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

orchestras

Negative Substitution: Why Cultural Organizations Must Better Engage New Audiences FAST (DATA)

Fewer and fewer people look, act, and think like “historic” attendees to visitor-serving organizations. Here’s how many fewer.

As we dive more fully into 2017, I wanted to take a moment to discuss negative substitution and take a deeper dive into how it is affecting cultural organizations. The bad news is that negative substitution of historic visitors is taking place for mission-driven, visitor-serving organizations (museums, theaters, symphonies and orchestras, science centers, botanic gardens, etc.). The good news is that the first step to evolution may be acknowledging our changing market. On that note, let’s do this…

 

Negative substitution is urgent

Negative substitution is a phenomenon occurring globally wherein the number of people who profile as historic visitors leaving the market outpaces the number of people who profile as historic visitors entering the market. It’s the driving reason for the decline in attendance to museums, zoos, aquariums, performing arts entities, and other visitor-serving organizations. Negative substitution is taking place because the market is growing more diverse, while perceptions of cultural organizations as being places for a certain kind of person have remained largely static. Simply, when there are fewer people in the market who profile as historic visitors year-over-year, and also growth in the number people who profile as “nontraditional audiences” year-over-year, the market potential risks fewer-and-fewer visitors over time.

The data below is an aggregate of all museum types that we monitor at IMPACTS (224 of them) crossed with visitation information from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study of (currently) over 108,000 people. It includes museums related to art, history, and science, children’s museums, historic sites, performing art organizations, zoos, aquariums, and botanic gardens. The negative substitution rate for museums shows that for every one historic visitor who leaves the US market (by way of death, relocation, or migration), they are being replaced by only 0.948 of a person (by way of birth, relocation, or immigration). This may not sound impressive – but this is actually a huge difference.

Think of it this way: An organization with a stable attendance of 1,000,000 visitors may keep doing everything right by their current audiences (e.g. marketing, developing exhibits, etc.), and then might reasonably expect to engage 948,000 future visitors…and then 899,000 visitors…and then progressively fewer yet visitors over time absent interdiction. And they will be doing everything right by their current audiences!

 

In order to overcome negative substitution, we need to do a better job at attracting two, general audiences that do not visit cultural organizations at representative rates relative to their market size: millennials and not-white people (bluntly). Keep in mind, these are not entirely different audiences as millennials are the largest generation in human history and nearly half of us are of different racial and ethnic backgrounds than traditional historic visitors. Moreover, as sick as we may be of discussing it, data suggest that organizations must do a much better job at attracting and retaining millennial audiences. Negative substitution rates for different types of visitor-serving organizations generally correlate with attitude affinities – or to what degree the public perceives that an organization is “for people like me.” Though I will be referencing them later, you can learn more about different attitude affinities for different organization types in this post.

 

Overcoming negative substitution means changing the profile of the historic visitor to cultural organizations

Or rather, we need to evolve to be perceived as more welcoming to different types of people than our “traditional” visitor. Negative substitution suggests that, if we keep on keeping on attracting people that look and behave like our current audiences, we’ll slowly decline in visitation over time. Sure, we need to evolve to meet the changing expectations of historic audiences by honoring market trends of personalization, connectivity, and transparency. More than that, we need to do a better job at attracting different types of people and making them our regular attendees. (And not simply our “super special one-off-program” attendees.) We need to change up the very profile of the type of person who wants to visit a cultural organization.

Isn’t it funny that many museums are only now realizing the importance of data-informed decision-making…all the while focusing primarily on audience research that risks yielding deleterious long-term consequences by emphasizing the very programs and budget allocations that support negative substitution in the first place? To reach new audiences, we need to get smarter about market research and attracting the people who we want to visit but don’t yet attend. The people who we need to start attracting are not yet on our email lists and, by definition, aren’t onsite to fill out surveys. (Yes, Colleen. It’s… hilarious.)

The change that we need to carry out is a big deal – and we are (however slowly) progressing on the whole! In the history of museums and cultural organizations, this kind of shift has never been so urgent. Today, with evolving demographics and imperiled government funding, engaging emerging audiences matters more to our missions and financial solvency than ever before. And, indeed, many organizations are implementing new strategies to cultivate and attract new audiences. Successful organizations are changing up how we approach change.

 

How negative substitution is affecting organization types

While the overall negative substitution rate for museums is 0.948 people entering for every one person who leaves the market, we are able to further parse the negative substitution rates of specific types of cultural organizations. Here’s a sample of them and some notes that may contribute to the negative substitution rates of each visitor-serving type. Let’s go backward from those with the lowest negative substitution rates to those with the biggest opportunity.

Zoos: Among visitor-serving organizations, zoos are suffering least from negative substitution. This is true even amidst increasing discussions about animal care and welfare. Like aquariums (discussed next), zoos may more easily deliver on the promise of awe and wonder without facing some of the perceived intellectual intimidation that may be attendant to a science or art museum visit. Moreover (and interestingly), lexical analysis of data reveals that being outside may play a role in reducing negative attitude affinities for zoos. Conceptually, it makes sense: Being outside may feel more like a park or public area than being within the walls of an institution. Also, like aquariums, having the added “so what?” of conservation and the protection of animals provides an added level of reputational equity that works in this type of organization’s favor.

Aquariums: Aquariums are also suffering notably less than the museum industry average. That said, negative substitution is never a good thing – and there’s still important work to be done. A reason for these higher (comparatively) values may be that aquariums are among the types of visitor-serving organizations that are most dependent upon the market. Relatively speaking, as a sector, aquariums generally have the lowest levels of government support, the smallest endowments, and many have also emphasized their nonprofit-y conservation mission that engenders additional support. (Generally, this helps aquariums – and any organization that particularly highlights its mission.) Aquariums also may be able to capture awe and wonder without as big a risk of the perceived intimidation factor that may burden other content types.

History museums: History museums are a wee bit above the museum negative substitution average of 0.948:1.000. History organizations tend to rely most heavily on stories (or, talking about history) than other types of organizations that are perceived to revolve around specific, individual artworks or exhibits. While visitor-serving organizations are increasingly understanding the importance of creative storytelling in an effort to create relevance and resonance with visitors, history organizations may have storytelling most definitionally embedded within their reputational DNA. Storytelling and providing relevant, personalized connections are critical today – and this is also an area where history organizations have the ability to shine.

Art museums: Art museums fall just below the industry negative substitution average. Like science museums (discussed next), art museums may have distinct, perceived reputational barriers that may contribute to negative attitude affinities – or, people thinking they simply “aren’t places for people like me.” As the stern forefathers of “don’t touch,” “stay behind the line,” and “quiet, please” cultural engagement, it’s worth noting that art museums may have been starting from a rather uninviting place. With that in mind, this number still isn’t “good,” but it does show hope and acknowledge that there has likely been meaningful progress made by art museums in responding to these new market realities.

Science museums and science centers: Science museums and science centers are put together in this data because the market largely does not distinguish between science centers and science museums. I could (and likely will) write an entire post with more data on why the science museum/center market has higher negative substitution rates than the museum average and some possible superpowers for combating it, but here’s a very brief run-down:

Interestingly, among visitor-serving organizations, science centers/museums tend to be viewed comparatively as places to visit with children. While this was probably a good thing when millennials – the largest generation in US history – were the kids, it’s not great news now that millennial women are reproducing at the slowest rate in US history. Simply put, millennials are having fewer children (or no children), and they are having their children later in their lives – when they are more advanced in their careers and leisure time is particularly precious. If you’re an organization that has the public perception of being a place primarily for children, your market size is likely shrinking.

Moreover, like art museums, “science” content may be viewed as intimidating for nontraditional visitors. There may be a perceived content “language barrier” that contributes to folks thinking that science museums/centers “aren’t for people like me.” Science is a big topic with a lot of specialties! One can see how someone who doesn’t know much about the accessibility of science centers/museums might be intimidated. (Heck, even folks who DO know about the accessibility of science centers/museums may feel this way!) Combine this with the perception that these are places where you take your kids, and potential visitors may fear a “Dad looks dumb” situation.

Orchestras: Exhibit-based cultural organizations are far from the only cultural organization type in the market or included in the mentioned overall “museum” negative substitution number. Performance-based organizations are every bit as critical for a robust and vibrant cultural community. Unfortunately, orchestras (and symphonies, which have similar negative substitution rates) may be facing particular challenges in today’s world where folks can do many things at once. In fact, data suggest that multi-tasking is how many people like to enjoy music as well. But don’t write this high negative substitution rate off immediately on content disinterest or the menace of the modern world! Some performance-based organizations simply have not yet evolved to meet the desires of millennials (a critical audience!), and have instead chosen to “age” alongside their historic visitors.

Some symphonies and orchestras are mixing things up and trying out new programs – and that may be the key to their future. Certainly, among the visitor-serving organizations shown here, orchestras have the greatest need to reach new audiences – and fast. That doesn’t mean that they (or any other organization type) can’t do it. It means that some may have a longer ways to go.

Remember: Though 0.948 is the industry average, it’s still bad news.  There are no “winners” or “losers” here – but rather a look into the reality of the mission-driven, visitor-serving sector and some of the challenges facing both individual organization types, and also our industry as a whole. To change up these perceptions, we need all hands on deck. Our long-term vitality and relevance may be on the line.

 

Negative substitution correlates with attitude affinities

Interestingly – and unsurprisingly – negative substitution rates correlate with negative attitude affinities. Attitude affinities quantify how welcome and comfortable people feel at an organization. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the “ranking” of negative attitude affinities among the organization types mentioned (shown below) is a similar “ranking” as is the severity of negative substitution – with the exception of science centers and science museums. Being perceived as places “for kids” plays a large role in driving negative substitution for science museums and science centers, but it benefits these types of organizations as being perceived as relatively welcoming. There’s simply less perceived incentive to visit a science center/science museum if you don’t have small children – and fewer people do.

The data below comes from IMPACTS and the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study – and it is a summary of this data previously discussed on Know Your Own Bone. In short, it shows what percentage of people in the U.S. market do not feel like an organization type is a place for someone “like them.” How that is interpreted is in the eyes of the respondent. While data suggest that it may correlate with educational attainment (and, relatedly, with household income), it certainly does not correlate with an organization’s admission price.

Nearly four out of 10 people don’t feel like art museums or history museums are “places for people like me.” Just over three out of 10 people feel this way about science museums and science centers. Only about two in 10 people feel that an aquarium or zoo is “not for someone like me,” and almost five out of 10 people feel this way about orchestras. Again, you can read more about this data and attitude affinities here.

 

Within our industry, some tend to think of targeting “historic” audiences as the safe bet and cultivating new audiences as a secondary goal to be pursued “when funding becomes available.” This is short-sighted step on a long, slow march into obsolescence. The market is crawling with potential visitors – and they are ripe for cultivation if and when we decide to think outside of our outdated box.

The need to cultivate new audiences as regular attendees is critical for our long-term survival. The first step to overcoming negative substitution may be acknowledging this. Let’s take this information and welcome new folks through the door – not only because our world needs it right now, but because we do, too.

 

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, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Why Cultural Organizations Are Not Reaching Low-Income Visitors (DATA)

Why Programming for Low-Income Audiences are Unsuccessful

Data suggest that some types of cultural organizations are perceived as more welcoming than others. Here’s how we could do better.

With missions to educate and inspire audiences, many visitor-serving cultural organizations (e.g. museums, zoos, aquariums, theaters, symphonies, etc.) aim to serve low-income audiences in addition to their high-propensity visitors. So, just how good of a job are organizations doing when it comes to engaging lower-income audiences, and how can we make it even better?

Attitude affinities are a way of quantifying how the market perceives an organization in terms of its hospitableness and attitudes towards certain types of visitors. In summary, attitude affinities inform responses to visitor questions such as, “Is this type of organization for people like me? Do people like me ‘fit-in’ at this type of organization? Are people like me made to feel welcome and comfortable at this type of organization?” Extant data indicate a strong correlation between attitudes affinities and intentions to visit an organization. If people don’t feel welcome at an organization, then they are less likely to visit that organization.

IMPACTS quantifies attitude affinities on a 1-100 continuum, whereby the higher the value, the more welcoming (or greater affinity) a visitor perceives the organization. Data indicate that intentions to visit decline when attitude affinity-related metrics drop below 63 on this 100 point continuum. Due to this observed decline in intentions to visit, persons reporting attitude affinities ≤62 are generally not considered to be likely visitors because they do not feel welcomed by the organization.

Certain types of organizations seem to struggle more with negative attitude affinities as a barrier to onsite engagement than do others. Before we dive into the data, it is worth noting the attitude affinities have nothing to do with content – these are not measures of if people prefer animals to art. These are measures of peoples’ perceptions of feeling welcome at any organization. In other words, some organizations may defensively blame these numbers on a phenomenon innate to their content, but that’s generally not the case. After the data, I’ll discuss this a bit more. For now, let’s dive in!

 

IMPACTS - Art museum attitude affinities

As represented in the above chart, 552 of the 1,385 person sample population (39.86%) indicate attitude affinities ≤62 – suggesting that for four of 10 adults, a perception of not feeling welcome at an art museum poses a significant barrier to their onsite engagement. Remember: these metrics don’t even begin to contemplate other barriers like content interest/relevance, transportation, or schedule (a key barrier for general audiences). Out of the gate, four of 10 members of the US market don’t feel welcome in an art museum. But, hey, it’s not just art museums…

 

IMPACTS - History museum attitude affinities

510 of the 1,372 person sample population (37.17%) indicate attitude affinities ≤62. The data indicate that history museums are perceived to be slightly more welcoming to lower income audiences than are art museums.

 

IMPACTS - Science museum attitude affinities

448 of the 1,390 person sample population (32.23%) indicate attitude affinities ≤62 – suggesting that for approximately three of 10 adults, a perception of not being welcome at a science museum or science center poses a significant barrier to their onsite engagement.

We have combined science centers and science museums because the market generally does not differentiate between these two types of organizations. This lack of differentiation may sound like blasphemy for folks working in a science center or science museum, but the market doesn’t parse the nuance that may differentiate these types of organizations. (Preempting a question: No – the data is not meaningfully different when science centers and science museums are separately distinguished for this type of analysis.)

 

IMPACTS - Aquariums attitude affinities

300 of the sample size of 1,335 persons (22.47%) indicate attitude affinities ≤62 – suggesting that for approximately two of 10 adults, a perception of not being welcome at an aquarium poses a significant barrier to their onsite engagement. Comparatively, this is excellent news for aquariums “walking their talk” in terms of being seen as welcoming places! Loyal KYOB readers know that aquariums serve a bit like crystal balls for the future of cultural organizations because they tend to be both the most for-profit and nonprofit among their visitor-serving brethren. Market forces dictate that aquariums, as a simple means of business survival, often need to address changing attitudes, behaviors, and engagement strategies years before other types of organizations that may rely on large endowments and government support.

 

IMPACTS - Zoos attitude affinities

277 of the 1,512 persons sampled (18.32%) indicate attitude affinities ≤62 – suggesting that for less than two of 10 adults, a perception of not being welcome at a zoo poses a significant barrier to engagement. Good work, zoos!

 

Orchastra and symphony attitude afffinities

703 of the 1,540 persons sampled (45.65%) indicate attitude affinities ≤62 – suggesting that for nearly half of the sampled adults, a perception of not being welcome at an orchestra or symphony poses a significant barrier to their onsite engagement. Yikes!

However, for several orchestras and symphonies, this data would hardly qualify as surprising. Many orchestras and symphonies have been challenged by dwindling audiences and are experimenting with creative engagement strategies to better cultivate new constituencies. These data may suggest that overcoming the barrier to engagement may have less to do with promoting a new artist or performance, and more to do with promoting effective access programming.

 

In sum, what do these negative attitude affinities look like among the cultural organizations discussed here? At the risk of inserting one of the most glass-is-half-empty charts to ever grace KYOB (but in the spirit of “real talk”) here’s a summarized analysis: (Don’t worry! There’s a lesson here for improvement so we can move toward beating this! More after the chart…)

IMPACTS - Negative attitude affinities

Why are attitude affinities better for some organizations than for others? There’s a possible, data-informed reason. But first, I need to myth-bust the immediate go-to reason that is probably popping into many-a-reader’s head right now:

 

A) Attitude affinities do not generally correlate with admission price

It was my first thought, too. (Or I guess it would have been if I didn’t do so much data-driven work with regard to admission pricing). Data suggest no correlation between admission cost and attitude affinities. The average visitor to an aquarium reported paying approximately 52% more to visit than did a visitor to an art museum, and also reported 73% lower negative attitude affinities. In other words, persons who don’t feel welcome at an organization don’t necessarily do so because of cost-related factors.

It is important to remember that admission price is not an affordable access program. These things are different. Admission pricing enables successful affordable access programming by supplying the funding required to actually serve low-income audiences – a thing that many organizations (even free ones) aren’t doing very well.

IMPACTS - Average admission price paid

 

B) Attitude affinities DO correlate with lack of awareness of access programming

Interestingly, when it comes to tactics to mitigate cost as a factor to visitor engagement, households reporting annual incomes >$250,000 are significantly more likely to be aware of an organization’s affordable access programming than are households with annual incomes <$25,000. In other words, there are more people annually earning $250,000 receiving messaging about access programming than the people that actually need the access programming! In the case of orchestras and symphonies, high-income households are 3.35x more likely to be aware of an organization’s affordable access programming than are low-income households for which these programs are created!

IMPACTS - Access programming awareness

Low-income audiences that most need access support or assistance are comparatively unaware of access programming opportunities from these types of organizations. BUT that doesn’t mean that those organizations aren’t offering them (as evidenced by the relatively high awareness of these access programs among households with annual incomes >$250,000).

The reason why this is happening is that same reason why “free days” to cultural organizations attract people with higher average annual incomes than do non-free days: Organizations market access programs to high-propensity visitors and historic audiences because those are the folks that they know how to reach. This is happening because organizations generally neglect making meaningful, sustained investments in promoting these programs to the audiences whom they most intend to serve.

Underserved audiences are by their very definition not currently engaging with our organizations. They are not onsite to complete audience research surveys. They are not on our email lists. They are not following us on Facebook. They don’t like our Instagram posts or retweet our messages. So when we boast of our affordable access programs using these channels, we are mostly speaking with our current constituencies.

Engaging underserved audiences requires a sincere and sustained investment. We can create the greatest access programming possible, but if the people who need it aren’t made aware of it, they are unlikely to engage with our organizations.

In order to reach these audiences, we need to have a different messaging strategy than we do to reach other types of visitors. This means building relationships with leaders in lower-income communities to help spread the word, partnering with organizations that already serve these audiences (e.g. churches, schools, libraries, etc.), and actually thinking about how these hopeful audience members make decisions. It is completely different than the marketing and PR that you are already doing in order to reach non-affordable access audiences (i.e. the people that you need to engage in order to keep your lights on and make that messaging to lower-income audiences possible).

Lack of access programming awareness is not the only barrier to engagement for low-income audiences. There are a whole host of barriers to access that cultural organizations should work to overcome (including schedule, relevance, content disinterest, transportation, etc.). These data focus on attitude affinities and do not aim to resolve other barriers to engagement. That said, it stands to reason that access may be the key issue on the critical path to engagement. After all, if audiences are not aware that you offer an access program for them, then, well, they aren’t aware that you offer an access program for them. These folks may not know that you are doing anything to reach them in the first place!

On the surface, these data may look like bad news – but they’re not. This is potentially good news because we can see something that is happening and how it may be unknowingly sabotaging our access programming. More importantly, we can fix it! This information allows us to stop spinning our wheels and focus on where our access programming may be getting stuck – in our messaging.

 

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

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 6 Comments

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:

 

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, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment