do when nobody tasked to govern leading 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 six, critical reasons to call up the nominating committee and work on getting some impressive millennials aboard 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, the 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 begin to tip the scales in buying power in the United States next year, and our economy will be feeling the impact 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. I’ve written about this fact more directly before, but here’s a reminder: Millennials who have children are not having as many of them as their baby boomer parents. Moreover, Gen X (which is only roughly half the size of Gen 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) Millennials will significantly influence the outcomes of the next six presidential elections

…And if your organization does not get millennials involved in understanding policy-related challenges and opportunities from a leadership buy-in standpoint, you may be “voting” against your own best interests. Indeed, this depends upon millennials actually voting, but building any aspect of your organization’s survival strategy upon 90 million people not turning up for elections is a stupid strategy. Moreover, millennials will eventually dominate a very, very vast majority of all government leadership positions…mandatory government retirement policies dictate this math. Inviting millennials onto your board helps ensure that your organization’s best interests are best 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 marketing, development, 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 may actually be detrimental to your bottom lines. We live in a world now where everybody (not just 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 (in the Board Room and the future of your social mission), then the story is incongruent. 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.

 

6) Millennial board members can help connect your organization directly to millennial donors

…Because millennial board members can be every bit as valuable as other board members. 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.

 

With all of these reasons why it is absolutely critical to add quality millennials to your nonprofit’s board of directors, it makes me wonder why I don’t have many friends on the boards of larger nonprofits at all? It begs the question, “What are current board members of nonprofits so afraid of?” Change? Shifting tides? Loss of power? Diminished relevance?

Generational change and progress are inevitable – and they are horrible reasons 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.

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Millennials, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments