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Weighing Outputs: Measuring Social Impact in Museums and Nonprofits

Photo from hollis333.wordpress.com

Since writing my last post, I’ve done a bit more thinking about our most recent prompt within the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance: How do you measure social impact? Check out some of the responses so far. Don’t forget to follow us on twitter and add your 2 cents by using the tag #NMBA.

Evidence-based policy is not the only thing compelling museums and community centers to come up with some sort of accurate measure of social impact. Donors want to know where their money is going. How is the museum elevating the community? What is the impact of museum programs and exhibits?

…But how do you measure the unmeasurable? Perhaps a certain interactive exhibit at a science center inspired the spark that will fuel a young girl to become a paleoanthropologist in 15 years. How do we measure that– and how do we even know if that spark took place at all?

It makes sense that we have a tendency to focus primarily on outputs (clients served or number of programs performed) rather than outcomes (desired goals) in museum environments. According to Hill and Lynn in Public Management: a Three-Dimentional Approach,

“Outputs may be the only type of measure available, as outcomes may not be available until well after management decisions have been made. The question, then, is to what extent output measures actually correspond to outcome measures?”

Measuring solely outputs in museum environments (especially in regard to community engagement), provides an immediate advantage and a long-term disadvantage in attracting donors. Let’s examine, for example, the fact that the typical output measurement tends to be how many people participate in a program or community engagement event (let’s say that’s 50 people). Our desired outcome is a sparked interest in a certain subject matter (let’s say that 10 years after their visit, 5 people still remember the program and have taken classes in the subject matter, engaged friends in the subject, or passed along the lessons they learned during the program to their children).

Output reporting advantage: The museum may report to donors that 50 people participated in the program. That is 50 potential sparks. The amount reported here is not the amount of people who retained the lessons learned in the program (which we won’t know until years later), but rather the maximum amount of people who could have been sparked by the subject matter during the program.

Output reporting disadvantage: While reporting the output (50 people) may look impressive to higher-level management and potential donors at the time of an annual report, the knowledge of the true outcome of the program (that it altered the lives of 5 individuals in a positive way) is more impressive than the fact that 50 people merely participated. Moreover, the outcome could grow past the amount of original participants if those sparked share their knowledge and with others.

Though output reporting provides an immediate advantage that often proves inaccurate several years down the road (for better or worse), we often have no other choice but to measure outputs because outcomes are not available to us immediately. As more and more museums, nonprofits, and community centers are encouraged to measure social impact through outputs, the old saying still rings true: quality is greater than quantity. It’s possible that outcomes may far exceed (even impressive) outputs.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Trends 5 Comments

Does Writing a Check to a Nonprofit Equal Social Change?

WritingCheck-main_Full

photo from ehow.com

I was listening to Rosetta Thurman’s blogtalk radio program on full-blast while preparing to head to campus on Wednesday morning, when a question arose on the program that stopped me dead in my  mid-mascara application tracks: Does writing a check equal social change?

Rosetta featured a roundtable discussion with Allison Jones and Elisa Ortiz, two fellow members of the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance.  During a portion of the program, these bloggers discussed how different sectors engage in social change in different ways. “Being able to write a check for $10,000 for a juvenile prevention program is very different from sitting in a room everyday with those kids in that program,” Allison said. She stated that we do a big disservice to social change if we pretend that these two players [donor and administrator] don’t play very important– but also very different– roles.

Rosetta concluded that the action of writing a check should not be lumped under the umbrella of social change, and she brought up an interesting and eloquent perspective in her response (at 15:50 or so). She said,

Philanthropy by itself, in the writing of a check example, is not social change to me because the money has to then do something. It has to cause some type of action or activity that actually does change a community. You don’t know that right away when you write a check. It’s what happens afterwards.”

It is then that social change—and what constitutes social change– begs to be defined. And Rosetta may be right about the lumping; the term “social change” is popping up everywhere. There are 241 blogs on the List of Change and they cover everything from fundraising, to cause-related marketing, to mentoring and teaching.

So what is social change? According to Wikipedia, social change is any event or action that affects a group of individuals who have shared values or characteristics, or acts of advocacy for the cause of changing society in a way subjectively perceived as normatively desirable. Unfortunately, I don’t think this definition helps tighten up the term. Perhaps it really is as vast as our many ways of classifying it.

In my opinion, there’s a gap in our language– the way that we talk about “doing good”– that the term social change is filling. Why might a person give a monetary gift to a homeless shelter? Why might the Entertainment Industry Foundation launch the iParticipate initiative? Albeit overused, I think, “to aid in social change” may be a logical and appropriate answer to these questions.

Perhaps writing a check is to social change as putting a ‘hire me’ tab on your blog is to establishing yourself as a worthy job candidate. They are baby-steps. They are mini-means to an end… but it is difficult to be hired if you do not take that first step to sell yourself, just as it is difficult to initiate social change without capital.

The donor supplies the financial means for social change. I agree that social change cannot be measured immediately upon the presentation of a check to an organization. Perhaps the funds won’t successfully further social change at all– but the intent of the donor to further social change still stands, and it’s still important.

While I agree that the term social change is widening, I think  it’s important that we allow it to widen if it allows people to connect to causes. If a donor aligning his or herself with social change encourages more giving, then bring it on, I say.

But Rosetta’s perspective poses an interesting question: how will we adapt our language to clarify the roles that sectors, individuals, donors, and administrators play in supporting social change?

How lovely that we discuss charity, social change, and philanthropy so frequently that we need even more words to define our roles in the endeavor!

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Trends 14 Comments

Social Change is Sector Agnostic- and Gen-Yers Know It

agnostic

photo from http://glenkirk.blogspot.com

Consider this situation: an elderly family member asks for your help in choosing between two nursing homes. Both appear to be equal in quality and service, but one is for-profit and the other is nonprofit. Which nursing home do you pick?

You may draw on a few assumptions based on what you know about corporations and organizations, and weigh them with your priorities. For instance, maybe you’d choose the for-profit home because it may go the extra mile to make residents happy to keep a competitive edge in the market. On the other hand, maybe you’ll consider the nonprofit home, concluding that better care will be provided by front-line individuals choosing to work in the nonprofit sector. But can you really be sure of any of these sector-based assumptions?

Professor James Ferris posed this question during a recent Nonprofit Policy and Management class within the University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development, and our class reached the inevitable conclusion:

Sometimes our choices are sector agnostic; we just want to go with the corporation or organization that can best get the job done.

87% of Americans between the ages of 18-39 believe that one person can help change the world- and these folks (mostly Gen Y-ers) sense the artificial divide between sectors. According to the New Sector Alliance—which was founded in 2002 to create solutions to community challenges through cross-sector partnerships–  the rise of sector agnostic methods places new demands on institutions across sectors to modify their strategies. Why? Because the next generation of leaders themselves are increasingly sector agnostic.

501(c)(3) status is not required in order to instigate social change, and as social enterprises and social entrepreneurship increase, the values and practices of public, private, and nonprofit sectors meld together, strengthening alliances and just plain getting the job done.

The American Dream has been highly connected to the successes in the private sector and so has entrpreneurship, but a 1999 survey shows that where Gen X college seniors dreamed of working for Microsoft and Cisco, Gen Y college seniors prefer work within the State Department, Teach for America, and the Peace Corps. Is this a problem for a country built on the entrepreneurial spirit? Apparently not. Increasing numbers of Gen Yers are going for social change with fresh ideas, proving that a preference toward big government does not mean less entrepreneurship.

This article has some great statistics on Gen Y’s entrepreneurial spirit:

  • Half of all new college graduates now believe that self-employment is more secure than a full-time job.
  • Today, 80% of the colleges and universities in the U.S. now offer courses on entrepreneurship.
  • 60% of Gen Y business owners consider themselves to be serial entrepreneurs, according to Inc. magazine.
  • 18- to 24-year-olds are starting companies at a faster rate than 35- to 44-year-olds.
  • And 70% of today’s high schoolers intend start their own companies, according to a Gallup poll.

These statistics, combined with Gen Y’s perceived altruism and their desire to develop a sense of where they fit within a global context, outline their interest- also- in the public sector.   The combination of Gen Y’s key traits, which connect strongly and equally to both the public and private sector, possibly point toward a growing sector agnosticism.

Gen Yers interested in social change may become leaders who opt for solutions that represent a mix in for-profit and nonprofit practices, such as social entrepreneurship, instigating nonprofit commercial activity, and creating social enterprises. One thing’s for sure: the focus will be on getting the job done- regardless of sector.

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

The Rise of the Starry-Eyed Nonprofit Entrepreneur

star

I’ve called generation Y an entire generation of entrepreneurs, and I was relieved to read recently that the Gen Y entrepreneurial mentality has finally seeped into the nonprofit sector- and it’s about time! After reading so many articles about the struggles of connecting Gen Y to Baby Boomers in nonprofit organizations and the alleged increasing disengagement that Millennials feel toward nonprofit organizations due to long hours and low pay, it’s downright refreshing to see a spike in interest in the nonprofit sector.

Recently, Kristin Ivie wrote a thought-provoking post on the Social Citizens blog encouraging members of Generation Y to “think again” before they start their own nonprofit organizations. The article features five heartbreakingly practical reasons why starting your own nonprofit may be a bad idea. She writes, “I googled “how to start a nonprofit” and got 44 million returns. You people have to stop.”

I disagree. Please, please do not stop.

I’m not saying it’s a good idea to start up nonprofit organizations left and right without having a good idea of what you’re getting yourself into (and Kristin’s article makes many excellent points that interested folks should fully take into account). I am glad, though, that the excitement and innovation of the entrepreneurial spirit is now finally linking up with nonprofit organizations after it has been long aligned with newly-founded corporations. Just as many young corporate entrepreneurs fail when they don’t carefully weigh the situation they are getting themselves into, nonprofit entrepreneurs will also fail when they don’t adequately consider the environment of the nonprofit sector before gaining their 501(c)(3) status.

If it is a trend for members of generation Y (or any folks) to start up their own nonprofit organizations as the article suggests, then there’s at least one outstanding reason for my fellow nonprofiteers to celebrate: this trend could be grooming the next generation of leaders through incredible hands-on experience in the face of the forecasted leadership deficit.

I’ve mentioned this study before, but I think it’s a powerful one: according to a 2006 study by The Bridgespan Group, the nonprofit industry will need to attract and develop an estimated 640,000 new senior managers over the next decade in order to fill the upcoming leadership deficit in nonprofit organizations. Though many of the folks who attempt to start their own nonprofit organization will fail, the experience that they gain will be substantial and it will help them to become better nonprofit leaders in the long-run.

How is that not a good thing?!

Let them try, I argue. Lets be supportive of these new nonprofits and their starry-eyed leaders. They just may be onto something; and, if this trend continues (if it is a trend), then it may be the start of something interesting and perhaps great.

If you are considering starting a nonprofit organization, please think about these five, very sensible and useful, questions that Kristin poses:

  1. Is another organization already doing something like this?
  2. If there are others doing something similar, and there almost always are, how would you do it differently?
  3. What can you do to support existing organizations?
  4. Do you have a real sense of how hard this is going to be?
  5. Why do you want to do this?

You might think by reading these five points that the glass is permanently half-empty when it comes to nonprofit organizations. That is– though they are important– these questions aren’t worded in a way that is particularly encouraging. But what is to become of the nonprofit sector if (we) nonprofiteers shoot down the dreams of budding nonprofit entrepreneurs whose experiments may be ultimately strengthening our workforce? Yes, starting a nonprofit is (very) hard, but starting your own company is hard, too, and members of generation Y continue to fight that battle.

As I mentioned, Kristin does have some excellent points– especially under questions three and four so check them out. It is true that the nonprofit sector would be stronger if talent were to join and strengthen existing nonprofits rather than create several, unstable and competing organizations of their own.

In sum, yes- for your own benefit and for the benefit of your family members who will make the initial contributions to your perhaps-transient newly-created nonprofit organization- please be aware of what you are getting yourself into. But also please keep generally supporting the missions of nonprofit organizations, and keep thinking of ways to be innovative and contribute to the sector.

…Keep thinking you can change the world (you can!), and please keep writing about it so it shows up on google. Keep summoning friends to support socially conscious causes and keep pursuing larger-than-life goals. I may be a starry-eyed nonprofit optimist myself, but hey–  that’s just how we entrepreneurial Gen Yers are wired, right?

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Millennials, Trends 5 Comments

Got a Minute? 3 Exercises to Make You a Better Leader

leadership

image from www.b2binternational.com

The single most frequently discussed concept in my graduate courses thus far is the concept of leadership– positive and effective public leadership, to be (only slightly more) specific. The lessons I’m learning, however, apply to all leaders- regardless of sector.

Good leadership is one of those concepts that, I’ll admit, seems a bit fuzzy. Who doesn’t have ideas about what makes a good leader? Trust, respect, confidence, ethics… The truth is, the concept runs much deeper, and it’s easier to recognize a good leader than it is to describe how to be one– especially in a public management role in which leaders must effectively be both creatures and creators of their work environments.

In an effort spread the wealth and celebrate individual leadership, I’d like to share three incredibly useful exercises that I’ve learned in my first three weeks in graduate school. All three exercises helped me to identify my goals and values so that I may serve as an effective lifelong leader.

 

1. Write a Personal Mission Statement

This is not a new exercise, but it’s an important one. Writing a personal mission statement requires thinking about your personal goals and desires. This is very different from an elevator speech; a personal mission statement is about you and your own values as they relate to your desired long-term career (not necessarily the job you’re currently in). Though I’ve found it particularly beneficial to have this articulation of my interest in achieving my career goals, personal mission statements are for the creator alone. They don’t need to be professional, and you don’t need to share your personal mission statement if you wouldn’t like to do so. Writing a personal mission statement will help you to focus on your goals and priorities.

  • Exercise: Mission statements generally describe the purpose of an institution or, in our case, an individual. Get out a scratch piece of paper and start drafting your own personal mission statement. Here are a few great questions to ask yourself before writing your mission statement. Having trouble getting started? Check out this website.

 

2. Identify your Core Values

Professor Richard F. Callahan introduced this exercise at a recent Graduate Policy Administration Committee Strategic Planning Meeting. It’s a simple exercise with a big personal impact. Since completing this short task, I’ve reflected on my core values daily and I am much more aware of my decisions to adhere to them.

  • Exercise: Make a list of all of the core values that you can imagine. These are usually one-word values such as respect, integrity, loyalty, commitment, service, contribution, generosity, etc. You may be well acquainted with the concept of core values, as many organizations and corporations are very straightforward with their core values and often frame the words in conference rooms or list them at the top of meeting agendas. Once you’ve come up with a nice, long list of core values, pick three (and only three) that you feel illustrate your own personal core values.

 

3. Understand your Unenforceables

I was lucky enough to attend a talk presented by the incredible Bob Stone earlier this week within USC’s School of Policy, Planning and Development, and it proved to be the best lesson on leadership that I’ve had the opportunity to come across. This great civil servant was bursting with personal anecdotes and life lessons. Among them was the lesson to understand your own unenforceables. What are those, you ask? In 1924, John Fletcher Moulton identified three realms of human behavior: (1) Free will. (2) Obedience to the enforceable. (3) Obedience to the unenforceable. Obedience to the enforceable is synonymous with obedience to the law. Obedience to the unenforceable is obedience to our own personal values and the ethics which shape our decisions as leaders.

