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


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

6 concepts that cultural 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 information here on KYOB that has accumulated through the course of this lil’ corner of the Internet’s existence! I recently wrote a compilation post on some of the more important points regarding engaging millennials within cultural organizations. I also recently found myself in a meeting taking on “the usual clarifications” when it occurred to me that there’s an important opportunity to compile a few of those “usual clarifications” as well!

Here are six sets of terms that often get confused with one another within leadership conversations at museums, theaters, aquariums, zoos, symphonies, and other cultural organizations. When we confuse these terms… well, general confusion tends to ensue and desired outcomes are not as easily achieved. Regular KYOB readers will recognize some of these “usual clarifications” from fast fact videos.

Ready? Let’s dive in! How many of these terms or concepts does your organization regularly interchange or generally misunderstand?


Market research vs. audience research

Audience research is the primary type of research upon which most cultural organizations rely. Audience research is any research conducted on visitors and past visitors in order to gather information about their attitudes, knowledge, interests, preferences, or behaviors. This kind of research comes in the form of exit surveys, zip code collecting, and reaching out to members and visitors through mail or email lists or online communities, for example. Audience research is research conducted on people who are already visiting your organization. Audience research is indeed valuable, but it is often confused with market research and an overreliance on audience research may he holding back even the smartest of cultural organizations.

Market research, on the other hand, is any organized effort to gather information about target markets – including the folks who may NOT be visiting an organization. Market research includes folks who are not your audiences (yet) and it is necessary to gather this information in order to reach new audiences. For the sake of long-term solvency, cultural organizations need to become better at reaching new audiences and our overreliance on audience research when we should be using market research results in industry problems like our inability to effectively attract low-income audiences. Market research helps spot trends and helps your organization figure out what to do next – not only to survive, but to thrive.


Admission pricing vs. affordable access

Admission pricing is the cost of admission for folks who visit your organization. It is an intelligently determined price point that contemplates what high-propensity visitors (people who are interested in visiting cultural organizations) are willing to pay in order to take part in your experience. “The gate” is often an important source of revenue for cultural organizations and having a considered price point ensures that your organization is neither leaving money on the table, nor jeopardizing attendance potential from those who are interested and able to support your organization. Admission price is an economically-sound business imperative for many organizations and admission pricing is not an affordable access program if your organization relies on paid admission in some capacity.

Affordable access (that is effective) is generally rather expensive for cultural organizations and it takes real investment that is usually made at least partially possible by gate revenues. Affordability is binary. An admission price is either affordable or it’s not. When organizations lower their optimal price point in hopes of “being more affordable” or “reaching underserved audiences” they aren’t truly doing either of those things. In reality, they are purposefully missing out on the very funds needed to make effective affordable access possible at all. Successful affordable access programs are targeted so that they truly reach folks who are unable to attend – not people who would generally pay full price but are just looking for a deal. Admission pricing and affordable access are two completely different means of access that play completely different roles in the sustainability of visitor-serving organizations.


High-propensity visitors vs. historic visitors

High-propensity visitors are folks who demonstrate the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization. In other words, these are the people who actually visit cultural organizations. They are those awesome kinds of people who say, “Yeah! That sounds like fun!” of even “Yeah. I could do that!” when someone suggests a visit to a museum or performance.We love these folks. As much as we hate to admit it, not all people have this reaction. High-propensity visitors do not need to have visited a type of cultural organization in order to profile as a likely visitor and they are not necessarily past visitors. Instead, they are people with behaviors and characteristics that indicate the potential to visit. Many members of “new audiences” – including millennials and minority majorities  – profile as high-propensity visitors as well.

Historic visitors are the people with the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics that match traditional visitor profiles. Essentially, they are past visitors. Historic visitors profile as a high-propensity visitors, but not every high-propensity visitor matches the profile of a person who has more traditionally visited cultural organizations. Not everyone with interest in visiting today necessarily matches the profile of the kind of person who visited yesterday. Glibly (but it helps illustrate the difference), not everyone who is likely to visit a cultural organization is a wealthy, older, white person. In fact, it’s increasingly the opposite. We need to reach beyond traditional visitor profiles because we are experiencing a negative substitution of the historic visitor in the United States. The issue of confusing historic visitors with high-propensity visitors that we need to more effectively reach is often confounded by confusion related to audience research vs. market research.


Key performance indicators vs. diagnostic metrics

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are used to evaluate the ongoing success of an organization or a particular initiative. Success is often defined in terms of making progress toward achieving the strategic objectives that optimize the solvency of an organization. KPIs have a direct correlation to desired outputs (fundraising, visitation, etc.). For instance, for our nonprofit visitor-serving partners at IMPACTS, we measure items related to market sentiment that include metrics such as reputation (e.g. top-of-mind metrics), educational value, satisfaction, value-for-price perceptions, and other items that correlate directly to the health of an organization and its ability to achieve its bottom line objectives.  Bad metaphor: Let’s say you’re an Olympic runner. Your KPIs are your response times, race times, reflexes, muscle strength, and those things that contribute most directly to your success.

Diagnostic metrics are data points that contribute to KPI performance and aid organizations in pinpointing specific opportunities but they can be a distraction if they are given the same attention as KPIs. These metrics cannot “stand-in” for KPIs because they are a sub-measurement of assessment criteria that lead to desired behaviors. For instance, on the surface, certain social media diagnostic metrics may look positive, but if they aren’t elevating your reputation (a key driver of visitation), then…well, a “like” is just a “like.” Diagnostic metrics are also helpful for listening to audiences and informing organizations of opportunities for improvement. Bad metaphor continued: Let’s say you are an Olympic runner again. Your diagnostic metrics might be your blood pressure, levels of B12, and heart rate. Heart rate contributes to your ability to run a good race time, but focusing on heart rate on its own isn’t the metric to focus on. (It’s your race time.)  You are measuring your heart rate (diagnostic metric), in this case, so that you can increase your race speeds (your KPI). Focusing on diagnostic metrics (like Facebook “likes” and retweets) without focusing on key performance indicators (like changes in reputation attendant to those likes) is a distraction and a waste of time getting a lot of retweets doesn’t necessarily mean that you are increasing your reputation. It is important to know which kinds of metrics are which. 


