Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

Special exhibits don’t do what many cultural organizations think that they do. If fact, they often do the opposite. Read more

Eight Realities To Help You Become A Data-Informed Cultural Organization

Is your organization integrating market research into strategic decision-making processes yet? Here are eight important things to keep in Read more

A Quarter of Likely Visitors to Cultural Organizations Are In One Age Bracket (DATA)

Nearly 25% of potential attendees to visitor-serving organizations fall into one, ten-year age bracket. Which generation has the greatest Read more

People Trust Museums More Than Newspapers. Here Is Why That Matters Right Now (DATA)

Actually, it always matters. But data lend particular insight into an important role that audiences want museums to play Read more

The Top Seven Macro Trends Impacting Cultural Organizations

These seven macro trends are driving the market for visitor-serving organizations. Big data helps spot market trends. The data that Read more

The Three Most Overlooked Marketing Realities For Cultural Organizations

These three marketing realities for cultural organizations may be the most urgent – and also the most overlooked. This Read more

IMPACTS

Most Popular Posts of 2016 for Cultural Organizations

It’s almost 2017! And while I generally fall in the “thank goodness” category (start watching this clip at 24:00), I think it’s important to take a moment and give thanks for many of the good aspects of this last year. 2016 was filled with new adventures, new speaking engagements, new clients, and new cultural organization insights. I celebrated one year of Know Your Own Bone Fast Fact Videos, and I am so excited for everything I have in store for you all coming up in 2017. I have permission to share a lot of great, new data for cultural organizations and I’ll be out and about doing some exciting keynoting this coming year.

It’s that time of year where I reflect on the year’s most popular posts. Of course, this method favors those posted in early 2016 (as they’ve have the most time to rack up shares), but I must say that I like the list! For those interested, here were the most popular posts of 2015, and these were the most popular posts of 2014. I have a nice round-up from 2013, too. Oh hey – 2012, anyone? I could keep going, but I’m simply stalling at this point, right? You guys want to see the list. So, on that note…

 

Here are the most popular Know Your Own Bone posts of 2016:

 

The Value of Shared Experiences Within Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the nuance of our content that we forget why people visit us and why they most value us: Cultural organizations are facilitators of shared experiences. The data supporting this finding brings up an interesting question: Do people feel differently about the visitor experience based upon what they believe to be the best part of the experience?  And, what – if anything – does this portend in terms of optimizing the visitor experience? Here’s the data-informed value of shared experiences to cultural organizations.

 

On Museum Layoffs: The Data-Informed Importance of Marketing and Engagement Departments (DATA)

When we go through rough times, it’s our AUDIENCES that are most important to our survival. While understanding that any layoffs stink and that organizations often do everything in their power to avoid them, here are four reasons why we need to think twice about cutting marketing and engagement professionals – and especially knock it off with our instinct to cut them first. These are arguably the folks who can play the biggest role in preventing further layoffs.

 

 

Think Twice Before Saying These Three Things To The Marketing Department

Stop. Just…. stop, please. (Your marketing department will thank you.)

 

Why Donors Stop Giving Money to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

While it’s great when we can “catch” and cultivate a $250-$2,500 donor, we all have observed that not every donor renews their gift on an annual basis. So, what gives? Here’s why some donors fail to renew their contributions. This post received so much positive feedback that I created a fast fact video on this data to help spread the word on the – resolvable – top reason why donors stop giving.

 

Real Talk: Why Cultural Organizations Must Better Engage Millennials (DATA)

Millennials are cultural organizations’ most frequent and loyal visitors…but this audience remains underserved.  Here’s why that’s a big problem for the future well-being of the industry. This post explains the “millennial problem” facing visitor-serving organizations, and I personally believe that – while it was one of the most popular – this post is also one of the most important that I published in 2016 in regard to shedding light on important data.

 

Five Data-Informed Fun Facts About Visitors to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

High-propensity visitors are the folks who keep our bread buttered – they are the folks who visit, donate, and reliably engage with our organizations. This video and post covers five, random fun facts about these people – just for fun.

 

Why Cultural Organizations Are Not Reaching Low-Income Visitors (DATA)

Data suggest that some types of cultural organizations are perceived as more welcoming than others. Here’s how we could do better. This is also an eye-opening post for many organizations – and it draws attention to a big problem in regard to both how cultural organizations are perceived by low-income audiences, as well as an important reason why we aren’t so great – as an industry – at fixing it.

 

Three New Trends For Cultural Organizations That Are Not New At All

If you work within a cultural organization, then you are probably aware of some of the new, big trends and ideas confronting organizations right now: Making organizations more participatory and social, embracing innovation, securing word-of-mouth engagement in our connected world, and framing collections so that they are right-now relevant. Sometimes it feels like organizations may never be able to adopt these new changes… Here’s the thing, though – none of those are new concepts. Let’s stop being scared of them.

 

The Surprising Reason Why Organizations Underestimate Attendance Loss During Closures (DATA)

No matter the reason for the closure, data suggest that we dramatically underestimate the overall impact on annual attendance. We are often wrong about the impacts of an unforeseen closure for two, big reasons that are important to understand beyond the framework of attendance and revenue projections. When an organization is closed at a time that it might otherwise be open, visitation generally is NOT displaced to other times of the year. And, to top it off, we lose more people than simply those who had planned to attend the organization that day. The reasons for this happening are important for organizations to understand.

 

Nonprofit Recognition: What Matters More To Visitors Than Your Tax Status (DATA) 

This Fast Facts video covers a big misconception that folks working within cultural organizations (often unknowingly) promulgate: That being a nonprofit is a key differentiating factor to their audiences. As it turns out, data suggest that your organization’s tax status is relatively unknown among visitors and non-visitors alike. Here’s what really matters to audiences about your organization.

 

Thank you to all of you for reading KYOB in 2016! I have a lot of interesting data lined up for 2017 and I cannot wait to share it with you. It’s been an honor to share with you this year. Happy New Year to you and your rockstar organizations working hard to educate and inspire audiences. Cheers to a great year ahead!

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous, Myth Busting Comments Off on Most Popular Posts of 2016 for Cultural Organizations

Why Donors Stop Giving to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Here’s why some people make a few donations to a cultural organization and then stop giving, according to the donors themselves.

Yesterday was #GivingTuesday! Though it’s a rather noisy day amongst nonprofits, I hope that your organization secured at least a few more dollars to help fulfill its mission – and added new supporters to your list of advocates!

As the end of the year approaches and cultural organizations work hard to attract and retain donors, it seems the perfect time to share this data on why folks donating between $250 – $2,500 annually to cultural organizations stop giving to the organization. That’s the focus of this week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video.

The reasons why donors stop giving may not be what you think. The good news, however, is that the top three reasons stem from the same – resolvable – issue. We’ve got the data on why some donors don’t renew their contributions – and it’s a wake up call.

Take a look at this data from IMPACTS and the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. The study includes donors that had previously made an annual gift between two hundred fifty and twenty-five hundred dollars to a cultural organization – and then did not donate again within 24 months. See if you can spot what the top three responses have in common…

Why donors stop making donations to cultural organizations - IMPACTS data

Notice anything interesting here? The top three reasons why donors stop giving have something rather straightforward in common…

 

The top three reasons why donors stop giving are very basic communication/relationship management  problems.

 

The primary reason why donors did not contribute again is not being acknowledged or thanked for their gift. And with an index value of nearly 244, that reason is a very big, and very strong one. The second reason is also big and strong, according to these past donors: They simply weren’t asked to give again. Lack of communication about impacts and outcomes is third. And again, these index values are very high.

Interestingly, it is the reasons that we tend to blame that trail behind these big three, including unactualized intent (or, forgetting to give), giving to another organization instead, or a change in personal priorities. Perhaps these are the reasons that we tend to blame because they have to do with the donor – not with our own lack of follow-through or effort. Really, the top reasons why once-was annual donors stop giving and don’t come back is on us. 

 

While this data may be a bit embarrassing, we can fix it!

 

Online donations are on the rise – especially this time of year. One possible culprit here seems to be the misunderstanding that engagement over the Internet is more about technology than it is about people. A donor is a donor whether they hand a check to someone behind a desk, or they support you over the computer in polka dot PJs at home. A donor giving online is not any less deserving of a personal “thank you” or a follow-up than a donor giving by any other method. Remember, there’s a human being behind that computer screen – and it’s a human being who happens to support what you do.

With much of our focus on cultivating members at cultural organizations, there may also be a tendency to forget those important people who give beyond membership and thus deserve another level of care and attention. That said, data suggest the visitor-serving organizations could also do a better job making high-level members feel valued and respected as well. If we’re having a hard time with this audience, it makes sense that we might also have difficulties with folks who give between $250 – $2,500 and consider themselves to be donors rather than straightforward members alone.

At their very core, our organizations are all about people and connectivity. We need to be successful facilitators of shared experiences within our walls, we need to also be able to master connectivity with supporters outside of our walls and master proper communication with donors. If we want support, we need to carry out effective communication and relationship management. When donors stop giving, it’s generally not them. It’s us. 

Let’s make an active effort to show donors our gratitude and how their gifts are making not only our organizations, but our communities and even our world a better place.

 

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, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting 1 Comment

A Month In My Life Working With Cultural Organizations

A month in my life working with cultural organizations

Happy Thanksgiving week, folks! I’m interrupting KYOB’s regularly scheduled posts to write this a-tad-more-personal post (and put it up on Tuesday – because hopefully everyone will be busy taking part in delicious meal prep on Wednesday). I’m grateful for many things – chief among them are my regular Know Your Own Bone readers (thank you!), and the awesome work that I get to do every day on behalf of visitor-serving organizations.

I loved reading Linda Norris’s “What AM I doing?” post wherein she shared what her life looks like as a consultant by revealing what she was up to during the previous month. I also get this question rather frequently, and Linda’s post got me thinking…

My birthday is in early October, so, inspired by Linda’s post from the month before, I decided to metaphorically hit start on the “What am I up to this month?” button. As many of you know, I travel nearly every week for work (and often to more than one location).

Here then are the adventures of this cultural-center-loving-fiend during the first month of her life after turning 32:

 

 

WEEK 1: From meditating to marine science

 

Kopan MonasteryMeditating at a Buddhist Monastery (Kathmandu, Nepal)

I kicked off this new year of life by spending two weeks in Kathmandu, Nepal and living in a Buddhist monastery for ten days. It was the best birthday gift that I could have given myself. I got back on Sunday, October 16th and that’s where this monthly recap begins! (Photo: The view from my morning tea spot at the monastery where I celebrated my birthday) 

 

va-aquariumSharing data with the Virginia Aquarium (Virginia Beach, VA)

I got back from Nepal and had two days to adjust to US time zones before I was on my way to the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. It was interesting to share data on this organization’s audience and meet (in my case, for the first time) the great folks at this aquarium. You’ll notice that this month had a good number of aquarium trips. Here’s why I work with aquariums and how they play an important role in informing trends that we see for other types of museums and visitor-serving organizations. In sum, aquariums tend to have the smallest endowments, the least government funding, and an added “conservation” mission – making them among the most for-profit (relying on the market) AND nonprofit (mission driven) types of cultural organizations. The trends affecting visitor-serving organizations tend to hit aquariums first.  (Photo: Exploring he Owl’s Creek Path that connects the Virginia Aquarium’s two buildings.) 

 

 

 

WEEK 2: From spooktacular to strategic plans to sea changes

 

ctscExploring the Connecticut Science Center (Hartford, CT)

In preparation for sharing data with the organization in November, I visited the Connecticut Science Center to get a better sense of the visitor experience. There are several terrific benefits of my job, and getting to visit organizations for the first time is one of the most fun. The science center was celebrating their Spooktacular Science event weekend, and the place was filled with dressed-up little tikes taking part in special programming and activities. My first full-time job out of college was coordinating large-scale, public events at Pacific Science Center in Seattle, and one of my favorite events every year was Tricks, Treats, and Science Feats. It was a blast visiting the Connecticut Science Center at this time of year, and it made me a bit nostalgic for my science center staff days! In true museum-nerd fashion, I spent my final two hours in Hartford visiting the Mark Twain House. Overall, it was great experience doubling as a job perk. I’ll take it! (Photo: The Connecticut Science Center packed with costumed science explorers!) 

 

tnaciStrategic planning with the Tennessee Aquarium             (Chattanooga, TN)

I went to Chattanooga to participate in IMPACTS’s facilitation of the Tennessee Aquarium’s strategic planning process. A little over five years ago, the Tennessee Aquarium hosted me during an AZA speaking engagement while I was still in graduate school. That particular conference – and the people at this aquarium – played an important role in my opportunity to work with IMPACTS. My heart gets a bit bigger when I get to see the people at this aquarium. To make things even better, the aquarium opened their brand new, beautiful Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute facility during this visit! The opening was a great success! (Photo: Opening event for the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute’s new facility and some familiar, friendly faces deserving of a big “CONGRATULATIONS!”)

 

nai-board-retreatNational Aquarium board retreat (Baltimore, MD)

I’m honored to be on the board of directors of the National Aquarium. We had a great board retreat over the weekend and discussed some of the meaningful and impactful and community and ecosystem-serving initiatives that this great institution is spearheading. I’m honored and grateful to be on the board of such a forward-facing organization with great leaders. (Photo: Ready for board retreating with great minds at the National Aquarium!)

 

 

 

WEEK 3: From faculty to Facebook to flying elephants

 

shaPresenting for the Developing History Leaders Course            (Indianapolis, IN)

I was honored to be faculty for the Developing History Leaders course for the Seminar for Historical Administration. It was an honor to share data and talk millennial engagement with eager and thoughtful minds from some of the best history organizations in the US. What a rush! (Photo: Outside of the Indiana Historical Society after talking millennials with the SHA course)

 

 

mbaSharing a new engagement metric at Monterey Bay Aquarium             (Monterey, CA)

As some folks who work specifically in digital engagement within cultural organizations know, I am itching to find a better way to measure social media engagement ROI using real-time market data to track how it affects public perceptions. I was joined by my fellow IMPACTS team members to debut a new social media metric at the Monterey Bay Aquarium this week. Stay tuned! We’re slowly bringing the metric to scale, and it is already demonstrating the strong correlation between social media content and changes in an organization’s public perceptions. One of the coolest parts of my job is working with great brains and trying to uncover new ways of doing things to help cultural organizations. This metric is a labor of love for IMPACTS, and I’m eager to share more as we learn and grow this metric. (Photo: These engaged youngsters at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are what it’s all about.)

 

disneylandRiding Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland (Anaheim, CA)

Because sometimes a girl’s gotta chill…

 

 

 

 

 

 

WEEK 4: From talking artifacts to aging audiences

 

dum-dumIMPACTS meeting (New York, NY)

I went to New York for an IMPACTS VSO project update with colleagues. The IMPACTS VSO (those of us that work with visitor-serving organizations) team is cellular (i.e. we live all over and meet up on the road), so it’s great to get a moment to spend time with colleagues and put our brains together on behalf of our clients. During my time in NYC, I battled presidential election outcome stress by visiting one of my favorite museum “celebrities.” (Dum Dum give me Gum Gum, anyone? (I’m a huge nerd and I don’t even care.)) (Photo: Hanging with a celebrity at the American Museum of Natural History)

 

 

palo-altoSharing audience research on Baby Boomers (Palo Alto, CA)

IMPACTS is working with a community center for aging adults in Palo Alto, and I traveled there with my colleagues to present data and learn more about this community’s programs and initiatives. In my line of work with cultural organizations, there’s an imperative to better cultivate millennial audiences. For this type of organization, however, it’s the Baby Boomers who represent the more immediate future. It’s exciting to consider the behaviors, perceptions, opportunities, and needs of this generation – especially as they continue to innovate and inform all of our inevitable futures as we age into our tomorrows. (Photo: A typical hotel scene – this one is taken in San Mateo as I prep for conversations the next morning.)

 

 

This is a rather typical month for me. For those following along: My month’s itinerary totaled 28 days, 18 airline flights, and 17 nights in hotels. It involved working with new clients and old ones, and coming up with new ideas to help move the industry forward. I was north, south, east, and west (and in Nepal). I think that it provides accurate insight into the kind of work that I have the opportunity to do and some of the great projects that I am working on. Of course, I did many other things for work, too! This list illustrates where I was and what I was doing or presenting – but in between this time, I wrote and published KYOB articles, had multiple calls with clients and spent a good amount of time preparing and arranging decks, edited KYOB fast fact videos, voted, solidified two keynote speaking engagements for 2017, and we elected a new soon-to-be president of the United States. (Okay, those election-related items are a tad atypical!)

When you next wonder, “What does she do everyday?!” Now you know! I know my own bone – and these are the types of bones that I gnaw, bury, unearth, and gnaw at still.

Colleen Dilenschneider Know Your Own Bone quote - Henry David Thoreau

 

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 Miscellaneous 5 Comments

Signs of Trouble For The Museum Industry (DATA)

Main Hall and Stairs Mational Museum Warsaw

As the US population grows, the number of people attending visitor-serving organizations is (still) in general decline. And this is a very big problem for sustainability without a digital-age shift in our business model.  It’s not just museums. Many visitor-serving organizations – science centers, historical sites, aquariums, zoos, symphonies, etc. – are failing to keep pace with population growth.

Consider: In the five-year duration spanning 2009-2013, the US population increased by 3.5% from 305.5 million to 316.1 million. The majority of this growth occurred in major metropolitan areas – the very population dense regions where many visitor-serving organizations are located. Indeed, nearly one in seven Americans live in the metropolitan areas of the country’s three largest cities – New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

However, during the same duration, data indicate that attendance at many nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations has declined. In fact, of the 224 visitor-serving organizations contemplated in the 2014 National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations (NAAU), 186 organizations (83.0%) reported flat or declining attendance. And this is neither a regional nor curatorial content-specific finding – the study representatively contemplates visitor-serving organizations of every size, type, and area.

Many organizations are hesitant to acknowledge attendance challenges…especially when they have historically cited being the “most visited” as an indicator of their expertise and effectiveness. I sense that pressure from governing boards also plays a role – particularly as many organizations have been tasked to maximize earned revenues (often inevitably linked to visitation). Perhaps most concerning of all are attempts to blunt the challenge by proposing half-measures as remedy – you’ll no doubt recognize the “don’t worry, we’re going digital!” excuse and the related practice of sending mid-level staff to innovation conferences as attempted evidence of progress. (This last excuse may be especially worrisome as it seems that many staff members tasked to “innovate” may not actually be empowered to carryout their plans for advancement.)

But, regardless of the excuse, the numbers suggest that our industry risks becoming less relevant to future audiences. What does this mean to visitor-serving organizations? Let’s look at a few examples. (Note: To keep this from being a huge, overwhelming chart, I pulled out major metro markets and a few areas cited as “up and coming.”)

KYOB VSO attendance - IMPACTS

To illustrate, the population of the Atlanta, GA Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) has increased in the past five years by 9.4%. During the same duration, visitation to the Atlanta-area organizations contemplated in the NAAU study indicates an attendance decline of 4.6%. Think about that – if engagement were keeping pace with population growth, an organization with an annual attendance of 1,000,000 in year 2009 would reasonably expect to welcome 1,094,000 visitors in year 2013. Instead, on average, the studied organizations saw attendance decline from the theoretical 1,000,000 visitor level in year 2009 to 954,000 visitors in year 2013. Measured against the expectations of population growth, visitor engagement underperformed by 140,000 visitors!

The expectation would be for attendance to increase alongside population growth – otherwise, it is indicative of underperforming the opportunity.  Again, the findings are stark and concerning for organizations in the engagement business:

KYOB VSO Performance against expectations - IMPACTS

In most any other business, if you saw the market steadily increasing in size and your product’s usage in steady retreat alongside it, you’d likely think, “This business model sucks.”

Well, our business model sucks.

Confronted with this evidence, I’ve heard leaders recycle tired strategies of securing larger donations from an aging donor base, and plans to gain more grant funding from governments and foundations. Generally, they aim to “pivot” from a reliance on earned revenues to (hopefully…fingers crossed!) additional contributed revenues. Except no. The visitor-serving industry doesn’t need to pivot. It needs to reset.

Here are three behaviors we need to adapt to reset our current condition:

 

1) Stop citing poor previous efforts as evidence that something will not work

Some visitor-serving organizations will declare that they “already tried” something after investing only the most minimal of resources necessary to claim effort. This is a surefire recipe for failure …yet, it happens all of the time. Here’s a quick example: Many organizations will offer options to buy tickets online and simply invest enough to create a webpage for it. Then when nobody uses that method to buy tickets they say, “Look! We tried that and nobody bought tickets that way!” Actually, nobody bought tickets that way because your site wasn’t mobile friendly, it takes 10 different screens to buy a ticket, it requires several pages of personal information, it’s confusing and time consuming, and it costs more. Often it’s an organization’s own fault when data-informed things don’t work, but organizations frequently take a half (or maybe a one-tenth) approach to something and basically (knowingly or unknowingly) set it up for certain failure. This is just one, basic example.

“Our crummy product failed, ergo everything related to this project won’t work” justifies stagnancy by masking it with false wisdom. Organizations think that they are cutting-edge for trying something without any conviction, and that the wisdom they received from their inevitable failure justifies closing the book on really big things like digital engagement. How does this even make sense? This type of excuse-making is a shortcut to irrelevance. Just stop doing it.

 

2) Stop defending past decisions

This seems to be a particularly hard one for many leaders to embrace. After all, it may be human nature to defend one’s past decisions as “right” and “good.” And, at the time when they were made, they probably were. But times change. Today, we are witnessing incredible changes – many borne of technological advancement – accelerating progress at a revolutionary pace. By what rightful reason do we think that we’re exempted from the prevailing changes affecting the rest of the world?

Just because you spent thousands and thousands of dollars on print material doesn’t spare you from the necessity of hiring an online community manager. On a more substantial investment scale, those millions of dollars that you invested in a new entrance to facilitate faster put-through times doesn’t exempt you from developing a mobile ticketing platform that may make ticket counters increasingly obsolete. This is a lesson to learn in real-time (as opposed to retrospectively): Repairing and updating past decisions is often more time-consuming and, ultimately, more expensive in the long run than starting anew. It’s OK – heck, even encouraged – to approach the current condition untethered to the past. That was then, this is now.

 

3) Embrace the inevitable path of progress

Max Anderson, CEO of the Dallas Museum of Art, gave a short ignite talk at the most recent Museum Computer Network conference. The topic of his talk was how to “persuade your museum director to help you” (i.e. how to get him/her to invest in “innovation”). From the beginning of the video it’s easy to see one of the biggest, most glaring problems in our industry: He begins his talk by asking how many museum directors are at the conference. Very short awkward silence ensues…followed by laughter. Really?! Are even our conferences about innovation and new ideas attended primarily by middle managers?!

The reason for the lack of executive decision-makers at many conferences is not necessarily the fault of museum CEOs (as the conferences aren’t always adequately geared toward Directors). But it’s not wholly the task of middle managers to communicate and justify the imperative to remain relevant to CEOs either. There’s a messed up barrier to betterment here, and it has more to do with a flawed structure than simple lexicon within an antiquated museum hierarchy. His talk is absolutely true, probably staggeringly helpful, and thus amazingly messed up at the same time.

We’ve developed this detrimental idea that “digital” has to do with “tech” (not people), and “innovation” isn’t necessary for survival. Max Anderson’s “primer on the psychology of museum directors” underscores that the status quo (and, of course, legacy!) is what museum directors are primarily interested in…but the status quo isn’t working to bring in more people by creating crowds OR buzz. Efforts to abide the current condition fundamentally ignore the challenges imposed by a broken model. Changing lexicon is a pivot. Pivots sound pretty. Pivots sound agile. After pivoting, however, you may be facing in a different direction but you’re still standing in the same place.

Millennials – the largest generation in human history – may necessitate an update to the visitor-serving model in the information age. These “kids” will soon have kids, who will eventually have more kids, and if we continue to ignore the reality of negative substitution in our attendance, then we may soon have no museums, aquariums, or symphonies for those “kids” to go to at all. (OK – perhaps some hyperbole. We likely won’t have zero museums. Just more empty ones.)

 

The forces of change that propel the world forward are not going away. If we don’t change our model to one that is more sustainable, then we risk going away. This is a moment when our biggest barrier to engaging emerging audiences is holding dear to our increasingly irrelevant plans and practices. We need a reset. And it’s up to all of us to put our heads together and make it happen.

 

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, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 11 Comments

A Hint for the Future of Museums: Europe is Looking to US Aquariums

In my line of work (developing predictive data) and my spot in that line (analyzing and applying data on behalf of organizations equally concerned with social and fiscal bottom lines), opportunity often comes from keeping a pulse on the market. Along these lines, I’ve recently experienced shifts in my professional world that may be illustrative of the future of museums and the broader nonprofit community.

"7 hours and 57 minutes until I am officially based out of Chicago AND London! Let's do this!"

“7 hours, 57 minutes until I’m officially based out of Chicago AND London! Let’s do this!” (4/1/13)

In April, I officially joined the ranks of part-time expatriates (and long-haul commuters) when IMPACTS asked me to help open our London office while also maintaining a “home base” in Chicago.  Preparations for our London office enabled me to hire a Digital Marketing Manager to provide additional support to our projects, and also challenged me to be more thoughtful about how I could focus my efforts to best serve our clients.  A few months removed from my hop across the pond, I’ve been reliably asked two questions from colleagues, other museum professionals and even friends and family – the answers to which are closely related and may provide interesting insight to the museum industry:

1) Why London?

The obvious answer: proximity. I am in London largely because it is an accessible base for much of the work that IMPACTS is currently performing on behalf of visitor-serving organizations (e.g. museums) throughout the Americas, Europe and the Middle East.

The more interesting answer: market demand in Europe for the American nonprofit business model. You read that right! Any quick glance at the news tells stories of shifting economies that have created an unprecedented struggle for many of Europe’s most treasured museums.  While not-too-long ago many of the elite European institutions might have politely sneered at the suggestion of adopting a more “American model” of doing business (especially “nonprofit business!”), these sentiments are quickly shifting.

The “American model” (as it is colloquially referred to in my dealings) is a euphemism for a visitor-serving business that doesn’t rely on government support (or grants or endowments) and, instead, is a market-driven enterprise whose success hinges on engaging a diverse, sustainable constituency.

In other words, many of the world’s greatest museums – the ones that we Americans revere and admire with a distant and mysterious “otherness” – are looking to U.S. visitor-serving organizations as sources of inspiration, innovation and know-how when it comes to reinventing their business models to best respond to their current economic conditions.

2) Why do you spend so much time working with aquariums?

It’s true. I do find myself increasingly spending more time and energy working closely with aquariums. Here’s the end-game: We have an interest in aquariums because they are often cited by our clients as best-in-class practitioners of the “American model.” (Stick with me, other-types-of-museum folks. I’ll connect the dots…)

IMPACTS works with nearly every form of visitor-serving organization from art museums and symphonies to science centers and botanical gardens, and there’s one thing that we’ve found to be generally true: The market-driven practices developed by aquariums may have the greatest impact and “usability” for exalting the entire visitor-serving industry.  While the role of aquariums as models may seem surprising to many of America’s most venerable museums, the relative esteem with which U.S. aquariums are internationally regarded evidences itself in my work on a daily basis. In fact, the European organizations (including many art museums) that I work with have less interest in the “best practices” of American art museums and, increasingly, more interest in those of American aquariums.

Here’s why.  There are two conditions that make U.S. aquariums of particular interest to the global museum and visitor-serving industry:

 

A) The U.S. aquarium business model is motivated by market demand (and not overly dependent on grants, endowments, or government funding)

This is not to say that aquariums do not seek to obtain grants or secure government appropriations – but, as a group, the chart below indicates that aquariums tend to rely least on contributed and dividend revenues when compared to other types of visitor-serving organizations:

IMPACTS Visitor Serving Organization Earned Revenue

Theoretically, if government funding were to cease on a macro-level tomorrow, aquariums (as well as select museums, theaters, science centers and other more self-reliant organizations) may have the greatest chance of keeping their doors open long-term.

Also, after evaluating a representative sample of 224 U.S.-based visitor-serving organizations, aquariums generally have the smallest endowments relative to their annual operating budgets – perhaps suggesting that aquariums must be particularly attuned to the market since they have less “cushion” in their revenue streams. We see outcomes of this market responsiveness all the time: While some museums are hiring extra grantwriters and expanding their lobbying efforts for funding, many aquariums are hiring social media and online community managers because they understand that digital engagement helps drive attendance. Of course, smart museums also realize this and are hiring these kinds of people, too – but as the chart below illustrates, the lack of a “safety net” places a particular financial imperative on aquariums to be responsive to market opportunities:

IMPACTS - Visitor Serving organization endowment backstop

 

B) Many aquariums regularly invest in active, global, social missions that extend beyond education and research

I can hear you now: “But all museums aim to change the world!” I know. This does not mean that other missions are any less important – simply that many organizations with which I work consider aquariums to be at an interesting intersection between topic expertise and “right now” relevance…particularly when it comes to prominent, controversial issues such as climate change and other environmental topics. In short, while the social missions and operations of aquariums tackle education and research (two critical items that are also common among other, select visitor-serving organizations), they also take up the battle of ocean conservation. The initiatives attendant to this addition are particularly timely, global, and live in a rather elusive “save the world” space.

It’s a seemingly at-odds and extreme combination:  Aquariums may be considered among the most “for profit” of organizations in that they rely heavily on earned revenues, but they also aim to be among the most globally impactful among organizations pursuing active, social missions.

 

I “go deep” in my work with aquariums because helping them evolve and perfect their business model to remain solvent in both fiscal and social terms provides the lessons that help other organizations achieve their similarly aspirational ideals.

I’m intentionally speaking in terms of sector generalities – not all zoos rely on government funding, not every museum lives on its endowment, and, for that matter, not all aquariums are truly bringing their A-game to the “save the ocean” effort. The organizations operating with the objectives of being both market-relevant AND “big mission-serving” (aquarium or not) may be our best models for the future of museums. They can survive on their own, and they can do it while serving a very large-scale social mission.

 

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, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments