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

Eight Realities To Help You Become A Data-Informed Cultural Organization

Is your organization integrating market research into strategic decision-making processes yet? Here are eight important things to keep in Read more

A Quarter of Likely Visitors to Cultural Organizations Are In One Age Bracket (DATA)

Nearly 25% of potential attendees to visitor-serving organizations fall into one, ten-year age bracket. Which generation has the greatest Read more

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

Let Museums Evolve: A Case Against Brooklyn Museum’s Recent Bad Press

A meet up at the Brooklyn Museum. Photo by Amy Dreher.

How do you quantify a social mission? The Brooklyn Museum recently underwent a mild media smack-down because they tried something new—and while many outcomes (the most important ones, some argue) were positive, the museum was painted negatively in a recent New York Times article.

I have argued before that allowing nonprofits to evolve to meet (let alone succeed) business goals and compete with for-profit companies requires more than just innovative thinking from within the sector- it requires acceptance from the general public. This is where nonprofits often run into trouble because gaining this acceptance necessitates a change in the way that the public perceives certain nonprofit organizations.

The New York Time’s article, ‘Brooklyn Museum’s Populism Hasn’t Lured Crowds,’ opens with not-so-great statistics: the goal of the museum was to triple its attendance by 2014, but attendance has actually dropped 23% in 2009. A decreased attendance is never good– but to those with an eye to the museum-world, those aren’t the notable statistics in the article. The Brooklyn Museum is actually succeeding in areas where other museums would like to succeed, and is in the position to serve as a positive model for attendance and interaction.

There are two things, in particular, that the Brooklyn Museum is doing well. These are not “attendance is down, but ____ is up” items. Regardless of overall attendance, these achievements deserve positive attention on their own, and the success of these items is being skewed by popular perceptions of what museums should be according to museums’ past reputations, which limits progress for these institutions. Here’s how the museum is breaking barriers:

  • The Brooklyn Museum audience has increased in diversity. Museums have a general reputation for being stuffy places, accessible only to the upper-middle class and above who are interested in displaying their intellect. Museums across the country  have done many things to battle this stereotype, and though it may be far from the truth that museums are now only for the white and wealthy, the myth’s origins often keep folks away. While the Brooklyn Museum’s overall attendance numbers have not sky-rocketed, there has been  an increase in diversity– a highly-sought after increase within the industry. In fact, the article reports that over 40% of all visitors were  people of color, and the average age of visitors is a surprisingly young 35 years of age. The museum is doing something right. It’s the responsibility of other museums looking to increase their number of diverse visitors to gather more information, and perhaps take a cue from this museum.
  • The Brooklyn Museum has increased interaction among visitors and community members. The museum is taking on another stereotype here: the idea that museums should be quiet, serious places reserved for only those who already have a deep interest in art. The article strangely quotes Robert Storr, the dean of the Yale University School of Art, saying, “Star Wars’ shows the worst kind of populism. I don’t think they [the Brooklyn Museum] really understand where they are. The middle of the art world is now in Brooklyn; it’s an increasingly sophisticated audience and always was one.” Ouch! Featured in the article just after the mention of the museum’s younger, more local, non-white audience, this quote speaks volumes! The quote is interesting, because including it assumes that New York Times readers understand that the museum should be geared primarily for that artistically-literate and “increasingly sophisticated” audience (and who is to say the young, the locals, and those of color are not those people).

Moreover, the article somehow uses the museum’s First Saturdays against them. This a program celebrated for its richness of diversity (age, sex, race, background in art). It draws in the community– and even if the general non-Brooklynite public doesnt,  the museum’s director at least  knows how important that is. Arnold Lehman says, “If that environment could be replicated…on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, then I could easily retire and say we’ve succeeded and people think of the museum as a place to be of significance in their lives, not necessarily to see an exhibition.” Lehman is transcending boundaries. He doesn’t want the museum to be a stale place for exhibits, but rather a breathing and living institution that meets the needs of Brooklyn’s true community.

Though we can say “over 40% of museum visitors are people of color” and understand that that’s great, there’s no way to truly quantify the value of diversity– or of community conversation, or personal engagement. Is reaching a more diverse audience (directly related to the mission) more valuable than the number of people walking through the door (directly related to the monetary health of the organization)– a number upon which foundations often use to gauge museum success? There are arguments for both sides.

What is clear, I believe, is that if we want museums (and other nonprofits, for that matter) to continue to grow, culturally feed our communities, and remain forward-thinking institutions, then we must allow them to pursue these goals without being limited by outdated perceptions of institutions of the past. Let’s let them help us grow.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Trends 7 Comments

Employee Drive and Monetary Rewards– Could Nonprofits Outperform For-Profits?

I am captivated by this great video on Dan Pink’s research on what drives people. It’s absolutely worth a watch! Want to learn more? Check out his TED Talk on motivation.

If Dan Pink is right and purposemastery, and autonomy are the three keys to motivation, then I imagine that nonprofit employees should be rather happy and motivated folks because purpose and mastery seem to be built into the sector to an extent. However, this video provides a helpful hint to organizations to keep employee autonomy in mind when preparing for the future. Given Dan Pink’s outline, are nonprofits more primed to be motivation-filled workplaces than private organizations?

I think they certainly could be. Here’s how nonprofits stack up:

Purpose: Nonprofit and museum environments supply this without question. In fact, overall organizational purpose is neatly summarized and an employee’s purpose is to help realize a nonprofit organization’s (hopefully) noble mission in some form. The purpose of the employee may be specialized within the mission, but generally nonprofit work provides a feeling of “doing good” in the greater context of the world. Want a job position with a purpose? A nonprofit is a great place to be.

Mastery: Because nonprofits are sometimes understaffed and employees must take on wide variety of roles, one might assume that employee mastery would be an issue for nonprofit organizations.  For instance, I work for a great but small organization in which I take on significant duties related to marketing, communications, fundraising and development, event planning, and web design— and I’m not even a full-time employee!

In nonprofit organizations, I think mastery still functions because these environments provide several areas of mastery (which may tie into autonomy below), and smaller nonprofit organizations offer employees the opportunity to gain and refine skills. Not to mention, if there’s a talent that you can contribute to the organization, it’s likely that the organization will allow you to summon your skills in that arena.

But autonomy? This doesn’t seem as innate to the sector as purpose and mastery might be. For that very reason, maybe it should be on the forefront of nonprofit leadership literature. Not only does there seem to be a lack of discussion regarding nonprofit-specific employee autonomy, but individual nonprofits do not have the benefit of autonomy afforded by private corporations due to nonprofits’ multiple stakeholders. Aside from being a key motivator for employees, Why is employee autonomy of particular importance in nonprofit organizations? Here are some points that came to my mind when contemplating the importance of the third element in Dan Pink’s motivation trifecta:

  • Autonomy allows the organization to discover hidden talents and foster innovation. Google is famous for having what they call “20 Percent Time” in which they encourage employees to spend 20% of their work week on a project that is of interest to them, and not necessarily tied to their day-to-day job function. Nonprofits doing this may be able to loop back to mastery here by allowing employees to summon their talents and ideas to contribute to the organization in any way that they desire. This kind of autonomy could help relieve employee burnout while at the same time motivating employees to utilize their mastery in the workplace.
  • Autonomy builds internal trust and commitment. High commitment management— which emphasizes high trust, responsible autonomy, and employee involvement– has been shown to increase overall performance and reduce employee turnover. This is important in all sectors. In nonprofit environments in particular, donor relationships are very important. Reducing turnover could mean reducing a loss of donor relationships when development staff members leave the organization because fewer development employees would be leaving this kind of environment.
  • Autonomy increases productivity. If the purpose of the workplace is to provide an environment where people can do their best work in the best way that they know how, then a successful workplace will be productive. When Jeff Gunther developed a results-only work environment, he found that his employees were actually more productive. It also seems obvious that employees that are more motivated and committed will be more productive.

Autonomy may not deserve more time in the “to-do” spotlight than purpose or mastery, but it seems less innate to the sector and therefore may deserve some brainpower. If anything, autonomy is a powerful tool to be kept in nonprofit leaders’ minds as we move forward and make decisions in regard to organizational culture.

Do you think autonomy is an area where nonprofits may move forward and compete with for-profit companies? Do you think that the nonprofit culture, with some focus on Pink’s main elements, has the ability to provide a more motivating workplace than for-profit companies depending primarily upon monetary rewards?

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

5 Reasons Why I Chose to Pursue an MPA over an MBA

USC's 2009-2010 Officers of the Graduate Policy and Administration Committee with Associate Dean, Carol Rush

USC's 2009-2010 Officers of the Graduate Policy and Administration Committee with Associate Dean, Carol Rush

 

MPAs and MBAs have a lot in common: they are both professional degrees that provide management training by way of economics, policy, statistics, and finance. What made me pick an MPA (Master of Public Administration) over an MBA (Master of Business Administration), you might ask? The MBA is surely a beaten path with many, well known benefits…but considering my interest and passion for museums and nonprofits, an MBA just wasn’t for me. I liked the idea of a professional degree, but an MBA overlooked the defining features in my field of interest. Here’s why I decided to pursue an MPA over an MBA:

 

1) Museums and nonprofits have harder-to-measure outcomes

A defining characteristic of the nonprofit and public sectors is unmeasurable outcomes because the point of most nonprofits is to fulfill a social mission (nonprofit organizations cannot distribute profits). A powerful business is one that can make the most money (measurable). A powerful nonprofit is one that helps more people, most effectively (not-so-measurable). This does not mean that impact assessments are not critical in the nonprofit world and that they are strongest when they include quantitative data. However, to get an MBA would mean overlooking an opportunity to really think about solving problems of nonprofit outcome measurement and would mean focusing heavily on a monetary bottom-line, which is just not a characteristic of the sector. The MPA focuses on social missions while also emphasizing the skills required to obtain funding for an organization, which is much more relevant to my continuing work with nonprofit organizations.