Discounts vs. promotions

Discounts are when an organization offers free or reduced admission to broad, undefined audiences for no clearly identifiable reason. Discounts do a lot of pretty terrible things for visitor-serving organizations. Simply, offering discounts devalues your brand. Offering discounts – especially via public social media channels – cultivates a “market addiction” that often has long-term, negative consequences on the health of organizations. In many ways, offering discounts creates a vicious cycle whereby a visitor-serving organization realizes an ever-diminishing return on the value visitation. When an organization provides discounts, it often results in five not-so-awesome outcomes that you can read about here.

Promotions offer a targeted benefit for certain audiences for an identifiable reason. The biggest difference between promotions and discounts may be how they are perceived by the market. Promotions celebrate your community. Promotions demonstrate why an organization is offering free or reduced pricing in the communication of the promotion. That reason is usually something that celebrates an organization’s mission or an organization’s audience, and it is made clear that it is something special. While some may learn the differentiation between these two approaches and consider it to be a framing of communication, it’s actually a reflection of an organization’s culture. Whether an organization’s go-to strategy includes either promotions or discounts demonstrates a great deal about the organization and the thoughtfulness of its engagement approach, as well as the value that it places on its reputation. In the end, one approach is more about an organization’s flailing attempts to hit specific attendance numbers at the expense of its brand and mission (and long-term ability to hit those numbers), and the other is more about your organization’s relationship with target audiences and communities.


Fads vs. trends

A fad is any form of behavior that is intensely followed by a population for a short period of time. The behavior will rise relatively quickly and fall relatively quickly once the perception of novelty is gone. Fads certainly have value and they can profoundly change organizations- consider the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge! Utilizing fads in marketing and programs can increase top-of-mind awareness, demonstrate the timeliness of your organization, and serve as a gateway for new audiences. This is all great and important stuff but – remember – fads don’t stick around.

A trend, on the other hand, gets stronger over time and does stick around. Trends have identifiable and explainable rises that are driven by audience needs. They help solve a problem for people. The increasing use of social networks is a trend (that connects us to one another). So is quitting smoking (which lengthens our lives), evidence-based medicine (that removes the guesswork in medical-related situations), and the use of mobile devices (that allow us to look up information in real time). These are things that have grown – and continue to grow – in market penetration. They solve problems. They represent new ways of life. Organizations ignore trends at their own risk. Ignoring trends means that they will either be forced to adapt later and will necessarily be behind, or the organization will fade away. When organizations write off things like web-based engagement or data-informed management (for instance) as fads instead of trends, evolution stops. However, treating fads like trends can lead organizations to become overwhelmed, give up on following along, and, again, stop evolution. (Here’s a tip on how to tell if something is a fad or a trend.)


Think the distinction between these terms and concepts sound obvious? GREAT. Let’s make sure to join the conversation and help organizations keep them straight so that they can survive and thrive. Let’s all help in communicating “the usual clarifications,” because if we don’t, our organizations risk healthy evolution.


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, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

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 amazing opportunities for cultural organizations to learn about new initiatives – but there’s a disease that often infects well-meaning leaders at these conferences – they are bringing it back and infecting their organizations. It’s time to talk about case study envy. That’s the subject of this week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video!

I am a fan of conferences and those who know me personally (or have met me at one), know that I frequently lament how infrequently I can get to them due to my work schedule. On that note, let’s establish/acknowledge this important starting point: Industry conferences are important. We know this. I don’t and won’t dispute this because I believe it to be true. They provide important opportunities to learn about new ideas, celebrate achievements, discuss the state of the industry and obstacles for us all to take on together, and (perhaps most importantly) they connect us to one another as professionals and (when we’re lucky!) as friends.

Now that we’ve very purposefully acknowledged that conferences are generally awesome things for us, I’m going to discuss an important way in which conferences are often NOT awesome. Are we ready? Okay:

Sometimes conferences make us stupid. And interestingly, data suggest that executive leaders know this. (More in a moment…)

There can be serious consequences for organizations that become too easily seduced by the alleged successes of others. I call this Case Study Envy and it takes place at all kinds of conferences. It does NOT mean that case studies aren’t important and that there isn’t value in sharing them. But just because industry conferences can be exciting doesn’t mean that attendees should leave their thinking caps at home.

Case Study Envy can make smart people attending industry conferences believe two, pretty silly things:


1) That the organization or person speaking actually accomplished something.

Ouch. First, case study envy makes leaders believe that the presenting organization’s initiative worked and that it met any meaningful goals at all. Sometimes the initiatives are attached to meaningful outcomes and that’s great. But more often than not, the organization holding the microphone is someone that asked for the opportunity to tell you how good they are at something. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are actually good at it. Considering this, it’s not uncommon that programs and initiatives that might more objectively be considered failures are instead presented at conferences as successes. Let’s honest, it stinks to admit that something we thought was going to be cool, turned out to be a total dud. Sometimes, presenting that cool- sounding thing at a conference can internally soften the blow and save some public face.

When when you dig into 990s and look at them alongside presentations at conferences, it becomes clear that many institutions are actually sharing their failures as models of success. It certainly isn’t true for all organizations and presentations – but we often note at IMPACTS that if an initiative creates mission drift or costs a very large sum of money and has no demonstrative payoff, then it’s going to be shared as a success at a conference.

The inclination to frame objective failures as successes makes perfect sense: There’s too much at stake to share our failures as actual failures. There are board member reputations, a CEO’s symbolic capital, and even funder satisfaction at risk when we admit to failure. If we admit our cool-sounding project was a failure, then we have to say to board members, “Hey, this big project that you supported and might have even been your idea didn’t work.” And we really don’t want to say that. So, instead, we say, “It didn’t increase visitation or notably impact our brand equities in a positive or even noteworthy manner, but it was something new and cool! To prove it, we’ll share it at [insert industry conference].”

I’m not saying it’s an awesome situation, but the fear of calling a (very cool looking, new idea, sometimes high-tech) dog a dog may be understandable in this context that disproportionately punishes risk. What’s more is that executive leaders seem to know that many of the case studies presented at conferences are actually failures – or at least, not worth influencing their decision making. It’s a reason for the inverse correlation between trust and influence and information being shared at a conference. Yes. Executive leaders find information shared at conferences to be less trustworthy because it is shared at a conference.

Here’s how much executive leaders trust various information channels. An index value less than 100 indicates lessened trust in the information based on its source. (Here’s the link to the original post with the data and more information on it.)

KYOB IMPACTS - Trust of sources for cultural leaders

Think that’s bad? The data on the influence of information is much more alarming.

KYOB IMPACTS - influence of sources for cultural leaders

And on top of that, they aren’t exactly go-to sources of information, either.

KYOB IMPACTS - Sources of information for cultural leaders

Yikes! Again, this is not to say that all presentations at industry conferences are useless – far from it. Conferences are a wonderful opportunity to connect and share experiences and, indeed, we need them. But they cannot help us unless we change how we approach them and stop making “finding the things that actually work in increasing solvency or summoning support” so difficult. We give the microphone to the folks that ask for the microphone (to talk about, say, membership) without much consideration for how well their (membership) programs actually work. Worst of all, there seems to be a particular want to give the microphone to some of the “biggest” organizations – and that can be dangerous if that particular organization is “touting a failure as a success.” It glamorizes the failure and promulgates it among the industry, resting its glory more on the symbolic capital of other aspects of the organization rather than that, particular (futile) initiative.

There are many excellent examples of organizations of all shapes and sizes doing forward-facing things. It’s a shame that those examples are sometimes diluted by glorious funeral ceremonies for futile projects disguised as successes at conferences.

So how can you determine the truly successful case studies from the hot air and combat Case Study Envy in this case? Ask, “Did this initiative increase membership, result in more people coming through the door, or secure more donors? Did it contribute to meaningful and measurable market perceptions related to their mission?” Not every self-congratulatory program, presented as a success, is actually a success. Case study envy makes it hard to tell the difference.


2) That exactly what worked for that organization will work in exactly the same way for your organization

Case Study Envy causes infected leaders to make inappropriate comparisons between other organizations and their own. While case studies can be gold mines of valuable information, its critical that leaders consider that organizations often have different assets and public perceptions. Among the industry, they tend not to be drastically different – but they are different enough that it may not be reasonable for one organization to expect the exact same initiative outcomes as another.

It’s important for organizations to differentiate between models and examples. Both can be tremendously valuable – as long as we don’t mix them up. Many singularly successful organizations are terrible models because they have conditions that are not easily replicated (e.g. they have massive endowments, or a specific location in a specific city that supports their reputation, or they generally have a different funding model and business strategy). However, these organizations may still provide excellent examples for initiatives when elements of their success are identified and considered. Examples can aid in informing strategies and they often deal with the evolution of best practices or serve as case studies for engaging the market.

In sum, when at a conference, aim to evaluate the strategy driving the case study and if that may be helpful to your own organization. Attaching your organization to another organization’s specific tactics, however, can be tricky and may lead your organization to take on an initiative that simply was never strategically sound for you in the first place.


Many cultural organizations are doing remarkable things today. They are breaking boundaries, learning new lessons, and leading others! We need to keep these valuable lines of communication open and active. But just remember that there is often a lot of noise and it’s our responsibility to our organizations to think critically about anything that can help make our organizations more successful and impactful.


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 Fast Facts Video, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

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 the second?

If you’re the best art museum, for instance, then a visitor to art museums should be able to tell, right? Wrong. As it turns out, it’s a bit more complicated. This week’s Know Your Own Bone – Fast Facts video is about firsts… and seconds. And what to do if your organization is second.

You probably remember your first kiss – and your first car, your first love, and a whole host of other firsts. As human beings, we tend to ascribe a premium to firsts – and visits to cultural organizations are no different. Data suggest that first-time visitors to a type of cultural organization – such as a science center – rate their visitor satisfaction higher than those who have visited any other science center before – 18.1% higher, to be exact.

That’s a huge bump! It’s great news for the first cultural organization of its kind that a visitor experiences. Woohoo! We’ll take it! While this value varies slightly based on cultural organization type (history museum vs. aquarium vs. symphony), they tend to hover around this average.

However, the sad side of this coin is that, for no fault of their own, the second (and third, forth…) like-organization that an attendee visits is likely to suffer from significantly lower satisfaction levels than the first. This is a big deal for many obvious reasons, but one of which is the fact that overall satisfaction is a major contributor to overall value perceptions of organizations. Lower satisfaction levels lead to less word of mouth and thus less support and visitation. Yikes!

First time visitors also rate their experiences 14.8% higher in terms of value for cost of admission. That’s another huge bump that’s great for organizations able to benefit from that “first time” magic. 

We call this phenomenon Point of Reference Sensitivity


We noticed this trend at IMPACTS and we gave it a name. Point of Reference Sensitivity suggests that the market’s expectations are being constantly reframed by recent experiences. Essentially, as a person gains familiarity with an experience, it becomes increasingly harder to impress them. While Point of Reference Sensitivity may make logical sense, it’s still a bit of a bummer for the second cultural organization that hosts that visitor.

What is the solution? Be more unique.

Differentiate yourself as an individual organization rather than priding yourself on being like all other such organizations. That may sound overwhelming, but the good news is that we live in a connected world where differentiation may be easier – and more expected – than ever before. It’s a call to organizations to undertake smart experiments and creative programs, and to incorporate avenues for personalization and shared experiences. It’s a call to action to know who your organization is and what it stands for as well as why it is uniquely important. Achieving that “first time” satisfaction bump with every visit means smart integration of trends and awareness of market perceptions. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it all comes back to doing well what you do well – and letting folks know about it!

Those organizations that are most susceptible to Point of Reference Sensitivity are those that believe themselves to be mostly a type of attraction rather than a unique organization. The key to overcoming Point of reference sensitivity is to be yourself. That is how the market determines which organization is “best.”


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, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution 1 Comment

Three Data-Informed Reasons to Love Gen X Visitors to Cultural Organizations

Thank you, Gen X. Just… Thank you.

Let’s be honest: Generation X is squeezed in between two large, noisy, and rather needy generations – and we spend a lot of time talking about these millennial and baby boomer visitors to cultural organizations. But what about Generation X? 

That’s what this week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts Video is all about!