  • Exercise: Identify 10 of your own unspoken “laws” to which you adhere for your own reasons. Perhaps they are based on life experiences or values that were instilled within you by your parents. Some examples of personal unenforceables might be “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or “play by the rules.” Others may be, “speak knowledge to power,” “a friend in need is a friend, indeed,” or “it’s what’s inside that counts.” No matter what your governing principles are, write them down. Getting your own framework of values out on paper will give you insight into your own leadership style. We have a good sense of governmental laws, but it’s even more important to have a sense of your own unspoken laws by which you live your life and make decisions.
Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous, Nonprofit Marketing 3 Comments

5 Reasons to be Proud That You Majored in English

I’ve always been baffled about why the English major gets such a bad rep. Perhaps this is because it’s an open-ended degree that requires the recipient to ask him or herself, “what would I like to do with these skills I have acquired?” rather than existing as a degree with a built-in career path like marketing, finance, or real estate. DegreeInEnglish

If you majored in English in college like I did, then you’re probably used to people asking you if you want to be a teacher… all of the time. While some English majors follow their own individual desire to work in education, teaching in secondary schools is actually only the third highest occupational field that employs individuals with only a B.A. in English. The first?  They are artists, broadcasters, writers, entertainers, and public relations specialists. The second? They are top and mid-level managers, executives and administrators. As I mentioned, teaching in secondary schools is the third occupational field shown on the list (and all teaching combined is only a bit more than one out of every ten English majors). Despite all of the occupations listed here, I’ve still heard time and again that there isn’t much that one can do with an English major.

Are these people crazy?!

For all of my Oscar-Wilde-reading, Shakespeare-reciting, Plato-referencing, journal-scribbling, fellow English majors out there in the professional world, here are 5 reasons why you can be proud that you received your undergraduate degree in English:

 

1. You are a good writer.

Being a good writer is one of the top ten most important skills that job candidates are encouraged to have in order to be competitive in the job market. Companies are looking for good writers, and there’s no question that English majors heading out into the workforce have this skill in the bag. It’s nearly impossible to succeed as an English major without being a good writer. Moreover,  students choosing this major probably really like writing. When you like something, you do it more often and the more you do something, the better you become.

 

2. You are an effective communicator

English majors tend to be overall successful communicators, which is why it makes sense that so many of us go on to work in media and communication. The major provides individuals with the critical thinking and public speaking skills required to excel in these positions. Even if you aren’t planning to work in communications, the argument has been made that oral communication competency is the most important skill for business students in the workplace. It may also go without saying that having keen communication skills is absolutely necessary in order to be a good manager in the workforce.

 

3. You are capable of processing complex ideas

English majors are well practiced in uncovering themes and complex ideas in texts. The kind of thinking that accompanies studying humanities grapples with both big ideas and details. Businesses and hiring managers acknowledge the benefits of this type of thinking. Ernest Suarez, professor and chairman of the English department at The Catholic University of America states in this article that, “Businesses tell us they like to hire English majors because they feel that they can think. They’ve got the writing and analytical skills they need. The rest they can be trained to learn. “

 

4. You understand people and are able to connect with them

We generally got to read a lot of fiction as English majors, which may have had a positive impact on our ability to connect with people. A study by the Journal of Research in Personality uncovered that frequent readers of narrative fiction score highly on tests of empathy and social acumen. Another study finds that people who read narrative fiction stories score higher on tests involving social reasoning skills than those who are assigned to read a non-fiction essay from the same magazine. This article sums it up, describing English majors as “outgoing, community-spirited individuals who strive to understand culture, society and human interactions.”

 

5. You are a philosopher, artist, editor, historian, and a provider-of-content.

I’ve based this last point off of a great blog post by Alex J. Tunny called, “In Defense of the English Major.” The wide array of texts that we study as English majors have introduced us to the traditions, values, and methods of thinking from various cultures and points in history. As general Jacks-of-all-Trades, we tend to know a thing or two about several different subjects. Check out this list of famous English majors. You may be surprised by the diversity of the career paths of the folks on this list. If you are an English major, though, you probably won’t be too surprised.

A Bachelor of Arts in English is an open-ended degree providing versatility that might scare folks who are hesitant to pave their own career paths. For those who are willing to take matters into their own hands, though, an English major provides students with skills that are critical in the workplace. Let’s continue to be proud of the skill set that we’ve acquired and keep proving to skeptical folks that English majors have the ability to succeed and excel both inside of the classroom and in the working world.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous, Nonprofit Marketing 22 Comments

55 Low-Resource Ways for Museums to Connect with the Community

photo from artolog on flickr

photo from artolog on flickr

“It’s not about the collections anymore… It’s about community.”

This is what a recent article by the Christian Science Monitor says in regard to museums, and it nicely sums up the discussion in the museum blogging community on the transformation from the static object-based museum of the past, to the dynamic community-based institution of the future.

So how does a museum transform into such an environment? I like Megan Blankenship’s notion that this process may perhaps align more closely with a revolution rather than through slow adaptation. This begs the question of what can be done now to summon community interaction. In an effort to aid museums in this transformation without losing sight of their mission, Nina Simon offers eight ways for museums to connect with community. I think one solution lies in museums positioning themselves as cultural centers and integral aspects of the local/regional community.

Here are 55 relatively low-resource ways for museums to connect with the local community. I present a brainstorm of middle-sized items that come in between (the obvious) smiling to welcome visitors and the (time and resource required) launching of a new outreach program or grant-funded initiative. Several museums already utilize a number of these ideas. I hope to compile an easily accessible  and quick list of little ways for museums to create a connection with the community while respecting their brand and promoting the museum.

I had to stop at 55 as I noticed that this list really is endless. Please feel free to comment with your own thoughts and suggestions!

  1. Tweet

  2. Keep a list of the dates, and send museum members small a gift on their birthday.

  3. Add an “Interview with a Local Expert” section to your newsletter.

  4. Offer a free program to celebrate an audience

  5. Highlight free coffee for members on Sunday mornings.

  6. Start a blog and use it to instigate discussion.

  7. Add a public forum for thoughts and opinions to your website.

  8. Allow visitors to make video responses at the museum– like these videos shot at the Mattress Factory.

  9. Start a science cafe. (if you haven’t noticed, I love these!)

  10. Highlight local experts on site.

  11. Seek opportunities for curators and museum professionals to serve as guest lecturers at local schools and universities.

  12. Ask staff members to take 10 minutes each day to interact with visitors.

  13. Supply staff members with educational items or “did you know” facts to facilitate interaction.

  14. Participate in local parades.

  15. Host a science fair or an art exhibit with the work of local adults or children.

  16. If you can’t host a fair, go to one and give out an award to a qualified participant on behalf of the institution.

  17. Set up craft projects that make a difference or have meaning in the local, national, or global community.

  18. Hold a book drive.

  19. Provide small, branded lab notebooks or sketch pads (just a few sheets of printed paper is all that they’ll need- no fancy binding necessary) for visitors to fill out and take home.

  20. Create a low resource scavenger hunt, and offer a small gift at the information desk (pencil, sticker, etc) to those who complete the hunt.

  21. Celebrate with the community! Give out candy or subject-appropriate treats on Halloween.

  22. Wear “Ask me about Membership” buttons.

  23. Host a camp-in for kids in the community.

  24. Offer free hours of admission when possible, even if it’s just for a specified demographic such as teens, college students, the elderly, etc.

  25. Put your events on community calendars.

  26. Create a calendar of relevant events for adults in the community and post it on your website.

  27. Use this calendar to help create community partnerships with organizations that have a similar mission.

  28. Complement exhibits with interactive and educational craft projects.

  29. Ask for feedback (on blogs, written or electronic surveys, etc).

  30. Ask visitors to write their favorite museum memory and post it to a memory board. Have the board out for public viewing so that participants know that their positive experiences have contributed to the museum in a physical way.

  31. Thank your donors when an exhibit is a success– but don’t forget to publically thank your broader community as well.

  32. Have recommended reading lists available and have the books available at the bookstore, if possible.

  33. Encourage visitors to share their own stories on your blog.

  34. Know the local school curriculum, and explain to teachers how your museum complements that curriculum.

  35. Have a connection with at least one person at every school in the county (but shoot for 3 or 4 surrounding counties).

  36. Create a network of teachers and send them useful ideas of how to offer extra credit by visiting the informal learning environment of the museum. If you can, give the teacher passes to events so these kids get in for free or reduced rates.

  37. Hold large scale, educational special events or celebrations if budget allows.

  38. Coordinate a debate with local industry leaders to take place at the institution.

  39. Hold a training for local scientists/artists to provide skills for communicating with the public in regard to complicated, academic material. The link is to a grant-funded project, but this could be done on a smaller scale.

  40. Know the talents of staff members, and utilize their talents (as oragami specialists, or watercolor artists, or something else exciting, educational and relevant) to create a low-resource program.

  41. Award “shout outs” in your newsletter to highlight the accomplishments of individuals or institutions in the community that have succeeded in an area related to the museum.

  42. Offer a unique class through a community partnership by giving a handful of passes to instructors, who may later offer them as a benefit to paying clients.

  43. Utilize community resources. Need face painters for an upcoming event? Call the local art school and ask for volunteers.

  44. Wouldn’t it have been cool if you your senior prom was in the museum? Teens are a tough demographic for museums. Market this angle. There’s plenty for them to learn at the museum as well… just be sure to keep dancing away from valuables.

  45. Along these lines, tap into teen volunteers in the community.

  46. Start a Flickr photostream.

  47. Ask for papers that visitors write/ have written on objects in the museum and post them to the website if they are appropriate (and help give them some positive google- recognition).

  48. Have a Facebook page.

  49. Create an iTunes iMix for your institution with fun songs related to the museum and exhibits (ex- Walk like an Egyptian).

  50. Compile an iTunes iMix like above, but use songs that are more directly academic or relevant (ex- cultural songs pertaining to the exhibit).

  51. Make videos of interviews with your curators and put them on YouTube.

  52. Arrange a flash mob. Hey, it’s an idea!

  53. Ask your intern to write a series of posts about his/her adventures within the institution with thoughts about events and exhibits. I simply must write in a shout-out to Web Developer (Stan) and Web/Special Events Intern (Evan) of Pacific Science Center here.

  54. Manage a document that lists staff members and the languages they speak. Sort this list by language.

  55. Add a “Focus: Museum Staff Member of the Week” to your newsletter that allows readers to understand job functions and specialties at the Museum. Include interesting facts and allow this to offer a special behind-the-scenes look at the museum.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Trends 4 Comments

Where are Museum Studies Graduate Programs Going Wrong?

Photo from success.co.il

Photo from success.co.il

Recently, I’ve come across several interesting blog posts about museology/museum studies graduate programs and everything that is going wrong or working against these graduates: they aren’t getting hired, the field is changing, and museum professionals feel like they are working for too little money. You might be thinking that these are problems that many graduates in the country are facing right now, regardless of industry. That’s what I’m thinking, too. But here’s what I find interesting: for one reason or another, significant blame is being placed on the museum studies programs themselves.

And maybe it is a problem with the current programs. After all, this post about the future of museums, by (none other than) the Center for the Future of Museums, even goes so far as to suggest an interesting and alarming solution for current problems facing the museum industry right now: Stop hiring museum studies graduates.

What’s the basis of this disconnect between museum studies programs and museums? How can these graduate programs be changed to improve the attitudes of graduates and help set more realistic expectations? Admittedly, reading up on the field does leave a museum professional (albeit not enrolled in a Museum Studies graduate program) agreeing that some things may need to be changed.

I’ve fallen madly in love with the thought-provoking ideas brought up in this post by New Curator wherein Pete (the author) serves as a strong advocate fighting for the success of recent museum studies graduates. The post contains a lot of great ideas, and triggered dialogue which has spun off into even more great ideas about ways to improve programs. I think the post is most interesting, though, because it offers a peek into the mindset of these none-too-pleased (and apparently none-too-employed) museum studies graduates.

I want join this discussion by throwing a few more ideas into the mix:

  • Perhaps a degree in Museum Studies is something in between a professional and an academic degree, and museum professionals have trouble measuring it against other areas of study

There seems to be some confusion about a master’s degree in museum studies being considered an academic degree or a professional degree– that is, does the degree provide knowledge on academic topics, or is it a degree of the professional development sort? New Curator makes it clear that a master’s degree in museum studies was—and perhaps still is– considered a professional degree by those who chose/choose to enroll in these programs.. and  it appears that in museum environments, professional and academic degree recipients are competing for the same jobs. Pete writes, “I’ve read a few things about the skepticism around academia as work training. My Christ, who let in all these Art History and Archaeology PHDs? They’re practically *running* the place and now there’s the hint that a Museum Studies qualification is unnecessary?” I cannot tell if this means that PhDs are running the museum studies programs or running the museums… but the statement, either way, indicates that PhDs are doing something that is valued by the museums.

Maybe the degree is something strangely in between an academic PhD in Art History and a professional M.B.A/ M.P.A.  Perhaps Pete is onto something when he writes, “The one thing these people [students in museum studies] are being trained in are now possibly not trained? Or not trained enough, as I notice in another comment that museums are made up of too many specialisms.” This could be the problem, in a sense. Museum studies programs may be both too specialized and not specialized enough. These graduates are competing for museum jobs with other program graduates whose degrees are undoubtedly academic/specialized (anthropology, art history, paleontology) and undoubtedly professional (business management, public policy). While academic degrees prepare candidates for curating positions, professional degrees prepare candidates for museum management. Then the question becomes does museology study the management or the content of museums? The degree’s position in the middle of these worlds can be seen as either awkward or as advantageous. Museum studies programs should play this as an advantage. It won’t be easy (there seem to be far more graduates with degrees on ends of the spectrum), but it may be worth it… and it may create a positive change for program graduates.

  • Unemployment is not unique to museum studies graduates right now, and placing graduates in full-time jobs is a difficulty that graduate programs of all varieties are facing

Museum studies graduates seem to be frustrated about their inability to get museum jobs, despite the fact that their education has groomed them to take on valuable roles within these environments. Pete writes, “The bitter taste in the museum student’s mouth was that what they thought was professional development is now considered almost useless to their future compared to the gamble of the job market or the gamble of obtaining a useful contact.” He goes onto say, “Of course, it’s criminal to take their money, hand them a piece of paper and wish them luck with a handshake. Too many graduates from the full taxonomy of museum studies courses are having to compete in the job market lottery. And it is a lottery. The most basic entry-level positions into the museum world are now getting TONS of applicants. This is a sad state of affairs.”

But this is happening everywhere. Some nonprofit organizations have seen a 1600% jump in applicants in this year alone because of the economy.  Financial firms have even spotted increased occurrences of applicants spouting lies on their resume in order to stand out from the still-growing crowd. It’s rough out there right now; it’s rough for all of us.

Moreover, shouldn’t a well qualified and passionate museum studies grad/museum job candidate be excited that more people are looking to spread the missions of museums? Don’t we evolve by integrating new people and new ideas? Though I’m specializing in nonprofit management, I’m always thrilled to learn of corporate leaders making the switch to the nonprofit world!  As museums are more and more becoming places for community engagement, doesn’t the argument that museums should only be hiring those with formal training in museum studies seem unnecessarily polarizing between the academic world and the public sphere? Museums need to be able to relate to the community; they need to employ diversity. The Center for the Future of Museums has a good bit about it in the previously mentioned article.

“You want to have an excellent Museum Studies program? Guarantee jobs.” Yes. If every graduate is guaranteed a job, then that program is producing exceptionally creative industry leaders, and everyone might consider enrolling in this miracle program, perhaps even making all other graduate and professional degrees obsolete. I agree with The Center for the Future of Museums in their most recent post: this kind of thinking is less about museum studies programs specifically, and more about a certain conception of or assumption about the U.S. Education system.

Many people might let out a laugh if someone claimed that it was the duty of the institution to make all business degree recipients into CEOs. While that may be the ultimate goal of someone getting their M.B.A. is it the responsibility of the institution to take them all the way there? No. The candidate must display ambition, creative thinking, and nurture experience. Getting a food handler’s permit gives you the opportunity to handle food– not the right to handle it. Degrees do not entitle you to anything. You have to do some work to get there. I like this post on the topic. And a typical museum studies graduate doesn’t seem so angry.

I am delighted by the creative ideas that have come from this discussion. New Curator has great ideas for recruitment, such as turning museum studies programs into headhunters and establishing a “museum milkround.” Some are even talking about museum workers unionizing.

  • Maybe the answer involves evolving to meet the changing needs of the community.

This argument traces to the basis for the Center for the Future of Museum’s potential solution to stop hiring museum studies grads. The article begins by discussing the need for diversity within museum studies programs. The post goes on to say, “We are entering an age in which people don’t just want to be lectured to by experts, they want to contribute and curate their own content. In this environment, curators may evolve from being lecturers and authors to being moderators of discussions and editors of content. This requires a different set of soft skills, and calls for a different set of training. Is this something that can be provided at the graduate level in an academic environment, or is it best learned (and consciously taught) on the job?

These are great thoughts. From focusing on soft skills, incorporating social media in the professional development of museum studies students, and creating/ maintaining strong partnerships with institutions, these programs should be preparing for the future and living in the now.

  • Consider wages in regard to the nonprofit environment in which you are working.

I’m not sure how closely museum studies graduates study other kinds of nonprofit and community organizations/ institutions, but the notion that museum studies grads are surprised to learn that they might not be paid much shocked me. I don’t buy it. And if it is true that there’s significant surprise here, I think a simple and positive change-of-mentality might be a solution: Don’t work in a museum for the money. Work in a museum for the mission.

Many museums are public or independent nonprofit organizations, and nonprofit organizations are actively trying to deal with the issue of low wages— especially in regard to some of the newest grads– members of Generation Y, a generation that values work/life balance and often values time and mission over money.

On the issue of wages, New Curator writes that museum studies grads’ work is “something just above slavery. Work hard for an indeterminate amount of time and maybe the industry will maybe reward you. The current model for improving museums through new blood is the same as parents controlling children with Santa.” But wasn’t all of the old blood new blood at one point? And if you’re doing something you love, isn’t it a little bit more worth it?

I’m glad to see the ongoing dialogue about the profession, the industry, and the programs. I’m thrilled to have this peek into the concerns of recent grads and potential museum studies students. I have no doubt that these conversations will lead to an improvement. After all, according to Thomas Edison:

Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress.”

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Trends 26 Comments

Is Generation Y Particulary Nostalgic, or Just Human?

Photo from imissmytvshow.com

Photo from imissmytvshow.com

I was pretty stressed in the few months before I left Seattle. I was deciding if and where I should go to graduate school and trying to summon the strength to leave my great job and one-of-a-kind friends in the Emerald City. During this time, I developed an unlike-me habit of watching an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark every night before falling asleep. Perhaps watching comfort television is in the same habit-family as eating comfort food? I’m not sure…but the tales of the Midnight Society certainly made me feel better.

Recent reports about the onset of Generation Y members seeking comfort through nostalgia got me thinking about my Retro TV coping mechanism. Is it really that rare for 20-somethings to look back?  The Beatles felt nostalgic about Yesterday, so why is it absurd for a 20-something to feel nostalgic about the last decade? Moreover, is Generation Y really a particularly nostalgic generation? Would members of Generation X never think to cope with Growing Pains by watching re-runs of The Brady Bunch? Perhaps we just seem nostalgic because we’re social communicators and can easily access aspects of our childhood via the web, which would have been much harder if not entirely impossible for earlier generations.

And if Generation Y does seek comfort in nostalgia, what’s the harm? Nostalgia is proven to increase a person’s psychological health. Maybe all that nostalgia we’ve allegedly been practicing as a generation is fueling our general optimism during this rough economic climate. Nostalgia also counteracts the effects of loneliness and boosts perceptions of social support, both important things for members of Gen Y.

Still, I’m not convinced that 20-somethings are beating out older generations with the classic, “back in my day…” line.

This article by the New York Times states:

Even though nostalgia hits every generation, it seems awfully early for 28-year-olds to be looking back. One possible explanation, say authors who focus on generational identity, is the impact of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The political and economic climate of the late ’90s had been as soothing as a Backstreet Boys ballad: no wars, unemployment as low as 4 percent, a $120 billion federal surplus.”

Gen Y is nostalgic for the good ‘ole days because they really were the good ole’ days, and we suddenly find things getting much more difficult for us, resulting in reflection on a better time. This makes sense. But check out this study reported by Science Daily. It’s actually been found that if an event begins poorly and gets better, you’ll have a more positive memory than if it starts out good and gets worse. In this light, might we find that a 20 something today is just as nostalgic as a 20 something from an earlier generation, if not less nostalgic?

Though Gen Y doesn’t exactly have a cake walk nowadays, the previous generations have lived through their own equal if not much worse bouts of war, disasters, and work insecurities. Also, many of my peers (myself included) weren’t in the full-time workplace at all during 9/11 or when the unemployment rate dropped to 4%, so it’s difficult for us to be nostalgic for that time, from an adult and economic perspective.

Perhaps it’s not the wish for a national environment without war, threats of terrorism and unemployment that is driving members of Gen Y to think so fondly of the past. Perhaps it’s just the simplicity of childhood.

I think that what other generations perceive to be more-rampant-than-usual nostalgia is just a highly communicative and technology-enabled generation growing up. Were previous generations so unaware of their own growth that they never looked behind them to remember where they’d been before transitioning into/within the full-time working world? I doubt it. Perhaps the spotlight is just on a vocal and social generation Y right now.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Millennials, Trends 2 Comments

10 Reasons to Visit a Museum

Photo from commons.wikimedia.org

Sue at the Field Museum in Chicago. Photo from commons.wikimedia.org


Note:
Museums, in this article, include art, history, and specialty museums, science centers, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, arboretums, nature centers, historic sites and similar institutions.

 

1.  Museums make you feel good

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Times are tight in this economic climate, and it’s often easy to use a museum admission price as an excuse to stay at home. However, a recent study conducted by Harris Interactive finds that people are happier when they spend money on experiences rather than material purchases.  According to Leaf Van Boven, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at CU-Boulder,  experiences are shown to create more happiness than material goods because they provide positive personal reinterpretations over time. That is, as we revisit the memory of our trip to the museum, we have a tendency to psychologically weed out any negative memories (should there be any). Experiences, such as visiting a museum, can also become a meaningful part of ones identity and contribute to successful social relationships in a manner that material items cannot. So consider foregoing an outing for items that you may not need; going to the museum will make you happier in the long run.

 

2.  Museums make you smarter

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There is no doubt that a primary role of museums is to engage and educate the community.  Museum exhibits inspire interest in an area of study, item, time period, or an idea– but there’s more going on in museums in regard to education than one might think. Schools rely heavily on museums to enhance the their curriculum. The New York Museum Education Act, for example, aims to create a partnership between schools and cultural institutions to prepare students for the 21st century.  Galleries are becoming classrooms, and not just for kids. Even the museums themselves have interesting histories to inspire and educate visitors. It becomes nearly impossible to exit a museum without having gained any information or insight during your visit.

 

3.  Museums provide an effective way of learning

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Museums are examples of informal learning environments, which means they are devoted primarily to informal education — a lifelong process whereby individuals acquire attitudes, values, skills and knowledge from daily experience and the educative influences and resources in his or her environment. Even outside of museums, informal learning plays a pivotal role in how we take in the world around us. In fact, The U.S. Department of Labor estimates 70% or more of work-related learning occurs outside formal training.  A single visit to a museum can expose visitors to in-depth information on a subject, and the nature of the museum environment is one in which you can spend as much or as little time as you like exploring exhibits. The environment allows you to form your own unique experiences and take away information that interests you. Despite the success that museums have already had in educating visitors, there continue to be ongoing discussions among institutions in regard to increasing museums’ ability to connect through informal learning.

 

4.  Museums are community centers

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Museums are a lot more than collections of artifacts; they allow you to meet with neighbors, discuss thoughts and opinions, and become an active part of the community.  There have been yoga classes at MoMA and Rock Band Summer Camps at the Experience Music Project.  Museums are increasingly holding art chats, book signings, professional development classes, and even wine festivals and farmer’s markets. Something is going on everywhere– just pull up the web page of a local museum (or hop on their Facebook page) and see what they have to offer!

 

5.  Museums inspire

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Museums provide inspiration through personal connections with visitors, and not only on-site and through physical community outreach efforts; some even manage to connect through their social networks.  These kinds of personal memories created at museums do not expire. Please check out this lovely video on the personal impact of museums, created by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance & the American Association of Museums.

6.  Museums help bring change and development to communities

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Research has uncovered that creating community involvement is more about location than the activity at hand, and this kind of location-based learning (like the kind utilized in museums) is a trigger for change and development within the community. As museums are functioning more and more like community centers in providing access to current research and new ideas, they’ve become hot-spots for civic engagement. In museums, even (in some cases, especially) children are actively asked to take part in their communities. The promotion of education and the cultivation of conversation that are taking place in museums across the nation shapes and strengthens our neighborhoods.

7.  Museums are a great way to spend time with friends and family

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Museums provide a great excuse to spend time with friends and family in a positive way. Personal connections can be made with museums and also with family members during visits. A day at the museum often translates to a day spent with loved ones as fathers and mothers transform into tour guides, and the environment provides a shared learning experience. Want to take a date to a museum? Here’s how to do it

 

8.  A museum may be your next community partner or business endeavour

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It takes a lot of employees to help run America’s approximately 17,500 museums and it takes countless businesses and community partners to keep them functioning. Museums need everything from printing services, to video surveillance, to dino-glue– and they are inextricably woven into the web of American government and businesses. If you are not a direct business provider for a museum, you can get some great PR and possibly borrow an artifact or two for a big meeting if you are willing to contribute a monetary gift to a museum. Alternatively, you can follow the lead of these entrepreneurs who are creating their own museums. Or, at the very least, business men and entrepreneurs can trace the development of the National Museum of Entrepreneurship in Denver, and perhaps pay them a visit within the next few years.

 

9.  Museums are free… sometimes – but they all need your support to keep their doors open

Several museums nationwide offer free admission during specified hours or days of the week. Visit the website of your favorite museum to see if they feature something like this.  Perhaps more importantly, take a look at museum membership rates. Often, a membership pays itself off in as few as three annual visits to the museum. When a museum does NOT offer free admission, look into your heart. All museums need financial support in order to keep their doors open. If you like a visitor serving organization and you want to keep it around for decades to come (so that you may bring your great-grandchildren), make a donation or fill out that membership card with pride!

10.  There is a museum close to you.

According to the American Association of Museums (now the American Alliance of Museums since the original publication of this post)  museums average approximately 865 million visits per year or 2.3 million visits per day. That’s a lot of museum visits! It doesn’t hurt that there are museums in every state. To find one near you, try the Official Museum Directory. By conducting a search on the Internet, you may find some rather unusual and interesting museums worth checking out. From the Museum of Wooden Nickles in San Antonio, to the Asphault Museum in Rohnert Park, California, there is certainly something for everyone.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous, Nonprofit Marketing 19 Comments