Thoughtful onsite initiatives to make people feel welcome are not just a “social good” but an important business decision – and that decision can pay off in multiple ways.
At IMPACTS Experience, we’ve long shared the data-informed reality that prioritizing initiatives related to elevating diversity and inclusion is more than a social imperative for cultural organizations. It’s not only about being fundamentally decent. It’s not only about working to overcome long-standing institutional biases by actively doing our part, piece by piece. It’s not only about making our physical spaces more accessible. It’s not only about social missions and being pillars of connection in our communities.
It’s also about becoming more sustainable, effective, and efficient organizations from a financial perspective. We’ve been present in more than a few board rooms in which these initiatives – like the range of other initiatives carried out by museums – are being appropriately scrutinized with the challenging, critical questions inevitable to most investments: Are these initiatives a potential investment rather than a straightforward expense? Will they help expand our audiences in more than just theory? And will they expand our audiences with people who are likely to support the institutions so we can continue to invest in our community?
You already know this: Welcoming perceptions help expand audiences.
Before we dive into the new data, let’s recap some fundamental realities about the exhibit-based, visitor-serving sector (zoos, aquariums, museums, gardens, historic sites, etc.). These organizations are not currently reaching new audiences fast enough to sustain long-term attendance growth over time. We’ve termed this phenomenon negative substitution, and it’s a problem that we’re watching closely at IMPACTS Experience. Additionally, while welcoming perceptions are generally increasing for cultural organizations (a big win), many organizations still are not reaching racially diverse audiences at representative rates.
In a nutshell, elevating welcoming perceptions aids in expanding the market for cultural institutions. Not feeling welcome is a top reason why unlikely visitors self-identify as such. Efforts to overcome these feelings can help organizations activate previously inactive visitors and expand the profile of the “type of person” who visits cultural institutions. This is all well and good, and we see that leaders are familiar with this concept and the need to expand audiences. We observe general awareness that being welcoming is not only the right thing to do, but also that it’s good for business.
But what do we know about welcoming perceptions and the willingness to pay admission fees? Well, we looked into that in 2022, and we found something interesting…
But you might not know this: People are willing to pay higher admission fees when they perceive the experience as welcoming.
The following chart indicates a scatter array of 1,003 adult visitors to exhibit-based organizations in the United States with admission fees ranging $35-50. Each person sampled visited the respective organization within the past year. They were asked the following two questions about their visit:
- How welcoming did you perceive the organization to be?
- What is the maximum admission price you’d be willing to pay for this experience?
The outcome is clear: The more welcoming someone believed the experience to be, the greater the admission fee that they’d be willing to pay.
What does feeling welcome mean to these audiences who visited? It could mean a myriad of things – from seeing themselves represented by staff members onsite in terms of age, race, or anything else; seeing their language represented, special programs or exhibits celebrating diverse experts or stories; or simply having a positive personal interaction with a kind staff member. (As an aside, prioritizing positive and personalized interactions with staff members and volunteers is one of the most reliable ways to increase visitor satisfaction.) Feeling that the exhibitions and other content presented are accessible, easily understandable, and interesting can also aid in elevating welcoming perceptions.
What makes someone feel welcome is unique to them, and there are several important aspects of diversity – from race to age to physical ability to gender identity to sexual orientation and even having children or not! To show the trend on but one of many aspects of audience diversity, let’s look at folks who self-identify as BIPOC. The research below indicates the same sample audience organized by people who self-identify as BIPOC and those who self-identify as white non-Hispanic. The X-axis segments respondents into cohorts based on how welcoming they believed the organization to be. Of course, the higher the welcoming perception, the better. The Y-axis shows the average maximum admission price that each group was willing to pay.
Perhaps the most interesting finding from an earned revenue perspective: People who felt the most welcome were willing to pay a price that exceeded the organization’s then-current general admission price! Remember, the numbers above are average maximums, and not a single one of these organization had an admission basis greater than $50. You’ll also note in the first chart that some people who felt welcome said they’d be willing to pay over $100 as an admission basis. Simply put, being perceived as welcoming fundamentally changes a person’s value perception related to the organization.
As a note, this research intends to communicate a trend based on observed industry averages, not inform your organization’s unique admission price. That is the outcome of a pricing study that contemplates your organization’s unique reputational equities, experiences, and market. If you would like help with that, we’ve got your back.
Organizations benefit by investing in DEIJ initiatives to elevate their communities, help chip away at pervasive systemic and systematic biases, make our physical spaces more accessible so people can fully participate, and evolve and expand our audiences because a diversity of voices and participation heightens creativity and problem-solving for all of us.
And organizations also benefit by investing in DEIJ initiatives because these particular investments demonstrate financial benefits.
It’s not only the right thing to do for our communities, but also the right thing to do for our organizations.
And the wisest cultural executives know that those are two sides of the same coin.
IMPACTS Experience provides data and expert analysis to many of the world’s leading organizations through its workshops, keynote presentations, webinars, and data services such as pricing studies, market potential analyses, concept testing, and Awareness, Attitude, and Usage studies. Learn more.
We publish new national data and analysis every other Wednesday. Don’t want to miss an update? Subscribe here to get the most recent data and analysis in your inbox.