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

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The Critical Role of Reputation in Nonprofit Success (DATA)

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The Key to Modern Day Marketing: Is Your Museum Utilizing Free Agents?

It’s no surprise that business practices, and especially marketing strategies, are evolving due to current changes in the way people operate and communicate. We didn’t have Facebook ten years ago- now organizations that are not cultivating online networks are doomed to fall behind in building brand loyalty and summoning the benefits of organizational transparency.

These changes, combined with the growing influence of Generation Y in the workplace, have created a new force to be recognized by your organization’s marketing and development departments: free agents.

Who and what are free agents? I’ll tap into The Networked Nonprofit for my favorite definition: Free agents are individuals working outside of organizations to organize, mobilize, raise funds, and communicate with constituents for a cause. They are generally comfortable with and adept at using social media. Bloggers are free agents, influential tweeters are free agents, and your tech-savvy and socially-connected nephew who believes in your organization is a free agent, too. They are social citizens dedicated to a cause. Though not all free agents are members of Generation Y, Millennials have grown up communicating and creating networks on the internet. They have a tribe to tap into when they want to spread an important message or highlight a cause. I’ve argued before that this is a good reason why museums and nonprofits should hire candidates with personal brands: they have a network. They can help you reach people.

Why your organization needs free agents. Free agents are connected individuals who care about your organization’s cause, and their network is likely to consist of similarly-minded people who are also likely to care about your cause. Free agents not only spread awareness of your organization, but they increase morale, and may even put together events or programs to benefit your organization. For instance, a free agent may have a party in which all proceeds go to a certain organization. Though they do not work for the museum or cultural nonprofit, free agents will champion your organizations message simply because they have a network and they believe in your cause.

  • A little example of a free agent in action. The American Association of Museums runs The Museum Assessment Program. It is a wildly affordable program for small and mid-size museums that helps strengthen operations, improve planning, and better serve communities through a process of self study and peer review. Applications are due by February 18, 2011. I do not work for AAM and nobody is paying me to let you all know about this seemingly-awesome resource (if you didn’t know about it already). I am writing about MAP because I support the program’s mission and I know that quite a few of you work for organizations that might benefit from MAP. I am playing the role of a light free agent for AAM because I, personally, think this program is really cool. But free agents can play more active roles as well. I might host a meet-up to discuss the benefits of MAP with museum professionals, or ask my blogger friends to spread the word, or run a marathon and raise funds for AAM to take another mid-sized museum into the program. It is not unusual for free agents to do these things.

How free agents work. Because free agents are internet-savvy folks who are independent of the organization, they are hard to control. In fact, an important part of utilizing free agents is understanding two key concepts:

  1. You cannot control free agents. It’s important to work with free agents, but treating free agents as if they work for you is a speedy way to lose a free agent. This is particularly bad news if the free agent you are working with has gone to great lengths to cultivate excitement around your museum or program. This also connects well to my second point.
  2. Free agents will come and go. Many free agents are members of Generation Y, and this generation is loyal to causes but feels skeptical about long-term loyalty to an organization. While free agents may come and go, remember to keep the door open in case they want to return to promote your organization.

Why free agents are good for your social media mentality. Certain thought leaders in the advertising field have argued that you don’t need a social media strategy (hint: It’s about values and people, not the tool). Working with free agents requires an openness and eagerness on the part of the institution. The fact that you cannot control or plan for free agents (aside from making yourself accessible) helps put museum professionals in a good place: focusing on community and values instead of trying to make rules about using social media. And “rules” have a way of fuzzing things up when it comes to brand transparency.

In sum, keep the door open for free agents. While nothing replaces face-to-face communication, it’s easy for professionals (especially members of older generations who are particularly unfamiliar with social media) to underestimate the value of online networks in helping an organization to reach marketing and fundraising goals. It may seem particularly strange to be encouraged to devote time and energy to cultivating young, sometimes still-unproven professionals. But try ignoring young professionals who are looking to support your organization, and you may find yourself slapping your forehead and (just for laughs) relating to this scene from Pretty Woman.

*Image based on photo from

Posted on by colleendilen in Blogging, Branding, Community Engagement, Generation Y, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future 2 Comments

5 Ways That Social Media May Replace NYC as the Center of Creative Development

Elizabeth Currid's book, The Warhol Economy, discusses the elements that produce NYC's one-of-a-kind creative industry. But what if these elements don't belong only to NYC anymore?

I let out a laugh when I saw last week’s Onion article, 8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York City A Horrible Place to Live. It seemed especially silly to me, as I’d just finished Elizabeth Currid’s, The Warhol Economy- a book that identifies the unique characteristics that have made NYC an international mecca of creative production. Despite the fact that the book raves about the benefits of NYC’s unique environment for artists and the career development of creatives, the Onion article got me questioning the future of this city.

Some of the key social and economic qualities that have made New York City so successful as a place for creative and cultural career development have been (and, I would guess, will continue to be) replaced by online social networks. “Every generation has its own neighborhood,” Zac Posen said of NYC to Currid during an interview mentioned in the book. I predict that for Generation Y, and perhaps increasingly for the generations following us, that neighborhood will not be Chelsea or the West Village. It will be online.

Here’s how social media and online networks match up to the key elements that secured NYC’s reputation as an international center for creative development:


1. Low economic barriers to entry in the community

Utilizing social media is catching on quick, and is a relatively cheap endeavour. The rise of New York City as an international hub of creativity also arose from low barriers to entry. Namely, the recession of the 1970s created cheap rents that allowed artists to focus more time and energy on their artwork instead of taking up second jobs to make ends meet. Artists bought up low-rent spaces in many of the same neighborhoods, resulting in communities of creatives with a little more time on their hands and getting a little more bang for their buck. All you needed then was a little bit of money (to afford rent), something to say, and the ability to relocate to New York. In order to enter an online community today, the barriers for entry are even lower. You don’t need to move to New York. You just need a little bit of money (to afford a computer) and that same something to say.


2. Production with no real regard for economic growth

There are more than 900,000 blog posts put up on the Internet every 24 hours. Why do we blog? The answers may be shockingly similar to those of “why do we make art?” Some people blog for emotional release or to create a connectedness with the world. Some people blog to make money, but a lot more people (including myself), blog to create symbolic capital. In other words, to gain or maintain regard as a professional in the field you’re writing about. (I utilize my human capital to discuss social capital on this blog to build my symbolic capital! Yes, these are the things your brain comes up with when you are in grad school…) In fact, according to Pew Internet and American Life Project, to make money is the least common reason why people blog. The main reason? Creative expression. Social media and online expression share the same emotional (and similar economic) fuel that drives NYC’s creative community.


3. Utilizing and building weak ties

In her book on NYC’s creative economy, Currid cites the work of Dr. Mark Granovetter who has published significant studies on the importance of “weak ties.” He found that the ties that were farther away  from us (versus our close-knit friends) were most influential in creating success. People with the most weak ties are in the greatest position to “diffuse innovation.” While having social exchanges with random folks on the street in New York City does create weak ties, it’s much less hard to imagine how social media promotes these kinds of relationships. Also, social media makes it easier to track weak ties. One needs only to check their @replies on Twitter to get a good sense of the weak ties they’ve created. Social media is a large network of these weak ties. And more than that, they are more easily tracked and weak ties can more easily grow stronger through social networks than meeting someone on the street in NYC- a method that has worked for generations before.


4. The ease of peer review and access to gatekeepers

Listen to the story of any great artist in NYC and they will tell you the stain of people that they met that helped them get to the top. In NYC, there are places where ‘the cool kids’ hang out. There are places to see and be seen. It’s not a stretch to say that there are a hierarchy of sites upon which bloggers and social medialites aim to be mentioned or linked. My boyfriend’s startup sees a greater rise in visitors when it’s mentioned on Mashable than when it’s mentioned on a random blog. The higher the site is on the totem pole, the more likely your work is to be seen by gatekeepers- key people in your industry with the power to aid you in achieving success. This is the same way it works in posh nightclubs, bars, and museum events in NYC. The reason online interactions may have the upper-hand? They are remote.


5. More creative people leads to economic productivity

You don’t need to be in New York anymore to have access to the most influential gatekeepers, or to get attention for your cause or story. The game is changing. In New York City, the above factors created ideal conditions for the spread, sharing, and development of creatives. Similarly, on web, the above factors create ideal conditions for the spread and development of creatives– but also for non-creatives. In a sense, New York just got bigger. Now it’s the entire world. Or rather, anyone with a computer or access to the library.

Social media networks have other advantages that NYC (or any physical location) lacks. This may change our idea of location as ideas are spread freely with no regard to physical region. For instance, time plays a different role. You don’t have one chance to hand over your business card- as you might when running into an ideal client on the street that you may never see again. You can send a message (or respond to that message) at your leisure. This may lead to more strategic communications. Also, places with more people see more economic activity, and for that very fact, it is a good idea to know what’s happening online.

*These five points are based upon select points in Currid’s The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City. Check out the book to learn more about how they relate to NYC’s economy and social structure.

Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Big ideas, Blogging, Book Reviews, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Uncategorized 2 Comments

Welcome to the Blogging World: Candid Tips from a 3 Week Old Newbie

Image from

Image from

I dove into the blogging world a little over three weeks ago. Since then, I’ve joined communities of bloggers, made several connections to inspiring thinkers, and developed a habit of checking dozens of individual blogs daily. I’ve found the blogging world to be overflowing with great ideas and incredible leaders, but I’ve also come across plenty of downright…well, silliness. Here’s a cheat-sheet for even newer newbies than myself, and also for veteran bloggers curious to know how newbies are understanding the blogging world.

In the beginning, the traffic on your blog will mirror your activity on social networks.

Since I started my blog, I’ve had four featured posts on Brazen Careerist, the top Generation Y blog. I love being a part of the Brazen community, but I receive a shockingly low amount of blog referrals from the website when my posts are featured on the homepage. In fact, I get 3 times more traffic to my blog on an average day when I tweet three times, then I get in referrals when my content is shared.  I do get direct traffic to my blog, however, when I actively post a comment within the community. I get more traffic by being an active member of Brazen Careerist than I get when one of my posts is promoted on the site alone. In short, I’ve found that the more active I am on social networks (Brazen, twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, etc), the more traffic my blog receives. That, my friends, is yet another good reason to jump in and join the conversation.


Beware of the word “you” (without an “I”) in the blogs of young professionals.

I understand why veteran bloggers with significant life and professional experience use the word “you” when writing posts that offer advice. I even understand why it might be a good idea to use the word “you” in a blog if you are that veteran blogger with significant life and professional experience. However, I don’t follow young professional bloggers (under the age of  30) who generally use the word “you” without the word “I.” Here’s why:

  1. I don’t look to young professionals for that kind of advice. I like to feel connected to the bloggers I follow, and I want to learn from them as individuals.  My favorite young bloggers offer lessons through stories and their own experiences. I want to hear your story, and I want you to offer me the opportunity to relate to it. “You” alienates me.
  2. “You”-posts tend to assume a dumb reader, and make the blogger seem rather know-it-all-y. I’m your peer and I don’t want to feel like a dumb reader. Who does?
  3. It makes me challenge you to an imaginary mental dual. If you are going to use “you” without backing up your advice with a personal story or stating that your advice is from your own perspective, then I hold you at a much higher standard. Your advice must be creative and stunning in order to keep my attention. Most don’t.
  4. “You” works wonders when partnered with “I” “You” is a great word for giving advice, and I welcome the word in any blog in which the author also states that the post is from his/her own experience, or written from his/her own opinion. As a twenty-something reading mostly twenty-somethings’ blogs, I need to see an “I” somewhere (anywhere- even just once in the beginning), or I suspect that (perhaps incorrectly) you’re an ignorantly preachy blogger. Please don’t stop using “you” (and a lot of it), just please remember to throw in an “I” or two.

“Top N ways to X” posts are often great, speedy refreshers made for skimming.

Everyone seems to write “Top N ways to X” posts and I often enjoy reading them. Because they tend to be bullet-pointed, a reader can skim the first sentences and spend as much or as little time on the post as they want. For me, these posts serve as pseudo life-flashcards– and there are lots of them. They don’t often say points that I wouldn’t have thought of myself, but I appreciate their simple messages and general accessibility– and I don’t mind a lack of “you” in these posts because they are speaking to a more general audience. I will say that I’d be interested to see more “Top N ways to X” posts that contain research and creative solutions that I might not have considered myself. As they are, these posts can be breezy and easy reminders of the world around you.

I love you, Google Reader

I don’t know why it took me so long to start using Google Reader, but I love it. It keeps me on top of all of my favorite blogs. There are several types of RSS readers available, and I highly recommend any one of them to folks who like to read blogs. I can wake up every morning, check my e-mail, and see the updates on my favorite blogs– How cool is that? I’m extremely late on this one– but as a new blogger who just discovered it, I’m enamored.

Well, there you have it: a few findings and lessons from the mind of a new blogger. There’s a lot to learn out there, and this is only the beginning of my discoveries. Please feel free to share your own thoughts, feedback, and findings!

Posted on by colleendilen in Blogging 3 Comments