Six Concepts that Visitor-Serving Organizations Confuse at Their Own Risk

For the sake of the future of cultural organizations, let's stop mixing up these terms.  There’s a good amount of Read more

Combating Case Study Envy Within Museums And Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Bad things happen to good organizations when conference attendees leave their thinking caps at home. Industry conferences can provide Read more

Point of Reference Sensitivity in Visitors: How It Affects Your Cultural Organization And What To Do About It

Data suggest that it's good to to be the first organization that someone visits... but what if yours is Read more

Millennial Data Round Up: What Your Cultural Organization Needs To Know

This is what you need to know in one, single post. Millennials are a hot topic. While I consider "millennials" Read more

Experiencing Millennial Discussion Overload? Here Are Four Things to Remember

Cultural organizations need to reach millennials and that means talking about it – but that talk doesn’t make other Read more

Audience Access: The Reality For Cultural Organizations To Embrace for Solvency

The first step in the evolution toward more sustainable cultural organizations is embracing the reality of "access" and reviewing Read more


The Value of Shared Experiences Within Cultural Organizations (DATA)

The value of shared experiences at cultural organizations - KNOW YOUR OWN BONE

Exhibit and program content is important, but visitors who have the best experience aren’t the ones that come for the content.

At cultural organizations (museums, performing arts organizations, aquariums, botanic gardens, historic sites, zoos, etc.), we tend to really value our content experts – and for good reason! Without great content, what stories could we tell? How could we educate and inspire visitors? Certainly, the “what” of visiting a cultural organization is important (the program, the exhibit, the performance), but organizations often overlook the fact that who people are “with” is often more important.

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.

I have previously documented the best attributes of a visit to a cultural organization, and sharing time with family and friends massively trumps anything exhibit or content related. Here’s a look at this important data. As you can see, spending time with friends and family is more than twice as important as the content of the exhibit, program, or performance. This data comes from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study of over 98,000 US adults.

IMPACTS - The best thing about a visit to a cultural organization

WITH > WHAT – and it’s not even close. This finding is a big deal and it turns the way that internal experts think on its head. According to our visitors, the best thing that we do is connect them to one another. At cultural organizations, interacting with people matters. Take a look at “interacting with staff/volunteers/performers.” It’s (comparatively) trailing “seeing/interacting with exhibits/performance.” Connecting with people onsite is important – and deploying engaging frontline staff may be the most straightforward and reliable way to increase visitor satisfaction.

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?

Below, we’ve organized the data based upon folks’ “best” visit attribute. For instance, all of the people who think that time with friends and family is the best part of the experience are in one column, everyone who said it was the exhibits or performance are in another, etc. Below are the findings for overall satisfaction, value for cost of admission, and intent to re-visit. For the sake of easy reading and summarization, I’ll call the folks who report “time with friends and family” and/or “interacting with staff/volunteers/performers” as WITH visitors – because to them, WITH>WHAT.  Here’s the value of shared experiences to cultural organizations. 


1) WITH visitors report the most visitor satisfaction

IMPACTS - overall satisfaction by best thing

In fact, both types of WITH visitors (“Time with family and friends” and “interacting with staff/volunteers/performers”) are most satisfied with their experiences.

As a conceptual tip (that helps for the sake of comparison): Consider “Day off work/school.” For these folks, the best thing about a visit to a cultural organization isn’t unique to a cultural organization. Rather, it’s simply that they have the day off. This group is still obviously a very important group to watch. After all, schedule is the top motivator for visitation to a cultural organization.



2) WITH visitors report the greatest bang for their buck when it comes to paying admission

IMPACTS - Value for cost by best attribute of visit

Visitors who find time with family and friends to be the best thing about a visit report the highest value for cost perceptions. This means that they think that paying admission to get in your door was most worth the money. One reason why value for cost perceptions are important because they help inform optimal admission prices.

This finding is important because it tackles a potential, negative internal reaction from some in the industry: the concern that “time with friends and family” could happen anywhere. Certainly, it could. But what this data suggests is that there may be something particularly special about sharing experiences with family and friends within visitor-serving organizations – and it makes our admission prices all the more worth it to have those experiences in these environments.


3) WITH visitors are more likely to visit again within one year

 IMPACTS - intent to revisit based on best attribute of visit

Check this out! Not only are WITH visitors most likely to re-visit within one year, but they are significantly more likely to do so!

Visitors who identified sharing time with family and friends as the best attribute of a visit to a cultural organization reported both significantly higher levels of satisfaction and value for cost perceptions than did those reporting content (e.g. exhibits, performances) as the best attribute of a visit to a cultural organization.  Moreover, persons who reported sharing time with family and friends as the best attribute of a visit also indicated a 25.5% greater likelihood of re-visiting the organization within one year when compared to persons who cited exhibits as the best attribute of their visit!

