Six Concepts that Visitor-Serving Organizations Confuse at Their Own Risk

For the sake of the future of cultural organizations, let's stop mixing up these terms.  There’s a good amount of Read more

Combating Case Study Envy Within Museums And Cultural Organizations (DATA)

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Point of Reference Sensitivity in Visitors: How It Affects Your Cultural Organization And What To Do About It

Data suggest that it's good to to be the first organization that someone visits... but what if yours is Read more

Millennial Data Round Up: What Your Cultural Organization Needs To Know

This is what you need to know in one, single post. Millennials are a hot topic. While I consider "millennials" Read more

Experiencing Millennial Discussion Overload? Here Are Four Things to Remember

Cultural organizations need to reach millennials and that means talking about it – but that talk doesn’t make other Read more

Audience Access: The Reality For Cultural Organizations To Embrace for Solvency

The first step in the evolution toward more sustainable cultural organizations is embracing the reality of "access" and reviewing Read more

Connectivity is King

Move over, content. Connectivity is the new king for nonprofit organizations. Here’s why. 

Today I am sharing the second Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video! (If you missed it, here’s the first video: Admission Pricing is a Science.) The importance of connectivity (and the mistake of instead focusing on “content”) is a key concept for organizations to embrace in order to continue to successfully engage with their audiences. I hope that you enjoy the video and share it with others!

Rather read about the importance of connectivity than watch the video? Here’s more information:

The reign of “content” has ended and – while still important – the “content is king” saying is quickly becoming outdated in today’s increasingly digital world. In fact, the repetition of this saying is causing, cultivating, and excusing misunderstandings among the staff members of many organizations. Let’s clear the air and work together to update the saying so that it can be more effectively applied to the purpose of inspiring action.

Let’s get one thing straight: Content is still important. Compelling content often inspires connectivity. However, our misbelief that content reigns supreme is causing certain organizational problems that risk growing more deeply-rooted each day. Here are some symptoms of the outdated notion that “content is king” that may actually jeopardize an organization’s solvency. These conditions are symptomatic of a content-centric organization that deeply believes that what it outputs is more valuable than its outreach:


Here are five, important reasons why connectivity is king:


1) Connectivity is about your relationship with audiences.

The marketing channels about which the “content is king” saying may have originated were one-way communication channels. In other words, they were channels that generally gave your organization a “mouth” (e.g. television, radio, billboards, etc.). However, today’s most effective and efficient marketing channels have mouths and ears. That is, they provide a means of supplying feedback for the organization in addition to being soapboxes (e.g. social media, peer review sites, email, etc.).  Thus, it makes sense that the driving force in cultivating a desired behavior may have evolved to be more about linking up with an individual by way of a shared passion or situation than about an organization itself.

In other words, content is not necessarily about your audience. Cultivating connectivity, however, breeds and helps to strengthen a relationship with your brand and organization. Connectivity happens when an organization presents a passion or platform that resonates with a potential constituent. It’s about both the organization and the potential constituent. It’s the passion/subject/topic/mission/sentiment that bonds the constituent to what your organization stands for.


2) Connectivity is necessarily relevant

Connectivity is definitionally personal in that it depends on something being of personal interest to an individual.  This means that connectivity is necessarily relevant. Content, on the other hand, risks self-orientation that may not answer one of the most important questions that communicators should ask themselves from the perspective of potential constituents: “So what?”


3) Connectivity is prerequisite to acting in the best interests of an organization.

Remember: Your organization can sometimes determine importance, but the market always determines relevance. In other words, you can talk…but unless people are connected to what you’re saying, nobody may be listening. Simply put: Without connectivity, nobody cares about your organization.

Connectivity is a prerequisite to action (e.g. signing a petition, securing a donor, summoning support, selling a ticket). Content, however, can easily operate in isolation if it isn’t thoughtful and/or doesn’t inspire connectivity.


4) Connectivity is the goal of content.

Content can be a bridge that provides a pathway to connectivity, but if connectivity isn’t there, then content is pointless. This is where connectivity emerges as the true “king.” Certainly, content is critical. Arguably, there could be no connectivity without content. However (and this is where folks are getting confused), there can be a great deal of content without connectivity.  Not all content is connective.

Connectivity that’s created through a shared interest in a topic, idea, mission, purpose, or sentiment aligned with your organization’s brand and values is powerful.  Otherwise, your content will likely fall on deaf ears…and certainly not inspire engagement and supportive behaviors


5) Connectivity means all hands on deck.

Because “content” tends to fall under the conceptual categorization of one-way communication, the idea of “creating content” often falls to the marketing or public relations department. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But what IS a bad thing is when people “not my job” content creation. Today, communication and content creation is an every-department job.  Worse yet, the problem of silo-ing the important work of creating connectivity is often exacerbated within organizations due to some staff members’ ridiculous associations with the word “digital.”

Connectivity can be sparked when the content being communicated is deeply-rooted within your organization and mission. It may seem strange to some leaders, but the ins and outs of your day and your passions matter to your audiences. Often, to audiences, the transparent, unvarnished insights of how and why you do what you do in pursuit of your mission is every bit as important as what you are doing.

There’s a reason why marketing messages increasingly perform poorly in terms of engagement: People want to know what’s really going on…not simply receive your sales pitch (which, frequently, is the charge of the marketing department).  The most connective content often comes from other departments who represent the core of what you do. The marketing team’s best role is strategically making the balance of your organization’s content accessible (i.e. inspiring connections). Let’s stop aiming “to content” and instead aim to connect.


If you supply content, they will come? Nope. Not necessarily.

If you supply connectivity, they will come? It’s much more likely.


At our best, our organizations do more than provide education…even more than provide memorable experiences in the case of visitor-serving organizations.  We provide and facilitate meaningful interaction.  By connecting people to people, people to places, and people to ideas, we transcend mere content and provide pathways to engagement.  People – not artifacts alone – change the world.

Content isn’t dead, but connectivity assuredly is king. Long live the king.


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

Connectivity is king thumbnail

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fast Facts Video, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

How Free Admission Really Affects Museum Attendance (DATA)

Free Admission is not a Driver of Museum Attendance or Engaging New Audiences (DATA)

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t much…and misunderstanding this engagement tactic may jeopardize industry sustainability.

The debate about whether museums should be free is a big one right now. It’s the source of a lot of discussion in the popular press and nonprofit boardrooms alike. What seems to be lost in this discussion are due consideration of two very important factors: First, does eliminating the cost of admission actually help engage underserved audiences? And, second, in a time marked by increasing austerity measures that threaten traditional cultural funding, is eliminating a key earned revenue source sustainable as a long-term business model? The truth is that free admission comes with a cost. Free admission is far from the engagement cure-all that some of its supporters believe it to be.

Am I suggesting that free admission to museums and other cultural organizations is an altogether bad idea? Of course not. For those organizations whose financial models depend less on earned revenues (i.e. those with mega endowments or significant public funding), free admission may prove viable. However, for those organizations whose mission delivery depends on their business viability, then the issue of free admission is a far more complex topic.

Certainly, varying perspectives and important considerations inform this broader conversation, but I’m going to stick to the facts regarding only one aspect of this big issue. For the sake of facilitating intelligent, data-informed conversation about an emotional topic, let’s acknowledge some established facts regarding admission pricing and attendance: 


1) Not everyone is interested in visiting museums- and admission price is NOT the primary barrier to engagement

This is a fact that data folks know well, but it’s one that we often overlook as an industry. At IMPACTS, we gather a lot of information on the general public, but we focus particularly on high-propensity visitors (those people who demonstrate the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization). These are the people who actually go to museums and cultural organizations. They are the people who say, “Yeah! I’d like to do that!” when the suggestion of visiting a museum emerges. Not everyone is a high-propensity visitor – not by a long shot. In spite of all of our best engagement and marketing efforts, some people simply aren’t going to visit our organizations for several different reasons. As it turns out, admission fees are generally not a major factor in their lack of inclination to visit a museum.

Volker Kirchberg’s landmark analysis, “Entrance Fees as a Subjective Barrier to Visiting Museums,” published in the Journal of Cultural Economics, found that admission cost is a secondary factor when considering a museum visit. A lack of time (i.e. schedule considerations) or a simple lack of interest (i.e. relevance) were far more important factors in one’s decision not to visit a museum than were admission fees. In other words, a decision not to visit a museum is often more a function of lifestyle than finances.

When we consider the population subset of high-propensity visitors (HPVs) – our most likely audiences – cost absolutely pales in comparison to schedule and reputation when it comes to factors influencing their discretionary leisure activities. A big contributor to this often-overlooked fact is that, for both the general public and high-propensity visitors in particular, their time is more important than their money. This data from IMPACTS shows this well:

IMPACTS HPV time verses money

Need even more supporting analysis? According to national survey of museum visitors in New Zealand (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, New Zealand, A Measure of Culture: Cultural experiences and cultural spending in New Zealand), convenience and time are more important factors than cost when it comes to considering a cultural experience. The study further revealed that for those persons who visit museums but are unable to visit more often, the main barriers are lack of time (54%), travel distance (30%), and a lack of transportation (15%). For those who had not visited at all, the main barriers were lack of time (49%), travel distance (29%), and a lack of transport (18%). In fact, for both visitors and non-visitors, cost was only cited as a factor 11% of the time – again, this finding doesn’t diminish cost as a factor…but it does lend perspective to its relative importance in the public’s decision-making process.

Similar results were found in the Visitors to Museums and Galleries Study published in the UK by The Council for Museums, Libraries, and Archives. 32% cited a lack of time as a primary barrier, 22% a lack of interest, 19% a lack of anything they want to see, and 11% noted difficulties simply getting to the site of the organization. Only 8% of those sampled cited admission charges as a negative factor.

In sum: Admission fees are generally not a primary visitation barrier.


2) Free admission does not significantly affect long-term attendance.

Admission price doesn’t significantly change intentions to visit for first-time visitors – further reaffirming that if an audience isn’t interested or doesn’t have the time, then “free” won’t get them in the door. There seems to be a sort of thought that free admission means that attendance numbers will go through the roof…and, if an organization does experience a short-term “novelty” spike, then this increase will be sustained. Again, data suggest the contrary. Check out this data from the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations (which is updated annually and has tracked the opinions, perceptions, and behaviors of a sample population totaling 98,000 US adults):

IMPACTS intent to visit by admission price

The data indicate that intentions to visit within any duration do not significantly increase as the price of admission decreases or is even eliminated. In fact, in most instances, audiences indicate greater intentions to visit organizations that charge more than $20 for an adult admission than those that are free.

It doesn’t stop there. The definitive work on the (negligible) impact of admission price on sustained museum visitation was published by noted economists William Luksetich and Mark Partridge in Applied Economics in their analysis, “Demand Functions for Museums Services.” Their study suggests that the adverse effects of admission charges on attendance are small and ”relatively easy to alleviate.”

That, “If it’s not free, people won’t go” argument? The data has spoken. It’s not a thing.


3) Free admission accelerates re-visitation- but for audiences who are already visiting

Free admission does accelerate the re-visitation process – but mostly from existing audience members. This finding is from a study by the UK’s Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) – whose members instituted free admission in year 2001. The DCMS study found that attendance increases frequently attributed to removing admission fees were often due to the same audiences visiting more frequently – NOT necessarily from engaging new audiences.

Basically, to the degree that organizations consider an attendance increase as a successful outcome of eliminating admission pricing, the key visitor count to examine isn’t total visitation – it’s unique visitation. For example: Let’s say that a museum with an admission fee receives 400,000 annual visits from 300,000 unique visitors (1.33 visits per unique visitor).  Then, the same museum decides to “go free” and annual attendance increases by 15% to 460,000 visitors – but from the same 300,000 unique visitors (1.53 visitors per unique visitors). In this hypothetical example, annual attendance went up…but unique visitation remained the same.

Again, data from the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations reaffirms this finding:

IMPACTS intent to revisit by admission price

Whereas free admission does not impact intentions to visit for first-time visitors, it does increase intentions to re-visit for existing audiences. The implication? It may not be wholly accurate for an organization to declare success by citing raw attendance numbers as proof of the efficacy of a free admission policy. There isn’t evidence that free admission generally cultivates increased visitation from new audiences. 


4) We need to engage emerging audiences- and free admission is not a cure-all for greater industry challenges

Data suggest that cultural organizations need to be reaching new audiences right now if we want these types of organizations to be around in the future. Offering free admission in an attempt to appeal to emerging audiences isn’t a complete solution to a more complex problem. We need to reevaluate our strategy for engaging new audiences because the “free admission” fix may not prove sustainable. Moreover, focusing on free general admission may be distracting organizations from cultivating more effective engagement strategies and programs for reaching new audiences.

Consider that Smithsonian Institute museums – without admission fees – saw total attendance decline by nearly 7% from 30 million visitors in years 2012 and 2013 to 28 million visitors in year 2014. In the same duration, the US population increased from 314 million (2012) to 319 million (2014). Also, in the same duration, overseas visits to the US increased from 29.8 million in 2012 to 34.4 million in 2014. Visitation to many museums – even world-famous, free museums – is not keeping pace with population growth.

Our industry is rife with examples of how even organizations with free admission are unable to cultivate increased (or, in many cases, even stable) attendance levels – particularly when considered in the prevailing context of overall population growth and travel to the United States. Free admission does not serve as engagement panacea. For example, In 1997, attendance at the Baltimore Museum of Art – then with an admission basis – approximated 320,000 annually. In 2006, the Baltimore Museum of Art eliminated admission charges. Today, onsite annual attendance is down 44% to 180,000. The organization attributes this decrease in attendance to the BMA’s recent renovation project. There are many factors that affect attendance and admission pricing is hardly the cure-all that many imagine it to be.


This data simply scratches the surface of this controversial debate. There are other, incredibly important factors to consider: individual business models, the impacts of increased reliance on contributed revenues and government funding, opportunities to develop more agile operations so as to allow museums to be more audience-focused, and even the reputational equities attendant to being a “free” organization versus one with an admission fee.

One thing is for sure: Critical conversations are taking place and organizations are realizing that it’s time to evolve both their engagement models and their financial plans. We have too much to lose not to move forward in the most fully-informed manner possible. If we want to keep museums alive, we need to think about engagement, audience motivations and barriers, and actual economics.


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


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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 27 Comments

Fast Fact: Admission Pricing is a Science- Not an Art (VIDEO)

Organizations don’t have to guess when it comes to determining an optimal admission price.

Let’s try something new – starting today. I’d like to introduce you to a new project: Know Your Own Bone: Fast Facts for Cultural Executives. Traditional Know Your Own Bone posts will continue to be posted every-other Wednesday. In the weeks between, I will be posting short (around three minutes or less), Fast Facts videos featuring a key takeaway for cultural executives and staff members alike. I hope that you will provide me with feedback, and I am eager to know what you all think! Let’s start here:

Admission pricing is a science. Check out the video to learn why.


A deeper dive into data:

Unintentional collusion drives many-an-organization’s pricing strategy, but it’s a bad practice (or, at least a silly one). Today, your organization should be looking at data to inform its optimal price point for admission. Here’s an example of an organization’s data-informed pricing “sweet spot” that data suggest is neither leaving money on the table nor jeopardizing attendance. Every organization has this kind of optimal price point:

Adult Admission Analysis- Aquarium

Your pricing should be contemplative of the attributes of your organization’s high-propensity visitors (jargon translated: it should consider the people who profile as being actually interested in attending your organization). The above example indicates relative price inelasticity between $15.95 and $19.95 – suggesting that as many folks would visit the organization at a $19.95 as they would if the price were $15.95. If this is your organization and you are charging $15.95, you’re not losing visitors – you’re losing revenue that can help keep your doors open and your mission alive.

Different markets, different audiences, and different experiences demand different price points, so I want to emphasize that while this graph is a real example, it’s not necessarily a replicable model for your organization. (Read: I’m not encouraging everyone out there to charge $19.95. I would encourage THIS organization to change $19.95.)

To illustrate, here’s another example of a pricing analysis for a different organization and experience:

Adult admission analysis- performing arts

Finding an organization’s optimal price point has two, basic steps: Collecting data and modeling the data. Optimal pricing is informed by the type of data typically acquired via the conduct of an awareness, attitudes, and usage study that includes price-related metrics and perceptions from visitors and non-visitors alike. From there, price elasticity of demand models aid organizations in quantifying the demand for your experience. If you don’t have the know-how the collect this data on your own or you need help with the models, universities make excellent partners – as do professionals with experience working in this space! The point is: In today’s world – in which data is increasingly available, and more organizations are collecting it – there’s no excuse for blindly following the “leader” or simply guessing when it comes to your organization’s optimal admission price.


Words to Know to Be In-the-Know:


Unintentional collusion:

Many organizations unknowingly have strategies based upon unintentional collusion. Unintentional collusion is what happens when an organization follows the “leader” thinking the leader knows something that they don’t. Basically, it’s when somebody guesses and other organizations simply copy that guess. When organizations do this, they reaffirm one another’s unscientific strategies.

Value advantaged:

Admission pricing that is set too low and thus “leaves money on the table” for an organization. It is a price point that fails to maximize the data-informed level of revenue that an organization may be able to achieve.

Value disadvantaged:

Admission pricing that is set too high and risks jeopardizing attendance. It is a price point that fails to inspire visitation among those who profile as likely visitors because the high cost to attend poses a barrier to engagement.

Let’s stop guessing when it comes to admission pricing. Today, pricing is not an art. It’s a science.


I hope that these Fast Fact videos will provide thought-fuel for your organization! Please let me know if you have thoughts or feedback so that I may evolve these videos to be most helpful over time.  The next short video will be posted on August 19th.

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution 8 Comments

Why Millennials May Be The Most Valuable Generation for Cultural Nonprofits (DATA)

Data Show That Millennial Visitors May be Most Valuable Visitors for Cultural Organizations (DATA) {Know Your Own Bone}

The sheer size of the millennial generation makes them a critical target audience, but data suggest that millennial visitors may actually be the best visitors. Here’s why.

Millennials are the largest generation in human history. We know that they are a critical audience to engage now in order for cultural organizations to exist later. And, quite frankly, you’re probably tired of hearing about this public-service motivated, connected, social, educated, super-duper-special, hierarchy-hating, everyone-is-an-MVP bunch. (Heck, I’m a true-blue millennial and I’m right there with you!) However, all this talk about the need to engage millennials seems to still be met with an eye-roll and a “Here are even more things that we need to do for them” attitude from too many executive leaders. It seems that the size of this generation is the primary reason driving the need to engage millennials for many…and that’s an important reason. But it’s even close to the whole story.

Let’s change this attitude. Let’s do it with data.

Data suggest that millennial visitors are an organization’s most loyal – and they do much more loyalty-driving work for organizations than older audiences. When it comes to engaging millennials, a little is a lot more likely to go a long way. (But…that doesn’t justify organizations doing a little.) This generation is most likely to work for you. Overall, millennials are arguably a cultural organization’s most valuable visitors.

High-propensity visitors (HPVs, in my world (hold judgement on the acronym)) are people who possess the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood to visit cultural organizations such as museums, aquariums, gardens, performing arts organizations, historic sites, science centers, zoos, etc. These are the people who actually go to cultural organizations and data can bring to light what these folks have in common. Interesting findings arise when we take a look at millennial high-propensity visitors compared to non-millennial high-propensity visitors. Here are three, data-informed millennial visitor qualities that work to an organization’s terrific advantage compared to more traditional audiences:

High-propensity visitor indicators by age

(A quick note on the data: It comes from IMPACTS and the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations, first published in 2011 and updated annually thereafter. Since its initial publication, the study has tracked the opinions, perceptions, and behaviors of a sample population totaling 98,000 US adults, and is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive study of its kind.)

1) Millennial visitors are most likely to come back sooner.

Millennial high-propensity visitors have a shorter re-visitation cycle than even other generations of high-propensity visitors. In fact, millennial high-propensity visitors are 30.9% more likely to revisit an organization within one year than high-propensity visitors aged 55 or older. That’s a big difference. Moreover – and to the possible surprise of many – millennial HPVs are 20.5% more likely to join as a member than HPVs aged 55 and older. (Though those age 35-54 still take the cake when it comes to likelihood to become a members.) Millennials are an organization’s most loyal high-propensity visitors when it comes to driving repeat visitation. Capture us, and the data suggest we are most likely to come back – and relatively quickly!


2) Millennial visitors are more likely to spread positive word of mouth about cultural organizations to drive visitation.

As a reminder (that I provide on KYOB constantly): Data suggest that reputation is a key driver of visitation, and what other people say about your organization is 12.85x more important in driving your reputation than advertising. So what people say about your organization to one another is really important in getting people in the door. We millennial HPVs shine here compared to other HPV generations, and are 18.1% more likely to recommend experiences to a friend than those aged 35-54 and 20.5% more likely than HPVs aged 55 and older. Show us an organization that we like, and we are significantly more likely than older generations to endorse that organization to other people. Millennial high-propensity visitors are more likely than any other generational cohort to provide your organization with what data indicate is the single most valuable form of marketing.


3) Millennial visitors reach more people.

Why does being most likely to recommend a cultural experience to a friend particularly matter? Because millennial high-propensity visitors are crazy “super-connected.” This means that we are empowered to recommend experiences with a collective reach that’s like “traditional media” on steroids. “Super-connected” means that these folks are most likely to have access to – and be engaged with – the web at home, at work, and/or on mobiles devices. Admittedly, this can be an incredible asset or detriment to organizations based upon whether or not an individual had a positive or negative experience, but, provided that your organization is doing it’s best on the “satisfying experience” front, positive experiences can go a very long way.

We’re also much more likely than other HPV generations to make purchases online, further underscoring that if your audiences aren’t buying tickets online, it may have to do with your own organization’s online ticket buying strategy. As the world becomes more digital, more folks are making purchases online. Millennials are more than twice as likely to have made a large purchase online within the last year than folks aged 55 or older.


4) Millennials likely have the highest lifetime value.

This generation’s size and lifetime customer value suggest that organizations that successfully engage millennials stand to reap a big reward. Millennials are the youngest of the three generations (i.e. Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers) currently visiting cultural organizations – meaning that millennials have the longest expected lifetimes to contribute value as customers. In addition, the large size of this demographic (nearly twice that of Generation X) compounds the composite lifetime value of engaging this audience.

Note that high-propensity millennial visitors are more educated than their generational predecessors. This is important to understand, because often when organizations say, “Let’s target millennials!” they mean ALL millennials. That’s not always a bad move. But, the reality is that millennials who currently profile as being likely to visit cultural organizations are a subset of the population just as high-propensity visitors from other generations are a subset of the population. Not everyone on the planet thinks, “Hey, I’ll do that!” when someone suggests visiting a cultural organization. For various reasons (e.g. free time, access to transportation, cultural background, income, etc.), that’s just not the case with some people. A goal of efficiently engaging millennial audiences is to tap into high-propensity visitors – those persons most inclined to visit in the first place (i.e. “the path of least resistance”).

Heads-up: We also aren’t watching a lot of live TV. Those aged 55 and older are nearly 60% more likely to be watching more than 10 hours of weekly live TV than we millennials. So if you’re appearing on a morning news show, we’re less likely to be tuning in. It may be beneficial to record that segment and put it somewhere where we can see it later if millennial viewership is a particular goal


Compared to other generations, millennial high-propensity visitors are more likely to visit more often. They are also super-connected and more likely to spread an organization’s message, providing incredibly valuable word of mouth endorsement. All things being equal, millennial audiences may well be a cultural organization’s most valuable visitors.

Let’s stop rolling our eyes and get psyched about engaging these cheerleaders! (Too much enthusiasm? I’ll it step back.) Here: Let’s change how we frame the conversation. Instead of groaning about the “otherness” of millennials, let’s embrace this opportunity to engage a new cohort of folks who will visit us again and again, tell their friends, and – if we do our jobs right – will be around loving us for a long time.


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


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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

The Myth of Saving Your Way to Prosperity: Three Financial Realities for Nonprofit Executives

The Myth of Saving Your Way to Prosperity: Four Financial Realities for Nonprofit Executives

An organization attempting to “save its way to prosperity” actually paves its way to financial demise. Here’s why.

It seems that many nonprofit marketing and communication departments are constantly being tasked by their executive leadership to “do more with less.” While cost-efficiencies are desirable in all types of businesses, nonprofit organizations seem to be especially prone to overlooking the cost of doing business.

My work with nonprofit clients at IMPACTS reveals that, more often than not, marketing leaders react to the “do more with less” mandate by desperately trying to “save their way to prosperity.” That is, they attempt to achieve goals not by optimizing spending to maximize the ROI (i.e. increasing their investments if the ROI warrants additional investment), but by saving as much as possible within their already woefully underfunded marketing and communication budgets.

Attempting to save your way to prosperity comes with a hefty price tag for organizations. Let’s hit this difficult topic head-on. It’s time to uncross our fingers and quit pretending that the prevailing forces of the economy don’t apply to nonprofit organizations. Here are three financial realities for executive leaders to consider:


1) Marketing is an investment, not a cost

Okay. It’s technically a cost – but when organizations think about it primarily as a cost rather than an investment, they do their organizations’ internal culture a grave disservice. Indeed, it costs money to “market” and communicate…but such is the basic cost of doing business. You need to spend money in order to get people in the door. There is a data-driven optimal investment of revenues required to optimize audience acquisition. If you don’t invest to connect with your audiences, then don’t be surprised when very few audience members choose to invest in your organization and programming. Sure, you’ll save money by not telling folks to come, but you also… won’t have anyone coming.

Compounding matters is the fact that some organizations still think social is “free” or low-cost, but social media networks are increasingly pay-to-play. Moreover, data suggest that things people say about your organization are 12.85 times more important in driving your organization’s reputation than your advertising. That fact may ostensibly sound like a great resource-hoarding angle to a CMO with a “save your way to prosperity” mindset but, instead, it should be acknowledged as a terrific investment priority to maximize support and achieve long-term financial solvency. In other words, social investment isn’t necessarily a replacement for traditional paid media – it is a cost-efficient opportunity for additional investment with additional benefits. If you don’t make the investment, then you cannot realize the return.


2. Costs to reacquire audiences are MUCH higher than costs to maintain and retain them.

Let’s say the “save your way to prosperity” angle is your thing, and you choose to save some resources from your already cash-strapped marketing department. You’re probably quite proud of yourself. And the CEO might be as well. At this time, you haven’t completed the engagement cycle (or, if you’re a cultural center, the visitation cycle) to see the impacts of your lack of investment yet. You’re looking and feeling like a penny-pinching rockstar.

Unfortunately for penny-pinching CMOs, it costs significantly more to re-acquire audience members than it does to maintain and retain them – as much as 7x more! Take a look at this often referenced analysis from Bain & Company that quantifies the value of investing in your current audiences:

Bain Retention Analysis

Also consider that the price of advertising is increasing. The “last year +5%” budgeting rule is out of play, making it more important than ever for nonprofit executives (CMOs and CEOs alike) to make wise investments. If you make a bad investment – or no investment at all – the bill will come due. You’ll lose your hard-earned audiences and need to spend more to get them back.


3) Deferred bills always come due.

Speaking of bills coming due, “deferred” doesn’t mean “dismissed” – and it especially doesn’t mean “resolved.” Inaction can be extremely expensive. Tiny deferred cost savings add up to very large bills.

While it can be tempting to put off inevitable expenses – particularly during times of financial stress – ultimately, this proves to be a shortsighted approach for an organization. Juggling expenses between operating quarters doesn’t actually change your organization’s performance during that same duration. Saving money by not fixing the roof doesn’t mean that you don’t need a new roof. Again, deferred bills always come due. These budget shell games are often designed to forfend scrutiny – but this is a short-term magical accounting game. We live in a spend a little now or a lot later world. And, failing to spend appropriately risks greater peril than merely mounting deferred expenses – your organization may be perceived as irrelevant.

You can’t save your way to prosperity. The best you can do with this mindset is spend less, lose loyal attendees and not acquire new ones, and “defer” costs that may risk lowering your organization’s reputation. That’s not “savings” and that’s certainly not “prosperity.” That’s actually spending your way to demise, or, the very thing your CEO is trying to avoid in the first place.

Don’t save your way to prosperity. Instead have a deep understanding of how your industry works and maximize your investments. If you’re a visitor-serving organization, here’s some help: 1) Understand the cost of advertising, 2) Know how to budget to maximize audience acquisition, and 3) Understand the need to invest and strategize to adapt to reach emerging audiences. Saving your way to prosperity is, at best, a short-term faux-solution. At worst, it’s a long-term recipe for disaster.

Know the cost of doing business. Learn what things actually cost. Get smart about your investments because to remain relevant, you’ll have to make them. Make sure you make the best ones possible.


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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Financial Solvency, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution Leave a comment

Death By Curation: The Exhibit Strategy That Threatens Visitation and Cultural Center Survival (DATA)

Death by curation- a lesson from Jurassic World

Indominus Rex would not have sparked a long-term increase in Jurassic World visitation anyway. Here’s a real-world, data-informed reminder of the dangers of “Death by Curation” for cultural organizations.

Considering my obvious museum nerdiness, you can bet that I was one of the folks contributing to Jurassic World’s $511.8 million opening weekend (in 3D glasses and parked eagerly in front of an IMAX screen on opening day, no less). I was giddy about the dinos, of course, but, throughout the film, I couldn’t help but focus on the data-denying stupidity of the Jurassic World business model (Of all things…). While watching, I mentally revisited data from a popular Know Your Own Bone post titled “Death By Curation”. In consideration of Jurassic World – and in the spirit of sequels – data about the realities of “death by curation” (or, “blockbuster suicide”) are worth a revisit for visitor-serving organizations. Let’s re-bust the myth of the blockbuster exhibit strategy. 

Also, in honor of Jurassic World, let’s do it dramatically (…but with real data).

Blockbuster exhibits sound nice, but they often create a negative cycle that threatens the solvency of the visitor-serving organizations that deploy them. Within this cycle, organizations (museums, zoos, aquariums, science centers, etc.) rely heavily on visitation from special exhibits – rather than their permanent collections – in order to achieve their attendance and financial goals. This is a case of “death by curation” – bringing in progressively bigger and bigger exhibits in order to sustain and grow revenues. It’s no secret that a true blockbuster exhibit can boost a museum’s attendance to record levels. However, a “blockbuster” is rare, and the fact that these blockbusters spike attendance so dramatically is an important finding: Blockbusters are anomalies – NOT the basis of a sustainable plan.

Though Jurassic World is just a(n awesome) movie, “Death by Curation” is an actual, data-informed problem jeopardizing the long-term existence of many entities. Thankfully, when cultural organizations commit “Death by Curation” in the real-world, the result is typically… well, much less literal than it was in Jurassic World.


1) Misunderstanding

We know the story well: a museum decides that the best way to increase long-term visitation and attract new audiences is to create or host a special exhibit. They hear of attendance spikes from other, similar institutions that host or create blockbuster exhibits, and they see the newspaper articles boasting increased attendance during the exhibit. This is an innocent enough start. Not all special exhibits are blockbuster exhibits. But the want for a “blockbuster” increases among executives who are unaware of the long-term consequences of this kind of special exhibit. So the organization hosts one.

The organization sees a spike in attendance, which dips when the exhibit closes. The museum wants to hit these high numbers again so it hosts a “bigger” exhibit and hopes for the same visitation spike. This is the beginning of a costly, ineffective cycle.


2) Dependence

If the exhibition is successful, then the sequel must be grander – and usually more expensive. The organization comes to believe that it cannot motivate visitation without rotating, creating, or (in the case of Indominus Rex) genetically modifying increasingly “blockbuster”/ “bigger and better” exhibits. And, by doing this, museums train their audiences only to visit when there is a new exhibit. Thus, they risk curating themselves into unsustainable business practices.

Organizations train audiences to respond primarily to blockbuster exhibits. I like to think of this as a sort of “Pavlov for the museum world” – except instead of inspiring behavior with a bell, we’ve decided to provide Monet, Mondrian and Picasso as stimuli. This is all perhaps well and good…but it isn’t sustainable.

Consider the 20-year attendance history of a museum client of IMPACTS (the company for which I work). Take a look at the “blockbuster” years.

Death by Curation special exhibit attendance KYOB

Still drunk with success from their blockbuster exhibit in year 2004, this museum went to the “tried” (but, not necessarily, “true”) blockbuster formula in year 2009. As you can see, in terms of visitation, history decidedly did NOT repeat itself. In this example (which I selected because it is representative of the experience of many museums), the “blockbuster” exhibit of year 2004 resulted in a 47.6% spike in visitation. What is perhaps most telling is how quickly – post-blockbuster – the client’s annual visitation returned to its average level. Does this suggest that the client shouldn’t pursue another blockbuster? Well, they did. But not with the expected results.

Let’s consider the same chart again – this time with the special exhibits costs by year also indicated:

Death by Curation cost verses attendance

This where it becomes additionally important to acknowledge that “expensive does not a best-ever exhibit make” (although sometimes it can help when the investment is intelligent). If the museum begins to believe that they are being successful with this strategy of rotating and/or releasing blockbuster exhibits, then the exhibits grow grander and the attendant costs often grow at unsustainable rates…but become conceptually necessary for the museum to keep their lights on. Organizations often need to pay more money in order to hit that same, first-time blockbuster exhibition spike.

Also, I’m just going to leave this little chart right here…

Death by curation sequels KYOB

Another fun fact that will surprise absolutely no one in the museum world – audiences are fickle! Their preferences shift quickly and they become increasingly hard to please. In fact, first-time-ever museum visitors rate their overall satisfaction 18.1% higher than persons who have previously visited any other museum. We call this “point of reference sensitivity”– the market’s expectations, perceptions and tolerances are constantly shifting and being re-framed by its experiences.


3) Alienation

What of the hopeful thought that visitors to blockbuster exhibits will become regular museum-goers? It is largely a myth. An IMPACTS study of five art museums – each hosting a “blockbuster” exhibit between years 2007-2010, found that only 21.8% of visitors to the exhibit saw the “majority or entirety” of the museum experience. And, of those persons visiting the sampled art museums during the same time period, 50.5% indicated experiencing “only” the special exhibition. This data indicates that these special exhibit visitors are not seeing your permanent collections and, thus, are missing an opportunity to connect with your museum and become true evangelists.

The museums in this cycle train audiences to respond to blockbusters, not to develop relationships with permanent collections and that hurts their bottom lines. More often than not, organizations that are caught in the “Death by Curation” cycle actually cultivate visitation that is generally unsustainable. Or, at least less sustainable than many executives believe when having conversations about hosting or developing blockbuster exhibits. If you’re a visitor-serving organization always focused on releasing something bigger, better, and newer, you must be cautious not to devalue your permanent collections, and continually reinvent them as well.


4) Deprivation

Here’s where things get really ugly. Not only are organizations engaging in “Death by Curation” (a.k.a. “Blockbuster Suicide”) training regular audiences to respond primarily to special exhibits, failing to inspire connections with permanent collections, AND getting caught in an increasingly-expensive and unsustainable exhibit cycle…they are also creating and cultivating less loyal members.

Even members, whom museums often assume are more connected to their permanent collections than the general public, have been trained to respond almost exclusively to “blockbuster” stimuli by those organizations that consistently highlight these “bigger and better” exhibits year over year. To wit: The National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study recently updated in March 2015 indicates that of lapsed museum members with an intent to renew their memberships, 87.5% state that they will renew their memberships “when they next visit.” Of these same lapsed members, 60.8% indicate that they will defer their next visit “until there is a new exhibit.” In other words, museums have trained even their closest constituents to wait for these expensive exhibits in order to justify their return visit. It’s an unhealthy cycle. When hosting a series of blockbuster exhibits, an organization may get “high” on an attendance spike…but a crash is right around the corner.

After the “depravation” phase, many organizations cycle right back to “misunderstanding” and continue to spiral. Think of nearly any major museum that had made news with layoffs. Chances are that organization created a form of blockbuster suicide.


An alternative to blockbuster suicide

Here’s the good news: this cycle can be broken – or avoided entirely.

Museums and other cultural organizations often fail to recognize that the best part of the museum experience, according to visitors and substantial data, is who folks visit and interact with instead of what they see. Understanding that a museum visit is more about people than it is about exhibits can help organizations keep the relative success of blockbuster exhibits into perspective.

Instead of relying on the rotation (or new, ongoing addition) of increasingly expensive exhibits, many successful organizations instead invest in their frontline people and provide them with the tools to facilitate interactions that dramatically improve the visitor experience. Improving the visitor experience increases positive word of mouth that, in turn, brings more people through the door. Importantly, reviews from trusted resources (e.g. word of mouth, social media, and peer review sites) tend to not only inspire visitation, they also have the positive benefit of decreasing the amount of time between visits. People who have a better experience – which has a clear association with interactions with staff members – are more likely to come back again sooner (Okay, this is obvious…but when you bust outdated cultural business strategy myths for a living, it’s important to reexamine things that seem obvious, too).

KYOB intent to revisit based on satisfaction

The power of “with” over “what” has other positive financial implications for museums. If the institution focuses on increasing the overall experience (which, again, is a motivator in and of itself – as opposed to the “one-off effect” of gaining a single visit with a new exhibit), then the museum’s value-for-cost perception increases. In other words, it allows the organization to charge more money for admission without alienating audiences because these audiences are willing to pay a premium for a positive experience. (For you mission-driven folks shaking your head about how this potentially excludes underserved audiences, this is where your accessibility programs will shine. Admission revenues enable effective affordable access and increase their perceptual value as well.)

The “bigger, better, more expensive” business model is financially unsustainable and it alienates audiences. A better solution? Actually be good at fulfilling your mission/purpose and highlight considered experiences that support it.  

This isn’t to say that new content and engaging exhibits are not often critical to a museum’s success. Updating overall collections, keeping museums up-to-date, and developing timely, relevant programs is increasingly no longer optional for cultural center survival. It is to say, though, that times are changing. To sustain both in terms of economics and relevance, museums must evolve from organizations that are mostly about “us” (what we have is special and you’re lucky to see it), to organizations that are primarily concerned about “them” – the visitors.

Like it or not, the market is the ultimate arbiter of a museum’s success. Those of us with academic pedigree, years of experience, and technical expertise may well be in a position to declare “importance,” but it is the market that reserves the absolute right to determine relevance. In other words, while curators still largely design the ballots, it is the general public who cast the votes. In the race to sustain a relationship with the museum-going public, the returns are in and the special exhibit isn’t so special anymore.


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


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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 6 Comments

Influencing Leadership: Three Findings to Effectively Communicate with Cultural Executives (DATA)

Influencing Leadership at Cultural Institutions

Here’s a data-informed peek at what influences leaders in cultural institutions.

I’m in the business of cultural sector evolution and – given that the cultural business model is in need of an update – we at IMPACTS have been looking at how the opportunity for evolution may be best understood. We work directly with many industry leaders (the Chiefs, or the “Cs”), and recently had occasion to scour the minds of these executives in order to better understand how they obtain information, and the roles that various information channels play in influencing their executive decisions. Potentially innovative, groundbreaking ideas risk dying on the vine if they aren’t understood and supported by an organization’s leadership. We wanted to find out more about how to keep that from happening.

The data below is from a survey of 306 executive leaders working at nonprofit visitor-serving organizations (e.g. museums, aquariums, cultural centers, theaters, orchestras, zoos, historic sites, etc.). The study identified the primary information channels that executives use to inform their decision-making processes, and further measured the relative trust and influence that these same leaders ascribe to the various information channels. These values are quantified on an index value basis – a way of assessing and comparing these measurements in relative terms (i.e. an information channel with an influence value of 200.0 is 2x as influential in the surveyed leaders’ decision-making processes than is an information channel with an influence index value of 100.0).

The findings of this study are relevant to anyone whose profession requires influence, motivation, and collaboration with or among leaders.  If we know what informs and influences leaders, then we can more effectively communicate with, and, in turn, influence leadership. Before you can change the world, you likely need to change some minds. Here’s data that will help:


1) Timeliness matters

KYOB IMPACTS - Sources of information  for cultural leaders

Let’s start with the obvious: It’s easiest to reach fellow leaders via the information sources that they are actually using.

Books and manuals generally have some influence power and are perceived as trustworthy and relatively influential sources (more on that in the charts that follow). This is frequently because book publishers employ credibility protectors such as fact-checkers, researchers, and editors, so leaders often regard this information channel as an expertly vetted, reliable source of information. But, it also takes time to write, edit, publish, and distribute (not to mention read) a book. That may be why the data suggest that leaders aren’t primarily relying on books and manuals for information (which they reference for information approximately 3.5x less often than they do online daily news sources). So, yes, books are potentially influential – if you can get the leader to read the book!

Data suggest that more timely information channels win the day when it comes to providing value as an information resource for leaders. Consultants/industry experts, peer-to-peer communications, and especially daily newspapers and blogs are timely by nature. Timely information sources are likely to be more right-now relevant than sources with more labored publication processes.

In addition to books, industry publications (often published periodically) and conferences (typically occurring annually) struggle to meet the timeliness requirement that agile leaders demand of their most important information sources.


2) Experts are far more valuable than participants

KYOB IMPACTS - influence of sources for cultural leaders

Perceived expertise is a significant driver of influence. Daily newspapers are definitionally timely – and the perceived prestige, credibility, and expertise of publications (think The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, etc.) inure to the benefit of their journalistic staff. There’s a high level of trust and influence embedded in these brands despite the fact that the web allows nearly anyone to be a “reporter” these days. Sources perceived as expert – such as industry experts, consultants and industry executives – dominate influence on leaders.

KYOB IMPACTS - Trust of sources for cultural leaders

Conversely, sources based heavily in participation don’t perform nearly so well. Not everyone who participates in something is an expert. This may be a challenge for industry publications and conferences – they often feature far more participants than experts. More heavily participation-based (versus expert-based) sources often supply unfiltered noise in the already-noisy world of an executive leader…a circumstance that may be the opposite of helpful in the eyes of the “Cs.”

I wonder if – as the most effective leaders increasingly play the symbolic role of a conductor within organizations – the influence, trustworthiness, and go-to value of professional staff will increase. That’s a tide that may necessarily turn as cultural organizations evolve: Leaders may need to trust the (increasingly nuanced and specialized) experts that they hire in order to simply run their organizations.

Fun fact: Leaders right now utilize printed newspapers far, far more frequently than the general population. Nope, it’s not because printed newspapers are different than online newspapers in terms of content – it’s because today’s head-honchos are generally educated Baby Boomers who simply still prefer getting their news in print.


3) It’s a small world after all

What leaders say to one another is far more influential than what non-peers say to leaders. This is evident when observing the high impact of peer-to-peer communications and industry experts. Leaders seek out and listen to other leaders.

While this may be slightly disappointing for non-Chiefs, I urge these future leaders to look at the very bright side of this finding: If you can influence a small group of leaders, then you may be able to influence the entire sector. Hopeful? Perhaps. But identifying this narrow band of very specific influencers could prove enlightening for both current and future leaders alike – especially considering the imperative to evolve the way that many nonprofits do business. Think of other relatively small groups of folks who knew one another and changed the course of history. The Beat Generation. The Lost Generation. The Cultural Institution Reinvention Generation? Perhaps change in this sector is not so different. Or, perhaps I just want an excuse to include references to both Jack Kerouac and F. Scott Fitzgerald in a post.

Ours is not a kingdom, it is a collaboration. To influence leaders, we must compellingly communicate a point of view…and it’s easiest to do this when we communicate in consideration of leadership’s most preferred, trusted, and influential information sources.


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Image credit: Scientific American

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

Six Ways Personalization Trends Are Affecting Museums and Cultural Centers (DATA)

Personalization trend in cultural organizations

The personalization trend is here. And it’s affecting nearly everything visitor-serving organizations do.


Once in a while – usually when considering topics for a trend meeting with clients – I look over collections of recent IMPACTS data and glaring patterns emerge. Sometimes these trends are obvious – like myth-busting traditional ways of thinking that data suggest are now largely irrelevant. Sometimes they come together to tell a story about sector evolution and solvency. And other times – like today- they represent a connection so glaringly apparent (because it is already in the broader business media spotlight) that I’ve mentioned it only in passing.

Personalization has been an increasing and unrelenting theme in much of the data collected regarding visitor-serving organizations – and it is begging for more attention in the world of cultural centers. Typically, conversations about personalization within these institutions are interpreted as a need for crowd-sourced exhibits/programs or more creative, online initiatives. And those can be excellent ways to actively incorporate personalization into an engagement strategy! What’s decidedly NOT excellent is assuming that personalization doesn’t affect nearly everything in regard to operations and engagement these days. This goes way beyond new exhibit development and social media stunts. 

Personalization is one of the most important trends for brand evolution today and is predicted to continue to emerge as a hard-hitting trend. And, if you haven’t heard, 2015 is the year of personalization. Personalization has been sited – alongside transparency – as an increasingly required brand attribute and a prime example of how the Internet has changed the world in which we live.

From the Share a Coke initiative to the secret sauce of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Spotify, and Pandora, personalization initiatives are everywhere. Most of all, personalization serves as a helpful lens through which to consider initiatives and the evolution of engagement practices.

Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all communications online and offline. Personalization is actually playing a role in nearly all aspects of visitor-serving organizations – beyond the creative development of new exhibits and programs. Personalization has lead to the emergence of the following trends:


1) An increased need for onsite personalization to increase satisfaction levels

Data suggest that personal interactions between staff and visitors significantly increase overall satisfaction, improve value perceptions, and contribute to a more meaningful overall experience. IMPACTS data has uncovered that a single personal facilitated experience (PFE) during a visit can have a major impact on satisfaction levels. A PFE is a one-to-one or one-to few interaction that occurs between an onsite representative of the organization and a visitor.  And not only do PFEs increase satisfaction levels, but they also increase perceived value for admission, education value, staff courtesy, and entertainment value. See the data here.

IMPACTS satisfaction by daypart PFE

Organizations may even deploy PFEs as a mitigation strategy to minimize the impact of crowding perceptions on overall satisfaction! The chart above shows data points from a representative organization with whom IMPACTS works. Keep in mind: The experiences represented by PFE and non-PFE visitors are largely the same (same facility, same content, same basic experience) – except for the opportunity to have a personalized experience with a staff member.


2) A growing disinterest in group tours and standardized experiences

Your organization isn’t imagining things: It’s harder to attract leisure tour groups today than in the past. This mass, standardized experience business has been in decline – and the data suggests that it’s not because the salespeople suddenly got bad at their jobs.  It’s because people do not want to go on the same old, standardized group tours.  This makes sense: During a time in which audiences are leaning toward more personlized experiences, many group tours are currently the precise opposite – every experience is commonized.

IMPACTS group tours are fun way to visit museums

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

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


3) The expectation of social care on digital platforms

When organizations consider social media and personalization, they often think about creative initiatives. However, this may be missing the boat. There’s an ongoing expectation for personalization that may be more critical to your organization than more creative, additive endeavors.

The buzz term for personal, customer service-like community management issocial care” and it is hugely important for all organizations. Why? Online audiences expect engagement from organizations.

Consider this data by Lithium Technologies: 70% of Twitter users expect a response from brands they reach out to on Twitter, and, of those users53% want that response in less than one hour. The percentage of people who expect a response within the hour increases to 72% when they’re issuing a complaint. And there’s more: 60% of respondents cited negative consequences to the brand if they didn’t receive timely Twitter responses. That said, it isn’t only negative comments for which audiences seek interaction…

Lithium expect response within hour of tweet

This may all sound doom and gloom, but according to the same survey by Lithium Technologies, there’s a benefit to interacting with folks on social media sites:

Lithium positive response data


4) Promulgating connective content with personal meaning

By now, organizations likely understand that an organization’s number of followers on social media doesn’t matter. The quality of followers is more important than having thousands who do not promulgate your messages and are disinterested in acting in your organization’s interest.

Content is no longer king. Connectivity is king. Content can operate in isolation, but connectivity requires a kind of “passion match” between the organization and the potential supporter or advocate. This “passion match” is personal, and – while indeed many exhibits or specific programs are being developed for more unique audiences – the understanding that personal connection is the goal is driving the content strategies of intelligent organizations to post not what the most people on social media will like, but what actual, potential supporters will find most meaningful.


5) The availability of more diverse membership structures

The concept of personalization may begin with allowing for alternate gateways to engagement and understanding that the “one-size-fits-all” approach to membership simply isn’t optimal anymore. One data-based example of this can be seen in IMPACTS work with a large (over one million visitors per year) visitor-serving organization with a mission related to conservation. More on this finding here.

IMPACTS- Benefits of membership

Adults under thirty-five provide a sneak-peak into the need for organizations to create alternate programs to cultivate new and emerging audiences. Extant data indicate that members of Generation Y are public service motivated and appreciate a feeling of belonging and connectedness with one another and with a cause. This is consistent with the responses gathered from millennials in the data above. Instead of being interested in the more “transactional perks” of membership, this generation desires a feeling of connectedness with a broader social good. Creating a range of membership programs that engage different audiences allows for more personalization in approach. Is the primary “passion match” between members and your organization actually transactional? For some it may be. But what about the increasing majority that care about impact and connectivity?


6) The evolution of digital platforms and technology usage

Thanks to the personalization trend, the role of email has changed. It is no longer effective for “spamming” groups of people, but rather for cultivating individual audience members based on their “passion matches.” Personalized emails deliver six times higher transaction rates, but seventy-percent of brands fail to use them.

Moreover, data suggests that static websites and homepages are no longer the digital platform motivating visitation decisions.  Increasingly, social media plays an important role in this process thanks to the personalization and perceived transparency that it provides. Simply put, folks can log onto social media sites and see how well an organization actually “walks the talk” of its mission by way of the content that it posts – and make decisions about the organization on their own.

There is buzz about the importance of utilizing mobile devises to hone in on personalization opportunities. This is a particularly good idea right now because Google has announced that there are now officially more searches taking place on mobile devices and tablets than laptops and desktops. Let the personalization trend continue!


Ours is an era of personalization – every experience is increasingly tailored. And data suggest that more standardized experiences suffer in comparison. It’s time that cultural centers ingrain this brand attribute into overall organizational strategy in order to future-proof their experiences and offerings, and better attract and retain donors and supporters.


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


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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 6 Comments