Generation X visitation behaviors often get the short end of the stick when it comes to getting attention in staff meetings and board rooms within cultural organizations. It doesn’t help that Generation X is a comparatively small generation that is just over half the size of Generation Y – the largest living generation that now makes up the majority of the US labor force. When we discuss millennials and baby boomers, we’re simply talking about much larger generational cohorts than Generation Y. It’s not a good excuse to overlook this generation by any means, but it’s a reality. It’s an especially bad excuse when we take a moment to pause and consider the great qualities that this generation brings to the table in terms of visitation.

It’s time that we give this generation some of the love that it deserves! Generation X has three, particularly helpful characteristics for cultural organizations – and they deserve a big THANK YOU for bringing them to the table.


1) Generation X visits cultural organizations

Aside from the comparatively small size of this generation, another reason why organizations tend not to discuss Generation X nearly as much is precisely why we should be thanking them: Generation Y is a comparatively drama-free generation when it comes to visiting cultural organizations. We millennials aren’t attending organizations at representative rates even though we make up a majority of visitation and Baby Boomers are also a rather large and difficult bunch when it comes to cultural engagement. Generation X, though, is visiting cultural organizations without a fuss!

The chart below considers the percentage of the US adult population (informed by the US census) made up by Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and Traditionalists in green. Alongside that bar, it shows the percentages of these generations visiting cultural organizations in orange, informed by the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. Generation X visits cultural organizations at the most over-representative rates among the three generations. It should be noted that Traditionalists also visit cultural organizations at noteworthy rates. Among the largest three generations, however, Generation X shows that drama-free is the way to be.


IMPACTS representative visitation by age demographic

While this generation’s awesomeness in the “representative visitation” department may be a reason why tend not to fret about them, it’s also a darn good reason to give them a shout-out. Thank you, members of Generation X, for visiting cultural organizations – fuss-free.


2) Generation X is decisive when it comes to online advertising for cultural organizations

The comparative decisiveness of Generation X means that this generation gives organizations the most bang for their online advertising buck. This saves cultural organizations money, and we like that. We like that very much.

The chart below comes from IMPACTS Research. It indicates the average number of ads delivered to online users from the retargeting campaigns of six cultural organizations before the user clicked on the advertisement. Generally speaking, the more frequently an organization has to deliver an ad, the more expensive things get. If you work in online advertising then you know that these numbers add up!

IMPACTS Frequency of impression before click on cultural online ad

Compared to millennials, targeted members of Generation X require nearly 42% fewer impressions in order to click on an ad. Our nonprofit budgets thank you, Generation X, for not dilly-dallying around.


3) Generation X is most likely to purchase or renew a membership to a cultural organization

Could Generation X visitors to cultural organizations get any better? You bet. Members of Generation X are more likely to purchase or renew memberships to cultural organizations than millennials and baby boomers – and traditionalists, too. In fact, members of Generation X are 11% more likely to purchase or renew a membership than are millennials, and they are 26% more likely to purchase or renew a membership than baby boomers. Those are noteworthy numbers!

IMPACTS Intent to purchase or renew membership by age demographic

As a heads-up to regular KYOB readers, it’s worth noting that “intent to purchase” is a different metric than “strongly considering membership.” When it comes to unrealized potential to secure a greater number of memberships, millennials take the lead (perhaps making us appreciate Generation X all the more in this respect)!  Data suggest that interest remains unrealized to its optimal potential largely because the types of membership programs that millennials want from cultural organizations largely don’t exist/aren’t particularly mainstream in the industry yet. That said, with index values over 100, millennials are currently noteworthy members to cultural organizations as well. This Generation X number is critical because the number IS so high, comparatively. The take-away isn’t that membership structures don’t need to evolve like everything else, but rather than Generation X is a terrific audience that is undervalued, perhaps, in their intent to purchase or renew the types of memberships that organizations generally offer.


Millennials and baby boomers are demanding a lot of industry discussion right now and perhaps that’s why we’re not discussing Generation X as much: They are stable and reliable audiences. It’s time that we take a moment and thank Generation X for being awesome.

Thank you, Generation X, for being awesome.


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, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 5 Comments

One Year of Fast Facts: Here Are Your Favorite Videos for Cultural Executives

The amazing Guy Bauer Productions team surprised me with this little video because I am a ridiculous human. I could not ask for better partners in making these videos!

Loyal KYOB readers will remember that last year, posts were published every other Wednesday as opposed to every week. But the tribe of KYOB readers was steadily growing – and I was getting more and more messages, emails, and opportunities to aid organizations with nonproprietary data and associated analysis. Something needed to change. I needed to post more frequently, of course, but my inability to make it to many conferences (dang, day job!) left me wishing for a better way to make the data shareable and accessible to cultural executives. Enter: Incredible support from the IMPACTS team and the amazing talent of Guy Bauer Productions.

The very first Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video was posted one year ago (Admission Pricing is a Science – Not an Art), and my YouTube channel was born as a means to embed videos on this website. So far, I’ve posted 27 videos and I’ve received feedback that they’ve been shared in conferences, all-staff meetings, and board rooms. What a rush! I hope that these videos have been helpful to you in sharing fast facts with friends and colleagues and I hope that they – like other KYOB posts – have ignited passionate conversation within your institutions. (What other kind could I hope for?!)

KYOB fast facts image Some fun facts:
I’m wearing TOMS in all of the videos. (Comfort first, amiright?) Nika Vaughn Makeup Artists (earlier videos) and Makeup By Jaycie (more recent videos – and the lovely lady in the photos above) make me appear as if I kind of have my act together in the looks department (it’s a ruse). The Guy Bauer Productions team not only produces incredible videos with engaging graphics, but they are amazing partners. Shoot days are delightful celebrations of Potbelly sandwiches, donuts, drinking my weight in water, laughing with the team, “one more run-throughs,” and trying not to mispronounce “organizations” for the millionth time.

To celebrate a full year of KYOB Fast Fact videos, I would like to share your most shared and viewed of the bunch. These are the most shared and viewed on Know Your Own Bone, as a very vast majority of viewership takes place here on KYOB as opposed to YouTube.


Let us kick off this countdown!


10) Local Audiences Have Skewed Perceptions of Cultural Organizations (DATA) 

Regardless of region or cultural organization type, local audiences are the hardest to please.


9) How Much Money Should Your Cultural Organization Invest in Getting People in the Door? (DATA) 

Here’s how much money museums and cultural organizations should be spending to get people in the door – according to data.


8) Data Reveals the Best Thing About a Visit to a Cultural Organization (DATA)

Hint: It’s not seeing exhibits or performances. (That is a distant second.)


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

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


6) Know Yourself: The Often Forgotten Key to a Successful Social Media Strategy

Don’t even think about creating a social media strategy without having your brand vetted by leadership first.


5) Which Is More Important For Cultural Organizations: Being Educational or Being Entertaining? (DATA)

From a visitor’s perspective, which is more important for cultural organizations: Being entertaining or being educational? Here’s what the data says.


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

Do visitors know that museums  and other cultural organizations are nonprofits? Data says: Nope. Here’s what really matters to audiences about your organization.


3) Why Discounting Hurts Your Cultural Organization And What To Do Instead (DATA)

Discounts don’t do what organizations think that they do…


2) Five Data-Informed Fast Facts About Visitors To Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Visitors to cultural organizations often have certain telltale behaviors.  Just for fun, here are five of them.


1) The Membership Benefits That Millennials Want From Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Don’t have many millennial members? Maybe you aren’t offering a membership program that millennials actually want.


Thank you to all of my great KYOB readers for your support and for sharing these videos! I plan to continue making these videos for as long as they are helpful to all of you. As usual, I welcome all and any feedback! Please leave any feedback or requests in the comments! Cheers to another year of sub-three-minute (most of the time) fast fact videos!


Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few more Know Your Own Bone Fast Fact posts that didn’t make the top-ten cut, but are among my favorites:


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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Nonprofit Marketing 2 Comments

The Power of Social Media vs. Your Organization’s Website (DATA)

Think that your website is your organization’s most important online communications asset? Think again.

This week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video busts a myth that seems to be slow to shake for some leaders. As it turns out, your organization’s own website is NOT your organization’s most important online communications asset.

Organizations tend to understand that websites are important – because they are. Social media, though? Many are still struggling with the role that these platforms play and how potential visitors are using them. Data suggest that social media is both a more important source of information AND a more effective landing environment than an organizations own website.

 Let’s take a look at some data, shall we?


1) Social media is the primary information source for visitors

Take a look at the following data from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study of over 98,000 adults. It shows where high-propensity visitors gather information about cultural organizations. As you can see, social media is the most used source of information… by a long shot. We separated mobile web and web and those are the second and third most important sources of information for audiences. This includes not only your website, but information gathered from any online source that is not a social media channel or peer review site like Yelp or TripAdvisor. The difference between “mobile web” and “web” is simply that mobile web platforms are accessed on a mobile device. For organizations that still don’t have mobile-friendly websites, this is a bit of a wake-up call to prioritize this. For clarification, the numbers are in index value (not number of responses, as the sample size is contemplative of those who profile as high-propensity visitors among the 98,000 people in the study). In other words, “web” and “mobile web” are essentially in the same pool because they encompass “the web,” we simply cut them out to see if the medium/channel played a role. (It does – mobile web plays a bigger role in the “web” overall value.) When we combine mobile web and web, the index value is between the two values (i.e. 471-503) – not additive.

Word of mouth (recommendations on the phone or over dinner, conferences, etc.) is the fourth most used source of information, followed by peer review sites (again, that’s Yelp and TripAdvisor).

IMPACTS - sources of information for HPVs


Communication channels that talk WITH audiences significantly outperform those that talk AT audiences. With index values over 100 for all “talk WITH” channels and below 100 for all “talk AT” channels, the divide is amazingly clear. We’ll discuss this more in a KYOB post going up on August 17th, but this evolution is not worth glossing over. It is critical for organizations to understand as the new reality of the world in which we live. The fact that many seasoned leaders know more about traditional, talk AT channels does not make them effective compared to our newer and primary methods of communication. This does not mean that traditional channels are unimportant. Rather, it underscores the new realities of our connected world.

While social media is the primary source of information for the composite market, this data is specifically cut for high-propensity visitors – or, people have the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization (museum, aquarium, historic site, zoo, symphony, theater, etc.). The lean toward social media isn’t just for younger likely visitors. Data suggest that all-aged likely visitors profile as being “supper-connected” to the web.


2) Social media is the most effective online landing environment to inspire action

The chart above indicates the distribution of more than 65 million referrals from the online advertising campaigns of six cultural organizations in 2015. It is organized by the category of landing environment where folks were most likely to be engaged by the organization – or, to become a member, donor, or visitor.


IMPACTS - VSO online referrals

These landing technologies were not subjectively determined. Instead, we used algorithms to match users with the content that would best foster engagement with the organization based on their behaviors. As you can see, users were routed to an organization’s social media platforms 39% more frequently than they were routed to an organization’s own website. Nearly half of the referrals were routed through social media or peer review sites. Social media channels allow folks to see your organization in action: what it stands for, what it posts everyday, how it interacts with and values its communities.

This finding reaffirms the value of third-party endorsements: What others say about you is more important than what you say about yourself. In fact, what other’s say about you is 12.85 times more important than things that you say about yourself. In sum, data indicate that social media channels are the most effective sites to land potential visitors in order to motivate action.


Of course, organizations certainly benefit by having their own websites, but social media is our audiences’ primary source of information and key online influencer. Many organizations may be accustomed to having web designers in the decision-making room and those folks – especially when they deal with engagement strategy, which these folks today should all be doing  – are important. But many leaders still seem to be confused about the importance of social media community managers. They shouldn’t be. These folks are more than just “those people who do social media.” Data suggest that they are an organization’s most important connectors.

Social media motivates visitation, inspires donations, and secures new members. It is a channel that champions connection in our connected world. Websites are important. Social media and social media community managers are absolutely critical as well. We need them both, but most of all – we need to stop treating social media as a communication add-on. It is the most important avenue for connection.


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, Digital Connectivity, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 4 Comments

Three Survival Questions That Cultural Organizations Avoid Asking (Because We Do Not Like The Answers)

Three critical questions that cultural organizations are not asking because he do not like the answers - Know Your Own Bone

Visitor-serving organizations are not asking the right questions – or perhaps we would rather ignore the answers…

I bust myths with market data and analysis from my work with IMPACTS here on Know Your Own Bone. At its core, my job is to be curious. It is to ask questions about visitation to cultural organizations and seek answers – even (if not especially) difficult answers. At our best, though, it’s the job of all people working within cultural organizations (museums, performing arts organizations, aquariums, zoos, botanic gardens, historic sites, etc.) to be curious. Our institutions are places for learning and inspiration and we are – I like to think – curious by nature. I feel this shared passion among nearly everyone that I meet who works at a cultural organization and yet I am constantly reminded of the limitations of our curiosities. It seems that we retreat when we are on the brink of an answer that challenges “the way things are done.”

We folks within cultural organizations are armed with defenses for findings that we don’t like. But I still think that, at their core, these leaders also glow with curiousity. Indeed, I believe that it is because Know Your Own Bone challenges our thought processes that this website receives nearly 90,000 visits each month. Maybe we want our outdated notions to be busted – we are just looking for some support.

Instead of sharing traditional, Frequently Asked Questions from cultural organizations received by myself and/or the IMPACTS team, I’d like to share three, macro-level Should-Be Asked Questions. It seems that we avoid the answers to these questions because they are hard – and because we don’t know everything about all of the answers yet. They represent uncharted territory in today’s connected world. But that’s why I like them and why you should, too.


ASK: What do people really value about our organization?

(NOT: What do we want people to value about our organization?)

It’s easier to consider what we want people to value about our organizations – we can make that up! We get to decide what’s important in that case! The problem is that while we can declare importance, we need our supporters (visitors, donors, members) more than they need us – and they determine the relevance of what we’ve deemed important.

This confusion is a primary indicator of a serious growing pain for cultural organizations: We are used to thinking about things from the inside out (“We are the experts and we decide what matters!”), but we are still pretty crummy at thinking about things from the outside in. This is more than considering what we think our audiences want from us – it’s about actually finding out what audiences want from us. Asking the question that we need to know – What do people really value about us? – necessitates market research and that generally freaks us out. We tend to have audience research covered and can tell you a whole lot about people who are already visiting us, but we aren’t so awesome yet about learning more about who is not coming and why.

When we change our shift from inside-out to outside-in thinking, we can focus on what our supporters truly like about us. We can focus on relevance over importance. We can learn more about the power of our mission. We can embrace that organizations that highlight those missions financially outperform those marketing primarily as attractions, and we can better understand the roles that education and entertainment play in the visitor experience and motivation process (not the roles that we want them to play). Most importantly, we can come to terms with the unassailable fact that visitor-serving organizations are – at their best – facilitators of shared experiences. When we realize that, we reap both mission-based and financial benefits. But we cannot truly embrace any of this data-informed information until we get more organizations asking the hard question (“What do people really value about us?”) instead of asking questions where we can make up answers that keep us stuck in a rut (“What do we want people to value about us?”)


ASK: Why are some people not visiting or supporting us?

(NOT: Why do we think some people are not visiting us?)

We are making things up and we seem not to know what we are talking about. We create programs, offer discounts, hand out free admission, and make excuses based upon assumptions that actually make it harder for us to be financially stable and execute our missions. Nothing changes and we just keep “programming” and “excusing” harder. Not actually uncovering why people (general audiences or subset groups) are not visiting us and making guesses instead is probably the dumbest thing that we do – and we do it so regularly that we forget to step back and look at the bigger picture.

Most of the myth busts on Know Your Own Bone are not challenging tried and true practices, but wild, stab-in-the-dark guesses that we continually perpetuate within the industry – even when they are directly at-odds with well known rules of economics or pricing psychology. Free admission is not a cure-all for engagement. In fact, it’s generally a bad idea in many ways. Discounts devalue your brand and actually keep people from coming back and blockbuster exhibits do the same thing.

Interestingly, we aren’t creating many programs that tackle what data suggest are the actual issues. We undervalue the role of reputation and the importance of social media in driving visitation and support (and we do it in many ways). Moreover, schedule is the top barrier to visitation and we don’t talk about it. We host cultural days and treat them like huge accomplishments because we misunderstand our underserved audiences and think that just because WE consider their ethnicity to be a primary identifier, they must think that is their primary identifier as well. We need to reach millennials, and instead of integrating a mindset of transparency, connectivity, and personalization – we are creating one-off evening programs with alcohol and calling it a day.

When we know our true barriers to visitation, we can crate programs that effectively overcome those barriers.


ASK: How can we shift to a more sustainable business model?

(NOT: What programs can we add to help make our current model sustainable?)

We often focus on “add on” solutions instead of asking ourselves hard questions about how we operate and stay in business. Yes – I used the word “business.” I know that we nonprofiteers dislike that word, but when we talk about being sustainable and “staying in business” it’s important to remember that if we aren’t “in business,” we cannot educate and inspire. If we cannot keep our doors open, we cannot execute our missions. “Business” has been viewed as a dirty word in the industry, but I vote that we use it more often. Being good at your mission is good for your organization’s solvency and “business.” 

We often act as though the proper model is to continue promoting ourselves as attractions to get folks in the door while treating potential donors as bottomless wells of potential cash. ….Okay, that’s over-the-top glib, but it’s not altogether untrue. In order to thrive, it’s time for us to take a hard look at our revenues and get smarter about our pricing strategies. We need to invest in affordable access programs that actually work in order to reach goals in attracting these audiences – and we need to put a wee bit more effort in actually attracting them. It’s time to consider who is actually visiting our organizations and who is not. It’s time to get smarter about our membership opportunities and the untapped opportunities for engagement. We need to realize that free days don’t work and, again, discounts and free admission may be bigger curses for long-term survival than blessings.


The world is changing and we need to change, too. We need to get smarter about everything that we are doing and I think that the best place to start is taking a look at the questions that we are asking. Certainly, there are many more questions to ask beyond these three, but I think that they highlight some of our biggest challenges, especially this one:

What the heck are we doing on many fronts? Guessing. That’s what we’re doing. The good news is that we don’t need to guess anymore. Now we CAN ask these Should-Ask questions and we can find out the real answers. Without the answers, we can only do more of the same. For the sake of the institutions that we love, let’s agree to get in this game together and be fearlessly and fiercely curious. Let’s ask hard questions – even if we don’t like the answers. It is only by doing that that we can all work together to bust myths and help make cultural organizations thrive.


Like this post? Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:


Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

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:


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, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

Mission Motivated vs. Transaction Motivated Members: What Your Cultural Organization Needs To Know (DATA)

Data suggest that members to cultural organizations often fall into one of two categories – and the categories tell a lot about how to engage these members.

I originally debuted this important data during my keynote at the Pennsylvania Museums Conference this spring. Today, I’m excited to share this information in this week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video. This data may help directly pave the way for the future of membership for cultural organizations. As usual, when I refer to cultural organizations, I am talking about museums, aquariums, botanic gardens, zoos, performing arts organizations, and other mission-driven organizations that welcome visitors.

At cultural organizations, we tend to lump members together as one audience – but data suggest that most folks are driven to become members based upon one of two very different motivating factors. Understanding these motivating factors may allow us to develop more effective membership programs. This data illustrates that what we consider “membership” may actually be two related – but different – programs.

IMPACTS surveyed members of 118 cultural organizations that charge admission. These organizations range from museums to zoos to orchestras. For the study, we collected open-ended responses regarding the primary benefit of membership. We found that people who purchase memberships to cultural organizations do so for six primary benefits: Free admission; belonging to the organization; supporting the organization; contributing to mission impact; exclusive access to events, and member discounts.

Conceptually, these six benefits fall into two groups: transaction-based members and mission-based members. Transaction-based members are those whose answers may not surprise leaders at all, because their reported primary benefits align with the benefits that most organizations market for membership. Transaction-based members value free admission, exclusive access to events, and member discounts. No surprises there for membership teams, most likely. In fact, you may even be thinking, “Thank goodness that those member discounts are being valued!” Indeed, for some folks, they are valued.

Mission-based members (as we will call them) are driven to become members for reasons more directly related to an organization’s mission. Mission-based members value belonging to the organization, supporting the organization, and contributing to mission impact. These folks value the meaning of membership more than the transaction-based benefits.

We found it interesting that the top six benefits reported by members could be divided in this way and we wanted to dig in deeper. Does a member’s primary benefit affect how they perceive and value their membership? As it turns out, it definitely does. We organized responses based upon what members identified as their primary member benefit, and we immediately spotted some noteworthy differences.


1) Mission motivated members find greater value in their memberships

People whose primary motivation was to support the organization, belong to the organization, and contribute to mission impact found their membership to be 14.5% more valuable than people who joined primarily for free admission, discounts, or event access.

Value for cost by membership benefit


2) Mission motivated members pay more for memberships

Does that mean that these folks might be more likely to buy higher-level memberships? Yes! As it turns out, mission motivated members in the survey were paying 42% more for memberships than transaction motivated members – and, as a reminder, they are still finding their membership to have 14.5% higher value for cost.

membership cost by primary benefit - IMPACTS


3) Mission motivated members are more likely to renew their memberships

Members that are primarily mission motivated are also more likely to renew their memberships. In fact, mission motivated members are 14% more likely to annually renew their membership than those whose primary benefit is free admission.

propensity to renew membership by primary benefit - IMPACTS

This data suggest that what we call “membership” to cultural organizations may actually be two, different products: membership and an annual pass benefit. It is certainly a balancing act, as mission motivated members are primarily motivated by mission-based factors, but transaction based benefits may not hurt the deal. Perhaps it is us within the industry who blur the line and discourage mission-based members from being fully cultivated.

Consider this: many cultural organizations tend to believe that free admission is the most important benefit of membership. Indeed, it is a significant motivator for many members– but it’s also the benefit that cultural organizations highlight and market the most – sometimes at the expense of mission-related benefits. When we make our memberships primarily about transactions, we neglect the motivations of our most meaningful members.  Go pull up nearly any membership page to a cultural organization right now and I’ll bet that the primary selling point that you see is free admission, and the concept of supporting mission impact is presented as a “feel good” that is secondary to “the deal.” Again, this isn’t to say that free admission isn’t important to members and an appropriate benefit for member categories, but if you were a truly mission motivated potential member looking for your ideal way to support the organization, you may find that the method of support that you want does not exist. Or rather, it may exist, but you may not feel that optimal “passion match” because your own motivations are secondary to transaction-based benefits.

Members whose primary motivation is mission-related, find greater value in their memberships, are willing to pay more for memberships, and they are most likely to renew their memberships. These are our people and prioritizing them is a smart move. Let’s use this information to create more effective membership programs that optimize support for our organizations and support long-term solvency.


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, Sector Evolution 1 Comment

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

The data-informed importance of marketing and engagement staff

Need to increase support for your cultural organization during tough times? It is counterproductive to instinctively cut marketing and engagement experts.

I write about market data-informed tips for financial solvency for museums and cultural centers. That’s what I do. My job is to help keep cultural organizations alive and thriving. Considering this, it’s difficult to see some important museums buckling their belts and laying off staff members right now. It’s also a prime moment to provide an important reminder for the industry in general: Sometimes laying off staff members is an unfortunate reality, but cutting marketing and engagement professionals first is more likely to lead to suicide than it is to salvation.

When times are tight for operations budgets we often keep going back to the never-successful plan of trying to “save our way to prosperity.” This often involves cutting budgets or staff – and that can help to balance finances, provided that you have a plan to also increase revenues in the long-term. If you don’t have a plan to increase your revenues (regardless of why you are laying off staff), then your organization is sacrificing hard-working people in vain. The layoffs won’t better the organization. The layoffs are human payment for bad choices that probably weren’t made by the people who are being sacrificed. Again, though, sometimes organizations really do need to balance finances and do this – but it’s shortsighted to sacrifice jobs without also having a plan to increase revenues. And we know from research that the most effective and realistic ways to do this involve marketing and/or engagement professionals. It hinders the growth of our entire industry when we cut marketing and engagement professionals first.

When we go through rough times, it’s our AUDIENCES that are most important to our survival. After all, they pay admission, become members, spread word-of-mouth endorsements, and make donations. Thus, it can be counterproductive to immediately cut marketing (the people who hold that relationship and keep you relevant) and keep esoteric specialists who work in functions that audiences might consider irrelevant. (A museum philosopher question for the ages: If a specialized curator leads an educating and inspiring program but nobody is there to take part in it, did it educate and inspire?)

My purpose is not to point fingers at organizations that have chosen to lay off these – or any – staff members. Rather, I’m taking this timely opportunity to encourage a re-thinking of who we cut first when we make staff cuts. I talk about marketing a lot in this article because that tends to be the area where thoughtless cuts are made first, and have been made first in the past. But when I say “engagement,” I’m not only referring to marketing. It includes fundraising, floor staff, education leaders, program directors, and people who manage the connection between a cultural organization and living human beings.

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.


1) Marketing is the way to INCREASE revenues

This very obvious fact alone should make our industry kick – or simply rethink – the “cut marketing first” habit. Data suggest that over 70% of cultural organizations aren’t investing the necessary funds to optimize visitation – and this doesn’t even include salaries. Let me rephrase: Over 70% of cultural organizations are not securing as much visitation and support as data suggest that they could. Data suggest that many cultural organizations could earn more revenues, but they choose not to. (This is usually due to outdated and bad business practices that view marketing as an expense as opposed to an investment.) The investment equation for optimizing audience acquisition is shared below. It’s not guessing – it’s math.

Marketing is the only department that involves a tested, data-informed equation for actually MAKING MONEY for cultural organizations. (Though fundraising has rough best practice guidelines and obviously also helps raise funds.) Certainly, an organization can overspend on marketing, and that’s something that should rightfully be cut back if it is out of line with optimal spending. Also, it’s important to make sure that organizations are focusing on engagement strategies rather than gimmicks or carrying out social media for social media’s sake. Marketing funds need to be well spent in order to be effective… but if they aren’t spent, they cannot be effective. For cultural organizations, it costs (some) money to make (more) money. Heck, that’s generally true for all industries!

Marketing also plays an extremely important role in fundraising and building affinities for an organization that lead to memberships and donations. In a way, cutting marketing is also cutting fundraising capabilities in today’s world. And that’s a problem because for most organizations, that is the only other department that can be directly relied upon to help get them out of a financial funk.


2) Knowing your audience and community is critical for success

Marketing and engagement professionals are masters of kick-starting relationships with audiences and also –thanks to the connected world in which we now live – maintaining them! Personalization trends are affecting absolutely everything within organizations right now and marketing and engagement professionals are on the front lines. In order to create meaningful connection, today’s marketing and engagement folks need to be listeners first. They see what their online audiences are responding to and, at higher levels in the chain, they can see the entirety of the tapestry of engagement. No other department leader is positioned to do this – not even fundraising. A good marketing department considers its strategy and knows the relevance behind every ad it places or post that it promulgates. Our entire existence is dependent upon effectively connecting with people externally, but it is difficult to attract audiences to our brains (exhibits, programs, etc.) if we are missing a mouth, ears, and eyes. That’s what we do when we cut the marketing department first. I’m not saying that the brain is unimportant. It’s critical! But without professional listeners and strategic communicators, it’s difficult to get folks to CARE about what is happening in the brain. And we need to communicate to audiences on their terms, not ours.

We may be cutting marketing first because we still think of this department as a service department rather that what it is today: a strategic collaborator. Marketing is not a service department. Of the 224 cultural organizations that IMPACTS monitors, the ones that are the most financially solvent very clearly prioritize marketing and audience engagement. They include those experts in the room when initiatives are being formed rather than “tasking” them to market something once it has already been set in stone.


3) Reputation drives visitation and support

I write about this a lot because it’s a big deal: What people say about your organization is 12.85 times more important in driving your reputation than things that you pay to say about yourself. When people think of “marketing” they often only think of marketing of the past – or, advertising. Today, marketing is much more dynamic and real-time. It can be more accurately called “engagement” rather than “marketing” for many roles that are currently in that department. Today, marketing teams run not only the messages that the organization puts out, but they also manage the organization’s community. This plays a huge role in driving an organization’s reputation.

Reputation decision-making utility- IMPACTS

Reputation is a top motivator for visitation, and organizations that are cutting back budgets and laying off workers generally need more visitation and support. And, again, your reputation is made up of what people say about you and what you say about yourself – both of which are regularly managed and monitored by marketing departments. Organizations tend to underestimate the role that social media and digital engagement play in driving the gate. Again, yes, sometimes layoffs happen. But is it best to immediately cut people from a department with very direct ties to visitation?


4) Millennials are underserved and they are the most connected audiences

Of all of the points, this one may be the most important. Cultural organizations have a big millennial problem. These folks make up the majority of our visitors, but they are still our most underserved demographic. And they are underserved in a very big way. Millennials are the single most important demographic for our industry to engage in order to have a future. (I know, I know. I’m sick of talking about millennials, too, and I’m one of them! But we talk about them so much for a good, important reason. We are in a unique situation with this audience.)

Moreover, millennials are our most connected visitors. In fact, all high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations are “super-connected” with access to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile device. These numbers are not going down. In a world where a bunch of numbers are going down for museums (or not keeping pace with population growth), the number of people who qualify as “super-connected” is going up. When we consider this, cutting marketing teams first manages to be even more of a bad move.


Layoffs stink. There are no two-ways about it. I’m not arguing that ANY particular department should be cut in hard times. Indeed, other departments also fall under “engagement.” Fundraising helps summon support and education departments help organizations walk their talk – a thing that also pays off financially. Floor staff are particularly important for increasing visitor satisfaction.  And again, not all marketing professionals are super great by virtue of the simple fact that they work in engagement. This topic is a messy one, but my point is this: We need to stop instinctively cutting people who work in engagement (in any capacity) first. It’s a bad practice. It’s outdated. It’s holding us back and it’s making our organizations weaker.

We need more engagement with audiences when things get tight, not less.


And this indeed takes expertise. If we know that it is only our audiences that can reliably help us when we hit hard times, why do we immediately cut off our connections to them and the people who manage our precious communities? Marketing and engagement are not “extra” – they are particularly necessary for support and visitation. Let’s evolve and realize that our financial futures are dependent upon people and connections to our missions. 


Like this post? Please check out Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel for more insights. 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, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution Leave a comment
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