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

Museums and Cultural Nonprofits: Social Media Doesn’t Belong to the Marketing Department

Social Media Marketing has become a common practice in the business world, and of course, nonprofits have picked up on the benefits of this kind of marketing, too. More than that, nonprofits are rocking the social media marketing scene.

But in our nonprofit world– which emphasizes the importance of building relationships to secure donors– pairing social media solely with marketing can cause big problems and overlook the benefits available to organizations through this media. Museums, in particular, have a lot to lose when educators, program creators, fundraisers, and even board members or power players say, “Social media? Why, that’s a marketing thing!”

Development Department: social media helps create connections. Social media is mastered by nonprofit organizations because it’s a low-resource way to connect with individuals. While it’s true that word of mouth marketing is the most powerful kind of marketing, and folks on social media share views on organizations through this media, the connections created have the potential to serve as catalysts for donations in the future. Viewing social media as purely a marketing department endeavor means that your museum may leave many connections to go flat because these connections must be built upon (like any relationship) and a marketing department trying to reach a wide audience may not have the capacity to cultivate these individual relationships. Moreover, this relationship cultivation is often thought to be the job of development folks! This is not to say that development must be running social media, but social media (and communications with the marketing department regarding social media) should be important in the development department. One way to get the development department more constructively involved might be for Marketing to hand over a list of folks who have been engaging with the museum through social media, and for Development to follow-up and be sure to cultivate those relationships. There may be opportunities for future funding in these relationships.

Education Department: social media can teach people things. Many museums do a great job of engaging visitors with educational content through social media so that the visitors’ learning doesn’t end when they exit the institution. In fact, this idea of taking the institution home is powerful in building both connections to the organization and to educational content. What happens when the education folks don’t share educational material through social media? An opportunity to continue sparking interest in a topic or idea is lost. What happens in most institutions is that the marketing folks provide the educational content (or at least link to educational content supplied by the education department). This is not a problem– that is, as long as Education is working alongside Marketing to make sure that facts are correct and that cool information is free-flowing. Education must realize that social media can be an extension of the topics discussed at the museum– and a fun way to learn at home! Obviously, to be most effective, educational resources may need to evolve into new technologies and utilize other forms of new media (mobile apps, for example), but social media should be seen by the department as an educational resource offered by the institution, in a sense.

Power Players: social media keeps your organization relevant. Community engagement and community cultivation are gaining more and more ground in conversations and initiatives involving the future of museums. Social media is a step to help do this. Some of the best museums are already onto this fact enough to devote portions of their websites to social media communications. Being active in social media helps break the mental barrier that museums are slow-moving places that idolize the past and have little to do with the present or the future. The current types of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) may be trends, but there’s an argument that social media has already changed the way we communicate on the whole. Board members, Vice Presidents, and Presidents may not be doing their organization any favors by letting them fall behind in current communication methods. In fact, social media is generally low resource– why not rise to the top if you can?

Organizations that do not acknowledge the interconnectivity that social media provides among departments may function less efficiently and effectively than organizations that embrace this new way in which much of the world communicates. Social media doesn’t need to leave the Marketing Department (and arguably shouldn’t), but this idea that social media doesn’t play a role in individual departments or the institution as a whole as it relates to the broader community? That, I think, must leave as organizations prepare for the future.

It requires a thought change, or a breaking down of a vertical ladder. In order for social media to work best for museums and cultural nonprofits, then everyone must work together to maximize the resource because it blurs the lines between so many departments. As a whole, businesses are becoming more organic and interconnected. Maybe social media can be the catalyst that brings this kind of organizational change to museums so that we, too, may function more efficiently and reap the benefits of this kind of collaborative culture.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 9 Comments

Museum Accessibility: Are Museum Professionals Sending the Right Signals?

Getting this post via e-mail? Click here to see the video.

Check out this video above, which I discovered thanks to Jennifer Souers of MuseoBlogger. Whether you work in a museum or not, it’s sure to bring a little smile to your face– not a warm and cuddly, feel-good smile– but a it’s-funny-because-it’s-true kind of smile. But this little video gives museum professionals something interesting to think about as well.

Sometimes it takes somebody outside of our niche to show us how our tribe/institution/industry is perceived, and this video can provide some insight for folks working in museums and cultural nonprofit organizations. For better or worse, this video shows us how museums and museum professionals are perceived. We must ask ourselves: is this how we want our professions and institutions to be viewed?

Below are some red-flags that emerged for me while watching the video. I’ll call them ‘misconceptions,’ though it could be argued by some that these are not misconceptions at all. If museums are increasingly becoming places for community, let’s make it clear.  If we want folks to be sure these things are misconceptions of museum professionals then let’s do what we can to prove it.

 

Misconception #1: Museum professionals are nothing like normal people. Kim the cat says, “Chances are, the museum people who decide what gets to be put in the museum probably don’t have anything in common with you.” I laughed at this because museum professionals (administrators, scientists, exhibit designers, researchers) often try hard to be accessible to the public, despite their often-vast knowledge of very particular subjects. (High levels of education is what Kim seems to identify as the leading barrier between museum staff and visitor). It’s a funny statement, but it also means that museum professionals, despite their efforts, aren’t doing their jobs right because their professional backgrounds can create a disconnect. Building upon the growing sense of community that museums are currently nursing may improve this, as well as incorporating accessible and engaging on-site professionals that can tell a personal story or two. Lesson: If museum professionals want their displays to exhibit accessibility, then museum professionals must be accessible themselves.

 

Misconception #2: Museum professionals think visitors can’t handle context. Kim says,”Blank walls are good so that the visitors won’t have to deal with too much context or history.” There are some valid reasons why museum professionals keep the walls blank. For instance, to draw attention to the formal elements of the art. However, when a visitor comes across an object and little context is provided, it can produce a negative effect. As the video hints, one effect is the notion that museum professionals draw academic boundaries to make themselves and the objects they display inaccessible. Moreover, in the video Kim points out that museums tell the community what to think.  In this era of new technologies and social media, some museums are aiming to allow visitors to be their own curators. Lesson: In order to increase accessibility, museum professionals should provide enough context that visitors may draw their own conclusions and connect to the object in a meaningful way on their own.

 

Misconception #3: Museum professionals fuzzy up concepts such as value and importance in order to appear authoritative. The video does more than hint that it’s unclear how museum professionals determine importance and value in regard to museum exhibits (namely, deciding what goes into the museum and what stays out). Perhaps professionals are fuzzy in communicating this process because cultural gatekeeping isn’t completely understood on the whole. Kim simply advises museum professionals to use tidy and sharp labels, and only use language that sounds academic, “otherwise, the authority effect won’t be so convincing.” By including enough context, making scientists and historians personally accessible, and allowing visitors to draw their own conclusions in regard to objects, only some of this misconception could be corrected. Lesson: Museum professionals must be communicative in regards to the exhibit design and creation process by explaining decisions that affect how the ‘story’ is presented.

 

Misconception #4: The work of museum professionals is about the objects. This video talks a lot about object-worship, and introduces the museum as a place that houses important things. In some ways, this is true– but museums tend to be fueled by ideas, theories, symbols, and a greater notion of sparking and expanding education, rather than objects themselves. This misconception makes sense: museums take great care to preserve and display objects because of what the objects represent. To call a museum a place of things is right- but also wrong. Museums’ missions are most often about ideas, and the objects are meaningful symbols of important stories. Lesson: Museum professionals must emphasize the stories and lessons that objects symbolize or represent– rather than focus on the object itself, as that appears irrelevant (because it’s missing context).

 

Misconception #5: Museum professionals only care about the wealthy. If this isn’t a misconception, then it should be. Kim the cat says, “At first I thought there must be some law against having poor people on a museum’s Board of Trustees, but then later I found out that actually there isn’t any law like this. This is just the way they like to do it.” What’s missing here is an explanation: the Board often secures significant funding, and the wealthy attract other wealthy folks who can give to the museum and help keep its doors open. But with or without the explanation, it’s still a telling and jarringly true statement. Many museums are placing more focus on diversity, and are arguably gearing themselves away from a white, upper-middle class visitor and donor base. There’s a lot of work to be done (3 of 17 of the top 25 most visited museums in the US are run by men. Over half have PhDs indicating that many have similar academic backgrounds). Lesson: In order for museums to connect to communities, it may help to have a Board and staff that match the community demographic. Or rather, having an all-wealthy and homogeneous Board can be off-putting for visitors who do not fit that bill.

 

Misconception #6: Museum professionals are magical masters of time-freeze and corps display. Do museum people fight nature every day, as Kim states in the video? Maybe– and it’s probably not a terrible misconception either. Museum professionals certainly go above and beyond to preserve objects that tell important stories about culture and the world around us. However, this time-freezing becomes wrapped up in Kim’s little paper, “An illustration of how everything in a museum is something like a corpse.” Museums are certainly doing a great many things to remain relevant and to shatter the notion that museums are merely houses for old, irrelevant things. However, the old stereotype lives on. Lesson: Old habits die hard, and despite recent efforts, it will take a lot of collaboration, forward-thinking, and community engagement for museums to break away from past reputations.

But it will be well worth the effort.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Celebrating One Year of Know Your Own Bone

The original header when I started KYOB in 2009

I began this blog one year ago and it’s come a long, long way in the last twelve months! Throughout the last year, this has been a place for me to share ideas, gather my thoughts, and even do a bit of research. In one short year, Know Your Own Bone won me an award, earned me phone conversations and guidance from Penelope Trunk, got articles re-printed in popular magazines, hooked me up with the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance, gave me the opportunity to write an advance review for the Harvard Business Review, was picked up by wonderful thought leaders, and allowed me to connect with many talented professionals.

Upcoming: Speaking of connecting with talented professionals, please tune in to Rosetta Thurman‘s BlogTalkRadio show, All Nonprofits Considered, from 12 – 1pm EST next Monday, July 12th. I will be discussing the current culture of nonprofit leadership in museums and the arts with young arts professional, Ian David Moss. Please join the chat room and help contribute to the discussion next Monday!

I know many bloggers often feature “best of” posts that link back to previously written articles. Until this point, I’ve never done this in a post. In celebration of my one-year anniversary with Know Your Own Bone, I’ll highlight some of the various types of posts I’ve written. These are certainly not “best of” posts, just a little survey of the themes I’ve covered over the last twelve months. Create a page with all of Know Your Own Bone’s “best of”s, you suggest? That sounds like a great task for year #2.

Thanks to all of you who check-in on Know Your Own Bone again and again- especially those of you who subscribe or who have reached out and commented or shot an e-mail or two my way. I love hearing from you all and I am beyond grateful to have such a great group of intelligent and insightful readers!

Here’s to the start of another year of Know Your Own Bone, with even more thoughts on the evolution of museums and nonprofits, community engagement, and social change. Cheers!

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous 2 Comments

5 Reasons to Always Be Thinking Like a Graduate Student

I’ll be honest: when I left my full-time gig at the Science Center in order to become a full-time graduate student last year, I was terrified by how this change would alter my own viewpoints and how I am perceived as a professional. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be taken as seriously if a majority of my time (the “full-time” part) was spent studying sector management as opposed to actively working in the sector.

Even as I am halfway into my graduate school experience, I can already look back and say that I had a right to be as terrified as anyone undergoing a big change (especially when thinking that my experience might be like this)– but I’d never take back the change in perspective that I’ve undergone for the time-being. I know full-well that by this time next year, the status will switch back and I will return to the full-time working world (oh, the magic of a professional degree; the point is to go back). But I will always understand the importance of thinking like a graduate student. Here’s why:

 

1) It forces you to see the big picture. There are things going on in every industry and the way we do business is always evolving. Currently social media, communication,  soft skills, and Gen Y’s public service motivation are shaking things up in the nonprofit world, but even after those things run their course, there will be something else. When you are a graduate student you see these things– and what’s more: you see their collective effect on the industry because you spend nearly every day piecing together the puzzle. Thinking like this is extremely valuable because it helps you to mentally tackle many sector problems at once, and scientifically, this kind of thinking helps build up solutions more creatively than tackling one at a time– which is often done in a working environment. Thinking like a graduate student in this sense means always keeping an eye on the bigger picture of the industry as a whole, and it will result in creative solutions and a more complete understanding of where your difficulties lie.

 

2) Grad students have built-in microscopes or telescopes. That’s like having science tools built into their brains (for a few years), folks! This is directly related to point #1. People often joke that grad students always think what they are doing is important, even though it’s not. What’s really happening here (and the reason we grad students think what we’re uncovering is so important) is that we have a different perspective. As mentioned above, in professional degrees, we zoom out on the sector. Academic degrees tend to zoom in on a part of the sector. Either way, grad students are thinking in a way that is not common in workplace environments (whether it’s with their internal microscopes or a telescopes). Thinking differently spawns innovation. Grad students see something non-graduate students don’t see (and often vice-versa). There’s terrific potential here. When faced with a problem after graduate school, I’ll strap my telescope back on and see if I can think about things differently.

 

3) It makes you aware of your own strengths and interests. In graduate school, you can pursue your own interests within your degree. Beyond MPA student, I have no role defining my duties in one specific area (I can choose as I go). There is a lot of freedom in these programs to make yourself an expert on whatever strikes your interest. Similarly, in graduate school you must do everything from public presentations, to writing case studies, to leading debates, to drawing graphs to illustrate possible solutions to market failures. You learn quickly where you shine… and also where you stink. The bottom line lesson here, however, is to keep exploring and taking up new challenges in the working world. It may lead you to interesting solutions to problems. And trying new things helps you learn a lot more about yourself and how you handle certain situations– it’s teaching me a lot at any rate!

 

4) It gives you a feeling of purpose (which helps you live longer and makes you better at your job). I have two years while I’m obtaining my degree to challenge perspectives, share crazy ideas freely, and sink my teeth into the sector. I feel a sense of purpose when exploring skills required to improve the sector. Feeling a sense of purpose does more than reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s and help prevent depression. It actually makes you live longer. Studies have shown that purpose motivates us to accomplish things and grad students spend two years (or more) devoted to developing their purpose and career goals so that they can work hard for you (or themselves) after they graduate. What can people who aren’t in graduate school do to develop this mindset? Make time to focus on what you are doing and why.

 

5) It keeps you humble. Folks tend to feel like they are improving in their careers based on how many people are reporting to them throughout the years– or at least I felt this way a bit before I came to grad school. Now,  nobody reports to me. I study with a lot of accomplished people and I take classes from distinguished professors. This is humbling. Also, full-time graduate students often take a financial hit to attend school (even if they are employed by the university or working a part-time job– or in my case, both). I’ve worked in hierarchical environments and I’ve started at the very bottom– but being broke, living on ideas, and being surrounded by thought-leaders is every bit as humbling as it is romantic and drive-inspiring. I will strive to keep this perspective and treat everyone as an accomplished classmate, regardless of their background or experience. Good ideas come from everywhere, and there’s no need to get cocky about my own.

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

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