 

2) It’s a problem-solving degree- ideal for an evolving sector

If MBA programs study the market, then MPAs try to solve market failures– and there’s an obvious difference between studying and solving. In the former, it’s been figured out, you’re just learning how to do it. In the latter, there’s a large-scale problem to be solved. MBAs are hired to make an individual company more profitable and there are books on this (lots of them!) with clear rules (“buy low, sell high,” “always be closing”). In contrast, MPAs are hired to take action to lead their organizations in making the world a better place… and our literature is not nearly as abundant and the tone is less certain. Our academic journals are filled with what’s happening right now or what’s happened in the past. This is ideal for the nonprofit sector because need and the way people communicate and connect (securing funding, donors, etc) is always evolving.  There is certainly no better degree in this case, it’s just based on your goals and interests. Considering my interests, an MPA was the way to go.

 

3) My utility function includes public service

This is not to say that my utility function– and those of my MPA peers– doesn’t include income at all (or that the utility function of MBA grads never includes public service), but it is to say that public service drives my behavior more than money, and most likely drives the behavior of my classmates as well. It shouldn’t be surprising that nonprofit CEOs don’t make as much money as for-profit CEOs. On top of that, nonprofits are often understaffed and leaders may suffer from serious burnout. So why would us MPAs put ourselves through that? Because we want to make a difference. For some of us (and I’ll blame my background at The University of Chicago for the sincerity of this statement), we want to solve big problems and aren’t afraid of hard things. Some people might hate to look back and say, “I wish I made more money.” I respect that– and to each, his own. But for me, the most heartbreaking thing that I can imagine saying is, “I wish I made a difference for someone,” or “I wish I spent my life doing something I deeply cared about.” The MPA degree helps me build the skills to accomplish the things that I care about.

 

4) MPAs want to change the world… but we’re not impractical about it

I spend every day with folks who are determined to change the world. Are we starry-eyed and optimistic? Maybe. Too impractical to be effective? Definitely not. These professionals come from top tier institutions, much like the professionals that enter top MBA programs. Moreover, as an MPA, our speakers, mentors, and professors are professionals in policy and the nonprofit sector– rather than bankers and for-profit professionals. If I were to have pursued an MBA, our speakers and mentors would be those who best understand investment banking recruiting and achieving measurable outcomes– which would be much less relevant to me and my interests. Instead, I am surrounded by future foundation CEOs, grant writers, program producers, and nonprofit directors. A frequent happy hour topic for us: how not warm-and-fuzzy it is to work tirelessly for a mission.

 

5) The future: society’s priorities are placing higher importance on social good.

Signs are pointing toward the need for corporate environments to take on social missions– or at least some corporate social responsibility. Does this mean we might see some MPAs in corporate environments changing up the system in the near future? Perhaps. Consider this: Generation Y, the incoming professional leaders, are said to run on public service motivation. Unlike Generation X, these folks would much rather work for the government than a corporate giant. They want to give back to communities. Moreover, customers are more likely to consume goods that align themselves with some sort of social mission– and communication, transparency, and connection (nonprofit focuses) are beginning to lead corporate environments. In sum, the days of caring primarily about income and individual companies may be coming to a close. In fact, that’s what The Economist predicted for 2010 when they discussed the oncoming decline of the MBA.

When young nonprofit and museum professionals spout their desire to get an MBA because that’s what they think they “should” do, I cringe. There are many incredible reasons to get an MBA and great reasons to get an MPA as well; but I think it’s the responsibility of professional-degree-advocates to know why they are choosing one degree over the other.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous 51 Comments

Social Media in Museums: The Best Devote Their Websites To It

Museums are placing higher priority on engagement. With the social media revolution upon us and nonprofits’ growing reputations for utilizing social media to build connections and share stories, it’s no wonder museums are turning into community centers. Nearly every museum has a link to Twitter or Facebook these days, but museums are actually doing much more to engage their audiences online.

To illustrate the growing importance of social media as a mechanism for creating connections and increasing community engagement, I’ve taken screen shots of the websites of three of America’s most visited and successful museums. I am highlighting not just traditional social media, but also media that is social (online collaboration, sharing of resources, technology in strengthening the community, etc).

– Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, or the most visited museum of 2009. (Washington D.C.)


  • Social media comes first: Links to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and podcasts are accessible via the Natural History Museum’s homepage. In fact, this was the single most visited museum in the United States last year, and it is also one of the only museums in the top 25 most visited museums that gives social media such a prominent space on its homepage. This is most likely a case of correlation over causation, but if the most frequently visited museum in the country doesn’t put social media icons below the fold, why do so many museums make visitors scroll to the bottom of the page to see them?
  • Mobile applications are front and center: The most prominent item featured on the museum’s homepage is the announcement of a mobile application, MEanderthal, for iPhone and Android that highlights the museum’s Hall of Human Origins. The application is engaging, as it allows you to morph back in time to see what you might have looked like. Not only that, iPhone users can use iSmithsonian for free to get updates on museum happenings. This museum is successful, and places a strong emphasis on both engagement, and keeping up with the times.
  • Engaging community events that educate: This isn’t new for museums; there’s always interaction taking place. The museum is currently celebrating Savoring Sustainable Seafood, which features events that are open to the public and aim to engage the community. The Natural History Museum’s website is devoted to personal connections and accessibility.

– The Getty (Los Angeles, CA)

  • Community building through resource sharing: The Getty’s website doesn’t just supply museum information, it also serves as an online resource in education for parents and teachers. The website has ideas for art activities and lesson plans. Through these efforts, the museum shares it resources and strengthens the community.
  • Collaborative content: It might seem natural for art museums to view one another as competitors for visitors and donors- and perhaps they are- but Southern California’s art museums put their missions to inspire and educate first in the creation of a virtual exhibition. In this case (like the one above), the museum uses technology to build bridges and generally strengthen the community.
  • Blogs as a space for interaction: This popular museum understands the importance of allowing visitors to interact with the museum through blog comments. Moreover, the blog provides readers the opportunity to see what happens behind-the-scenes at the museum. Allowing folks to take a peek behind the curtain make The Getty more transparent, accessible, inviting, and gives a sense of trustworthiness.
  • Calendar of public programs: The inclusion of the calendar reminds website visitors that all the good stuff isn’t just online. In fact, the best stuff takes place within the museum. The calendar is an important inclusion here, as it puts a focus on experience and interaction.


– The Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL)

  • INTERACT and creative engagement: The Art Institute of Chicago puts the bulk of its interaction in one place– on its own page off of a tab on the homepage between members and shop. And this page really does include many links to social media, and media that is social. There’s even a My Collections feature that allows users to log-in (a great measurement for engagement) and build their own virtual art collections. Curious Corner features fun and educational online games for kids. A person could spend hours on this interact tab of the website (Truth be told, I may have gotten caught up in it a time or two…)
  • Microblogging may be worth fitting on the page: The museum’s twitter stream is shown on the site. Not only that, the Twitter stream shows pictures of the folks/organizations with which the Art Institute is communicating. Like the blog at The Getty, the use of this social media tool puts a voice to the institution and makes it appear more personable, trustworthy, and transparent.
  • A way to learn more: It’s not new to highlight a sign-up for an organization’s e-newsletter on a site, but the simple act asks the visitor for engagement and lets them know that the organization is an evolving entity with more to say!

If the best of the best museums place a high priority on engaging audiences through media and technology, then there may be a lesson here for smaller museums struggling with whether or not to delve into social media. The key may be to start thinking about the internet as a flexible medium through which to connect with visitors.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 8 Comments

A Theory for Breaking Through Nonprofit Sector Constraints

It seems that, without even knowing it, we’re all working together to limit nonprofit innovation.

In the nonprofit sector, risk (an important element in innovation) is stifled due to nonprofits’ need for multiple stakeholder acceptance in order to survive. This makes large-scale change difficult, if not impossible, and the only way that we will solve this is if we put our minds together to think about it.

Let’s take the hot topic of increasing salaries for nonprofit leaders (though we could pick any topic that challenges perceived sector constraints). A nonprofit might seriously consider higher salaries in order to attract high-quality leaders, establish itself professionally, or ensure that competition for the position allows the organization to choose– or continue to motivate– the best candidate for the job.  This could be a great idea. It could work wonders. But questioning sector constraints at all is often much like trying to give a big hug to a hand grenade. Here’s why:

  1. The board and staff will need to approve this risk. In the case of increasing employee salaries, they will consider that every extra dollar given to a staff member is a dollar that could be spent on programming. These immediate stakeholders must believe in the potential of the idea.
  2. Then the nonprofit will have to face the multiple foundations that may no longer award the nonprofit otherwise-much-deserved grants because their administrative costs exceed (or come close to) a percentage set by the foundation in advance.
  3. You have to face the people who don’t understand why you made this change (regardless of its nobility), and the media may tear you apart. Even worse, other nonprofit leaders at The Chronicle of Philanthropy may even give you bad press for trying to take a risk to aid in sector evolution.
  4. Your amount of in-kind donations over the year may suffer because of the bad press– which defeats your whole attempt at innovation because you can no longer afford to pay a higher-than-before salary to your employees… so you are back where you started– but with fewer funds, a lot of bad press, alienated foundation connections, and unhappy employees.

In the private sector, innovation breeds new business practices and monetary success. The system is quite simple: a firm must gather capital to take a risk, take that risk, and if the company makes a profit, they are onto something. Other companies catch onto the company’s new tactic and next thing we know, every company has to be doing that innovative thing in order to continue to stay in the game. The same is true for nonprofit organizations except, in the nonprofit sector, raising capital may mean raising social capital.

 

Please click on the image to enlarge

So what can be done to alter sector constraints in order to allow nonprofit professionals to be innovative in organizational management?

