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learning

How Museums Can Use Social Media to Engage Different Types of Learners

*Can’t see the chart because you are receiving this post via email? Check it out here.

Social Media and online engagement helps museums to reach more people more effectively by communicating content in ways that resonate with different types of learners. In this way, social media can be seen not only as a marketing tool, but a method of engagement for community building– and above all, a tool for learning.

Many have likely heard of the three most widely acknowledged types of learners: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. In Dr. Bruce D. Friedman’s book, How to Teach Effectively, he identifies a fourth type of learner: the reader-writer. I have included it in the chart above because I believe that the onset of the increasing popularity of online tools has given this kind of learner a bit more spotlight in recent years. According to psychologists, most people identify strongly with one of the particular learning profiles mentioned above. Though it’s thought that folks have one main learning style, it’s more likely that an individual learns through a combination of these methods, with one or two standing out has the most prominent.

Museums are heaven for kinesthetic learners, but what about other kinds of learners? An interactive museum is an ideal informal learning environment for a kinesthetic learner who retains information and gains understanding through hands-on activities.  It would be crazy to think that museums aren’t, in many ways, heaven for certain kinds of visual and auditory learners as well. But social media and the unspoken call-to-action for involvement that comes with increased social connectivity allows folks to learn from the museum- even when they are no longer at the museum.

  • Visual Learners– These individuals learn best from pictures, videos, diagrams, and visualization. YouTube and Flickr serve as powerful ways to reach and engage these learners from home. Facebook is a secondary tool because it allows fans to be connected to a museum’s YouTube and Flickr accounts. In other words, it allows links to these sites to come from one aggregated place– assuming your museum posts statuses that connect to other social media accounts. Moreover, Facebook allows visual learners to observe a sort-of timeline of organizational happenings. This way of showing a museum’s news is helpful to a visual learner. Museums can reach this audience via social media by updating Flickr and YouTube accounts with content related to the museum or the area it covers.
  • Auditory Learners- These natural listeners would rather have something explained to them than to read it. Want to get their attention? A podcast should work. YouTube can also serve as a powerful platform for engaging auditory learners, and it’s a tool with twice the power when used with folks who are a part visual and part auditory learner. Museums can reach this audience via social media by creating a podcast or explaining inner-workings of the museum or topics of interest on YouTube.
  • Read/Write Learners- These learners like to see things in writing, and many often need to get their thoughts down on paper (or on a computer screen) in order to take reflection to the next level. It seems as though social media is ideal for these learners, as reading and writing are strongly connected to the Internet, and it the primary method of communicating via social networks. It makes sense that these learners would like social media sites like Facebook and Twitter which allow them to read-up on happenings while also providing the opportunity to contribute. I’d guess that most bloggers and blog commentors are read/write learners. Museums can reach this audience via social media by hosting active Facebook and Twitter accounts and maintaining a blog which allows for site visitor contributions.

In sum: while museums are beneficial for kinesthetic learners and other types of learners as well, social media provides an opportunity for museums to engage these learners in a new way. When responsibility for social media is shared among departments within a museum (or content is created in collaboration), the opportunities for spreading the museum’s mission increases. As a side thought, I wonder if for folks there is both a preferred way to learn in general and a preferred way to learn online. For instance, I think even kinesthetic learners have another preference for learning online. Learning from resources on the Internet is commonplace though we frequently have to be wary of our sources. There’s an opportunity for museums to help “own” a chunk of online learning– and social media may be just the key.

Like the photos of kinesthetic learning in action above? The first photo of the Arizona Science Center, the other is from a very cool article about the California Science Center.

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 3 Comments

A Theory for Breaking Through Nonprofit Sector Constraints

It seems that, without even knowing it, we’re all working together to limit nonprofit innovation.

In the nonprofit sector, risk (an important element in innovation) is stifled due to nonprofits’ need for multiple stakeholder acceptance in order to survive. This makes large-scale change difficult, if not impossible, and the only way that we will solve this is if we put our minds together to think about it.

Let’s take the hot topic of increasing salaries for nonprofit leaders (though we could pick any topic that challenges perceived sector constraints). A nonprofit might seriously consider higher salaries in order to attract high-quality leaders, establish itself professionally, or ensure that competition for the position allows the organization to choose– or continue to motivate– the best candidate for the job.  This could be a great idea. It could work wonders. But questioning sector constraints at all is often much like trying to give a big hug to a hand grenade. Here’s why:

  1. The board and staff will need to approve this risk. In the case of increasing employee salaries, they will consider that every extra dollar given to a staff member is a dollar that could be spent on programming. These immediate stakeholders must believe in the potential of the idea.
  2. Then the nonprofit will have to face the multiple foundations that may no longer award the nonprofit otherwise-much-deserved grants because their administrative costs exceed (or come close to) a percentage set by the foundation in advance.
  3. You have to face the people who don’t understand why you made this change (regardless of its nobility), and the media may tear you apart. Even worse, other nonprofit leaders at The Chronicle of Philanthropy may even give you bad press for trying to take a risk to aid in sector evolution.
  4. Your amount of in-kind donations over the year may suffer because of the bad press– which defeats your whole attempt at innovation because you can no longer afford to pay a higher-than-before salary to your employees… so you are back where you started– but with fewer funds, a lot of bad press, alienated foundation connections, and unhappy employees.

In the private sector, innovation breeds new business practices and monetary success. The system is quite simple: a firm must gather capital to take a risk, take that risk, and if the company makes a profit, they are onto something. Other companies catch onto the company’s new tactic and next thing we know, every company has to be doing that innovative thing in order to continue to stay in the game. The same is true for nonprofit organizations except, in the nonprofit sector, raising capital may mean raising social capital.

 

Please click on the image to enlarge

So what can be done to alter sector constraints in order to allow nonprofit professionals to be innovative in organizational management?

First, double loop learning must take place. Double loop learning occurs when leaders question their own basic assumptions about the world. Single loop learning, by comparison, is the tried-and-tested routine that we fall into when we do everyday things like write grants and conduct meetings– but we also use single loop learning when we devise wages (continuing with the case of nonprofit salaries as our example). We have an idea of what works and we stick to it. Double loop learning, on the other hand, makes us ask ourselves, “Why do we do X? Maybe I should be doing Y.” When we ask this question, possibilities are born.

Second, the nonprofit must be transparent about their new idea and share it among networks. The nonprofit could ask for input via social media networks, get dialogues going with staff members; make everyone (stakeholders especially) aware of the possible benefit of taking this risk. This includes spreading word about the importance of innovation among stakeholders, the public, and other nonprofit groups. Technology is a great mechanism for information-share, and getting brain juices flowing. Who knows? A few other nonprofits may consider the idea and try it out alongside you.

Through this, social capital is created. Spreading the message creates connections. Asking people for their input (even if it’s negative) creates connections. Connections build social capital. Social capital increases overall support of the new practice because friends and community partners can share your idea with their own networks, and become part of idea formation and collaboration.

Then intellectual capital is built as stakeholders become educated on the issue. The more people hear about the issue, the more educated they will become on the need for innovation, or rather, the more accepting they will be when you actually follow through in challenging sector constraints. Lets go back to the example of a nonprofit taking on higher administration costs to motivate employees. If we learn that there’s a nonprofit leadership deficit on the way, then we may be more likely to outwardly encourage and support (or at least understand) nonprofits that are raising employee salaries.

And finally, the innovation is accepted. This does not mean that people will agree with your new (hopefully) innovative practice– but, because of your transparency, they will fully understand why you have challenged sector constraints, and also that you have the best interests of the community you serve at heart. And whether they agree with the idea or not, folks may be more inclined to respect the idea. Foundations may still award grants to the organization, and donors may stick around for at least another year. Who knows? Maybe your active desire to contribute to the sector and your fresh views of management will earn you a few more donors.

This theory is just that: a theory. I do not know how to encourage nonprofits to take responsible risks and challenge constraints that hold them back in serving their mission. I do know that, if the sector means to evolve, nonprofit leaders must begin to think about blazing new trails— and we should think about ways to allow them to do so.

Posted on by colleendilen in Sector Evolution, Trends 8 Comments