Think twice before you say, “That’s not my job.”
Here at IMPACTS, we work to understand perceptions, behaviors, and motivations surrounding cultural organizations, and we make that information accessible on this site and during workshops. The real-world data frequently challenges leaders to think differently about reaching new audiences and satisfying current visitors in more productive ways.
Because we have research on potential visitors “on the outside” of our organizations, the data conversation is often approached from an external point of view. Leaders ask what they can do to better engage these folks!
…But bringing in new visitors also means making sure internal structures are designed to do so successfully.
Despite often having traditional, hierarchical organizational structures, I’m pleased to report that leaders seem more willing than ever to break down silos and work together. That’s good, because one thing is particularly unassailable in the data:
Everything is connected.
Nearly every program, every department, and every position impacts others in a meaningful way that is critical for an organization’s success.
I’m not just writing that because I’m a millennial and, as they say, every one of us got an MVP trophy on the soccer team growing up. (Although I’ll admit that I am still oddly motivated by participation awards…) I’m writing it because it’s in the data.
The next time you see an organizational issue and consider saying, “That’s not my job. That’s for [marketing, membership, operations, education, programs] to tackle,” think again.
Understanding audiences is everyone’s job (Not just Marketing/Communications)
Let’s start here because while all of these are important interconnections, the most inappropriate “not my jobbing” seems to happen around marketing, and particularly in relation to social media.
Social media communications pay an important role in motivating visitation, reaching potential visitors who haven’t attended yet, and making people more likely to visit in the first place. It’s clear that effectively engaging audiences on social media is critical for success. And inadequate use of social media is an actual barrier to visiting cultural organizations! Organizations benefit by “meeting audiences where they are” in any interaction. In large part, they are online. Current and likely visitors to cultural organizations are super-connected. This means that they have internet access at home, at work, and on a mobile device, and are often using multiple social media platforms wherever they are.
Activities on these platforms not only impact what happens offsite, but what happens onsite as well. These communications can actually increase onsite satisfaction (oh hey, Operations), and can help connect with members and donors (oh hey, Development)!
I’ve heard folks say proudly, “Oh, social media! I know nothing about that!” They say it as if social media is deteriorating our brains and they want no part of it. While they may be right about it having some negative impacts on our brains, why brag about not knowing how the world works? I don’t see how this statement makes people look cute or learned, which may be the desire of such statements. Not understanding how people communicate and connect today simply makes someone unfit to hold a position within a cultural organization.
Nobody is saying everyone needs to know the vagaries of Facebook’s changing algorithm or be personally active on several social platforms. But leaders benefit by understanding how people are communicating and creating meaning today. Your mission statement probably has something to do with people. To effectively educate and inspire, it helps to know a thing or two about people.
Speaking of which…
Inspiring people around your mission is everyone’s job (Not just Education)
Educators are often at the heart of mission work. After all, how does an organization educate and inspire without a knowledgeable Education team?
In today’s world of corporate social responsibility in which nonprofits do not “own” social good, less than half of visitors to nonprofit cultural organizations know that they are nonprofit. They care more about how well an organization does what it says it does than they do how it fills out its tax forms. Proving an organization “walks its talk” is everyone’s job. It means making sure that the influences of the education department are evident in marketing, membership, onsite, in programs, and are a shared value among leadership. (Critically, it also means proving that the way an organization educates is entertaining.)
Education value – a value included in the mission of many cultural organizations – is what justifies a visit. Education value can be the differentiator between a trip to the museum and a day at the beach. Plus, education value is a cultural organization superpower, and supporting an organization’s mission is often a primary reason why people become members.
Without everyone putting on this hat or being a wingman for the Education department, we create a disconnect between what we say we do and the impact that we truly have.
Creating a satisfying experience is everyone’s job (Not just Visitor Operations)
Satisfaction is one of the most important measures for an organization to track. It increases likelihood to come back (aiding in membership) and likelihood to endorse (aiding in marketing and motivating repeat attendance). Frontline staff can make magic happen when it comes to visitor satisfaction. These folks play what we’ve (still) found to be the most critical role in directly increasing onsite satisfaction, which fuels the entire visitor engagement cycle and impacts the success of other departments.
My colleague, Jim Hekkers, often tells the story of how the Monterey Bay Aquarium was considering a major building addition when they started working with IMPACTS over ten years ago, and the data revealed it wasn’t going to be the magic bullet that they’d hoped. (Building expansions alone often aren’t.) Instead, some of the data pointed toward the value of frontline staff and their power to elevate the experience – a value that still exists there today, years after Jim has left the Managing Director role. We track the power of interpersonal interactions closely here at IMPACTS amongst several individual organizations and for visitors as a whole as a part of the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. (We have more data and a new video on the power of personal interactions with staff coming in September!)
Reaching new audiences is everyone’s job (Not just Programs or Community Engagement)
The US is growing increasingly diverse in folks who do not currently profile as having interest in visiting cultural organizations. (At IMPACTS, we call this phenomenon the negative substitution of the historic visitor.) Our audiences tend to be white, wealthy, and educated, and that’s a problem in a diverse nation like ours. We need to change up the “type of person” who goes to organizations ranging from science centers to symphonies.
Reaching new audiences is not the sole responsibility of individual programs or outreach staff members. “One-off” programming led by a single staff member or concentrated in one department is unlikely lead to success. Successfully reaching new audiences means cultivating a culture of diversity and inclusion within the entirety of the organization. And it’s everyone’s job to strive for a more equitable workplace, not just Human Resources.
If we believe it’s not everyone’s job, we risk ongoing attendance decline as we fail to engage new visitors, which impacts all departments and the institution as a whole.
Cultivating a community of supporters is everyone’s job (Not just Membership)
Membership is seen as the top way to support an organization – even more than making a donation. While we love and need visitors, they are not all likely to become members. A member has 4.5x greater value to an organization than a visitor in terms of the revenue and donations they bring in. No doubt about it: Membership departments matter.
Often, membership and development departments are oddly among the most siloed within organizations. I often wonder if this is due to a misconception that when someone becomes a member or a donor, they are no longer a visitor. They are something else – a type of person who is someone else’s job to manage entirely.
This is a mistake. Members and donors are motivated by the visitation cycle, just like visitors. The top reason why expired members haven’t renewed is they intend to do it when they next visit, immediately tying the success of these programs back to working closely with marketing and operations. Members are also our most satisfied visitors on the whole, feeding endorsements and repeat visitation for marketing and operations as well.
“If everything is everyone’s job, how are we going to get everything done?! I’m already slammed!”
This realization isn’t a call for everyone in an organization to learn HTML, memorize your biggest donor’s birthday, or get a degree in the subject of the next exhibit or performance in your seemingly nonexistent free time. That’s silly. It also misses the point.
The fact that everything is connected does not necessarily point to doing more. It points towards doing what we do more effectively and efficiently. It means getting down to the root of our day-to-day tasks and restructuring them so that they are optimized for departments to work together most effectively. Or it may simply mean understanding that the work your colleagues are doing is important, too… and it does likely impact your own work.
It means we don’t see hold-ups and say, “That’s not my job.”
Instead, we may say, “This affects me, too. What role can I play in resolving the situation?”
If we start saying this, we may be surprised how much easier it may be to overcome our industry’s most pressing obstacles.
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