At least, not if an organization wants to achieve them successfully.
On this site, I often dive into critical trends for the long-term success of cultural organizations. Recently, these trends have included items such as using market research to understand audience motivations and expectations, the importance of diversity and inclusion, personalization, unique experiences, the need for consistent financial support from donors, and organizations “showing” their missions.
These trends may shed light on another: The increasing need for interconnected cultural organization operations.
These trends represent major shifts in an organization’s entire operations, not only major shifts for individual departments.
While it may be tempting for cultural executives to acknowledge these critical trends and then attempt to resolve them through straightforward delegation, this is unlikely to be a successful strategy. These shifts in how audiences form expectations and how they make decisions are best realized when they are integrated into an organizations’ culture rather than “added on” to individual departments. In fact, that may be one of the key reasons why engaging new audiences isn’t working.
It is difficult for an organization to “program” itself to success in our more connected world. Instead, audience attraction and retention comes from becoming an entity that people can trust to consistently provide connective, unique experiences that educate and inspire people. Achieving this may involve breaking down silos and working together to achieve long-term goals.
While organizations may benefit by having dedicated leaders focusing on particular macro-trends and providing leadership on them within certain departments, these trends are the work of every department. Leaders may “not my job” these shifts at the peril of their entire organization.
Here are four, critical trends and the departments in which I’ve seen them “delegated” within cultural organizations. Sure, these trends are important for these departments, but limiting them to these departments may hold organizations back. Looking through the list, you may realize two things: First, that your organization has made this unspoken “delegation,” and second (hopefully), that this “delegation” is counter-productive to an organization’s goals and ability to thrive.
1) Integrating market research is not up to the Marketing Department
I get it. “Marketing” includes the word “market” – thus, to the marketing department critical findings often go!
The benefits of understanding “the market” extend far beyond the marketing department. To limit understandings of the preference and behaviors of the people whom an organization aims to cultivate to this department means being unable to achieve them This is because market research reveals how important every department is in the visitor engagement cycle.
Ad buys? Web-based targeting? Marketing plans to captivate audiences? Knowing the proper messages to be motivate attendance? These findings may be most useful for the marketing department.
…But understanding who is visiting cultural organizations and who is not, for instance, benefits every department – and may be necessary in order for these other departments to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. Examples include trends in cultivating mission-based supporters (oh hey, Membership and Development!) and the power of personalized interactions onsite (go, go Operations!). Too often, these trends knock at the door of the marketing department and it then becomes the job of this department to “convince” other departments to care about the motivations, and expectations, of the humans that they aim to educate and inspire.
Moreover, integrating research into an organization’s culture is a big job, and one that requires a diligent leadership team on the whole, not only a diligent CMO.
2) Achieving diversity and inclusion is not up to the Human Resources Department
Diversity and inclusion sure sound warm and fuzzy, but they are one of cultural organizations’ most critical business imperatives. Unfortunately, we have a ways to go to represent more diverse audiences. Discussion about this belongs in board rooms – not only HR department cubicles where it may be less likely to spur institutional change.
I write about market research and share aggregated industry trend information from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study on this site. My goal here is clear: I aim to help organizations be financially solvent. Organizations must better understand the importance of diversity and inclusion in order to thrive long-term – both by hiring more diverse staff members and perhaps especially by striving to be perceived as welcoming for diverse audiences onsite. However, I’ve heard leaders say, “We’re dealing with that in HR,” when subjects related to diversity arise. Interestingly, I even received a comment on social media recently recommending that I read human resources literature instead of business journals, because they “more closely align with my needs and interests.” (It’s but one comment, but I think it illustrates the point.)
Nope. Diversity and inclusion must not be “delegated” to human resources alone if we are to do a better job of achieving it. It’s much more than who organizations hire – culture shifts, and rethinking what it means to be welcoming.
3) Underscoring your mission is not the sole responsibility of the Education or Programs Departments
Underscoring your organization’s mission correlates with better financial health and more satisfied members. An organization’s mission can serve as a unique differentiator to motivate attendance. Education value often justifies a visit to a cultural organization such as a museum, zoo, aquarium, symphony, theater, botanic garden, or historic site.
An organization’s mission is part of its core business, not a factor represented primarily by a single department working in isolation. Without mission work, Development has a harder time keeping donors, Marketing risks having less impactful messaging to elevate reputation, and the onsite experience risks being incongruent with that reputation.
Part of this divide may be based upon the misconception that entertainment value and education value are somehow at odds. In reality, education and entertainment coexist within successful organizations.
4) Securing philanthropic support cannot be achieved solely by the Development or Membership Departments
For cultural organizations, members and donors are rightfully a different audience than general visitors in several ways. After all, they are our evangelists and supporters!
In our increasingly personalized and noisy world, intelligent targeting to find and cultivate these potential supporters may be more important than ever before. “Targeting” – especially online – where likely visitors and supporters get their information – is often in the realm of the Marketing Department. Online donations are also increasing, demanding that Development departments have a better understanding of how people use and interact with these platforms.
The top dissatisfiers for high-level members to cultural organizations demonstrates a discrepancy between how they are treated when they are onsite and how they are treated when they are at home. It seems that cultural organizations know their members’ names very well when they solicit them on their cell phones, but often fail to treat them as though they know them when they arrive onsite. Moreover, the top reasons why donors stop giving to cultural organizations are communication opportunities.
Today, nearly every department touches a potential member or donor while they are on their way up the path of support.
Trends like personalization, perceived transparency, trust, and connectivity within nonprofit and for-profit entities alike may demand that cultural organizations break down inter-organization silos.
Divide of workload makes it possible to achieve institutional goals. However, there’s danger in saying, “that’s just not my job” in regard to key trends surrounding how audiences think and behave. Many of the most important macro-trends rely upon shifts in institutional culture rather than tactical scope-of-work changes within individuals departments alone.
Success will come from integrating changes, rather than solely “adding on” programs, positions, and to-do items.