Market to Adults (Not Families) to Maximize Attendance to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Marketing to adults increases visitation even if much of your current visitation comes from people visiting with children. Here’s Read more

Why Those With Reported Interest Do Not Visit Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Data suggest that a sizable number of people report interest in visiting cultural organizations…and yet over thirty percent of those Read more

MoMA Sees Reputation Boost After Displaying Muslim Artists (DATA)

Here’s what market research reveals about MoMA’s decision to display artwork from artists hailing from the Muslim-majority nations affected Read more

Five Videos That Will Make You Proud To Work With A Cultural Organization

Let’s pause and celebrate the hard and important work of working with cultural organizations. Talk of defunding the National Endowment Read more

Data Reveals The Worst Thing About Visiting Cultural Organizations

The primary dissatisfier among visitors to both exhibit AND performance-based cultural organizations is something we can fix. What is the Read more

People, Planet, Profit: Checks and Balances for Cultural Organizations

It’s a time of change and evaluation for cultural organizations – and that’s a good thing. The societal current Read more

myth bust

Five Famous Proverbs That Are NOT About Running a Nonprofit (And Three That Could Be)

Proverbs NOT about running a Nonprofit

True in life? Maybe. True in running a nonprofit? Nope.

Sometimes we get so used to hearing certain phrases and strings of logic that we forget to pause and ask ourselves, “Wait… Is that even true?” In fact, as my loyal readers know, I bust nonprofit industry-related myths (and specifically, those that involve visitor-serving organizations) here on KYOB and that’s what this site is all about.

I’ve had some fun in the past writing about famous movie lines that are NOT about running a nonprofit – even though folks frequently celebrate these lines (and the movies are excellent). Considering them to be fact for nonprofit organizations is dangerous. So today, let’s bust some (un)trusty English proverbs, shall we?

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1) Curiosity killed the cat

“Curiosity killed the cat” warns of the dangers of “unnecessary” investigation or experimentation. But investigation and experimentation are critical for the long-term survival of visitor-serving and nonprofit organizations today – and the more uncomfortable, the better. In fact, as industry leaders, it’s our job to be curious and ask hard questions even if we don’t like the answers. It is only by embracing trends and data that organizations can survive and thrive in today’s rapidly evolving world.

 

2) A penny saved is a penny earned

Originally, this proverb reads, “A penny spar’d is twice got.” This may be the most poisonous of the English proverbs for nonprofits and it’s also the one that I’ve actually heard used in an important client leadership team meeting. It is dangerous because it implies that an organization “saving it’s way to prosperity” is a healthy strategy – or that it’s even possible. It’s not. This proverb is untrue for three, primary reasons: 1) Audience and donor acquisition is more accurately considered an investment than a cost (read more); 2) Costs to reacquire audiences and supporters is MUCH higher than the cost to maintain them (seven times more costly, in fact) so “saving” pennies by denying any type of engagement is a bad strategy; 3) Deferred investments always come due. In other words, inaction can be extremely expensive. When leaders tout, “a penny saved is a penny earned” as they pat their development or marketing executive on the back, it is not “a job well done.” It is “an opportunity well avoided.” And likely, it will come back to haunt your organization.

 

3) Good things come to those who wait

Patience may indeed be a virtue. However, the opportunity for nonprofit organizations may be to more appropriately apply it. For instance, we don’t pay attention to this virtue enough when in comes to fundraising as we create annual goals and measure success based on our fiscal year timelines. When we do try to adhere to this relatively arbitrary timeline, we risk sabotaging our ability to secure bigger donations. Essentially, though the instant gratification of today’s society may be making us perpetually impatient, we must remember that fundraising and building meaningful relationships (still) cannot often be rushed.

HOWEVER, we are too “patient” – and we are particularly pros at “waiting” – in the “sector evolution” department. Our lack of agility is to blame for the negative substitution of the historic visitor phenomenon that cultural organizations are experiencing. It’s also why we’re in such a unique and not-awesome place when it comes to engaging millennials. When it comes to keeping up with the times and industry evolution, good things don’t come to organizations who wait. Irrelevance comes to organizations who wait.

 

4) When in Rome, do as the Romans do

For nonprofits, to behave as other nonprofits means to be constantly struggling. It means striving for the industry average – which is often struggling for funds on the tail end of mediocre. This proverb is important to bust because “no man is an island” (i.e. no organization or nonprofit leaders is an island) is a proverb that deserves respect. Organizations certainly can and should learn from other organizations! But we need to be careful at our industry conferences because their setup often purposefully obstructs honest assessments and thus, they often unknowingly encourage failure. Organizations also risk catching a bad case of Case Study Envy wherein they think that they’ve uncovered a great idea to take back to their own organization, but they forget to think critically about the differences between the “example” organization and their own. In sum, nonprofit organizations benefit by sharing and learning and always being curious – and that includes asking questions about whether presented initiatives actually met any meaningful goals or if they just sound cool. If we only look to our own industry in order to move forward, it won’t happen.

 

5) Let sleeping dogs lie

Let’s first talk about the famous anecdote about the boiling frog. The idea is that if a frog is placed into boiling water, it will jump out immediately. However, if the frog is placed in colder water that slowly comes to a boil, the frog will not be able to perceive the danger and will be boiled alive. The story is used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to threats that rise gradually. In our industry, “threats” that rise gradually could be called trends – and we need to pay attention to them to survive. When organizations “let sleeping dogs lie,” they put important questions about the evolution of the industry as well as their own organizations on hold, constantly believing that everything is alright as the world turns in the other direction. The thing is, one day a cultural organization, for instance, might look around and discover that free admission isn’t the cure-all for engagement that they’d been banking upon and in fact may hurt their organization long-term, free days do not attract underserved audiences, there are key audiences that they’ve developed a reputation for NOT engaging, and social media is their most important communication channel – even more than their website. By the time these things are realized, they may have already had to lay off staff.

 

Let’s think twice about repeating these phrases in leadership meetings, board rooms, conferences, or while even standing in hallways connected to nonprofit organizations. They don’t belong there. Of course, not all English proverbs need “busting.” Some may need elevating. Quickly and just for fun – here are three that deserve a tip of the hat when it comes to applying to nonprofit organizations.

 

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1) It takes two to tango

An organization needs people in order to survive and carry out its mission. (Chances are, your mission has something to do with people directly.) This is why connectivity is king. An organization can declare importance, but the market decides the relevance of the message and content. Until organizations understand this, they may have a hard time securing supporters and evangelists in today’s connected world.

 

2) Necessity is the mother of innovation

Nonprofits often aim to be efficient with their spending, so making smart investments is important. To that end, it may be wise for organizations to take on “smart experiments” that help organizations reach their goals. Digital engagement for digital engagement’s sake is a dumb idea and usually not the best use of funds, but organizations do this when they misunderstand and think that digital engagement is about technology more than it is about people. Let’s prioritize initiatives that mean something and that help us master industry issues that we need to resolve.

 

3) Actions speak louder than words

This is why data suggest that visitor-serving organizations that highlight their missions financially outperform those marketing primarily as attractions. What you say matters, but what you do and how you “show” your organization’s values matters more when it comes to garnering support and securing donations.

 

All of these short expressions of popular wisdom certainly have their places in life – but that doesn’t mean that they all have a place in the nonprofit board room.

 

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 Comments Off on Five Famous Proverbs That Are NOT About Running a Nonprofit (And Three That Could Be)

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