(Don’t be too discouraged about the low values of “learning something new” folks. We know that our education missions don’t play the hugest role in motivating visitation and they play only a small role in visitor satisfaction, but they play an important role in justifying visitation after the visit is over. Here’s that data.)


These data reaffirm the role of cultural organizations as facilitators of social interaction. More than connecting people to content, cultural organizations connect people to people.  Given this information, it may seem odd that so many resources are focused on the content aspect of an experience (think exhibits and galleries and theaters) and seemingly less energy on the aspects of an experience that support social interchange. (What if we valued our floor staff as much as we value our exhibits teams?!) We need our content. Our content allows us to tell the stories that make people want to come through our doors to be inspired. We know that content is important. I don’t know that all cultural organizations are aware that being facilitators of shared experiences is even more important to visitors. At cultural organizations, our content becomes the bridge that connects people to one another.

I’ve seen this news (the fact that WITH is so much more important than WHAT) create anger within cultural organizations. In the face of this information, I’ve seen leaders say that one phrase that effective, successful leaders never say: That this doesn’t apply to them and there’s nothing for them to learn from this overwhelmingly unassailable data.  This reaction is a mistake.   In our digital age, we want folks to be engaged and make real connections – to our stories and to one another! In that sense, this data is incredibly uplifting. This data does challenge our ivory towers. Indeed, we are educators and inspirers…. but we are also facilitators of connection and community – and THAT is what our audiences love about us most. 


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:


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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

3 Smart Reasons Why Nonprofits Should Hire Candidates with Personal Brands

Recently, there’s been talk among nonprofit millennials about how personal branding might negatively influence the potential for an individual to be hired…. even though personal branding will make you better at your job. The idea is that nonprofit HR folks may note the strength of a candidate’s personal brand and take it as an indicator that a candidate may be more concerned with their own brand than the organization’s brand. Overlooking a candidate with a strong personal brand because you’re worried that they will care more about themselves than the company is like throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Some of that worry is practical. Members of Generation Y (a large portion of those with personal brands) don’t feel the same level of personal connectivity to their jobs as Baby Boomers and Traditionalists that came before them. In fact, members of Generation Y aren’t as likely to consider their organization of employment to be as integral an aspect of their personal identity, and Gen Y has different workplace motivators. Is that a bad thing for organizations? Maybe. But the world keeps moving and we are entering a future that is ruled by information, ideas, and an entrepreneurial mindset. A big part of that is keeping a fresh perspective.


1. Personal branding is indicative of an Institutional Manager– which is the kind you want to hire. In the popular Harvard Business Review article, Power is the Great Motivator, David McClelland and David H. Burnham identify three types of motivation: power, achievement, and affiliation. Arguably, of these three, candidates with a personal brand fall into the desire for achievement category (there are over 50 million blogs so power isn’t as direct, and personal branding doesn’t necessitate a need-to-please, especially since controversial posts often get the most traffic).  The Institutional Manager is identified as the most effective organizational leader and is someone who is highly motivated by both power and achievement. On top of this, the authors found that for folks with balanced power and achievement motivation, then “stories about power tend to be altruistic.” This is more than an ideal manager; it’s the ideal nonprofit manager. This ideal leader is driven by achievement motivation; the same kind of motivation driving those with personal brands.

The opposite of the institutional manager is the personal-power manager. This is the kind of manager that people think they are weeding out if they cut out candidates with personal brands. These candidates are only motivated insofar as the organizational operations result in personal power. The personal-power manager has high power motivation like the institutional manager, but has low achievement motivation. Not only is personal branding indicative of an institutional manager because it necessitates achievement motivation, but it is directly at odds with literature on the personal-power manager.


2. Personal branders allow you to tap into a tribe. Speaking of power motivation, we nonprofiteers have that, too.  According to popular blogger and author, Seth Godin, what we all want is to change things. Nonprofit employees, arguably more so than private sector employees, want to change things. Many of us believe strongly in large-scale change or we wouldn’t be working in the sector. What Seth Godin argues is that leaders spread ideas about change by leading tribes. Tribes are silos of interest and Godin argues that tribes will change the world; “It’s about leading and connecting people and ideas.” People with (good) personal brands and a message usually have a tribe– or a group of similarly interested folks who are interested in or agree with their message.

Especially for those interested in nonprofits, personal branding is often about connecting people in order to create change. When you hire a person with a personal brand, you’re signing on their tribe. Your organization will be a key part of their ideas and learning, and that person will share their lessons and passions for your organization– and likely its mission. As a slightly related side, word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most powerful kinds of marketing.  Social media is a mecca for word-of-mouth marketing and if you’re signing on someone and your organization is becoming part of their personal brand, then they are recommending you to their tribe.


3. Personal branders are social-tech, brand, and community conscious– and you likely need these areas of expertise in your organization. People on social media are constantly connected to other people, and they often know what’s going on in an industry thanks to their networks. A successful personal brand utilizes social media. If you hire someone with a strong personal brand, then that candidate is likely knowledgable in at least three areas that are important in the business world right now: social technology, branding, and community.

  • Social technology: This person knows how to utilize Facebook, Twitter, and other sites to spread a message– or at the very least they’ve had experience with spreading a message.
  • Brand: If the candidate has built a strong brand on their own, then they’ve developed branding skills that can be utilized by your organization. There’s a lot to learn here: the proper amount of transparency, tone, and the way to think about brands in this era of the social media revolution. Hire someone who knows and you’ll save time on trial and error.
  • Community: As mentioned above, a good personal brand is about building a strong community and getting the attention and respect from the right tribe. This person knows how to connect with other people through the Internet; a skill that will become increasingly desired.


While there may be a tendency to think that job candidates with personal brands may be personal-power managers, the tendency is often unfounded. This is not to say that there aren’t a few bad apples in the bunch, but if a person would be a personal-power manager, there are likely hints of this in their personal brand. Instead, it may be helpful to think of personal branding as a resume of the future; folks can often control their personal brand much like they write their own resume. Social media is already helping organizations hire employees more intelligently. Looking for candidates with personal brands that match your organization’s goals and mission may be a key indicator that the candidate has the characteristics your organization not only wants, but needs in order to survive.

And if you don’t have a personal brand, what are you waiting for?

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 12 Comments

5 Reasons to Always Be Thinking Like a Graduate Student

I’ll be honest: when I left my full-time gig at the Science Center in order to become a full-time graduate student last year, I was terrified by how this change would alter my own viewpoints and how I am perceived as a professional. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be taken as seriously if a majority of my time (the “full-time” part) was spent studying sector management as opposed to actively working in the sector.

Even as I am halfway into my graduate school experience, I can already look back and say that I had a right to be as terrified as anyone undergoing a big change (especially when thinking that my experience might be like this)– but I’d never take back the change in perspective that I’ve undergone for the time-being. I know full-well that by this time next year, the status will switch back and I will return to the full-time working world (oh, the magic of a professional degree; the point is to go back). But I will always understand the importance of thinking like a graduate student. Here’s why:


1) It forces you to see the big picture. There are things going on in every industry and the way we do business is always evolving. Currently social media, communication,  soft skills, and Gen Y’s public service motivation are shaking things up in the nonprofit world, but even after those things run their course, there will be something else. When you are a graduate student you see these things– and what’s more: you see their collective effect on the industry because you spend nearly every day piecing together the puzzle. Thinking like this is extremely valuable because it helps you to mentally tackle many sector problems at once, and scientifically, this kind of thinking helps build up solutions more creatively than tackling one at a time– which is often done in a working environment. Thinking like a graduate student in this sense means always keeping an eye on the bigger picture of the industry as a whole, and it will result in creative solutions and a more complete understanding of where your difficulties lie.


2) Grad students have built-in microscopes or telescopes. That’s like having science tools built into their brains (for a few years), folks! This is directly related to point #1. People often joke that grad students always think what they are doing is important, even though it’s not. What’s really happening here (and the reason we grad students think what we’re uncovering is so important) is that we have a different perspective. As mentioned above, in professional degrees, we zoom out on the sector. Academic degrees tend to zoom in on a part of the sector. Either way, grad students are thinking in a way that is not common in workplace environments (whether it’s with their internal microscopes or a telescopes). Thinking differently spawns innovation. Grad students see something non-graduate students don’t see (and often vice-versa). There’s terrific potential here. When faced with a problem after graduate school, I’ll strap my telescope back on and see if I can think about things differently.


3) It makes you aware of your own strengths and interests. In graduate school, you can pursue your own interests within your degree. Beyond MPA student, I have no role defining my duties in one specific area (I can choose as I go). There is a lot of freedom in these programs to make yourself an expert on whatever strikes your interest. Similarly, in graduate school you must do everything from public presentations, to writing case studies, to leading debates, to drawing graphs to illustrate possible solutions to market failures. You learn quickly where you shine… and also where you stink. The bottom line lesson here, however, is to keep exploring and taking up new challenges in the working world. It may lead you to interesting solutions to problems. And trying new things helps you learn a lot more about yourself and how you handle certain situations– it’s teaching me a lot at any rate!


4) It gives you a feeling of purpose (which helps you live longer and makes you better at your job). I have two years while I’m obtaining my degree to challenge perspectives, share crazy ideas freely, and sink my teeth into the sector. I feel a sense of purpose when exploring skills required to improve the sector. Feeling a sense of purpose does more than reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s and help prevent depression. It actually makes you live longer. Studies have shown that purpose motivates us to accomplish things and grad students spend two years (or more) devoted to developing their purpose and career goals so that they can work hard for you (or themselves) after they graduate. What can people who aren’t in graduate school do to develop this mindset? Make time to focus on what you are doing and why.


5) It keeps you humble. Folks tend to feel like they are improving in their careers based on how many people are reporting to them throughout the years– or at least I felt this way a bit before I came to grad school. Now,  nobody reports to me. I study with a lot of accomplished people and I take classes from distinguished professors. This is humbling. Also, full-time graduate students often take a financial hit to attend school (even if they are employed by the university or working a part-time job– or in my case, both). I’ve worked in hierarchical environments and I’ve started at the very bottom– but being broke, living on ideas, and being surrounded by thought-leaders is every bit as humbling as it is romantic and drive-inspiring. I will strive to keep this perspective and treat everyone as an accomplished classmate, regardless of their background or experience. Good ideas come from everywhere, and there’s no need to get cocky about my own.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous, Nonprofit Marketing 1 Comment

Employee Drive and Monetary Rewards– Could Nonprofits Outperform For-Profits?

I am captivated by this great video on Dan Pink’s research on what drives people. It’s absolutely worth a watch! Want to learn more? Check out his TED Talk on motivation.

If Dan Pink is right and purposemastery, and autonomy are the three keys to motivation, then I imagine that nonprofit employees should be rather happy and motivated folks because purpose and mastery seem to be built into the sector to an extent. However, this video provides a helpful hint to organizations to keep employee autonomy in mind when preparing for the future. Given Dan Pink’s outline, are nonprofits more primed to be motivation-filled workplaces than private organizations?

I think they certainly could be. Here’s how nonprofits stack up:

Purpose: Nonprofit and museum environments supply this without question. In fact, overall organizational purpose is neatly summarized and an employee’s purpose is to help realize a nonprofit organization’s (hopefully) noble mission in some form. The purpose of the employee may be specialized within the mission, but generally nonprofit work provides a feeling of “doing good” in the greater context of the world. Want a job position with a purpose? A nonprofit is a great place to be.

Mastery: Because nonprofits are sometimes understaffed and employees must take on wide variety of roles, one might assume that employee mastery would be an issue for nonprofit organizations.  For instance, I work for a great but small organization in which I take on significant duties related to marketing, communications, fundraising and development, event planning, and web design— and I’m not even a full-time employee!

In nonprofit organizations, I think mastery still functions because these environments provide several areas of mastery (which may tie into autonomy below), and smaller nonprofit organizations offer employees the opportunity to gain and refine skills. Not to mention, if there’s a talent that you can contribute to the organization, it’s likely that the organization will allow you to summon your skills in that arena.

But autonomy? This doesn’t seem as innate to the sector as purpose and mastery might be. For that very reason, maybe it should be on the forefront of nonprofit leadership literature. Not only does there seem to be a lack of discussion regarding nonprofit-specific employee autonomy, but individual nonprofits do not have the benefit of autonomy afforded by private corporations due to nonprofits’ multiple stakeholders. Aside from being a key motivator for employees, Why is employee autonomy of particular importance in nonprofit organizations? Here are some points that came to my mind when contemplating the importance of the third element in Dan Pink’s motivation trifecta:

  • Autonomy allows the organization to discover hidden talents and foster innovation. Google is famous for having what they call “20 Percent Time” in which they encourage employees to spend 20% of their work week on a project that is of interest to them, and not necessarily tied to their day-to-day job function. Nonprofits doing this may be able to loop back to mastery here by allowing employees to summon their talents and ideas to contribute to the organization in any way that they desire. This kind of autonomy could help relieve employee burnout while at the same time motivating employees to utilize their mastery in the workplace.
  • Autonomy builds internal trust and commitment. High commitment management— which emphasizes high trust, responsible autonomy, and employee involvement– has been shown to increase overall performance and reduce employee turnover. This is important in all sectors. In nonprofit environments in particular, donor relationships are very important. Reducing turnover could mean reducing a loss of donor relationships when development staff members leave the organization because fewer development employees would be leaving this kind of environment.
  • Autonomy increases productivity. If the purpose of the workplace is to provide an environment where people can do their best work in the best way that they know how, then a successful workplace will be productive. When Jeff Gunther developed a results-only work environment, he found that his employees were actually more productive. It also seems obvious that employees that are more motivated and committed will be more productive.

Autonomy may not deserve more time in the “to-do” spotlight than purpose or mastery, but it seems less innate to the sector and therefore may deserve some brainpower. If anything, autonomy is a powerful tool to be kept in nonprofit leaders’ minds as we move forward and make decisions in regard to organizational culture.

Do you think autonomy is an area where nonprofits may move forward and compete with for-profit companies? Do you think that the nonprofit culture, with some focus on Pink’s main elements, has the ability to provide a more motivating workplace than for-profit companies depending primarily upon monetary rewards?

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments