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Why Those With Reported Interest Do Not Visit Cultural Organizations (DATA)

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MoMA Sees Reputation Boost After Displaying Muslim Artists (DATA)

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Economics

Distraction: Blaming Admission Cost for Cultural Center Attendance (DATA)

Yes, it’s nice to get things for free – but it’s not why people aren’t visiting cultural organizations.

This week’s KYOB Fast Facts video is a bit of an experiment for the Fast Facts series. It’s a kind of IMPACTS “data attack” regarding cost as the primary barrier to visitation for cultural organizations. I’ve left out some of the more well-known economics that indicate that admission is not a primary barrier to visitation, and kept this to IMPACTS data.

This post does not say that cost is never a primary barrier, but rather that the true behaviors of the market indicate that our treating cost as the “go to” barrier may be serving as a self-sacrificing distraction. This post also does not suggest that access programs for low-income audiences are not important, but rather that they are a totally different thing than admission price. (Got it? Good.)

Simply put, stable cultural organizations have three, general means of access: 1) A data-based admission price based on what the market can and will pay to visit them; 2) Targeted (key word) access programs to allow for visitation of specific audiences without means to pay admission; and 3) Affinity-based programs (i.e. membership or donor societies) to engage and cultivate key supporters.

Access programs that reach low-income audiences are often central to an organization’s mission (or grant funding opportunities), and they are important. However, admission price is not an affordable access program. 

When cultural organizations convince themselves that cost is the primary barrier to visitation for likely visitors, we miss out on opportunities to remove the actual barriers to visitation that are keeping people from coming through our doors. Barriers to visitation that are generally more significant than cost include items such as schedule, negative attitude affinities (“Not for someone like me”), reputation misses, and simply lack of content interest/preferring another activity (as we’ll discuss below). This data is important for those organizations that avoid tackling true barriers by making sacrificial assumptions that “if we build it (or create this program) and make it free, they will come.”

Can admission price be too high? You bet. But it’s just not the primary barrier to entry that we keep on defensively thinking that it is within the industry. While it’s often easier to blame pricing than to examine more deeply-rooted issues for lack of sky-high engagement, it’s often a shortcut to even less earned revenue and a devalued brand.  I’ve written about this data and more in this post (Admission Price is Not a Primary Barrier for Cultural Center Visitation) and in this post (How Free Admission Really Affects Museum Attendance). There’s enough information on this topic to fill a dozen videos, but let’s power through some basics:

 

1) Time is more valuable than money

First, both high-propensity visitors and the composite market report that their time is more valuable than their money. A bigger barrier to visitation, then, is being considered worthy of someone’s time. If cost were the biggest barrier, these bars might be reversed. This finding is not surprising at all, as cost generally pales in comparison to schedule and reputation when it comes to factors influencing discretionary leisure activities.

When we blame admission price first, we are building this assumption on a simple fallacy: that one’s money is the most valuable thing that cultural organizations are asking for. Cultural organizations are asking for visitors’ time – and that’s often a more important thing to them than money.

 

2) Free admission does not significantly affect intent to visit

(And to the extent that it does, it’s the opposite of the “free is best” assumption.) If free admission were a cure-all for engagement, then folks would have higher intent to visit those organizations. Those would be the organizations that they want to and plan to visit! This is not the case. In fact, in most instances, audiences indicate greater intentions to visit organizations that charge more than $20 rather than those that are free.

I’m certainly not suggesting a specific admission price, but this data does fly in the face of arguments suggesting that people might not want to visit an organization that charges admission simply because it charges admission. It’s often the opposite. The popular tenant of pricing psychology is true: people value what they pay for. Organizations that offer free admission often unwittingly devalue their brands, and without a best-in-class reputation to afford wiggle room, their public perceptions often take a a bit of a pricing psychology hit.

 

 

3) Cultural organizations are generally perceived as worthy of their admission price

Organizations charging admission have similar value for cost perceptions as other activities. This data – like most data that I make accessible here on KYOB – is from IMPACTS and the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. Sometimes it seems that professionals within cultural organizations have an inferiority complex when it comes to comparing their experiences to others. (Although, yes, there are plenty of museum professionals on the other side of the spectrum and that’s a problem, too.) But the idea that cultural organizations might be less worthy of having an admission basis than other activities is make believe. In fact, in many cases, cultural organizations are considered even more worthy of their admission price – when they have one- than a baseball game, football game, basketball game, or a rock concert. We really do, generally, give visitors bang for their buck.

 

4) People value what they pay for

This chart shows the overall satisfaction levels of visitors to paid vs. free admission organizations. It includes classical concerts, live theater, history museums, art museums, zoos, aquariums, and science museums. Notice anything? It’s true. People value what they pay for.

 

5) Admission pricing is not the primary barrier to visitation for those with interest

Finally, for folks interested in visiting cultural organizations but who haven’t in the last two years, cost is the 14th ranked reason why they haven’t visited. The top reasons are preferring another kind of activity, it being hard to travel to the organization, feeling that there’s nothing new to do or see at the organization, a conflict with holiday, work, or school schedules, and parking challenges. When we focus on admission cost as a primary barrier – especially for these audiences who have already reported interest in visiting – we deliver a hit to our own financial solvency. To reach these audiences, there is often a different barrier to be removed.

When it comes to targeting low-income audiences, access programs are often a necessity. That said, low-income audiences are not generally the audience segments that we rely upon to keep our doors open and our “mission execution” game strong. To support access programs for low-income audiences, it’s necessary for many organizations to have an optimal admission price for the people who can and will attend the organization. For those people – the people who keep us alive if we aren’t a government funded entity –  pricing is not the primary barrier to visitation.

On the whole, the kind of people who want to go to cultural organizations are willing to pay to visit them. The argument for free admission is often an emotional one.  It may feel warm a fuzzy to offer free admission, but for many organizations, it comes with financial and perceptual consequences – and much of the science just doesn’t support it. It’s often better to charge your optimal admission price, and then create effective, targeted affordable access programs for specific audiences. When we focus on admission cost as the primary barrier to engagement, we miss out on the opportunity to remove true barriers.

 

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, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Distraction: Blaming Admission Cost for Cultural Center Attendance (DATA)

Why Sector Blur Is Bad For Those In Need

Sector blur is among us. It’s got positive potential… but if we’re not careful, it might not be so great.

Why should you be concerned that sector blur is giving for-profits a social mission and giving nonprofits profit-motive management mentalities? It sounds great if you don’t think about it too hard… as if it means for-profits are becoming nicer and nonprofits are growing smarter. But if we aren’t careful, it seems there could be grim consequences for our poorest, sickest, and most in-need.

Yes, nonprofits are corporations that are exempt from paying taxes. These corporations, however, consistently make similar (and seemingly strange) strategic management decisions:

  • Planned Parenthood has spent well over $193 million dollars in attempts to influence policies regarding pro-choice legislation and access to affordable health care. If these policies pass, Planned Parenthood could go out of business due to competition and possible reduction of need.
  • The Nature Conservancy asks communities to reach out to state legislature to protect the land and water in each state.  If we did as they ask, this half-century old organization would shut down.
  • The Serpentine Project, a small organization that I do community engagement contract work for, provides mentorship and financial support to youth who have aged out of foster care and want to attend college. The organization supports policies that extend foster care to age 21 (verses 18), though it would make the organization irrelevant.

This is like McDonalds serving up Big Macs while simultaneously allocating significant resources to making the world population go vegetarian. It’s a good social move (studies find that vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters), but it’s a very, very bad business move. This difference illustrates one of the key ideological divides between nonprofits and for-profits:

If the for-profit sector operates with the economic market, the nonprofit sector attempts to solve market failures. During this time of sector-blur, there is danger in nonprofits putting too much focus on profit-like motives. Similarly, there is danger in for-profits putting too much focus and weight behind social missions.

Here are three reasons why we should not let sector blur completely fuzzy up our vision:

1. For-profits in social change would advocate policies that are bad for us. Think about it: a for-profit women’s health clinic– something perhaps similar to Planned Parenthood– would NOT advocate policies that would make their services more competitive. It would be bad for business. In fact, the company is likely to lobby for policies that make it harder for competition to enter the scene, and thus harder for the general public to have access to affordable health care.  To use an example from William P. Ryan’s article, The New Landscape For Nonprofits, “a juvenile detention center may advocate get-tough juvenile sentencing policies to increase business. Both the juveniles and the communities, however, may fare better with a more community-based approach.” Ryan summarizes this point well: “For-profits are more likely than nonprofits to advocate public policies that favor profitability in the short-term rather than policies that help communities over the long-term.”

2. There’s business incentive for for-profits to skimp, cream, and dump. These are three things that we nonprofiteers are taught not to do early on, as they violate a moral code of public service motivation. But if your bottom line is to make money- you may well be “forced to” do these things:

  • Creaming is when an organization selects beneficiaries based predominantly on which individuals and demographics are most likely to help the organization succeed. For instance, a reading program may only select children with well-educated parents- as those children are already in an environment that values education, thus making the children more likely to succeed and lead the organization to success than children with uneducated parents.
  • Skimping is when an organization allocates fewer resources to individuals or entities that they don’t think will help the organization succeed. Another reading program example would be giving less talented tutors to children for which English is a second language, on the basis that they aren’t likely to succeed in the program anyway.
  • Dumping is flat-out avoiding high-risk individuals or demographics that are most in need of service. If too-much emphasis is placed on profit-motives, there’s a good chance this moral code of-sorts will be left behind. If for-profits find ways to effectively solve social problems, the public must be wary of these practices. Similarly, a nonprofit that puts more emphasis on money than their social mission may take part in these not-so-helpful-to-society practices.

3. The “dumping” would happen on nonprofits. Logically, as for-profits enter the field of social change, they’ll begin by taking up the issues where money can be most easily made, and clients most easily served. This is generally not with high-risk populations. The result? Nonprofits will find themselves with the harder, complex, and more expensive cases left untouched by for-profits. And because for-profits may take up the programs where nonprofits gained surplus revenues, the nonprofits faced with the tough stuff may have significantly fewer resources. Another result? Poorer poor, sicker sick, and generally more people who will be very, very hard to help.

Sector blur, of course, has a lot of great potential. Competition across sectors which may lead to increased efficiency across the board and a global turn toward the importance of social change, to name some examples.

But what we still need is what we’ve always needed: a model (be it grown from the private, nonprofit, or public sector) that can take our poorest, sickest, and least educated and solve these market failures. Even sector blur is going to be a rough road, so let’s get all hands on deck in coming up with something even newer than this new thing.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Trends 6 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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends 2 Comments