Why Donors Stop Giving to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Here’s why some people make a few donations to a cultural organization and then stop giving, according to the Read more

A Month In My Life Working With Cultural Organizations

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Cultural Organizations: People (Not Things) Matter Most

This may be the most important sentence for the evolution of visitor-serving organizations. This post is a short one, but Read more

Four Lessons For Cultural Organizations From The 2016 Presidential Election

This election has provided significant thought-fuel for cultural organizations. Before it comes time to “never look back” on this Read more

What Annoys High-Level Members at Cultural Organizations? (DATA)

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

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

Nonprofits

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

What Wealthy Donors Consider Before Making a Gift Greater Than One Million Dollars (DATA)

It isn’t necessarily your organization’s mission that matters most to ultra-wealthy donors…

Some data sets are worth going over twice and making a video about them so that they sink in. This week’s Fast Facts video is one of those data sets. After all, what organization couldn’t benefit by better understanding what factors inform and motivate a gift of more than one million dollars to a nonprofit organization?

The results of this study are worth blazing into our brains. While you may have guessed that the items topping the charts would be on the list, you may not have guessed that they would be the MOST important factors when high net worth donors considering making a gift.

SO, how can organizations engage high net worth donors? To get to the bottom of this million-dollar question, we asked these individuals themselves. The answers might not be what you think.

We define an Ultra High Net Worth Individual as someone with net assets greater than $50 million. 38,000 such individuals reside in the US, and that’s the greatest number of UHNWIs in the world. The study below collected responses from 112 ultra high net worth individualsFor the study, undertaken by IMPACTS, individuals were asked open-ended questions to identify their most important considerations with regard to making a gift greater than one million dollars to a nonprofit organization. Individuals were then asked to rank considerations from 1-10 in terms of their importance.

Here’s what we found:

UHNWI donor considerations

There’s a tie for the first place consideration. Who else has given to an organization and how much other major donors have given are the most important factors when these folks consider making a major gift. Who is on the board is the next consideration, followed by the how much those board members have contributed, round out the most important factors informing ultra high net worth individual giving.

Interestingly, it isn’t until the fifth, sixth, and seventh considerations that the impact of a major gift, mission, and the organization’s commitment to that mission make an appearance.

To whom an organization’s mission matters, matters most when it comes to making a large gift.

These findings are not altogether surprising. Successful fundraisers know that money often follows money, and that social connections play a big role in securing gifts from very large donors. But what’s interesting is that simply being good at your mission often isn’t enough. You need to have demonstrated that your mission is worthy of investment among high-impact individuals.

These data also demonstrate the importance of having a connected board that is willing to put its money where its mouth is. After all, if the folks on an organization’s board don’t care enough about an organization’s mission to support it in a meaningful way, then why should someone else?

Mission and impacts are important. After all, data suggest that the mission and purpose of the organization play important roles in securing quality board members in the first place. That said, once the board is complete and it comes time to look for high net worth donors, having wealthy evangelists (or a group of them!) advocating for your organization may be critical for success when it comes to fundraising.

This information may be seen as a call to action for board members – the data underscores why organizations need them most. And, interestingly, studies reveal that board members often misunderstand their role as financial supporters within cultural organizations. It’s time for all of us on boards to step up. Again, if we’re not giving or championing the cause of our institutions, how can we reasonably expect someone else to do so?

It’s also a wake up call for staff members. The identity of donors and board members and their giving fuel major gift decisions. Certainly, staff may play a role in facilitating and supporting connections between board members and potential donors, but what matters most to donors are the philanthropic commitments of their peers. If board members don’t step up, then it is difficult for organizations to overcome this internal giving deficiency. And that’s exactly what board members who do not give adequately create – a deficiency.

For all of us on boards, let’s rise to the occasion. We’re in the most target-rich country for ultra high net worth individuals in the world. Our development staff can do great things, but they need our support when it comes to our most potentially impactful donors.

And nonprofit organizations: When you get a big donation from a key player, milk it. Shine lights on it. Celebrate it. Leverage it. Knowing what motivates giving for ultra high net worth individuals can only help us better reach our goals.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for more video fast facts! Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Sector Evolution 2 Comments

Fads vs Trends: How Organizations Can Tell The Difference (And Why it Matters)

Mixing up fads and trends often leaves executives frustrated, confused, and – worst of all – fearing innovation. Here’s how to spot the difference. 

Understanding the difference between fads and trends is critical for all organizations. However, many leaders seem to be unaware of their important differences. Today’s Fast Facts video aims to differentiate these critical concepts, and also provides a quick tip for how to spot the difference.

Both fads and trends can play an important role in an organization’s success – but they must be treated differently. If they are not, leaders risk burning out adapting to every fad, and critical trends required for an organizations’ survival may be missed. Let’s start by looking into fads and trends individually.

 

Fads come fast and fade away

A fad is any form of behavior that is intensely followed by a population for a short period of time. The behavior will rise relatively quickly and fall relatively quickly once the perception of novelty is gone.

There are some great fads out there! Collecting beanie babies was a fad, so were pet rocks, sending spam, #followfriday, Ouiji boards, troll dolls, water beds…the list goes on. We can thank fads for basically everything that we wore in the 80’s (or 90’s, or 2000’s…) And there are a lot of fads going on right now that may bring us a laugh twenty years from now. 

Fads certainly have value and they can profoundly change organizations- consider the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge! Utilizing fads in marketing and programs can increase top-of-mind awareness, demonstrate the timeliness of your organization, and serve as a gateway for new audiences.

This is all great and important stuff but – remember – fads don’t stick around.

 

Trends solve problems and get stronger over time

A trend, on the other hand, gets stronger over time and does stick around. Trends have identifiable and explainable rises that are driven by audience needs. They help solve a problem for people. In the words of the forever-awesome Seth Godin, “A trend gains power over time, because it’s not merely part of a moment, it’s a tool, a connector that will become more valuable as other people commit to engaging in it.”

The increasing use of social networks is a trend (that connects us to one another). So is quitting smoking (which lengthens our lives), evidence-based medicine (that removes the guesswork in medical-related situations), and the use of mobile devices (that allow us to look up information in real time). These are things that have grown – and continue to grow – in market penetration. They solve problems. They represent new ways of life.

Organizations ignore trends at their own risk. Ignoring trends means that they will either be forced to adapt later and will necessarily be behind, or the organization will fade away.

 

Confusing fads and trends causes big problems

Trends inform your organization’s successful evolution. When organizations write off things like web-based engagement or data-informed management (for instance) as fads instead of trends, evolution stops. Things get held back.

However, if we approach passing fads as trends, we cry wolf on organizational change. We burn out believing that every week, we need to change our organizations structure based on “what’s hot right now.” Treating fads like trends can lead organizations to become overwhelmed, give up on following along, and, again, stop evolution.

 

A trick for telling the difference between fads and trends

So how can your organization figure out if something is a fad or a trend? A helpful trick may be to consider that trends inevitably affect some form of the organization’s engagement strategy, but fads usually influence tactics. This isn’t a fool-proof trick, but it can help your organization think strategically about the differences between both fads and trends.

For instance, social media use is a trend and that affects your engagement strategy, but selfies affect how you can carry out that strategy. Screaming “YOLO” and going gluten-free are things that folks may be doing these days – and, in order to remain relevant, your organization may benefit by embracing them for now. But these fads affect your organization’s tactics (and messages and programs), not its strategy. Data-informed management affects your strategy. Embracing transparency affects your strategy. The trend toward personalized interactions and programs thanks to our increasingly individually-tailored world is a trend and also deeply affects our strategies.

If there is growing, multi-year data demonstrating that something affects the market, then you know it’s a trend. But sometimes we need to know when and how far we should move and embrace change before there’s multi-year data telling us that something is sticking around.

Both fads and trends have real value for cultural organizations, but understanding the difference may be necessary for survival. Fads can inform your tactics and help you to maintain the perception of being “current,” but ignoring trends can lead to irrelevance and create a divide between organizations and their audiences.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for more fast facts! 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, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

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

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

There are a whole heck of a lot of good reasons to target millennial visitors and supporters. They are not visiting cultural organizations at representative rates, they aren’t magically “aging into” increased care for arts and culture, and – perhaps most importantly – data suggest that millennial audiences are an organization’s best audiences.

But what about how cultural organizations are engaging millennial leadership within institutions? We need to pay attention to this, too. I’ve posted on this topic before, but this one is so important that I made a little Fast Facts video about it. It’s time to get more millennials involved on nonprofit boards of directors – particularly for larger, prominent organizations with annual operating budgets >$30 million and/or annual attendance >1 million for visitor-serving organizations. Representation on these types of boards seems to be particularly lacking…and that’s terrifying, as many smaller organizations often emulate the practices of their larger cohorts.

Neglecting millennial board representation doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t loads of important conversations taking place in these millennial bereft boardrooms about how to better engage this valuable cohort. It seems that many organizations are stuck in the mud of dialogue instead of finding traction in actually doing something constructive to meet this opportunity where it counts most. I’ve found that it’s not uncommon at many board meetings for there to be numerous Baby Boomers – and a few members of Generation X – waxing poetic about the urgent need to “engage millennials”…without any input from actual millennials.

The time has come for organizations to sink or swim based on how effectively they engage millennials…and that may be particularly hard to do when nobody tasked to govern and lead these organizations is actually a member of this generation. 

To be fair, there are some organizations that are moving forward and integrating millennials into their boards and strategic decision-making processes. I’m a millennial serving on the Board of Directors at the National Aquarium during an incredibly important time for the organization’s future. I’m grateful for this opportunity…but I also know that I’m one of relatively few millennials on the board of a larger nonprofit or a museum.

Don’t have at least one millennial on your board of directors yet? Here are five, critical reasons to implore the nominating committee to start cultivating some impressive millennials to serve on your nonprofit board right now:

 

1) Millennials represent the largest generation in human history

…So not having at least one of them on your board may be a bit out of touch. Until Generation Y came along, Baby Boomers represented the largest generational cohort in the United States. However, at nearly 90 million strong, millennials have Baby Boomers outnumbered by an estimated 20 million people. As boomers age, this divide will continue to grow. This statistic alone should be more than enough to make executive leaders pause to consider the future of their organizations. Moreover, millennials will tip the scales in terms of buying power in the United States this year, and our economy will feel the beneficial impact of their increasing consumerism by 2017.

 

2) Millennials will have primary influence on culture and society for an unprecedented duration

…So not having one on your board is delaying an inevitable future and holding back progress.  Millennials who have children are not having as many of them as their Baby Boomer parents. Moreover, Generation X (which is only roughly half the size of Generation Y) is simply too small in number to give birth to a future, large generation. Simply put, America’s birth-over-death rate is not increasing at the historic rates established by Baby Boomers. This means that millennials will remain the largest generational demographic in the United States for a much longer period of time than did the Baby Boomers – or any prior generation to date.

 

3) Millennial support is necessary from a policy standpoint

…And if your organization does not get millennials involved in understanding policy-related challenges and opportunities from a leadership buy-in perspective, you may be “voting” against your own best interests. In fact, millennials may significantly influence the outcomes of the next six presidential elections – starting with the upcoming election in November! Indeed, this depends upon millennials actually voting, but building any aspect of your organization’s survival strategy upon 90 million people not turning out for elections is a stupid strategy. Moreover, millennials will eventually dominate a vast majority of government leadership positions…mandatory government retirement policies dictate this math. Inviting millennials onto your board helps ensure that your organization’s best interests are well-represented and maximally protected.

 

4) Engaging millennials requires immediate, strategic shifts in leadership mentalities

…Far beyond simply “using social media.” Engaging millennials isn’t merely a communication medium opportunity (especially because data suggests that millennials are not even close to the only audiences using social media). Engaging millennials requires new ways of thinking about marketingdevelopment, human resources and operations, and even new strategic practices regarding things like membership. Millennial board members may provide valuable perspective regarding their own peer group and generational mindset.

 

5) What your organization actually DOES is more important than ever before

…And aiming to be seen as an organization welcoming millennials without actually welcoming millennials where it counts is inconsistent. We live in a world now where everybody (not only millennials) increasingly look to real-time platforms to make decisions. People want to assess an organization’s promise, reliability, trustworthiness, and impact on their own – guided largely by perceived transparency. If your organization is actively trying to engage millennials, then it’s doing something smart (for the reasons mentioned above), but if it’s doing it without also empowering millennials where it counts (i.e. in the board room), then your engagement narrative risks credibility. Thanks in large part to the web, we live in a “show vs. tell” world – and if what you say doesn’t match what you do, people are likely to notice.

Despite a strange want to promulgate the concept that millennials never do and never will actively contribute to nonprofit organizations, data suggests that most millennials actually do contribute. Yes, millennials donors exist and your organization is probably messing a lot of things up trying to engage with them even if you think you’re doing it right. (Here are six sad truths that I have learned as a millennial donor.) But the good things about adding other, more diverse members to your board are still true for millennials: Insight, connectivity to the right people, an “in” with a valuable group of up-and-comers, and fresh perspectives.

 

Generational change and progress are inevitable – and denying (or even delaying) the inevitable is a horrible reason to cripple the evolution of mission-driven organizations. The new first imperative of power should be not to retain it but, instead, to share it. That is the stuff of a true and worthy organizational legacy.

 

Like this post? You can check out more Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Fast Facts Video, Millennials, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

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

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

This week’s Fast Facts video covers a big misconception that folks working within cultural organizations (often unknowingly) promulgate: That being a nonprofit is a key differentiating factor to their audiences. As it turns out, data suggest that your organization’s tax status is relatively unknown among visitors and non-visitors alike.

This video explores the data. Not a video person? (That’s cool. You do you.) Here’s what you need to know:

 

1) The majority of people in the US do NOT think cultural organizations are nonprofits

Check out this data from IMPACTS that uncovers the percentage of the US adult population that believes that cultural organizations such as museums (e.g. art, science, history), zoos, performing arts centers, botanic gardens, and aquariums are nonprofit organizations. Like much of the non-proprietary data that I am able to share on Know Your Own Bone, the findings informing this analysis come from the ongoing National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study of 98,000 adults (and counting).

KYOB- Nonprofit recognition data

The findings may be a tad alarming to some. I’ve personally heard the “but we’re a nonprofit” excuse for not keeping up with financial realities (among other things) more times that I can count. This data flips the popular excuse for lack of evolution on its head. Not only are most non-visitors to these institutions not aware that cultural organizations are nonprofit organizations, but over half of the people who do visit these types of organizations are unaware that they are nonprofit organizations.

Take a look at history museums, for instance. Only 47.2% of visitors to history museums know that they are nonprofit organizations. The other 52.8% of visitors (over half) are unaware that they are reliant on philanthropic support: They believe that the organizations are for-profit entities, or government-funded operations that are otherwise provided for by their taxes.

Regardless of the reason for the misperceptions, more than half of visitors to ALL cultural organizations do not believe that they play any role in keeping these organizations healthy or alive after walking in the door. Beyond paying admission (to what they consider a business) or paying their taxes (to an organization with free admission because their taxes fund a government-operated entity), the majority of visitors risk believing that there is no further need for their support.

 

2) The market is sector agnostic

The misconception that these types of cultural organizations do not need support as nonprofit organizations is a problem – but how big of a problem? We’ve created a situation wherein people think admission to cultural organizations is largely either a pre-paid entitlement (thanks to taxes), or a fee paid to a for-profit company. Admission to most cultural organizations are neither of these things.

Tied to the misconceptions regarding the need to support cultural organizations is another market-based truth: Today’s audiences are generally sector agnostic. This means that they don’t much care about an organization’s tax status. They care about how well your company or organization does what it claims to be expert at doing. Loyal Know Your Own Bone readers (you guys rock) know that I’ve shared this nonprofit recognition data before in a post about how, today, for-profit and nonprofit organizations compete against one another. At IMPACTS, we continue to find evidence supporting this fact nearly every day.

Let’s be honest: Market confusion makes sense in the case of many nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations. We’re nonprofit, but our operations often follow a traditional economic utility curve. In other words, unlike giving to a charity that supports the homeless, people are “paying” for the personal experience of visiting our organizations. But unlike SeaWorld (for instance), those revenues cycle exclusively back into our social missions to educate and inspire…because that’s what 501(c)3 organizations do. And that brings up another potential point of confusion: Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal Studios are for-profit companies – and SeaWorld hits the “we’re mission-driven” button hard (or rather, it tries to). It makes sense that the market might give up on differentiating visitor-serving nonprofits from for-profits! And until recently, most nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations were marketing themselves primarily as attractions – NOT mission driven organizations. Some laggard nonprofit visitor-serving organizations still do…

 

3) The tax status of cultural organizations is not their differentiating factor

So far this is looking bad. Our audiences largely don’t know that we rely on their support in order to stay alive and they are sector agnostic so they, in a sense, don’t even care that we are nonprofit. So what do our audiences care about? How well we carry out our missions.

But nonprofits don’t “own” social good, and that’s a big reason for evidence of the market’s sector agnosticism. Corporate social responsibility is a necessity for companies today. There are countless articles on the importance of for-profit companies “doing good.” It is a key tactic for gaining more customers. And that’s interesting because there are still some cultural organizations that do this weird, outdated thing where they try to overlook their social advantage and exclusively promulgate “visit us today!” messages (and even offer discounts that devalue their brand and cause even more sector confusion for cultural organizations). It’s like some of them are trying to be like Disney World…

Being good at your mission is good business. Data demonstrate that organizations highlighting their missions outperform organizations marketing primarily as attractions. Perhaps, in all of our “But we are a nonprofit” excuse making, we missed the true differentiator that has provided us that tax status in the first place: Our bottom line of making a difference.

Our key differentiator is not our tax status, but that our dedication to making a difference is embedded in the very structure of how we operate. There’s a thought that we need to run “more like for-profit companies” (and in some ways we do, but the blanket directive is an ignorant miss). But look around. For-profit companies are actually trying to be more like us in the sense that they want audiences to know that they stand for something that makes the world a better place.

 

4) Communicating nonprofit status is critical in order to make the case for support (but it is a secondary communications goal)

When people don’t know that we are nonprofit organizations, it is a lot more difficult to secure members and donors. For that reason, we do need to better communicate our need for support. But perhaps before we ask for support, we need to do a better job showing the world what supporting us means. In other words, the lack of knowledge about our need for support may be indicative of a long-term communication and programmatic failure.

We educate. We inspire. We connect. We conserve. We teach. We change the world, one mind at a time. But perhaps the misconception about the need for support stems from our own communications focused not around how we change the world, but how we don’t change the world: “Visit!” “Discount!” “New exhibit!” Those messages are important, but are they most important? After all, can we blame the market for not knowing that we are nonprofit organizations if we bury the missions and ideals that are the foundation for our existence in more commercial messages and programs?

 

Fewer than half of U.S. audiences are aware of the nonprofit status of cultural organizations. That’s a big deal, because it makes it harder to secure support. But it’s also a good reminder that audiences are increasingly sector-agnostic, and our competitive advantage may not be our tax status, but what our tax status means: That we are here to change the world.

 

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

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

Nonprofit Leadership Has Evolved: Why Executives Should Be More Like Conductors

Nearly everything has changed in today’s digital world – including the most important duties of executive leaders in successful organizations.

Check out today’s KYOB “Fast Facts” video for three key insights that leaders need to effectively lead in today’s connected, evolving world.

Because I love metaphors and because this post deserves a revival…

Today’s evolved world demands that executives play the role of symphony conductor rather than first chair of an instrument within their organizations. In other words, the days of the executive as expert practitioner have past. It’s more important than ever that executives “conduct the symphony” rather than getting lost in the weeds (a place that – let’s be real – some executives have been known to camp out)!

In this bad metaphor of executives as conductors, the role of the CEO is to make sure that all of these departmental orchestras develop a cohesive symphony that is consistent with the organization’s overall values and objectives.

Today, organizations need conductors because even the most renowned first chair requires a maestro. Indeed, many of the most successful executives have long been playing the role of “conductor” – and this skill has never been more valuable or in-demand. The world moves too quickly for executives to be “expert” at everything in their department or organizations – and successful executives benefit by orchestrating the collective talents of their entire team to achieve success.

Here are three reasons why the need for conducting skills has never been greater (Again, check out the video for an overview):

 1) We are in the midst of a revolution

The Digital Revolution is so named for a reason – nearly everything has changed. To ignore this unassailable fact is to actively refuse to evolve an organization to keep pace with the surrounding world. Further compounding the challenge of the revolution is that fact that it’s still happening. For example, Facebook algorithms change and the very tactic that works best one month can hurt your organization’s success the next. New technologies create new advertising efficiencies.

It’s several full-time jobs just keeping up with the various aspects that go into a department. For instance, at IMPACTS, we are increasingly observing smart, forward-thinking organizations “outsourcing” aspects of their advertising strategy to more expert practitioners. This is not a knock on internal expertise – it is a compliment to the self-awareness of organizations that recognize the functional impossibility of maintaining expertise in an increasingly esoteric, evolving space. The advertising world is incredibly dynamic – it takes true experts who live and breathe it every day – to work with maximum efficacy. Increasingly, it’s simply too much for an individual working for one organization (without a grasp on the broader industry and without devoting significant resources to keeping up with day-to-day changes) to optimize an advertising plan.

Organizations increasingly need real experts. And organizations need executives to hire these experts and trust them. Executives and directors may benefit by realizing that – as awesome as they may be – it is unrealistic to think that they need to be more expert than the experts they’ve hired when it comes to today’s constantly-changing details.

When a leader plays the popular, “Now explain every aspect of this new thing to me while I fire back with actually-irrelevant, pre-digital revolution logic” game, the organization loses. If you’ve hired a good person, the only things a leader needs to consider are: “Will this work?” and “Does this fit with our organizational values?” and “Does this bring us closer to achieving our goals?”

 

2) Someone needs to preach to the choir

Sounds counter-productive, doesn’t it? In today’s world, though, it’s increasingly necessary. One of the most important roles of a good executive is managing successful internal communications.

It’s difficult for conductors to successfully conduct when the sheet music hasn’t been distributed to the musicians. Worse yet, it’s even more difficult to sound like a brilliant symphony without hours of practice. Yet, in a rush to engage external audiences in our fast-paced world, organizations regularly underestimate the critical importance of taking a moment to get everyone on the same page. This is increasingly glossed over, and yet this is arguably more important than ever given our real-time, digital world!

Reputation plays an important role in an organization’s success when it comes to garnering support, and managing reputation is a duty that every department – and the CEO and Board, of course – must work to carry out in concert. A good executive communicates purpose and reinforces the “why” of the organization within their respective department and organization. Without this, nobody plays the same song at the same pace. Without first aligning internal messages – a function of relentless communication – it’s impossible for staff to successfully communicate externally.

 

3) You cannot rule from the mountaintop while stuck in the weeds

And today’s weeds are thicker and taller than ever before. Our world demands that leaders develop a wider view of the institution and how it is perceived in order to develop strategy and confidently maintain an agile organization. If a leader is spending a disproportionate amount of time on one aspect of the organization (or one department), then they may miss the larger, more important, “big picture” aspects of the overall performance that they are supposed to be conducting.

More constantly-evolving areas of expertise (as we have in today’s world) mean more details with which executives may unknowingly distract themselves. Real leaders don’t hide in the weeds – especially when their organizations need them most.

The opportunity here isn’t to simply encourage leaders to stop micromanaging. The opportunity is to clarify structures and roles to meet the opportunity of an evolved world. 

 

Today, successful leaders are conductors – they bring talented musicians together, communicate the song for everyone to play, and work hard to create beautiful music.

 

Like this video? You can check out more on my YouTube channel. Here are a few Fast Fact post that you might also enjoy:

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Fast Facts Video, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

Five Famous Movie Quotes on How NOT To Run a Nonprofit Organization

Five Famous Movie Quotes on How NOT To Run a Nonprofit Organization

These quotes are not intended as maxims about running cultural organizations – though too many institutions act as if they are.

It’s December! This month is crazy. Organizations are pushing out their final charitable giving requests and I’m scrambling between clients giving annual wrap-up reports. And despite the work craziness right now, many of us will also be doing what we can to spend the last few weeks of the year with our friends and loved ones. That’s the time for excellent company, good books, hot chocolate, warm blankets, and good movies (if you ask me)!

In the spirit of celebrating the upcoming holidays and some much deserved time to relax, let’s do something fun: Here are five, famous movie quotes that summarize how some organizations mistakenly approach their operations.

(My runner up title: How NOT to Run A Nonprofit Organization – With Thanks to Hollywood.)

 

If you build it, they will come

Technically, the quote is “If you build it, he will come,” for you finicky quote folks – and it’s untrue. It’s especially untrue for visitor-serving organizations. If it were true, no newly constructed buildings would remain massively underused. Having free admission would be a cure-all for engagement (it’s not), and every new program or performance would be filled wall-to-wall with audience members and participants. Cultural organizations from museums to symphonies wouldn’t be experiencing declining attendance contrasted against burgeoning population growth…but they are.

Organizations often assume that anything they “build” is something that the market wants or needs – and that’s simply not the case. In fact, that’s the basis for a lot of the work that IMPACTS does and was summarized quite nicely in an article in The New Yorker, “[IMPACTS Research and Development] helps museums and similar institutions draw more visitors and assess whether a proposed new building or attraction will find enough audience to justify its expense. Usually, the answer is no.” Want a – more often than not – reliable way to increase visitor satisfaction and ultimately attract and retain more visitors? Get smarter about 21st century marketing and communications and invest in frontline staff.

(While admitting this movie has nearly nothing at all to do with the realities of running a visitor-serving organization, this (different) scene really does get me every dang time.)

 

I'll have what she's having

It is hard work running a nonprofit organization – so much so that a big part of my job is sharing nonprofit engagement techniques that actually inform for-profit companies! It’s such hard work that sometimes organizations get a wee bit tired and look to broad industry practices to validate their efforts. You might have a problem if someone in your organization has ever held up nonprofit industry benchmark numbers and said, “Look! We’re right in the middle for communication spending compared to other nonprofits!” or “Look! We’re slightly above average when it comes to attracting more diverse audience members!” To be in the middle among a set of organizations that are collectively not doing so great is worse than mediocrity – it’s a prelude to a downward spiral!

Organizations often forget to think critically when it comes to comparing themselves to other organizations and initiatives – and this oversight can lead them to copy bad practices. It leads to case study envy and continuous cycles of re-emerging industry failures highlighted as successes. It helps to be aware of the difference between a good model and a good example, and think twice about what other organizations are doing before copying something or even comparing their efforts to those of your own.

 

You had me at hello

Updated for 2015 and put through the lens of nonprofit audience engagement, this line would read, “You had me at your first targeted ad followed by your three engaging social media posts, your timely response to my question on your Facebook wall, that email that made me feel inspired, and then your timely Kickstarter campaign for your good cause!” Okay, maybe that’s a lot. The point is: We live in a world in which simply announcing presence without establishing a connection makes it difficult to develop true evangelists for your organization and its cause. Connectivity is king.

Creating – and then actively and intelligently fostering – relationships is critical in today’s noisy world. It’s not only about the content and what your organization says in a communication that grabs someone’s attention. It’s also about being worthy of that connection long-term.

(Okay, yes, movie folks. I understand that this context is completely different than the context of the movie. However, the line itself illustrates a key concept that may be helpful for organizations…because it is largely untrue in this context)

 

Love means never having to say you're sorry

Just…No. You are not Oliver Barrett and your audience is not Jennifer Cavilleri spurting sweet and understanding tears at your mistakes. Transparency and fostering connection is critical for building a strong reputation and attracting supporters. Some people probably would say that they love your brand/organization – especially if you are delivering on your mission – but when you mess up, you need to say sorry.

Look, sometimes organizations make mistakes…but if your organization does something that jeopardizes the trust that your supporters have in you, then you need to make it right. Often, when supporters get upset, it is because an organization is doing something that people perceive as running counterintuitive to its values or stated mission. If you’re doing honest, good work and something just goes wrong, tell the story. Social media is now a major force empowering giving decisions. Now, more than ever, it’s critical to communicate with your audiences when things don’t go as planned, and explain how your going to make it right (and then do the thing that makes it right).

 

You can't handle the truth

You can totally handle the truth! Not only that, in our industry, the truth really stinks sometimes. (I believe that the more the truth stinks, the more important it is that we handle it.) If we don’t embrace hard truths, how can mission-driven organizations succeed and build new, sustainable best practices?

A big part of what I do here on KYOB is bust industry myths, and I’ve noticed that my readers are the kind of people who think that the myths that hold our organizations back should be busted. Why put anything in the way of accomplishing great social missions? We can handle the truth because we have to handle the truth.

 

As the new year approaches, let’s try to keep these famous words on the screen and out of our nonprofit organizations. (Although I acknowledge that select movie lines may be relevant to certain cultural organizations – I know some curators who really do see dead people on a daily basis.)

Remember folks. It’s just a movie.

 

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

 

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Photo credit to gobeyondseo.com

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

Why Millennials May Be The Most Valuable Generation for Cultural Nonprofits (DATA)

Data Show That Millennial Visitors May be Most Valuable Visitors for Cultural Organizations (DATA) {Know Your Own Bone}

The sheer size of the millennial generation makes them a critical target audience, but data suggest that millennial visitors may actually be the best visitors. Here’s why.

Millennials are the largest generation in human history. We know that they are a critical audience to engage now in order for cultural organizations to exist later. And, quite frankly, you’re probably tired of hearing about this public-service motivated, connected, social, educated, super-duper-special, hierarchy-hating, everyone-is-an-MVP bunch. (Heck, I’m a true-blue millennial and I’m right there with you!) However, all this talk about the need to engage millennials seems to still be met with an eye-roll and a “Here are even more things that we need to do for them” attitude from too many executive leaders. It seems that the size of this generation is the primary reason driving the need to engage millennials for many…and that’s an important reason. But it’s even close to the whole story.

Let’s change this attitude. Let’s do it with data.

Data suggest that millennial visitors are an organization’s most loyal – and they do much more loyalty-driving work for organizations than older audiences. When it comes to engaging millennials, a little is a lot more likely to go a long way. (But…that doesn’t justify organizations doing a little.) This generation is most likely to work for you. Overall, millennials are arguably a cultural organization’s most valuable visitors.

High-propensity visitors (HPVs, in my world (hold judgement on the acronym)) are people who possess the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood to visit cultural organizations such as museums, aquariums, gardens, performing arts organizations, historic sites, science centers, zoos, etc. These are the people who actually go to cultural organizations and data can bring to light what these folks have in common. Interesting findings arise when we take a look at millennial high-propensity visitors compared to non-millennial high-propensity visitors. Here are three, data-informed millennial visitor qualities that work to an organization’s terrific advantage compared to more traditional audiences:

High-propensity visitor indicators by age

(A quick note on the data: It comes from IMPACTS and the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations, first published in 2011 and updated annually thereafter. Since its initial publication, the study has tracked the opinions, perceptions, and behaviors of a sample population totaling 98,000 US adults, and is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive study of its kind.)

1) Millennial visitors are most likely to come back sooner.

Millennial high-propensity visitors have a shorter re-visitation cycle than even other generations of high-propensity visitors. In fact, millennial high-propensity visitors are 30.9% more likely to revisit an organization within one year than high-propensity visitors aged 55 or older. That’s a big difference. Moreover – and to the possible surprise of many – millennial HPVs are 20.5% more likely to join as a member than HPVs aged 55 and older. (Though those age 35-54 still take the cake when it comes to likelihood to become a members.) Millennials are an organization’s most loyal high-propensity visitors when it comes to driving repeat visitation. Capture us, and the data suggest we are most likely to come back – and relatively quickly!

 

2) Millennial visitors are more likely to spread positive word of mouth about cultural organizations to drive visitation.

As a reminder (that I provide on KYOB constantly): Data suggest that reputation is a key driver of visitation, and what other people say about your organization is 12.85x more important in driving your reputation than advertising. So what people say about your organization to one another is really important in getting people in the door. We millennial HPVs shine here compared to other HPV generations, and are 18.1% more likely to recommend experiences to a friend than those aged 35-54 and 20.5% more likely than HPVs aged 55 and older. Show us an organization that we like, and we are significantly more likely than older generations to endorse that organization to other people. Millennial high-propensity visitors are more likely than any other generational cohort to provide your organization with what data indicate is the single most valuable form of marketing.

 

3) Millennial visitors reach more people.

Why does being most likely to recommend a cultural experience to a friend particularly matter? Because millennial high-propensity visitors are crazy “super-connected.” This means that we are empowered to recommend experiences with a collective reach that’s like “traditional media” on steroids. “Super-connected” means that these folks are most likely to have access to – and be engaged with – the web at home, at work, and/or on mobiles devices. Admittedly, this can be an incredible asset or detriment to organizations based upon whether or not an individual had a positive or negative experience, but, provided that your organization is doing it’s best on the “satisfying experience” front, positive experiences can go a very long way.

We’re also much more likely than other HPV generations to make purchases online, further underscoring that if your audiences aren’t buying tickets online, it may have to do with your own organization’s online ticket buying strategy. As the world becomes more digital, more folks are making purchases online. Millennials are more than twice as likely to have made a large purchase online within the last year than folks aged 55 or older.

 

4) Millennials likely have the highest lifetime value.

This generation’s size and lifetime customer value suggest that organizations that successfully engage millennials stand to reap a big reward. Millennials are the youngest of the three generations (i.e. Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers) currently visiting cultural organizations – meaning that millennials have the longest expected lifetimes to contribute value as customers. In addition, the large size of this demographic (nearly twice that of Generation X) compounds the composite lifetime value of engaging this audience.

Note that high-propensity millennial visitors are more educated than their generational predecessors. This is important to understand, because often when organizations say, “Let’s target millennials!” they mean ALL millennials. That’s not always a bad move. But, the reality is that millennials who currently profile as being likely to visit cultural organizations are a subset of the population just as high-propensity visitors from other generations are a subset of the population. Not everyone on the planet thinks, “Hey, I’ll do that!” when someone suggests visiting a cultural organization. For various reasons (e.g. free time, access to transportation, cultural background, income, etc.), that’s just not the case with some people. A goal of efficiently engaging millennial audiences is to tap into high-propensity visitors – those persons most inclined to visit in the first place (i.e. “the path of least resistance”).

Heads-up: We also aren’t watching a lot of live TV. Those aged 55 and older are nearly 60% more likely to be watching more than 10 hours of weekly live TV than we millennials. So if you’re appearing on a morning news show, we’re less likely to be tuning in. It may be beneficial to record that segment and put it somewhere where we can see it later if millennial viewership is a particular goal

.

Compared to other generations, millennial high-propensity visitors are more likely to visit more often. They are also super-connected and more likely to spread an organization’s message, providing incredibly valuable word of mouth endorsement. All things being equal, millennial audiences may well be a cultural organization’s most valuable visitors.

Let’s stop rolling our eyes and get psyched about engaging these cheerleaders! (Too much enthusiasm? I’ll it step back.) Here: Let’s change how we frame the conversation. Instead of groaning about the “otherness” of millennials, let’s embrace this opportunity to engage a new cohort of folks who will visit us again and again, tell their friends, and – if we do our jobs right – will be around loving us for a long time.

 

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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment
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