Honestly, this report confused me a bit.
I picked it up because I thought it would be about economic impact and the creative sector. It wasn't.
Then, the first half (the findings), had me prepared to write a review all about, essentially, the death of the chamber of commerce (and implications for communities and even museums, if you bear with me).
But then the second half (case studies) focused on two museum-type organizations that were doing great community work, really serving as creative hubs and putting the findings into practice.
I'm not sure I can totally reconcile the two, as my responses are so different. But here goes.
Note: this report focuses on Creative Hubs in the United Kingdom.
Part 1: The Findings
Fundamentally, how do communities support creativity, individual entrepreneurship, and thinking? How do they provide infrastructure, resources, nuts-and-bolts advice, and places for what the authors called "structured serendipity" and "curating happenstance" (two phrases I love, by the way; I sometimes see those ideas coming from museum-goers in my research as well).
This report focused on "creative hubs" as relatively new, loose organizations that address those needs, as places that bring together "diverse talents, disciplines, and skills to intensify innovation … places that provide a space for work, participation, and consumption" (p. 7). They are physical places and/or networks, but essentially small communities that incubate small businesses, help grow creative industries, and make places better.
In the UK, three emerging factors contributed to the development of hubs:
As I read these findings, however, I kept thinking about chambers of commerce. In a way, these creative hubs are becoming a nimble, flexible, relevant 21st-century chamber of commerce. Let me explain (and I'll bring in a museum hook).
When I worked within museums, I found the local chamber of commerce to be only somewhat useful. In the 11+ years I've been an audience researcher, I have found them completely irrelevant. Local chambers have failed me … and I suspect a lot of others. They feel creaky and stuck in the 80s, to be honest. Yet the creative hubs described in this report are very appealing to me.
So if I were to create the 21st-century chamber of commerce, it would actually look a lot like these creative hubs. Dynamic co-working spaces with innovative programs to stimulate the mind, creativity, and innovation. Maker spaces and pots of tea. Meaningful social programming that helps me, and others, tackle community issues. Practical services that help me deal with the nuts-and-bolts of running my practice, so I can focus on the things that matter. I don't want to go to a "mixer" to network, but I do want to be in a mutually supportive environment. And I suspect there is a growing need for that environment that goes right back to those labor market and industry shifts the UK, and the US, is experiencing.
I also think museums can be a vital part of new creative hubs in the US. The intellectual stimulation, the creative and technical inspiration, are all things that museums can excel at. Additionally, my data and research keeps reinforcing that community engagement and museums are deeply intertwined, so these creative hubs can be beneficial to museums. And museums can better support their community. And museums can actually be these creative hubs.
Which brings me to the case studies.
Part 2: The Case Studies
After I read the findings part of this report, I was tempted to just barely scan the case studies and set the report aside.
That didn't happen.
The first main case study was for the Site Gallery in Sheffield. And to be honest, the programming is what I would expect of any community-focused art museum, from classes to exhibits to lectures to teen programs (such as those that Mary Ellen Munley has studied in her excellent Room to Rise).
What was most interesting, however, was seeing its programming discussed by non-museum researchers, using language that clearly values the types of outcomes and impacts that I hear from museum-goers in my work. The ability of museums (in this case, art) to connect. Transform. Relax. Escape. Create. A potent reminder that these are important outcomes that we need to try to measure, even when it's hard. And that these outcomes matter.
For the Site Gallery, it meant deep integration with their community: Sheffield. Nimble, savvy thinking, and responding to needs … in ways only they could. The story was similar for Birmingham Open Media. Interestingly, however, the third case study, FuseBox in Brighton, was more of the new chamber of commerce model that the first part of the report had me envisioning.
Read or skip? This is actually hard to answer. Reading the findings, I would have said a "skip, I've got this covered for you." But I did an about-face when two of the three main case studies described organizations that look a lot like art museums (and, to be honest, there is no reason a science center or history museum couldn't do likewise).
So if your community is crying out for a creative hub, and you want to deeply integrate your museum in your community … read this. It could give you the inspiration to pursue this for your community, in ways that your community needs and that further your missions.
If all of this sounds nice, but nothing else. Then skip. It isn't for you and your museum.
Full citation: "Creative Hubs: Understanding the New Economy." Research report published by the British Council and City University of London. Released 2016.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
Why I picked it up: Paying for news. What on earth does that have to do with museums? And membership? Bear with me. Since museum members often purchase membership for the benefits … the product … it is a lot like purchasing a subscription. If the content isn't there, they won't join or renew. I suspect there may be takeaways for museum membership programs. So I dug into the American Press Institute's report.
Note: I did not focus on where they go to find news (especially the digital vs. print argument), but instead on why people do (or do not) commit to a subscription.
What you need to know: News subscribers are paying for (and renewing for) quality content. Poor content = low retention rates. Thus, if your museum membership program has low retention rates, the problem is likely your content, not your membership program. (Or, if a children's museum, they really did age out … but children's museums should still be seeing renewals while children are young.)
The Nitty Gritty: First, take these numbers with a grain of salt, as I think they skew rather high (for why, see below for my rambling note on data source/methodology). That being said …
The researchers divided their sample into three rough categories:
While rates of museum membership and visitation are nothing like this, I think we can draw conclusions if we think of members as "subscribers," casual visitors as "news seekers," and non-visitors as "bumpers." For this purpose, however, we should also mentally think of that potential fourth category, perhaps the "disengaged," which would likely be a third-to-half of a sample and include individuals who just never think about museums at all. (Sorry to discourage you, but better to be realistic.)
First, the subscribers. What motivates them? Primarily, a belief that the news is important to be an informed, better citizen. These words, as well as their cousin "knowledgeable," come up a fair amount in my research when I ask museum-goers why they visit museums. So a parallel is there (even if more people find the news more useful to this outcome than museums).
Additionally, a fair number of news subscribers want to support quality journalism … particularly younger adults as a third of subscribers under 50 cited this (versus only a quarter of those 50 or older).
When it comes to what news organizations they support, there are three reasons (in descending order):
Essentially confirming the last point, they found that the majority of subscribers felt that the news was a good value, and that "the value people put on the news they pay for is a reflection of attitude, not other attributes." I agree, and I suspect museum members do too … dropping membership when it is no longer producing that same value for them or their families.
And then there is sharing the news. This was interesting.
Younger adults subscribers are more likely to feel that being informed gives them something to discuss with family and friends, both in real life and on social media. To be honest, aside from the in-museum experience, we don't spend a whole lot of time focusing on this in museums. How do museum visitors talk about their visits with others in their daily lives?
For this study, however, the research shed more light on social media patterns. News subscribers (of all ages) are more likely to share news content. This makes sense on a few levels:
They went on to say:
"So contrary to discounting social media as part of a subscription strategy, the opposite may be true. Engaging with one’s most loyal consumers on social media, the data suggests, is an important way of expanding one’s audience by having loyal users share and endorse a publisher’s content. In effect, publications should work hard to empower their subscribers on social media to become their ambassadors and marketers."
I suspect the above is true for museum members (which suggests prioritizing content-driven social media in shareable ways is a good priority to have … but you probably already knew that).
Now, the non-subscribers. Bottom line, the news isn't as important to them. Some seek out free sources (and don't feel a need to pay because they can find enough for free to suit their needs). Others don't seek it out at all (and I think this is a bigger percentage of the population than the research suggests, see my rambling note on data source/methodology for why).
To some degree, age also matters, with non-subscribers 18 - 34 twice as likely as those 65 and older to say they are not interested in the news (I wouldn't have categorized these as "bumpers," but as the "disengaged").
But those "bumpers …." what does interest them? My read of the data is that content that is about them. They are far less interested in national or international news, but compared with news seekers they are more interested in news about their hobbies, lifestyle, and interests. A representation of narrower, more personal interests that I see in my research as well, especially in terms of more extrinsic learning motivations and lower levels of engagement with the world among those who don't visit museums at all (or only very rarely). Reaching them, when it comes to the news, seems to be primarily by word-of-mouth, and I bet it is no different when it comes to museums and those with limited intrinsic motivations to learn.
Implications: The report makes the case for specialization and expertise. That providing great content is key to engaging the audience … and making them subscribers. This brings a few thoughts to mind:
Read or skip? Skip. I covered what you need.
A rambling note on data source/methodology: API partnered with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. A very reputable source for research and top-notch methodology.
That being said, there are two things to keep in mind.
Full citation: American Press Institute. "Paying for News: Why people subscribe and what it says about the future of journalism." Published May 2, 2017.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
Big question for museums: What happens when some of the key values we hold dear … community, empathy, understanding … are considered old-fashioned relics among the broader population?
Why I picked it up: I like David Brooks. I don't agree with him on everything (especially politics), but I understand why he has those viewpoints because he is rational. This book, however, isn't political at all, but instead an assessment of society shifts that are rather insightful. I didn't approach this book as a "museum" book, but I did wonder if he had any takeaways that matter to museums
So … does he have takeaways for museums? Short answer, yes. Though you have to hunt for them.
Overall premise of book: Brooks begins by talking about "resume virtues," such as skills for careers and external success, versus "eulogy virtues," which are about character and relationships. In our society, he suggests we are overly focused on the resume virtues, and that it has been at the expense of the eulogy virtues. The results has been a "slip into self-satisfied moral mediocrity."
The shift has taken place largely in post-WWII America, with a mindset that has gone from "nobody's better than me, but I'm no better than anyone else" to "I'm pretty special."
How? He blames the Greatest Generation, which gave us rampant consumerism, a new ethos of the self, and the self-esteem movement. Now, he acknowledges that these are not all bad things (the self-esteem movement helped many people, for example), but it has played out in ways that has swung the pendulum too far towards narcissism, a desire for fame, and individualism at the expense of common good. This also leads to entrenched opinions and attitudes and an inability to acknowledge when we are wrong (does this sound familiar in today's society?).
We need to rebalance. To gain humility. An old-fashioned concept that is his recurring theme.
But what does that mean to him? Brooks takes issue with the idea that individuals should find themselves, follow their passions, set personal goals, and figure out how to get there. That is the life map of the individually autonomous. Reality requires something different. Instead, he suggests that we allow our life and experience to guide us to work to solve problems and needs. It is a shifting of personal mission from furthering oneself to finding a vocation. A vocation isn't chosen, like a career, but answering a call. Stumbling upon a need and being uniquely capable of serving it.
My museum take: When Brooks talks about finding a vocation, and serving it, lights were going off in my head for museums. I don't use these words when I advise museum boards and staffs, but the message is the same. Museums should not be striving to fulfill institutional goals because they simply can. Their work has to mean something to audiences. Otherwise it is going to spin wheels, not drive impact. How do museums find their vocation by applying their strengths to fulfill needs that real people have in real life?
But Brooks's message also resonated personally, in my own career. I never set out to be the museum-audience-data researcher/source/guru. I answered a calling that I saw when I was a museum director myself. And here is where I think the true message of the book lies. Serving a calling doesn't mean doing something that, individually, we hate. It means taking what we enjoy, want to do, and are good at, and matching it and growing it to meet society's needs. It's something I, in retrospect, did. And it is something that I will strive to inculcate in my own children.
So what is the role of museums in helping develop individual interests in a way that is balanced by our ability to develop cognitive empathy, understanding, and the broadening of minds? How do we help the individual reconcile their own desires with the common good? Is that a role that, as a field, museums should play? I'd argue yes, as museums already play a formative role for avid museum-goers.
In the book, Brooks underscores the need for this reconciliation of individual desires and common good when he examines Google ngrams (which measure word usage over time across media and publication dates). Since the beginning of the 20th century, words like "community," "character," "gratitude," and "kindness" have dropped dramatically.
What struck me was that these words, which apparently are old-school since their usage has dropped so precipitously, are that they are ideas that we talk about in our work a lot. Especially community. But character, gratitude, and kindness are similar to empathy and understanding, two other words we are increasingly using to describe our work. In a world that focuses so much on the self, do these forces of humility, of intrinsic kindness, that we embrace make us a relic to those who are more extrinsically motivated in their lives?
When we talk about community and understanding, does it basically make most people check out? If so, how do we work towards it without articulating it? To drive change that isn't asked for but we believe is right as it leads to humility, kindness, and a better society? What would that look like? Why would people care about it? How can we do it more effectively?
And how depressing is it that we, as a society, don't talk about kindness anymore?
Read or skip? It depends. If you want a book that is hugely applicable for museums, skip. I think I pulled that out for you. But if you want a well-written, deeply thoughtful (and non-political) book about values, morality, and American society, yes, read it. I enjoyed it. (BTW, the bulk of the book is a series of mini-biographies of individuals who exemplified different eulogy virtues. 300+ pages of pontificating on values would have been unreadable. The biographies made it human.)
Full citation: Brooks, David. The Road to Character. New York: Random House, 2015.
Why I picked it up: Museum-goers tend to be readers, but are all readers museum-goers? Probably not. I don't expect this report to tell me why some readers don't visit museums, but it will likely tell me a bit more about information consumption. And how a very analog device is surviving in a digital world.
Source: Pew Research Center. I trust them and their methodology.
Implications for museums: People still look to certain types of media for information, and books are a key one, with 4/5 of readers turning to books (among other sources) to research specific topics - that is 60% of all Americans.
Of course, in our world of alternative facts and fake news, the question is will that be a boon, or challenge, for books (and libraries) … and for museums. I'll be curious how this data may shift over the next few years, as they resample.
Additionally, signs are that we are shifting out of a period where early prognostications suggested that everything that could be digitized, would be, and that digital was better. Now, there is a growing realization that analog and digital resources work well together to provide individuals with what they need in the format that works best for that need. Sometimes that's digital (collections databases, blogs, etc.). Sometimes that's analog (long-form reading).
Overall, I think that is good news for museums, which are, generally, rather analog places one visits for real-life experiences. Digital programming extends a museum's potential reach, certainly, but doesn’t serve the same function as an actual visit. Nor should we expect it to. They serve different purposes and needs. (Though all this may change when VR gets really good and overcomes some of its inherent flaws.)
Read or skip? Skip. I'll keep following what Pew releases and update as needed. Though if you are really interested, it only takes about 15 minutes to read.
Full citation: "Book Reading 2016." Research report published by Pew Research Center. Released September 2016.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
Quick take: I found this book fascinating. Incredibly useful for the complexity of how generosity happens; the latter 2/3 of the book were fantastic. The first third, however, was riddled with data errors that I suspect were due to poor copy-editing. Finally, the whole thing didn't need to be a book, but a great info-graphic with a supporting 30-page report.
Fortunately, I dug through it, and am giving you the best bits. By the end of the book, the research had "snapped" into a virtual Topography of Giving in my head. I know that sounds weird (and I am weird). Now that I have this topography in my head, however, I'm trying to see how it maps against museum-going and giving to museums. Thus, this is a long, denser review. But persevere! It will still take you far less time than reading the book, and the part about "how and why people give" (below) is worth it.
Why I picked it up: I am curious about why people make financial contributions to charities, and to museums in particular. And also why so few museum members become donors. This book doesn't address museum giving, but I hoped it would help me get into the mind of potential and current members and donors.
Overall premise of survey, brief data notes: Two researchers applied a "sociological perspective" to American giving, based on findings of a national study by the Science of Generosity Initiative at the University of Notre Dame. Research took place in 2010, and it took them six years to release it in this book.
Generosity is defined as "giving good things to others freely and abundantly." This isn't the same as philanthropy, which is narrower. Additionally, they studied nine types of generosity, focusing on three big ones (financial gifts, volunteering, and political action). To simplify this review, I'm only going to focus on financial gifts.
Their methodology looks good. But I found the text contradicting itself multiple times in the first two chapters, in ways that made absolutely no sense. My gut says poor copy-editing, but I ended up not spending considerable time here. That's OK. There's plenty of other philanthropy data out there. Some interesting points, however:
How and why people give (the fantastic bits!): The research went into four factors that drive a gift. I'm presenting them in a different order than the authors, but in the order I think makes more sense to how they are (likely unconsciously) experienced.
1. Personal orientation towards giving.
Does an individual value generosity? Why do an estimated 2/3 of the population value generosity, while a quarter are neutral about it and 10% say they are not generous individuals? What are the individual values that someone has that drives a tendency towards generosity? Five attitudes seemed to drive if someone is generous (or not):
They examined two more attitudes that do not seem to affect if someone is generous or not:
Shockingly (to me), they interviewed some individuals that said things like "it's not a moral obligation [to help others]." To themselves and their families, sure, it is. But not others. Wow.
The frustrating bit here is that while they identified these attitudes, they had no discussion of how these attitudes came to be. Such as external forces that shape, instruct, and model behavior in front of children. Yeah, I'm talking about parents primarily. I suspect they are key in value formation, and I wish the authors had addressed this head on. They didn't.
2. Social affiliations that support/not support personal orientation.
That is, the people around us. How do they inspire and support giving? Six social affiliations, and if they are generous (or at least perceived that way) seem to matter:
Of all these, the last two are weakest, and parents are the strongest. Some additional findings from this factor:
But, overall, social affiliations serve to strengthen giving; in almost all cases valuing generosity has to come first.
I was, however, somewhat frustrated by this section as the authors don't explore how these social affiliations can drive an individual's development of values, including generosity, in the first place. Instead, they state that these affiliations are independent and do not affect anything else. Honestly, I don't buy it. Maybe during adulthood, but these affiliations certainly shape a child's moral development … an area ripe for study and one ignored in this research.
3. Capacity to give.
To discuss this, the authors borrowed from Maslow, identifying four stages of giving that essentially mirror his hierarchy of needs. They noted, however, that they were looking at how resources and life stage affects how much/how broadly someone who is generous gives, not whether someone actually gave to charity. That is, someone who is generous may only be at the first level, and have no capacity to act on that generosity, but would if they had the resources.
That being said, let's look at those levels, and how capacity to give can help move people up the hierarchy.
To distinguish between the last two, it is the difference between sponsoring a child through, say Save the Children, where you see concrete results for one child (community-religious) versus supporting anti-poverty or relief organizations generally, such as Doctors Without Borders. Or, thinking of museums, a museum member could be at the relational-parental level, joining to provide enrichment experiences for children (and my data suggests science centers and children's museums have a lot of these members). But a major donor could fall into the self-actualized giving, perhaps for social standing reasons, but also perhaps inherently valuing the capacity of museums to change lives (I say inherently because museums really lack data on this one).
Note also that having ample resources does not mean generous giving. You have to value generosity as well (and be surrounded by givers helps too). That is, someone can be very wealthy and only take care of themselves and their family. And, similarly, having limited resources doesn't mean someone isn't a self-actualized giver. Limited can still mean having a capacity to give.
4. Their giving process.
Being financially generous isn't a simple ask/give transaction. It's more complicated than that, as every good development director inherently knows. They identified four main types of givers:
This section is probably the most directly useful to museum fundraising, because if you can figure out what type of giver someone is, you can tailor the pitch. You can even combine tactics that appeal to all four types of givers in one request.
Implications for museums: Just as motivations to visit museums (or not) is a complicated topography of individuals, so is giving. Figuring out how they work together is key, because that enables broadening reach and gifts. And it is something I am in the process of internalizing and applying to my work.
For example, I suspect that many planners also are HNCs (have a high need for cognition) and are intrinsically motivated to learn. The traits of planners as described in this book strike me as similar. And I suspect impulsive givers are less likely to visit museums regularly for similar reasons … and when they do they do so for relational-parental reasons (above), which would be extrinsic. See? Complicated topography.
This leads me to some questions that I'm going to apply to the 2017 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, that I have just pulled from the field. I want to think through the Topography of Giving as I do my analysis, especially given I asked specific questions about philanthropy and motivations for learning (intrinsic vs. extrinsic). I also want to compare it to my mental Topography of Museum-Going.
Then, on top of that, I want to layer it on a Topography of Community Engagement that I have been thinking about as well. This meshes with the values factors considered in the "personal orientation towards giving," and may be rather important.
I'll look at all of that because, well heck, it is a complicated and fascinating world, and it all matters to museums. Stay tuned to The Data Museum blog over the coming months as I release those results.
Read or skip? For most a skip. My summary and review will be sufficient. But if your read this and light bulbs were lighting up in your head, then go get a copy and you, too, can think obsessively about it. And likely sharpen your development skills.
Full citation: Herzog, Patricia Snell, and Price, Heather E. American Generosity: Who Gives and Why. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
Disappointed and bored.
Not the experience I was expecting from the Amazon real-live bricks-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle.
I had high expectations, I suppose. Not for an amazing experience, but that it would be different than other bookstores (and it was), and that Amazon would use its extensive knowledge about me to sell me more books (utter failure there).
I thought I might learn something new that museums could learn from as well. And perhaps that I didn't is a lesson itself.
Let me explain.
My expectations. I buy a lot from Amazon. And they have a 20-year-history of my book purchases. So I went into the Amazon bookstore curious to see how they would take that data and apply it to me in the store. I figured they would give me a reason to pull my phone out, which would then tell their big servers in the sky "Whoa! Big book buyer in our store now! Cha-ching!" I hypothesized my phone would give me suggestions for books in the store, and that I might use my phone to scan bar codes of interesting books in the store so that then the app would suggest other books I could also order.
My disappointment. None of this happened. Except for a sign saying that Amazon Prime members get the Amazon.com price (and I am obviously a Prime member), there was no reason for me to pull my phone out. