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board of directors

People, Planet, Profit: Checks and Balances for Cultural Organizations

It’s a time of change and evaluation for cultural organizations – and that’s a good thing.

The societal current condition in the United States is bringing to light several challenging – and likely incredibly beneficial – fundamental questions about cultural organizations, including who we are and what we stand for. Are these necessarily the same questions that we would have chosen to confront at this moment of our own accord? Probably not…but, confronting these (perhaps inconvenient) challenges may be long overdue for many cultural executives and board members.

As I wrote last week: We’re not political organizations – but we are social and cultural organizations – and we exist in the prevailing context of what is happening in the world around us. Negative substitution of the historic visitor is taking its slow toll on attendance numbers, and visitor confidence is low right now. (I know, I know: Select organizations are experiencing modest upticks in attendance – but, in general, these modest increases are not keeping pace with population growth. Adjusting for population growth can be a bummer that can turn our “increased attendance party” into a “pity party.”)

It’s time for a check-up. It’s time to ask ourselves some difficult questions in order to make sure that our organizations are prepared to tackle strategic issues that may or may not confront our organizations during periods of change. It’s time to make sure that we are prepared.

Enter: Colleen (hi there) and some brief thought-fuel informed from conversations with colleagues over the last few weeks as we revisit visitor-serving organization basics, explore strategic plans, and challenge fundamental questions at a moment in time when knowing who your organization is and what it stands for is critical.

 

The triple bottom lines for cultural organizations

In order for us visitor-serving organizations to “work,” we generally need to master three, key areas that serve as our triple bottom lines as nonprofit organizations: People (community), Planet (mission), and Profit (or, more accurately, revenues). Our success depends upon all three of these core areas of people, planet, and profit, and we’re only as strong as our weakest core area. Each “bottom line” category may spawn some interesting – and likely beneficial – strategic conversations:

 

 

Profit (Revenue)

Revenue aids your organization in cultivating visitation and building community, and is necessary for investments in your mission. Hold the cringe, mission-focused folks! If we cannot keep our doors open and be financially sustainable, then we cannot fulfill our purpose. Revenues make it possible for us to pursue our missions. We need to care about solvency. Some organizations are more dependent on the gate while others are more dependent on grants and government funding. Regardless of how your organization keeps its lights on, less money usually means less mission delivery.

Questions to consider: What if grants and government funding become less available? Does your organization have enough market appeal and business strategy to exist on its own? After all, the market determines our success, regardless of how we keep our doors open. Are we approaching access opportunities in a way that is most beneficial to our solvency? It’s an important time for organizations to understand access basics and reconsider their engagement funnels. In a simplified nutshell: Likely visitors attend your organization by paying your optimal admission price; likely supporters visit by way of membership or donor groups; and lower-income and other under-served audiences visit by virtue of your organization’s investment in targeted access programs.

Relevant context: Contemplating these opportunities and how they relate to your organization (for starters), can help channel discussions about how your organization keeps itself afloat. While nothing has happened yet, funding from NEA, NEH and other government-supported sources may be in peril. Additionally, US-based institutions may benefit by remembering the difficult situation recently faced by many museums in Europe when austerity measures reduced government funding. While we may not ultimately lose significant funding and government support as a sector, it would be irresponsible to not consider these possibilities and what they would mean for our organizations. No matter how your organization keeps its doors open (admission revenues, donations, government or foundation funding, endowment dividends, etc.), now is a good time to do a check-in and play the “what if?” game.

 

People (Community)

People keep our doors open and also make our missions possible, as many organizations have missions that revolve around people and communities. The need to be welcoming has never been greater for cultural organizations because our historic audiences are leaving the market at a higher rate than they are being replaced (a phenomenon called negative substitution of the historic visitor). Many organization types are confronting challenging negative attitude affinities, meaning that people don’t feel that these types of organizations may be “places for people like them.”

Questions to consider: Who and what matters most to our organizations? Whose opinion do we care about: Emerging audiences upon whom our future depends, or the sensitivities of unlikely visitors who might be put-off by science or culture? How do we mobilize people and communities to serve our missions – and, when it comes to cultivating communities during periods of conflict and social division, what roles do we play? At our core, cultural organizations are hubs of human connection. That is our superpower. To what extent do we nurture our community and provide a space for discussion, and to what extent do we avoid this very role for fear of polarization? Is inaction also an action? It appears to be. Do we truly welcome all, or do we welcome only certain audiences? It’s time to be honest about this.

Relevant US context: It’s been reported that we are currently a nation divided and hate crimes have increased. Now may be a time when cultural organizations are called upon to stand up for emerging audiences, and, in the process, cultivate them as attendees and supporters. Some organizations are already defending communities, though those are still tending to be the organizations whose participation is logical (i.e. the Holocaust Museum). If social polarization continues, it may be likely that all kinds of visitor-serving organizations will need to fight harder against appearing unwelcoming.

Ours has perhaps become a Protest-of-the-Day society where a pithy hashtag defines the movement of the moment as folks figure out how to organize to make their stances known. This risks reaction – or, even worse, inaction – from cultural organizations frightened by the perceived risks of audience alienation. However, what we sometimes fail to recognize is that our efforts to remain impartial may be discordant with our missions – and may risk alienating the very people most likely to engage with our organizations. Consider the below data from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study that organizes the US public’s intent to visit a cultural organization by their belief that climate change is mostly due to man made activities.:

What these data suggest is that a person who strongly believes in the science indicating man’s role in climate change is 1.76x more likely to visit a cultural organization in the relative near-term than someone who denies man’s role as a primary contributor to climate change. In fact, the data suggest that persons who don’t believe that man is responsible for climate change are generally less likely visitors to cultural enterprise – which makes sense: If one doesn’t believe in man’s role in climate change – or even in the science of climate change – then why would one waste their time and money visiting a natural history museum, aquarium, zoo, science center, or science museum where science plays a central role in the organization’s mission and programming?

We live in an era of incredible personalization, and this increasingly means self-selection. Significant portions of the public choose to engage with activities and information sources that conform to their existing worldview. As the public becomes less omnivorous in its consumptions, organizations risk becoming unappetizing to people by choosing the bland middle ground.

 

Planet (Mission)

Our missions are the reason for our existence. They motivate people to visit and support, and they also bring people together. Nearly all cultural organizations have missions that revolve around people (educate, inspire), and some also go beyond this to include messages of conservation or preservation. Having a mission doesn’t just make us feel good. Organizations that highlight their missions financially outperform those marketing primarily as attractions. An organization being perceived as “walking its talk” is critical for success.

Questions to consider: What are we doing to make the world better? How? Will we have the courage to take a stand for our missions? To what extent are we willing to honor our missions, and what trade-offs are we willing to accept to defend our missions? Will we have trouble with our board? Will would-be donors be upset if we pursue our missions? Will our board members support our mission even if it contravenes their personal or professional preferences? (Which, of course, begs the question of if we should have board members who disagree with our mission in the first place?) Do we have any conflicts of interest that fly in the face of our mission? How can we resolve these conflicts?

Relevant US context: Science and culture are being politicized. Though we are not political organizations, there are choices to be made that may risk politicization. Some things that we protect and cherish as part of our missions may be threatened by government actions, including access to the arts, climate, oceans, animal species extinction, and even fundamental aspects of education. Nonprofit organizations have missions, and it will be important for organizations to have honest conversations at a board and leadership level about dedication to the mission.

 

For organizations to thrive, they need to have all three elements of people, planet, and profit in-check. Much of the change that could be triggered by possible policy changes would have been inevitable. Cultural organizations need to reach new audiences. In an increasingly transparent world, we need to be asking hard questions. These challenges and changes may not be “bad” at all! To the contrary, if anything, these changes may simply speed up the necessary evolution of the visitor-serving industry.

Again, it all comes back to people, planet, and profit. To quote School House Rock talking about our three-ring government, “Everybody’s act is part of the show and no one’s job is more important. The audience is kinda like the country, you know, keeping an eye on their performance.” Regardless of your political leanings and policy preferences, now is a good time to take a look at how your organization manages its people, planet, and profit – the checks and balances that ensure your future vitality.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. 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 for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

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

The Five Best Reasons to Add Millennials To Your Nonprofit Board of Directors

Don’t have any millennials on your nonprofit board yet? Your future might be tough.

There are a whole heck of a lot of good reasons to target millennial visitors and supporters. They are not visiting cultural organizations at representative rates, they aren’t magically “aging into” increased care for arts and culture, and – perhaps most importantly – data suggest that millennial audiences are an organization’s best audiences.

But what about how cultural organizations are engaging millennial leadership within institutions? We need to pay attention to this, too. I’ve posted on this topic before, but this one is so important that I made a little Fast Facts video about it. It’s time to get more millennials involved on nonprofit boards of directors – particularly for larger, prominent organizations with annual operating budgets >$30 million and/or annual attendance >1 million for visitor-serving organizations. Representation on these types of boards seems to be particularly lacking…and that’s terrifying, as many smaller organizations often emulate the practices of their larger cohorts.

Neglecting millennial board representation doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t loads of important conversations taking place in these millennial bereft boardrooms about how to better engage this valuable cohort. It seems that many organizations are stuck in the mud of dialogue instead of finding traction in actually doing something constructive to meet this opportunity where it counts most. I’ve found that it’s not uncommon at many board meetings for there to be numerous Baby Boomers – and a few members of Generation X – waxing poetic about the urgent need to “engage millennials”…without any input from actual millennials.

The time has come for organizations to sink or swim based on how effectively they engage millennials…and that may be particularly hard to do when nobody tasked to govern and lead these organizations is actually a member of this generation. 

To be fair, there are some organizations that are moving forward and integrating millennials into their boards and strategic decision-making processes. I’m a millennial serving on the Board of Directors at the National Aquarium during an incredibly important time for the organization’s future. I’m grateful for this opportunity…but I also know that I’m one of relatively few millennials on the board of a larger nonprofit or a museum.

Don’t have at least one millennial on your board of directors yet? Here are five, critical reasons to implore the nominating committee to start cultivating some impressive millennials to serve on your nonprofit board right now:

 

1) Millennials represent the largest generation in human history

…So not having at least one of them on your board may be a bit out of touch. Until Generation Y came along, Baby Boomers represented the largest generational cohort in the United States. However, at nearly 90 million strong, millennials have Baby Boomers outnumbered by an estimated 20 million people. As boomers age, this divide will continue to grow. This statistic alone should be more than enough to make executive leaders pause to consider the future of their organizations. Moreover, millennials will tip the scales in terms of buying power in the United States this year, and our economy will feel the beneficial impact of their increasing consumerism by 2017.

 

2) Millennials will have primary influence on culture and society for an unprecedented duration

…So not having one on your board is delaying an inevitable future and holding back progress.  Millennials who have children are not having as many of them as their Baby Boomer parents. Moreover, Generation X (which is only roughly half the size of Generation Y) is simply too small in number to give birth to a future, large generation. Simply put, America’s birth-over-death rate is not increasing at the historic rates established by Baby Boomers. This means that millennials will remain the largest generational demographic in the United States for a much longer period of time than did the Baby Boomers – or any prior generation to date.

 

3) Millennial support is necessary from a policy standpoint

…And if your organization does not get millennials involved in understanding policy-related challenges and opportunities from a leadership buy-in perspective, you may be “voting” against your own best interests. In fact, millennials may significantly influence the outcomes of the next six presidential elections – starting with the upcoming election in November! Indeed, this depends upon millennials actually voting, but building any aspect of your organization’s survival strategy upon 90 million people not turning out for elections is a stupid strategy. Moreover, millennials will eventually dominate a vast majority of government leadership positions…mandatory government retirement policies dictate this math. Inviting millennials onto your board helps ensure that your organization’s best interests are well-represented and maximally protected.

 

4) Engaging millennials requires immediate, strategic shifts in leadership mentalities

…Far beyond simply “using social media.” Engaging millennials isn’t merely a communication medium opportunity (especially because data suggests that millennials are not even close to the only audiences using social media). Engaging millennials requires new ways of thinking about marketingdevelopment, human resources and operations, and even new strategic practices regarding things like membership. Millennial board members may provide valuable perspective regarding their own peer group and generational mindset.

 

5) What your organization actually DOES is more important than ever before

…And aiming to be seen as an organization welcoming millennials without actually welcoming millennials where it counts is inconsistent. We live in a world now where everybody (not only millennials) increasingly look to real-time platforms to make decisions. People want to assess an organization’s promise, reliability, trustworthiness, and impact on their own – guided largely by perceived transparency. If your organization is actively trying to engage millennials, then it’s doing something smart (for the reasons mentioned above), but if it’s doing it without also empowering millennials where it counts (i.e. in the board room), then your engagement narrative risks credibility. Thanks in large part to the web, we live in a “show vs. tell” world – and if what you say doesn’t match what you do, people are likely to notice.

Despite a strange want to promulgate the concept that millennials never do and never will actively contribute to nonprofit organizations, data suggests that most millennials actually do contribute. Yes, millennials donors exist and your organization is probably messing a lot of things up trying to engage with them even if you think you’re doing it right. (Here are six sad truths that I have learned as a millennial donor.) But the good things about adding other, more diverse members to your board are still true for millennials: Insight, connectivity to the right people, an “in” with a valuable group of up-and-comers, and fresh perspectives.

 

Generational change and progress are inevitable – and denying (or even delaying) the inevitable is a horrible reason to cripple the evolution of mission-driven organizations. The new first imperative of power should be not to retain it but, instead, to share it. That is the stuff of a true and worthy organizational legacy.

 

Like this post? You can check out more Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. 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 for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Fast Facts Video, Millennials, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on The Five Best Reasons to Add Millennials To Your Nonprofit Board of Directors

What Ultra Wealthy Donors Consider Before Supporting a Nonprofit (DATA)

Know Your Own Bone- What the Wealthiest Potential Donors Consider Before Supporting a Nonprofit (DATA)

How can nonprofit organizations engage high net worth board members and donors? To get to the bottom of this million-dollar question, we asked these individuals themselves.

There’s a good amount of talk out there about how to attract wealthy donors and board members in the philanthropy world – and much of the prevailing wisdom focuses on staff cultivating relationships with these individuals and then making an “ask.” But what are high net worth individuals, in particular,  really evaluating when they consider joining a board or making large donation?

IMPACTS, in partnership with a prominent, national nonprofit organization, recently conducted a study to learn more about the considerations that drive the philanthropic decisions of high net worth individuals.

 

The Study

The intent of the study was to better understand the considerations and motivations of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWIs) in the United States as they relate to joining a nonprofit board or making a major gift (i.e. greater than US$1 million) to a nonprofit organization.

The study defined an UHNWI as a person with net assets greater than US$50 million.  38,000 such UHMWIs reside in the United States – the greatest number of UHNWI residents in the world.  The study includes responses from 112 UHNWIs.

For the study, UHNWIs were asked open-ended questions to identify their most important considerations when contemplating if they should accept an invitation to join a nonprofit board or make a gift to a nonprofit organization.  A lexical analysis process organized these responses by general consideration, and these same considerations were presented to the studied UHNWIs who were then asked to rank from 1-10 the considerations in terms of relative importance to their decision-making process.  The Mean Value is the average ranking that the UHNWI respondents assigned to each consideration.

Take a look at the findings.

 

IMPACTS UHNWI Board Considerations

IMPACTS UHNWI Donor Considerations

 

Key Findings

A few, critical thoughts and observations arise from this data that are worth pointing out:

 

1) WHO gives (and who does not give) matters most.

In a way, this is another take on the “with>what” concept. Look at several of the most important considerations: Who’s on the board?  Who has given?  The company that one keeps matters to this audience. Success begets success. Money follows money.  An organization hoping to land an UHNWI as a board member or donor would be well advised to have secured the participation of other similarly statured individuals. And it is increasingly important to leverage the advocacy and support of those valuable few individuals who have already made commitments to an organization.

 

2) The financial commitment of the existing board tells a story.

UHNWI who are potential donors may consider the financial commitments of current board members to be an indicator of the credibility of the organization and its fundraising objectives. Note that that these potential donors rank the relative investment of the board of directors ahead of both the impact of their gift and the mission of the organization. A less committed and under-invested board is essentially a non-starter for a potential large-scale donor. …And that makes sense.  If the people who presumably know the organization best – not to mention who are charged with ensuring the organization’s future success – choose not to prioritize investments in the organization, then why should anyone else?  Board members, take note: The days of spending “other people’s money” to fund your aspirations are over (if they ever existed in the first place).

 

3) Peer actions are more important than staff member actions.

This may be a tough pill to swallow for CEOs and development professionals, but understanding and embracing this aspect of donor cultivation seems to be critical. Securing these types of donors is a peer-to-peer opportunity. Staff are relatively unimportant to donors – donors give money to peers. (It is important that they trust the staff to manage and actualize their investments, but they don’t consider staff as critical in their donor decision-making processes.)  Consider that the “Quality of Executive Leadership” is the fifth most important factor when considering joining a board, but doesn’t show up at all when considering making a major gift. This information may significantly aid some organizations in understanding how to effectively engage these donors.

 

4) Mission impact matters.

It’s a good thing this one made it so high on the list for potential board member considerations (although it comes in behind peer giving considerations for potential donors). Mission matters…and so does demonstrating a history of success at delivering your mission.  Wealthy folks seem to see through hot air.  Remember: These same people are likely pitched daily by money managers, start-ups, entrepreneurs, and others with grand plans for their capital. They have a lot of experience separating grandiose visions from realistic opportunities. Having a hopeful story to tell is great.  Having a “proof of concept” is better.

 

5) Time is more important than money.

Particularly when it comes to serving on a board. Please adjust engagement tactics, requests, and operations accordingly.

 

6) Impact on their own legacy matters less to these donors.

I was surprised by this finding and think there may be something interesting here. For UHNWIs, the mission of the organization exceeds even impacts on their own legacies as a factor when deciding to join a board or make a major gift.  Perhaps this is because they feel that they’ve already secured their legacies in other ways or with previous gifts.  It could be interesting to contrast this relative consideration to the motivation of less wealthy board members – how many of them join a board to leverage some degree of prestige in the hopes that the reputational equities of the organization will inure to their personal benefit? It is interesting to note that naming benefits and other legacy-related considerations may generally matter less to this group than board composition, board giving, mission, and impact. I wonder if UHNWIs may have a little more (to paraphrase JFK) “Ask not what the organization can do for you, ask what you can do for the organization” in them than do other board members who might prioritize legacy and reputational benefits.

 

The first step in engaging these wealthy philanthropists is to identify their biggest considerations and find out what matters most to them. While some of these findings may not surprise CEOs and development professionals, seeing these findings aggregated and prioritized may prove helpful when crafting effective engagement strategies for potential supporters.

The greatest opportunity uncovered by this data may be the imperative of prioritizing conversations with current board members about the importance of their own investments. Another opportunity may include considering the composition of your organization’s existing board, and working with the nominating committee to underscore the need to create the hardest-hitting group of supporters possible.

Let’s update our strategies so that 2016 may be the most impactful and social-good inspiring year of giving to date.

 

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 for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Sector Evolution Comments Off on What Ultra Wealthy Donors Consider Before Supporting a Nonprofit (DATA)