First, double loop learning must take place. Double loop learning occurs when leaders question their own basic assumptions about the world. Single loop learning, by comparison, is the tried-and-tested routine that we fall into when we do everyday things like write grants and conduct meetings– but we also use single loop learning when we devise wages (continuing with the case of nonprofit salaries as our example). We have an idea of what works and we stick to it. Double loop learning, on the other hand, makes us ask ourselves, “Why do we do X? Maybe I should be doing Y.” When we ask this question, possibilities are born.

Second, the nonprofit must be transparent about their new idea and share it among networks. The nonprofit could ask for input via social media networks, get dialogues going with staff members; make everyone (stakeholders especially) aware of the possible benefit of taking this risk. This includes spreading word about the importance of innovation among stakeholders, the public, and other nonprofit groups. Technology is a great mechanism for information-share, and getting brain juices flowing. Who knows? A few other nonprofits may consider the idea and try it out alongside you.

Through this, social capital is created. Spreading the message creates connections. Asking people for their input (even if it’s negative) creates connections. Connections build social capital. Social capital increases overall support of the new practice because friends and community partners can share your idea with their own networks, and become part of idea formation and collaboration.

Then intellectual capital is built as stakeholders become educated on the issue. The more people hear about the issue, the more educated they will become on the need for innovation, or rather, the more accepting they will be when you actually follow through in challenging sector constraints. Lets go back to the example of a nonprofit taking on higher administration costs to motivate employees. If we learn that there’s a nonprofit leadership deficit on the way, then we may be more likely to outwardly encourage and support (or at least understand) nonprofits that are raising employee salaries.

And finally, the innovation is accepted. This does not mean that people will agree with your new (hopefully) innovative practice– but, because of your transparency, they will fully understand why you have challenged sector constraints, and also that you have the best interests of the community you serve at heart. And whether they agree with the idea or not, folks may be more inclined to respect the idea. Foundations may still award grants to the organization, and donors may stick around for at least another year. Who knows? Maybe your active desire to contribute to the sector and your fresh views of management will earn you a few more donors.

This theory is just that: a theory. I do not know how to encourage nonprofits to take responsible risks and challenge constraints that hold them back in serving their mission. I do know that, if the sector means to evolve, nonprofit leaders must begin to think about blazing new trails— and we should think about ways to allow them to do so.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Sector Evolution, Trends 8 Comments

Keep The Ride Alive- A Tradition to Celebrate the Power of the Individual

Daisy Keeps the Ride Alive this year in Bloomfield Hills, MI.

‘We are called a nation of inventors. And we are. We could still claim that title and wear its loftiest honors if we had stopped with the first thing we ever invented, which was human liberty.” – Mark Twain

On the April 18, 1775, Paul Revere and other riders set out to warn American farmers and villagers that the time had come to fight for freedom. As individuals, these riders combined to help launch our country’s quest for independence – an independence that gave each of us the opportunity and freedom to engage our own individual “rides” that can make a difference.

So on April 18th, we salute Paul Revere and the others who fought for our freedom. They demonstrated the power and potential of a single individual.

Since 1997, on April 18th, people all over the country and around the world have celebrated Paul Revere’s ride by wearing the KEEP THE RIDE ALIVE T-shirt. On April 18, 2010 look for people wearing shirts with “KEEP THE RIDE ALIVE ALIVE” in black letters on the front and “235 YEARS” on the back – with a black and white picture of the traditional bald eagle… and remember to keep your own ride alive.

When my family started this symbolic shirt-wearing tradition in 1997, we made and distributed only 9 shirts with iron-on letters. From that day onward, the tradition has been growing. My family now makes and distributes over 300 free shirts to willing participants each year. Shirts run out quickly, and often folks in our high schools and colleges have made their own shirts with fabric markers to celebrate the day when supplies ran low.

During my college years, a majority of the shirts were worn on The University of Chicago campus with large amounts often found at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Wisconsin-Madison campuses (where my brother and sister attend(ed) school). Since our college friends have dispersed, the tradition has made even wider impact– with shirts being worn in nearly every state in the U.S. (including Paul Revere’s House in Boston) and beyond to Canada, Scotland, Japan, Dubai, and other countries.

The tradition is not meant to be political– but rather patriotic and a collective celebration of the important role that each individual plays in the world. I want to share it with my readers here at Know Your Own Bone because I believe that in order for people to be their best and contribute to the evolving world, they must understand and celebrate their individual worth.


Henderson House Keeping the Ride Alive, 2004

Alpha Omicron Pi Keeping the Ride Alive, 2005

Folks caught walking around campus, 2006.

A few ladies keeping the Ride Alive in 2007

Keeping the Ride Alive during Seder dinner in Seattle in 2008

Keep The Ride Alive Shirts from 1998 – 2010 laid out on Jackie Wild's bed in Wichita, KS.

Happy Paul Revere Day, readers! Please take a moment today to think about how you have contributed, not only to moving along the nonprofit and museum worlds, but about the impact you make every day in the lives of loved ones, and the greater context of your community.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous, Nonprofit Marketing 1 Comment

Perhaps We’ve Got it Backward: Businesses Are Turning to Nonprofit Practices

Photo credit to agentgenius.com

More and more for-profit companies are beginning to function like nonprofits– and perhaps for good reason. It seems that nonprofits are becoming less like slow-to-pick-up organizations, and a little bit more like the sector that’s onto the trends.

There’s a lot of talk about how nonprofits gain by functioning more like businesses. Among other things, nonprofits must keep up with the innovation taking place in the for-profit sector, or nonprofits will be weeded out by for-profit competition.  But  nonprofits are not the only ones looking to other sectors for inspiration. In fact, nonprofits have a few things going for them right now that for-profit companies seem to really want:

1. Competition

Companies will need social missions to attract the next generation of customers. In fact, according to a USA Today article, 69% of Gen Yers consider a company’s social commitment when deciding where to shop, and 83% will trust a company more if it is socially responsible– and that’s just attracting customers! Companies will need to step it up a notch if they want to hire new MBAs and MPAs (whom are increasingly socially conscious, by the way). The next generation is civic-minded and cautious in regard to where and how they spend their time. And on top of all this, the human race as a whole is evolving into beings that value kindness.

Companies are already publicly rising to the occasion and deep-rooting their identities in crowdsourced cause marketing. The Pepsi Refresh Project, American Express Members Project, Google Project 10^100, Chase Community Giving, and Target’s Bullseye Gives may be just the tip of the big-companies-crowdsourcing-for-social-good iceberg. Not only are these companies recognizing their need to “do good,” but they are making it a part of their social identity by fostering communication and asking communities to participate in choosing where their money goes. Recently, this has helped for-profits build up legitimacy in yet another area where nonprofits (as opposed to for-profits) are known to shine…

2. Communication-

Nonprofits are said to be kicking private sector booty in building relationships through social media. They have quickly taken up this way of telling stories and spreading social missions. Sure, social media has its serious pluses for nonprofit organizations: it’s generally affordable, it can be done by a volunteer, and site visits and bit.ly clicks are measurable (an often-rare quality for activities taken up by nonprofit organizations). But most of all, social media is a hit for nonprofits because the ability to connect, ignite excitement or empathy, and create and maintain strong interpersonal connections has always been an element of survival for nonprofits– both on the administrative end and in the front lines. The community engagement– as well as individual connections– that nonprofits are often able to summon is an object of desire for private companies in the evolving world. The days of putting a product into the world with an overarching one-way message are coming to an end. During this time, companies will need to steal and ingrain the nonprofit practice of building meaningful connections in order to thrive.

3. Costs

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is credited for saying, “I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.” This could have come out of the mouth of any nonprofit CEO out there. Granted, the for-profit sector has an arguably greater ability to take risks than nonprofit organizations, which have several stakeholders and constraints beyond the budget. Bill Gates proved that scrappiness and frugality were the way to go back in 1976 when he created Microsoft. In fact, Guy Kawasaki dedicates an entire chapter in his book, The Art of The Start, to bootstrapping. In the current economic climate, there’s a need for businesses to reevaluate spending. In this case, it is less that businesses want to be more like nonprofit organizations– they have to be.

Nonprofits are not often thought to be business trend-setters. Perhaps that’s why the nonprofit sector– as a whole– don’t seem to take the time to pat themselves on the back. Right now, nonprofits are onto something. Social missions are in. Personal connections are in. Even endearing scrappiness is in.  Instead of looking longing at the for-profit sector’s freedom and financials when it comes time to allocate resources or cut already-decreased spending in nonprofit organizations, we should take a moment to focus on the sector’s incredible strengths. Nonprofits, it turns out, are teaching private companies a thing or two about how to connect to communities and champion a good cause.

I owe a thank you to Dr. Peter Robertson, a professor of organizational behavior within USC’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development, for raising an eyebrow and saying, “I think in the future businesses will function as nonprofits,” when I spoke nonchalantly about nonprofit evolution to private sector practices during a recent meeting.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Trends 5 Comments

The Nonprofit Manifesto for Generation Y Leaders

USC Price MPA

Attributes of Generation Y will shape the nonprofit sector as oldest members of the generation turn 30 and take up more powerful positions in organizations. Just for fun, I’ve combined some of my generation’s stereotypical characteristics to create a little manifesto for generation Y nonprofit leaders. I present (trumpets, please):

1. Thou shalt question perceived sector constraints and manage according to what is best for my organization

I will manage my organization with an eye for each unique situation, and I will not back down when perceived sector constraints stand in the way of progress in achieving a social mission. I will channel the entrepreneurial spirit of my generation and nontraditional leadership skills in order to come up with creative solutions. I will consider accepting high administrative costs if it will bring me better leaders and that is what I need. I will produce products and sell them to support a mission. I will employ business best practices suitable for my situation. Above all, I will ask, “Why not?”

 

2. Thou shalt manage with professionalism but understand the importance of soft skills

I will lead with compassion, kindness, professionalism and a strong sense of morality. I will not let my feelings jeopardize what is best for the organization or let things slide for employees just because it is a nonprofit organization. I understand the growing importance of soft skills. I will combine hard and soft skills to cultivate a culture of both compassion and professionalism.

 

3. We shall remain the sector of interpersonal relationships under my watch

I will share my organization’s mission and the captivating stories of the communities I serve. I am civic-minded and social, and will create and develop personal relationships with individuals who share the desire to improve these communities. I will be driven, passionate, imaginative, hopeful, and ambitious within reason.  My demonstration of this sincerity will contribute to the fire of the sector as a whole.

 

4. Thou shalt realize that I do not own social change

My generation understands that what matters is getting the job done in achieving a social mission. My organization and even the nonprofit sector itself does not own social change. When I do contribute to change, I understand that often credit belongs not only to myself, but to employees, donors, volunteers, corporations, and often entire communities. Often, the private and public sector are just as capable of serving social missions as the nonprofit sector, and can effectively evoke positive change. For me and my generation, making a difference is important, regardless of sector.

 

5. I am not better than anyone else because I am motivated by public service.

I derive utility by helping others. I understand that some individuals do not share the same primary motivation, and I respect this. Many individuals working in the private sector do, indeed, want to help others, and they will become some of my organization’s most valuable donors and terrific friends.

 

6. Thou shalt always be brainstorming

I will be constantly thinking of ways to make my organization more efficient and brainstorming innovative ideas. I understand that brainstorming may produce many unwise ideas that I shall not act upon, but great possibilities arise from brainstorming as well. I will read blogs, utilize the internet, and engage my networks in coming up with creative solutions to problems facing my nonprofit organization. I will utilize my spirit of collaboration to work with others to come up with new ideas.

 

7. Thou shalt expect employees to take time to rest

The nonprofit sector is strongly associated with burnout, but I will change this because I understand the importance of work-life balance. Giving employees adequate rest, reward, and relaxation will make them happier and clear their minds so that they may produce higher quality ideas. Allocating time for my personal life makes me a better, happier leader and I understand and expect that employees need this time as well. I will be sensitive to burnout.

 

8. Thou shalt bring an understanding of social media to the table

I am part of the first generation raised with computers, and I understand the importance of generally keeping up with technological advances. Social media and online marketing skills are of growing importance in nonprofit organizations in this day and age. Staff and board members can generally look to me for guidance in understanding social media.

 

9. Thou shalt seek mentors in every organization

I believe that older employees have valuable wisdom to share, and I will actively seek their guidance. Especially in nonprofit organizations, I count on older employees to pass along the culture and unspoken ideals upon which the organization was founded. I respect this culture, and I will handle it with care– even if it must be transformed for the good of the organization. I believe that there is much to be learned from older employees and I am appreciative of their mentorship.

 

10. Thou shalt understand that the world is always changing and that sector practices must evolve according to those changes

I understand that working in the nonprofit sector is not easy.  There will be ups and downs in every organization and throughout the sector. Some predict that we will face a severe 2016 leadership deficit. Others predict that increasing CEO salaries will bring better leaders to the sector. Whatever the future brings, I will summon my talents to tackle problems facing not only my organization, but the sector as a whole.

Do you agree, disagree, have points to add, or just want to give your seal of approval? Please share in the comment section!

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing 8 Comments

How to Lead with Empathy: Read Fiction

It’s no surprise that great change-makers and business leaders (like Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Nelson Mandela), when asked about their favorite book, say something like “The Great Gatsby” rather than “How to Make Friends and Influence People.” Perhaps this is because fiction influences people in its own right; it makes readers better leaders.

Looking to hone your leadership skills? Here are five reasons why you should pick up a work of fiction:

 

Hemingway's 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' is a favorite book of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

1. Fiction helps you understand other people’s emotions.

A study by the Journal of Research in Personality uncovered that readers of narrative fiction score highly on tests of empathy and social acumen. Not only that, but they score more highly on tests involving social reasoning . This kind of skill allows great leaders to connect with others on an emotional level, and it provides them with the emotional basis to tell compelling stories that engage others.

 

2. Fiction increases social ability.

Reading fiction puts you in somebody else’s head, and studies show that this is good practice for us in our ability to relate— not just to people on a one-on-one level– but to groups and in differing social situations. Fiction provides information on how and why people react to combinations of social forces, and by putting ourselves in the mind of the main character, we are challenging our own perspectives. This skill comes in handy for every leader, but you can imagine that a politician without high levels of emotional intelligence and with a less-than-perfect ability to maneuver socially might not retain favorable polls for very long.

 

3. Fiction enriches brain functioning.

Of all of our organs, the brain is the only one that will continue to grow and function if we nourish it properly. Reading fiction provides your brain with new scenarios that buff up our brains. And fiction gets us more involved than you might think: our brains are responsible for constructing the voices, appearances, gestures, and even smells of characters and scenes in novels. When we watch a play or see a film, many of these interpretations are resolved for us– so here’s a brain-enriching tip: read the book before you see the movie.

 

'War and Peace' became Nelson Mandela's favorite book when he read it during his years in prison in South Africa.

Nelson Mandela first read his favorite book, 'War and Peace,' while in prison in South Africa.

4. Fiction makes you more creative.

According to research conducted at Emory University, the brain’s reward pathways respond more strongly to unexpected stimuli rather than expected stimuli. Fiction, more so than other genres of literature, provides the most unexpected stimuli. Readers’ brains light up as they face new scenarios. Being exposed to these kinds of creative forces teaches our minds to think and act creatively in return. Want to perfect your creative problem-solving skills? Studies say that detective fiction will help.

 

5. Fiction makes you smarter. Fiction makes you smarter in two ways. First, reading has been shown to increase vocabulary and vocabulary is arguably the best single predictor of occupational success. Second, fiction exposes you to different time periods and cultures. It’s impossible to read The Great Gatsby without getting a sense of the prosperity of the roaring twenties in America. The Grapes of Wrath takes readers back to the Great Depression. Not only do readers get a professionally beneficial dose of vocabulary by reading fiction, but they also get an engaging history lesson and taste of other cultures.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous, Nonprofit Marketing 1 Comment

When Art Museum Directors Talk Trash, Everybody Wins.

Directors at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (Max Anderson) and the New Orleans Museum of Art (John Bullard), after a series of playful trash-talking, have made public bets on who will win the Super Bowl this weekend… and they bet famous works of art.

"Ideal View of Tivoli", 1644, by Claude Lorrain, Which NOMA will loan to the IMA if the Colts win the Super Bowl.

JMW Turner's The Fifth Plague of Egypt, 1800, which the IMA will lend to NOMA if the Saints win the Super Bowl.

The wager: If the Colts win the Super Bowl, the New Orleans Museum of Art will lend Claude Lorrain’s, Ideal View of Tivoli, 1644, to the Indianapolis Museum of Art for three months. If the Saints win, on the other hand, the Indianapolis Museum of Art will lend out Turner’s The Fifth Plague of Egypt, 1800.

 

But it doesn’t matter who wins the Super Bowl this Sunday. Anderson and Bullard are winners in spreading their missions either way– just because they made the wager. Here’s why this bet is a step forward for museums in terms of mission and community engagement (and the reasons are cooler than you think):

 

1) The bet will build community and mix popular cultures.

Makes sense, right? Being a sports fan builds a sense of community; it’s something that a group of fans come together to care about. The art directors’ bet piggy-backs the art museum culture with the sport-watching culture, which is one of passion and identity. And why shouldn’t communities feel the same sense of ownership and connection with their city’s art museum as they feel with their city’s sport teams? Anderson and Bullard are demonstrating pride in their cities by making the wager, and aligning themselves directly with the members of the community- all of whom are also hoping for a win on Sunday. Anderson and Bullard are saying that the museum cares about a win just as much as the rest of Indianapolis and New Orleans do- and they’ll put their money where their mouth is. In turn, the community knows that folks representing the IMA and NOMA will be gasping, cheering, and shouting their lungs out along side them as they are watching the game; it’s a powerful thing. On the first day that the Lorrian is on display at NOMA (or Turner at IMA), a local will stand in front of it and say, “We won the bet!”

 

2) Scientifically speaking, the bet lights up the brains of art-lovers.

… but not in the way that you’re probably thinking. Many museums have missions to educate- and this public wager does just that. Of course, you learn a thing or two about art while looking over the give-and-take that led to the final wager (I certainly didn’t know that the Indianapolis Museum of Art owns a farm). Interestingly, a 2008 study from The University of Chicago finds that spectators’ brains light up when talking about sports, and their language skills are improved. According to the article, “the region of the brain usually associated with planning and controlling actions is activated when players and fans listen to conversations about their sport.” Most obviously, the bet encourages museum-fans to watch their city’s team (if only for hope of gaining a Turner or a Lorrain in their town) and art-lovers are exposed to this benefit. Or at least I will be, as I was neutral about the outcome of the Super Bowl until I realized that I will be in Indiana in the Summertime…

 

3) The bet makes art aficionados biologically happier.

To non-sports fans, the bet may seem silly– but sports fans are less prone to depression than those disinterested in sports. Gambling also increases dopamine levels in the brain, making fans– of the museum and the teams–happier. It’s a welcome change of pace, especially since human beings are hardwired to avoid conflict and we usually think of museums as on the same team. This is not to say that art museums should go betting works of art left and right, but it is to say that the friendly competition is an exciting and healthy change for museum lovers. After all, scientists credit social competition for human beings’ increasing brain-size. So thanks for keeping us happy, Anderson and Bullard– and for expanding our brains.

 

4) The bet has sass- and so do museums.

This wager makes Robert Smithson look silly for saying, “Museums are tombs, and it looks like everything is turning into a museum.” Well, at least the first part looks dumb. Case in point: check out these trash-talking (friendly) tweets. Anderson and Bullard challenge the notion that museums are cold, static, outdated, and lifeless places. These museums have attitude, and they are acting in regard  to current real-life situations. As for the last half of Smithson’s quote, it seems that everything is turning into a museum– or more accurately, museums are turning into places for everything… like friendly community-building wagers.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends 5 Comments