Millennial Values Do Not Change With Age: What Cause Durability Means For Cultural Nonprofits (DATA)

Data suggest that a popular excuse for cultural nonprofits failing to innovate – namely, that the values of millennials Read more

Six Ways Personalization Trends Are Affecting Museums and Cultural Centers (DATA)

The personalization trend is here. And it’s affecting nearly everything visitor-serving organizations do.   Once in a while – usually when Read more

Visitation to Increase if Cultural Organizations Evolve Engagement Models (DATA)

Attendance to cultural centers is on the decline, but data suggest that forward-facing organizations may see improvements by 2020. Read more

Group Tour Interest in Decline: Why Museums Should Invest Elsewhere (DATA)

Investing in attracting tour groups is an increasingly futile endeavor for museums. Here’s the data and what to do Read more

The Evolution of Nonprofit Leadership: We Need More Conductors

Nearly everything has changed in today's digital world - including the most important duties of executive leaders in successful Read more

Audience Acquisition: The Cost of Doing Business for Visitor-Serving Organizations (DATA)

Here it is: the data-informed equation for how much money organizations should be spending in order to maximize opportunities Read more

Museums

Six Ways Personalization Trends Are Affecting Museums and Cultural Centers (DATA)

Personalization trend in cultural organizations

The personalization trend is here. And it’s affecting nearly everything visitor-serving organizations do.

 

Once in a while – usually when considering topics for a trend meeting with clients – I look over collections of recent IMPACTS data and glaring patterns emerge. Sometimes these trends are obvious – like myth-busting traditional ways of thinking that data suggest are now largely irrelevant. Sometimes they come together to tell a story about sector evolution and solvency. And other times – like today- they represent a connection so glaringly apparent (because it is already in the broader business media spotlight) that I’ve mentioned it only in passing.

Personalization has been an increasing and unrelenting theme in much of the data collected regarding visitor-serving organizations – and it is begging for more attention in the world of cultural centers. Typically, conversations about personalization within these institutions are interpreted as a need for crowd-sourced exhibits/programs or more creative, online initiatives. And those can be excellent ways to actively incorporate personalization into an engagement strategy! What’s decidedly NOT excellent is assuming that personalization doesn’t affect nearly everything in regard to operations and engagement these days. This goes way beyond new exhibit development and social media stunts. 

Personalization is one of the most important trends for brand evolution today and is predicted to continue to emerge as a hard-hitting trend. And, if you haven’t heard, 2015 is the year of personalization. Personalization has been sited – alongside transparency – as an increasingly required brand attribute and a prime example of how the Internet has changed the world in which we live.

From the Share a Coke initiative to the secret sauce of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Spotify, and Pandora, personalization initiatives are everywhere. Most of all, personalization serves as a helpful lens through which to consider initiatives and the evolution of engagement practices.

Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all communications online and offline. Personalization is actually playing a role in nearly all aspects of visitor-serving organizations – beyond the creative development of new exhibits and programs. Personalization has lead to the emergence of the following trends:

 

1) An increased need for onsite personalization to increase satisfaction levels

Data suggest that personal interactions between staff and visitors significantly increase overall satisfaction, improve value perceptions, and contribute to a more meaningful overall experience. IMPACTS data has uncovered that a single personal facilitated experience (PFE) during a visit can have a major impact on satisfaction levels. A PFE is a one-to-one or one-to few interaction that occurs between an onsite representative of the organization and a visitor.  And not only do PFEs increase satisfaction levels, but they also increase perceived value for admission, education value, staff courtesy, and entertainment value. See the data here.

IMPACTS satisfaction by daypart PFE

Organizations may even deploy PFEs as a mitigation strategy to minimize the impact of crowding perceptions on overall satisfaction! The chart above shows data points from a representative organization with whom IMPACTS works. Keep in mind: The experiences represented by PFE and non-PFE visitors are largely the same (same facility, same content, same basic experience) – except for the opportunity to have a personalized experience with a staff member.

 

2) A growing disinterest in group tours and standardized experiences

Your organization isn’t imagining things: It’s harder to attract leisure tour groups today than in the past. This mass, standardized experience business has been in decline – and the data suggests that it’s not because the salespeople suddenly got bad at their jobs.  It’s because people do not want to go on the same old, standardized group tours.  This makes sense: During a time in which audiences are leaning toward more personlized experiences, many group tours are currently the precise opposite – every experience is commonized.

IMPACTS group tours are fun way to visit museums

The Y-axis in the chart above indicates the mean scalar variable response so as to indicate the level of agreement with the statement on a 1-100 scale.  Anything much below 60 tends to indicate a level of disagreement (i.e. “not fun”).

Perception of the enjoyment of museum visits through group tours not only started out at less-than-impressive levels when IMPACTS began tracking the metric in 2008, perception has since been in steady decline. This is also the case in regard to group tours to zoos and even cities, suggesting that it isn’t the museum group tour that’s “broken” – it’s the group tour concept itself. Similar data exists for sporting events, aquariums, theme parks…you name it. Again, the personalization trend is at odds with the standardized experience of group tours – regardless of the venue. More on this here.

 

3) The expectation of social care on digital platforms

When organizations consider social media and personalization, they often think about creative initiatives. However, this may be missing the boat. There’s an ongoing expectation for personalization that may be more critical to your organization than more creative, additive endeavors.

The buzz term for personal, customer service-like community management issocial care” and it is hugely important for all organizations. Why? Online audiences expect engagement from organizations.

Consider this data by Lithium Technologies: 70% of Twitter users expect a response from brands they reach out to on Twitter, and, of those users53% want that response in less than one hour. The percentage of people who expect a response within the hour increases to 72% when they’re issuing a complaint. And there’s more: 60% of respondents cited negative consequences to the brand if they didn’t receive timely Twitter responses. That said, it isn’t only negative comments for which audiences seek interaction…

Lithium expect response within hour of tweet

This may all sound doom and gloom, but according to the same survey by Lithium Technologies, there’s a benefit to interacting with folks on social media sites:

Lithium positive response data

 

4) Promulgating connective content with personal meaning

By now, organizations likely understand that an organization’s number of followers on social media doesn’t matter. The quality of followers is more important than having thousands who do not promulgate your messages and are disinterested in acting in your organization’s interest.

Content is no longer king. Connectivity is king. Content can operate in isolation, but connectivity requires a kind of “passion match” between the organization and the potential supporter or advocate. This “passion match” is personal, and – while indeed many exhibits or specific programs are being developed for more unique audiences – the understanding that personal connection is the goal is driving the content strategies of intelligent organizations to post not what the most people on social media will like, but what actual, potential supporters will find most meaningful.

 

5) The availability of more diverse membership structures

The concept of personalization may begin with allowing for alternate gateways to engagement and understanding that the “one-size-fits-all” approach to membership simply isn’t optimal anymore. One data-based example of this can be seen in IMPACTS work with a large (over one million visitors per year) visitor-serving organization with a mission related to conservation. More on this finding here.

IMPACTS- Benefits of membership

Adults under thirty-five provide a sneak-peak into the need for organizations to create alternate programs to cultivate new and emerging audiences. Extant data indicate that members of Generation Y are public service motivated and appreciate a feeling of belonging and connectedness with one another and with a cause. This is consistent with the responses gathered from millennials in the data above. Instead of being interested in the more “transactional perks” of membership, this generation desires a feeling of connectedness with a broader social good. Creating a range of membership programs that engage different audiences allows for more personalization in approach. Is the primary “passion match” between members and your organization actually transactional? For some it may be. But what about the increasing majority that care about impact and connectivity?

 

6) The evolution of digital platforms and technology usage

Thanks to the personalization trend, the role of email has changed. It is no longer effective for “spamming” groups of people, but rather for cultivating individual audience members based on their “passion matches.” Personalized emails deliver six times higher transaction rates, but seventy-percent of brands fail to use them.

Moreover, data suggests that static websites and homepages are no longer the digital platform motivating visitation decisions.  Increasingly, social media plays an important role in this process thanks to the personalization and perceived transparency that it provides. Simply put, folks can log onto social media sites and see how well an organization actually “walks the talk” of its mission by way of the content that it posts – and make decisions about the organization on their own.

There is buzz about the importance of utilizing mobile devises to hone in on personalization opportunities. This is a particularly good idea right now because Google has announced that there are now officially more searches taking place on mobile devices and tablets than laptops and desktops. Let the personalization trend continue!

 

Ours is an era of personalization – every experience is increasingly tailored. And data suggest that more standardized experiences suffer in comparison. It’s time that cultural centers ingrain this brand attribute into overall organizational strategy in order to future-proof their experiences and offerings, and better attract and retain donors and supporters.

 

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 ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Group Tour Interest in Decline: Why Museums Should Invest Elsewhere (DATA)

group tours

Investing in attracting tour groups is an increasingly futile endeavor for museums. Here’s the data and what to do instead.

Many visitor-serving organizations increasingly bemoan the challenges associated with the leisure group tour market. (This being a different attendance category – and revenue line item – than school groups.) Typically, visitor-serving organizations have salespeople dedicated to the process of soliciting tour groups. In other words, their job is to get group business.

This business has been in decline – and the data suggests that it’s not because the salespeople suddenly got bad at their jobs.  It’s because people do not want to go on group tours.  This makes sense: Ours is an era of personalization- every experience is tailored.  Group visits are the exact opposite – every experience is standardized.

Your organization isn’t imagining things: It’s harder to attract leisure tour groups today than in the past. Here are three, data-based reasons to utilize full-time staff (FTEs) in a way that is more likely to drive actual visitation than futilely increasing investments in the leisure tour group market:

 

1) People do not think group tours are a fun way to visit a museum

IMPACTS group tours are fun way to visit museums

The Y-axis in the chart above indicates the mean scalar variable response so as to indicate the level of agreement with the statement on a 1-100 scale.  Anything much below 60 tends to indicate a level of disagreement (i.e. “not fun”).

Perception of the enjoyment of museum visits through group tours not only started out at less-than-impressive levels when IMPACTS began tracking the metric in 2008, perception has since been in steady decline. This is also the case in regard to group tours to zoos and even cities, suggesting that it isn’t the museum group tour that’s “broken” – it’s the group tour concept itself. Similar data exists for sporting events, aquariums, theme parks…you name it. Again, the personalization trend is at odds with the standardized experience of group tours – regardless of the venue.

We decided to look into this a bit more, and the outcomes to this inquiry were also extremely telling (although perhaps altogether unsurprising)…

 

2) Group tours do not likely have a sustainable future

 IMPACTS group tours are fun chart

Like the previous chart, the data above also demonstrate a mean scalar variable response so as to indicate the level of agreement with the statement on a 1-100 scale. Again, dipping below 60 tends to indicate a level of disagreement (i.e. “not fun”). The data here is unassailable: The market – and especially millennials – do not think group tours are fun.

Millennials represent the single largest generation in human history and will make up the largest consumer segment of the market for the next 40 years at minimum. These folks don’t think group tours are fun – and their perceptions are declining rapidly. “We aren’t trying to attract millennials with group tours anyway,” you say? Well, the general market (even excluding millennials) doesn’t think group tours are much fun either.

This trend toward the negative perception of the enjoyment of group tours – like most evolution within the industry – mirrors the general market preference for more tailored experiences. On social media, the ads that come up in your newsfeed are picked just for you. Email has evolved to become a more personalized way to tell important stories than an opportunity to “spam” with broader messages. Audiences want to decide what they think of organizations for themselves. Today, everyone’s a curator. Group tours embody the opposite of these market preferences – the regulated, homogeneity of a common experience.

 

3) There are areas in which staff resources for group tours may be reallocated in order to truly drive visitation.

I think it’s interesting that some organizations that claim to not be able to afford to augment their social teams still maintain group salespeople.  The alternative use of those same funds would likely have a better ROI more broadly engaged to support the communications effort.

Digital engagement isn’t the only area in which data suggest alternative investments may yield more visitors and donor support. Indeed, any position that supports more personalized experiences has been proven to drive both reputation and satisfaction levels within institutions. Investing more in front-line staff and deploying personal facilitated experiences is an urgent need that many institutions are overlooking.

In short: Museums often have full-time staff dedicated to managing a program that many folks don’t even want. At the same time, there are data-supported audience “touch points” that may not be receiving adequate investment. Once a month, one of us at IMPACTS seems to get asked, “What can we do to improve our leisure group business?”  The answer is: Get out of the group business (and get into the personalization business)!

 

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 ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

 

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Trends 8 Comments

Audience Acquisition: The Cost of Doing Business for Visitor-Serving Organizations (DATA)

Visit us v2

Here it is: the data-informed equation for how much money organizations should be spending in order to maximize opportunities for financial success.  

Data suggest that approximately 70% of visitor-serving organizations are not investing optimal funding in acquiring audiences.

Marketing budgets seem to be an unnecessarily emotional topic for many nonprofit organizations. Optimizing marketing investments – like admission prices – are increasingly a product of math and science (read: decidedly not “intuition” or “trial and error”). They need not be based on fuzzy-feelings and inappropriate loyalties to failing business models that ignore the realities of the outside world.

We live in a pay-to-play world where organizations have to spend money to make money. When it comes to budgeting for audience acquisition costs, many organizations seem to have fallen into that familiar trap of “last year plus 5%” that lazily assumes the continued efficacy of the same old platforms and strategies. Of course, such a strategy completely ignores shifting advertising cost factors, evolving platforms and channels, and technological innovation. Say it aloud: Nonprofits do not operate in a vacuum and cannot afford to ignore the changed economies and technologies of the world around them.

Several organizations that have made this realization have asked IMPACTS if there is an equation to inform their audience acquisition costs so as to maximize their opportunities for financial success. And, the findings of a three-year study suggest: Yes, there most certainly is!

 

The key equation for acquisition costs

Let’s first establish a few definitions and “same page” this conversation:

Audience acquisition costs are the investments that an organization makes in advertising, public relations, social media, community relations…basically, anything and everything intended to engage your audiences.

Market potential is a data-based, modeled outcome that indicates an organization’s potential engagement with its audiences. For most organizations, “market potential” primarily concerns onsite visitation. In other words, it answers the question, “If everything goes well, how many people can we reasonably expect to visit us this year? (NOTE: Market potential may not match an organization’s historic attendance – organizations “underperform” their market potential all the time…for reasons that we’ll soon explore.)

Earned revenues are the product of admissions, memberships, merchandising, food and beverage, facility rentals…basically, all revenues attendant to the onsite experience that are supported by audience acquisition investments. These revenues exclude annual fund, grants, endowment distributions and other sorts of philanthropy.

Here’s the equation to maximize your market potential (as suggested by the recently completed three-year study):

 IMPACTS audience acquisition equation

Expressed another way: Optimal Audience Acquisition Costs = 12.5% of Earned Revenues. For example, if your organization generates annual earned revenues of $20 million, then this would suggest an annual audience acquisition investment of $2.5 million.

Further, additional analysis would suggest that 75% of the audience acquisition costs should be earmarked to support paid media (i.e. advertising). So, of the $2.5 million suggested above for audience acquisition, nearly $1.9 million should support paid media.  The remaining 25% (or, in this example, approximately $600,000) would support agency fees, public relations expenses, social media, community engagement – all of the programs and initiatives that round out an integrated marketing strategy. Forget to invest that 25% at your own peril. Earned media is critical for success and many social media channels are also becoming pay-to-play.

And now the other side: Why such a large percentage allocated to paid media? Again, ours is an increasingly pay-to-play world. Rising above the noise to engage our audiences frequently means investing to identify and target audience members with the propensity to act in our interest (e.g. visit our organizations, become members, etc.). There is tremendous competition for these same audience members – from the nonprofit and for-profit communities alike.  Think of the most admired and successful campaigns in the world – do Nike and Apple rely on 3am cable TV “bonus” spots that they get for a reduced rate and that don’t hit target audiences? Nope. While earned media plays a major role in driving reputation, paid media plays an important role in a cohesive strategy – and doing it right costs money.

 

The equation in action

How does the study suggest this equation? Check out the chart below. It indicates the relationship between performance relative to market potential (i.e. how well the organization actually performed when compared to its market potential) and the audience acquisition investments made by 42 visitor-serving organizations (including aquariums, museums, performing arts organizations, and zoos) over a three-year period:

IMPACTS - Audience Acquisition

The data strongly suggests that there is a correlation between an optimized audience acquisition investment and achieving market potential. It also indicates the perils of “underspending the opportunity” – a modest investment intended to achieve cost-savings may forfend exponential revenues. (Though the data never has – and likely never will – support it, many organizations seem to foolishly hold dear to the notion that they might somehow “save their way to prosperity.”)

Additional analysis indicates that the studied organizations invested an average of 7.9% of earned revenues toward audience acquisition…but only achieved 76.0% of their market potential. However, the organizations achieving ≥95.0% of their respective market potentials invested an average of 12.7% of their earned revenues toward audience acquisition.

In no instance did an organization investing less than 5.0% of earned revenues on audience acquisition achieve greater than 60.0% of its market potential.

Overall, the data suggests that the “sweet spot” for audience acquisition investment is in the 10.0-15.0% of earned revenue range. Splitting the difference (and further supported by the findings of organizations achieving ≥95.0% of their market potential in the study) gives us our 12.5%.

NOTE: Before we start parsing the nuances of media planning and creative approaches to advertising, let’s baseline the conversation by acknowledging that each of the studied organizations were led by competent persons operating with the best of intentions. Yes – “great creative” matters – but it doesn’t offset an inadequate marketing investment. Sure, a viral social campaign helps…but it doesn’t negate the importance of other media channels. In other words, there aren’t exemptions from the need to invest in audience acquisition for visitor-serving organizations that rely on earned revenues.

If your organization is struggling to meet its market potential, it may have less to do with all of the usual suspects such as parking, staff courtesy, special exhibits, pricing, etc. and more to do with an antiquated view of the necessity of meaningful marketing investments. Can your organization overspend? You bet. However, that doesn’t seem to be the problem confronting most visitor-serving nonprofit organizations. If your organization is struggling to meet its market potential, then it may be that in today’s pay-to-play world, you simply aren’t paying enough to play in the first place.

 

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 ). Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 15 Comments

Three New Pricing Realities For Visitor-Serving Nonprofits in The 21st Century (DATA)

Admission tickets

Want to keep moving your mission moving forward and your doors open? It’s time to end the debate on these pricing-related topics.

As the visitor-serving industry (museums, theaters, symphonies, historic sites, etc.) broadly struggles with declining attendance trends and a potentially unsustainable reliance on kindness and not commerce, “getting your price right” is more important than ever to nonprofits who depend on the gate to support their missions. Too high of a price may serve as a barrier to visitation. Too low of a price risks leaving money on the table and all of the attendant fiscal challenges associated with failing to maximize earned revenues.

Much is happening in the world that changes/challenges the way that traditional visitor-serving nonprofits operate: social media and technology, the need for real-time transparency, and changing demographics in the United States and beyond are just a few, prominent factors influencing our industry. And, these factors are changing everything from internal operations to membership products and the role of fundraising. And, unsurprisingly, the information age requires embracing new realities related to pricing.

Let’s end the debate on these three pricing-related topics and get on with the business of running effective businesses that enable meaningful missions:

 

1) Pricing is NOT an art (Pricing is now a science)

Determining the optimal price of admission is no longer a trial and error process. In fact, it’s anything but a “guess” (however well-educated). Data is playing an increasingly important role in the way that institutions operate for good reason.

A near-decade of research including hundreds of interviews with US visitor-serving nonprofit organizations strongly suggests that many pricing models are the product of “unintentional collusion” (AKA “the blind leading the blind”). This deeply-flawed model fails to contemplate two critical factors when it comes to informing a pricing strategy: (i) the fact that a proximate (or competitive, or peer) organization has established a price does not necessarily mean that it is an optimal price; and (ii) the market tends to view organizations – however “alike” they may be – in very unique terms, and this uniqueness frequently extends to pricing.

Unintentional collusion looks something like this:

IMPACTS unintentional collusion

Thanks to readily available data and analyses, there is no reason to base pricing on anything beyond an organization’s own, unique equities. For every organization, there is a data-based “sweet spot” in which admission prices are optimal.

Let’s consider a quick example of what an optimal pricing strategy looks like when charted (Note: This particular example is from a performance-based entity, but this way of considering pricing applies to any type of admission):

 IMPACTS ticket price analysis example

In the above example, the data-informed analysis suggests that pricing less than $75 for a ticket to the performance (more specifically, to a “premium” seat at a non-matinee, live performance) would be “value advantaged” – a polite euphemism for leaving money on the table! However, anything above $75 pushes the price into the “value disadvantaged” realm – a place where the price poses a needless barrier to entry (and, generally, one where the increased per capita revenues will not offset the decline in attendance). For every category of admission, every organization has an optimal price – one that is neither value advantaged nor value disadvantaged.

Organizations guess their price (without leveraging data to inform their pricing strategy) at their own risk. Getting the price wrong can alienate potential visitors and supporters if it’s too high, and make it difficult to raise prices to an optimal value over time if price starts too low.

Looking for ways to help support a price increase? Well, data suggest that a whiz-bang new exhibit or facility expansion isn’t necessarily coupled to an increased price tolerance. Instead, efforts to improving an organization’s reputation or the overall satisfaction of visitors are much more reliable indicators of increased value for cost perceptions.

 

2) Admission pricing is NOT affordable access (Admission enables affordable access)

A thought that sometimes emerges once an organization’s optimal pricing has been quantified is strangely, “but that’s too expensive to provide affordable access!” Admission is not a substitute for affordable access. Admission and affordable access programs are completely different things…and an organization needs to establish its optimal pricing strategy in order to support effective affordable access programming.

In other words, if you subsidize price in the name of affordable access (i.e. artificially lowering the price to create a value advantaged pricing condition), you are limiting your organization’s ability to fund quality programs that DO provide true affordable access. Making your entire pricing strategy an “affordable access program” leaves money on the table as folks pay an admission price below what they (the market!) indicate they were willing to pay for your experience.

When it comes to the truest definition of affordable access, an admission price point of $15 or $20 or $25 is functionally irrelevant to many of our most under-served audiences…most any price at all may pose an insurmountable barrier to visitation.

What if you aim to provide affordable access for the community? Won’t a high admission price deter folks? The data suggest “no” – at least not the people who were able to pay in the first place – but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea to develop true access programming to better engage constituents for whom price is barrier while also considering strategic promotions that celebrate your community. Speaking of which…

 

3) Discounts are NOT promotions (Promotions serve a purpose beyond cheap access)

Promotions celebrate community while discounts devalue your brand. These are very real and very different things. The biggest differentiating factor is the question “So what?” If the point of providing a discount is simply admitting folks for a lower price, then the discount is a bad idea that devalues your brand. (And, as a reminder, data suggests that all discounts provided through social media are bad business for nonprofit organizations.) However, if an organization’s answer to “so what?” is “to celebrate a community” and that purpose is made clear in external communications, then the program that you are describing is a promotion. The feature of a promotion may include a special pricing opportunity – think special pricing for mothers on Mother’s Day, or differentiated pricing for local residents.

Discounts make people say, “I got in cheap.” Promotions make people say, “I feel valued.” Discounts are not only meaningless, but data suggest that they also lead to less satisfying overall experiences and even increase the time before a return visit! While this may be surprising to some folks, it’s classic pricing psychology in action.

IMPACTS intent to revist

 

 

If visitor-serving organizations aim to keep providing inspiration and education to the masses, then the first imperative is to exist – and it’s hard to exist (let alone thrive) in the long-term without a sustainable revenue strategy that optimizes pricing.

Pricing strategies – and even pricing psychologies – are not mysterious so let’s stop guessing. The data is not uncertain.

 

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 colleendilen in Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution 4 Comments

Most Popular Posts of 2014 for Museums and Nonprofits

KYOB Happy 2015What a year! From the strategic evolution of nonprofit organizations to marketing channel efficacy to the need for millennial board members… These are your (a rather focused tribe of industry leaders) favorite KYOB posts of 2014.

Thank you for reading, engaging with, and passing along Know Your Own Bone among your organizations and circles of industry professionals. I continue to be blown away by your passion for elevating mission-driven organizations – and I am honored to aim to provide market insight for such a thoughtful and hard-working bunch of nonprofiteers! I’m thrilled by the prospect that these posts may be providing value for your friends, colleagues, fellow board members and executives, and even college and graduate students. You folks motivate me to keep provide nonprofits and visitor-serving organizations with intelligence regarding market behaviors and perceptions and I hope that my work being a nonprofit/for-profit double-agent has been of value!

Here are KYOB’s most viewed and passed-along posts of 2014. These are the posts that my analytics suggest you emailed around the most, shared with your friends and colleagues, and got the most attention within graduate programs and professional development curriculums:

 

Why Social Media Is The New Force Empowering Giving Decisions

Here are three ways that social media engagement on real-time, digital platforms is changing the nonprofit sector and empowering potential donors to make more intelligent giving decisions.

 

Signs of Trouble for the Museum Industry (DATA)

As the US population grows, the number of people attending visitor-serving organizations is in general decline. And this is a very big problem for sustainability without a digital-age shift in our business model. Here are three behaviors we need to adapt to reset our current condition.

 

Five Things I Have Learned As a Millennial Working with Baby Boomers

Here are my five most valuable lessons that I’ve learned as a millennial “change agent” at work in the land of Baby Boomers.

 

 The New Trickle Down Effect: Why Nonprofits Are Innovators for Industry

Indeed, when it comes to innovation, some of the best R&D happening in our space is being pioneered by nonprofits. Here’s why.

 

Is Your Organization Living in the Past? Nine Outdated Ways of Thinking That Are Hurting Your Organization

If any of these outdated beliefs still linger within your organization, then your nonprofit may be suffering both in terms of finances and mission delivery. It’s time to retire these obsolete practices once and for all.

 

Six Urgent Reasons to Add Millennials to your Nonprofit Board of Directors

Don’t have at least one millennial on your Board of Directors yet? Here are six, critical reasons to call up the nominating committee and work on getting some impressive millennials aboard your nonprofit Board right now.

 

How to Score an Informational Interview: 7 Tips for the Information Age

“Picking someone’s brain” needs an update. Here’s how to actually get an “informational interview” in today’s world.

 

Data Update: Efficacy of Various Marketing Channels (Social Media Still Top Spot)

Social media is an enormously important component of your overall marketing and communication strategy. In fact, data support it as one of the most efficient and effective channels to engage your users and constituents.

 

Why Talking About the Future of Museums May Be Holding Museums Back

Many resources focusing on “the future” are actually communicating about emerging trends that are happening right now…and when we call them “the future” we do our organizations a grave disservice. Here’s why.

 

 The Relevance Test: Three Key Concepts to Future-Proof Nonprofit Organizations

While recognizing the progress that has been made, here are three conflicting perceptions that visitor-serving organizations must internally resolve in order to remain relevant in our ever-evolving era

 

Cheers to an incredible 2015 for all of your mission-driven organizations! May this next year bring you and your organizations much success.

Thanks again for following along!

 

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

Posted on by colleendilen in Trends Leave a comment

How Nonprofits Use Language as a Barrier to Progress

Inigo Montoya - You keep using that word

Want to be a relevant, digitally engaging, and future-facing organization? You may be starting out on the wrong track. While it seems like a no-brainer, the first step is to actually understand what those words mean…because it seems that many executive leaders and staff members may not.

Before you skim ahead and chalk up these issues to “semantics,” consider that when a term is used incorrectly by leadership within an institution, other members of the organization begin to use it in the same way. When these important – and, definitionally, misunderstood – terms become “cheat” words for industry evolution, problems emerge. At the very least, the organization (if not the industry) is destined to be laggard until we either get the meanings right or someone creates a NEW word to represent the thing that the original word should have meant in the first place.  These matters of “semantics” are misguiding our industry.

Misusing (or perhaps unintentionally “redefining”) important concepts for strategic evolution happens constantly. I see it in my work every day – not to mention in public communications from nonprofit CEOs. Perhaps it’s because I’m a digital native myself, or because I work primarily with Baby Boomers to whom these words may seem relatively new in a contemporary context, or because I’m constantly in the thick of conversations regarding strategic change with my clients…but I find myself consistently feeling like Inigo Montoya (without the cool ‘stache) when words like “relevant,” “digital,” “engagement,” and the “future” come up. Interestingly, it seems that the meanings of these four important words have been jumbled together.

Cheating ourselves by not truly considering the meanings of these words may be playing a role in declining attendance to visitor-serving organizations and their increasingly grim business models. It’s certainly not helping us correct the effects of negative substitution facing the industry.

Let’s dive into these examples. Here are those four words that nonprofits often “cheat” themselves out of by (knowingly or unknowingly) redefining their meanings. In no particular order, ladies and gentleman…

 

1) Relevant (vs. current)

It seems that when someone asks, “How can we make our organization more relevant?” the proposed solutions involve tactics that are current (e.g. utilizing social media, providing analysis of a current event on a blog, or adding a widget to a website). But what if the question was phrased, “How can we make our organization more meaningful to our constituents?” (That, folks, is the true opportunity embedded within the word “relevant.”) When we use or interpret “relevant” to mean “current,” we miss the boat on more important conversations with greater potential to elevate individual organizations and the industry at large.

Being relevant is about connectivity, not content. Connectivity is king. Being current can certainly go a long way in making your organization more relevant to individuals, but promulgating the use of “relevance” to instead imply “current” shortcuts important conversations about how to actually connect with constituents and inspire them to act in the interest of your organization’s mission.

 

2) Engagement (vs. social media interaction)

Without a doubt, fostering engagement is critical for securing support in the information age. The more folks feel a connection with your organization by whatever means, the more relevant (yes, the real meaning of the word) an organization may become. Like being “relevant,” “engagement” is about connectivity. It heightens an organization’s ability to foster feelings of affinity that motivate a desired behavior.

Engagement actually means “to become involved in.” Engagement does not mean, “create a moment of semi-detached, low-level maybe-interest on a trackable social media platform”…so let’s stop using it that way. We miss out on important discussions about impact and strategy (and confuse ourselves by further  contributing to the social media data dilemma) when we reduce “engagement” to simply mean something like “Facebook likes.”

 

3) Digital strategy (vs. technological skillset)

I’ve saved the two most important for last. Industry misuse of the word “digital” may be the entire reason why many organizations aren’t very good at translating it into visits, membership, financial support, or even lasting engagement. Here’s a truth bomb: “Digital strategies” are actually real-life, human-being engagement strategies. As much as many folks working in organizations want to write “all things digital” off to the IT guys (or even the marketing department alone), humans do not think in HTML. Technological skillsets come in handy when deploying tactical, isolated aspects of these strategies. In other words, “digital strategies” are not necessarily about platforms, but about people. So executives should really stop saying, “I don’t understand that” as an excuse for digital illiteracy. This actually translates into, “I know nothing about how to engage our audiences – particularly on their preferred platforms – and I probably should not continue to hold my current position given how remarkably unqualified I am relative to the moment.” The data is pretty unassailable on this front.

Want to dig deeper into this dilemma? Here are five reasons why conceptually separating out “digital” is a problem that is making it harder for nonprofits to succeed.

 

4) Future (vs. present)

Talking about the “future” of organizations may be holding them back. Many industry resources supposedly focusing on “the future” are actually communicating about emerging trends that are happening right now…and when we call them “the future” we do ourselves a grave disservice for several reasons. (For a full run-down, check out this article.) Among those is the fact that calling things that are happening in the present “the future” excuses putting off critical issues, implies uncertainty (even though the data is anything but uncertain), and this misuse of the word also fosters a false and undeserved sense of “innovation” when many organizations are not even keeping up with the day-to-day realities of the world that we live in.

 

These “matters of semantics” are playing big roles in the progress (or lack thereof) of nonprofits and visitor-serving organizations. My hope is that by identifying these “cheats” we may open our minds (and our mouths) to having bigger, more meaningful conversations about the future of our own organizations and nonprofits at large.

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Signs of Trouble For The Museum Industry (DATA)

Main Hall and Stairs Mational Museum Warsaw

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

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

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

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

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

KYOB VSO attendance - IMPACTS

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

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

KYOB VSO Performance against expectations - IMPACTS

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

Well, our business model sucks.

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

2) Stop defending past decisions

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

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

 

3) Embrace the inevitable path of progress

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

6 Strategic Reasons For Membership Teams to be Involved with Social Media

Geoff Cartoon - Keeping old customers

An organization’s social media initiatives are every bit as important for the membership department as they are for the marketing team when it comes to the long-term solvency of your organization.

It’s not news that social media is an every-department job, but changes in Facebook algorithms seem to have increased the desire to develop social media postings that go “wide” with reach instead of “deep” with constituents. This distraction of focusing on the quantity of those engaged instead of the quality of engagement is hurting organizations – and may be particularly challenging for membership and development teams trying to integrate their functions.

I was recently asked by Blackbaud to conduct a webinar that addressed the role of social media in engaging key constituencies.  I developed “Get Strategic: How to Engage With Members in a Digital Age” to help Blackbaud share my thinking on this popular topic.  (Click on the link to hear a recording of the webinar – It’s free!) Here’s a link to the slides.

I also thought that it might prove helpful to summarize a few takeaways from the webinar that may be particularly urgent for membership and development departments to consider as they plan their organizational futures. The importance of various departments beyond marketing and communications strategically contemplating how they best engage their current and emerging audiences can be a difficult topic for many organizations to tackle for two, unfortunate reasons:

  •  Many professionals (especially in the nonprofit sector) still ignorantly invoke “not my job” on many matters concerning digital communications to the detriment of both their professional functionality and the efficacy of the entire organization.
  • The “siloed” and increasingly outdated structure of more traditional organizations (including many visitor-serving organizations) is challenged by the need to work collaboratively among departments to create the kind of cohesive strategy that is prerequisite for successful digital communications.

 

In my estimation, development teams generally aren’t any more guilty of these organization-hurting offenses than any other department. However, a lack of collaboration between development/fundraising and marketing/communications comes at perhaps one of the most extreme expenses for a nonprofit organization.

Here’s why:

 

1) A member online is a member offline (and vice versa)

Too often, organizations create membership or donor cultivation strategies (or even marketing strategies) and then develop completely independent digital membership and donor cultivation strategies (if they have them at all). A member online is a member offline. You wouldn’t get to know somebody at a party and then completely ignore them and all of the things that you learned when you see them again at a different party. That would be rude and particularly confusing for your new acquaintance (or old friend) – and yet organizations act like this all the time when it comes to melding online and offline experiences. This miss seems to stem from one, basic misunderstanding: that digital strategies are somehow about technology or skillsets and not about a means of engaging people.

Hint: Communication on digital platforms operates a lot like communication in real-life. Membership retention is about PEOPLE – not technology. In real life, we expect people to be transparent, express human sentiment, listen, and be responsive. Those same communication expectations exist on social media.

 

2) Social media is not only valuable at the start of an engagement funnel. It is arguably even more important in the middle where members reside

When folks talk about social media and digital platforms – perhaps especially the marketing department – it’s often discussed as a starting point in an engagement funnel that hopefully leads to visitation (and, then, perhaps membership or donor cultivation). And, social media does aid in reaching new people and support relationship-building at the beginning of that funnel.  But it’s also critical that an organization utilizes social media to deepen connections with your mission because people on social media operate at all levels of an engagement hierarchy – not just at the beginning. If your organization is only putting out content that goes “wide” (or helps to increase reach), and not “deep” (or, content that deepens affinity with your cause), then it’s going to be difficult to turn folks from visitors into more consistent supporters.

Members are in the middle of the funnel – which is a particularly interesting place for a group to reside. They are supporters beyond a basic visitor, but who also hold the promise and potential of becoming donors. In a lot of ways, this is a make-or-break group to engage! They could go either way – and often (in fact, more often than we admit) their decision to renew or not to renew is based upon our own strategies for membership retention and how successfully we engage with this key audience.

 

3) Not all social media followers are equal

In fact, social media inequality is a best practice among successful organizations.  Simply put, your organization’s fans and followers are not all of equal value to your nonprofit’s relevance and long-term solvency – and treating every “like” or opportunity for social care the same way means purposefully sabotaging your ability to achieve organizational goals through social media.

Social care (or social CRM, which is responding to inquiries and taking steps toward active community management) is one of the most important and overlooked aspects of social media communications and brand engagement – and it is increasingly expected by your audiences. It’s a good idea to prioritize social care across the board, but active engagement may be particularly important when it comes to keeping stakeholders like members and donors satisfied online.

 

4) Those likely to be members (of cultural organizations) profile as being particularly connected to the web

High-propensity visitors (HPVs, as we perhaps unfortunately refer to them at IMPACTS) are folks who display the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood to visit a visitor-serving organization (museum, aquarium, zoo, historic site, symphony, theater, botanic garden, science center, etc.) These are the people who profile as likely to visit your organization – and also to become members. We have some fun facts about HPVs, but perhaps one of the most critical of all is this: High propensity visitors (and thus likely members) are 2.5x more likely than the composite market to profile as “super-connected.” This means that they have access to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile devise..

No matter how you cut it, your members are a connected bunch (Even more so than the composite market, which also places a great deal of value in digital communications.) Ignore this unassailable fact at your own peril.

 

5) The desired membership product is changing

I saved the most important thought for last. Data suggest that (aside from the free admission perk) the desired membership product may be changing from the more “attraction-oriented” benefits of the past (access to member-only events, other discounts), to more “mission-oriented” benefits (a feeling of belonging, supporting the organization). This is especially pronounced among Millennials – or members of Generation Y. (You can find more information on this in my slides from the webinar)

If your membership is struggling among younger audiences, it may be because you (a) don’t offer the desired membership product; or (b) you offer it, but continue to be communicating it in an incongruent “sales-y” way. In sum, know what matters to your potential constituents – and make sure you are not only offering a membership product based upon the correct motivating benefits, but that you are communicating them in befitting manner.

To the folks thinking, “Nope. Nope. Nope. Millennials don’t want to become members.” I say, “Data suggests that you’re wrong. And your defensive way of thinking indicates that you may be ineffectively communicating the motivating benefits of membership.” It’s time organizations get on this. There are young members to be cultivated!

 IMPACTS data - Millennials and Membership

 

6) Make sure social media posts often aim for depth of engagement instead of breadth (because Facebook changes are distracting organizations from doing this)

In the midst of the frenzy associated with Facebook decreasing its organic reach for organization pages, folks seem to be very preoccupied with their ability to utilize content to go “wide” (get a lot of engagement) instead of going “deep” (get the right kind of engagement from the right kind of people).  A healthy social strategy includes both content created to get new folks in the engagement funnel AND strengthen the “passion-connection” that ties an individual to your organization online. (In marketing jargon terms, we call this “strengthening affinity.”) While there are many things that may be done to cultivate members online, making sure that you’re posting the right kind of content is perhaps the most critical.

Next Wednesday (August 27th) I’ll post about immediate opportunities to more deeply engage members that will include ideas from the webinar and some other near-term opportunities to better connect with your digital audiences. If you want to make sure that you don’t miss it, you can subscribe to Know Your Own Bone and receive emails when there are new posts. (Already get these emails? Keep your eyes peeled next Wednesday…and thanks for being a consistent reader! I deeply hope that KYOB provides helpful thought-fuel for you and your organization!)

The web has changed our organizations more than simply “adding a social media arm.” It affects every department within an organization – and because digital engagement strategies are about PEOPLE, it arguably most affects those departments that work directly with audiences. It’s time for organizations to work together to ensure that their digital endeavors are doing more than getting people in the door.  We must also be aware of how digital engagement impacts the experiences that members and higher-level constituents have with our organizations. There’s work to be done!

 

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

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Why Talking About The Future of Museums May Be Holding Museums Back

Marketoonist- Risks

What if we took some of the time that we spend patting ourselves on the back for thinking about “the future” and use it to better adapt to the world we are living in right now?

Before I jump in, I need to come clean and admit that I’m not innocent here. I’ve been (proudly) called a futurist for visitor-serving organizations and I even say that, for a living, I help “future-proof” nonprofit organizations. Some of my favorite resources and those that I believe to be the most thoughtful focus on “the future” (like the Center for The Future of Museum’s blog – which is worth checking out for its valuable thought-fuel). But here’s the thing:

While those ideas shared by our industry’s most engaging thought leaders and go-to resources may be “future-facing” (as in, they are sure to increase in relevance in the future) they are not actually about the future. Yes, it is a matter of language that is confusing things. Using the word “future” when we are talking about the “present” may be harmful to organizations because of what the word “future” means. Many resources focusing on “the future” are actually communicating about emerging trends that are happening right now…and when we call them “the future” we do our organizations a grave disservice.

Here’s why:

1) Things that get characterized as “the future” within the museum industry generally are not about the future at all

Check this out: Embracing millennials, mastering community management on social media, opening authority, heightening engagement with onsite technologies, breaking down ivory towers with shifts from prescription to participation, engaging more diverse audiences, utilizing mobile platforms, understanding the role of “digital,” breaking down organizational silos…These are things that we frequently discuss as if they are part of the future. But they aren’t. In fact, if your organization hasn’t already had deep discussions about these issues and begun evolving and deploying new strategies at this point, then you may arguably be too late in responding to forces challenging our sector today.

 

2) Calling it “the future” excuses putting off issues which are actually immediate needs for organizational survival

What if we called these things “The Right Now?” Would it be easier to get leadership to allocate resources to social media endeavors or deploy creative ways to grow stakeholder affinity by highlighting participation and personalization?  Are we excusing the poor transition from planning to action by deferring most investments to “The Future?”

Basically, we’ve created a beat-around-the-bush way of talking about hard things that separates successful and unsuccessful organizations. For many less successful organizations struggling to find their footing in our rapidly evolving times, their go-to euphemistic solution for “immediate and difficult” seems to be “worth thinking about in the future.” When we call it “the future,” we excuse ourselves from thinking about these issues right now (which is exactly when we should be considering if not fully deploying them).

Contrast this deferment strategy with those of more successful organizations who invariably and reliably “beat the market to the spot.”  It isn’t pure chance and serendipity that underpins successful engagement strategies – these are the product of ample foresight, planning, investment and action…all of it done many yesterdays ago!

 

3) The future implies uncertainty but trend data is not uncertain

Moreover, common wisdom supports that “the future” is uncertain.  “We cannot tell the future.” Admittedly, some sources that aim to talk about the future truly attempt to open folks’ brains to a distant time period. However, much of what is shared by those we call “futurists” is not necessarily uncertain. In fact (and especially when it comes to trends in data), we’re not guessing.  I’ve sat in on a few meetings within organizations in which trends and actual data are taken and then presented as “the future” or within the conversation of “things to discuss in the future.” Wait. What?

Certainly, new opportunities evolve and trends may ebb with shifting market sentiments…but why would an organization choose uncertainty over something that is known right now?

 

4) We may not be paying enough time and attention to right now

I don’t think that referring to “right now trends” as “the future” would be as potentially damaging to organizations if we spent enough time being more strategic and thoughtful about “right now trends” in general.  Many organizations seem to be always playing catch-up with the present.  If organizations are struggling to keep up with the present, how will they ever be adequately prepared for the future?

 

5) Talking about “the future” sometimes provides a false sense of innovation that may simply be vanity

To be certain, we all need “wins” – especially in nonprofit organizations where burnout is frequent and market perceptions are quickly changing. The need for evolution is constant and the want for a moment’s rest may be justified. That said, it seems as though talking about “the future” (which, as we’ve covered, is actually upon us) is often simply providing the opportunity for organizations to pat themselves on the back for “considering” movement instead of actually moving. To have the perceived luxury of being able to think about the future may give some leaders a false sense of security that they aren’t, in fact, constantly trying to keep up with the present.

 

Talking about “the future” seems to mean that you are talking about something that is – yes – perhaps cutting edge, but also uncertain, not urgent, not immediate, and somehow a type of creative brainstorming endeavor. While certainly brainstorming about the actual future may be beneficial (there are some great minds in the museum industry that do this!), it may be wise for organizations to realize that most of what we call “the future” is a too-nice way of reminding organizations that the world is turning as we speak and you may already be a laggard organization.

Think about your favorite museum or nonprofit thinker. My guess is that you consider that person to be a kind of futurist, but really, you may find that they are interesting to you because they are actually a “right-now-ist.” They provide ideas, thoughts, and innovative solutions about challenges that are currently facing your organization.

This is all a long way of saying something incredibly simple, but astoundingly true: The future is now.  Let’s start treating it that way.

 

A quick aside: Speaking of “the future is now,” I’ll be conducting a free webinar with Blackbaud tomorrow (August 14) at 1pm Eastern entitled “Get Strategic: How to Connect With Members in a Digital Age.” You can sign up here!

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

Posted on by colleendilen in Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 5 Comments
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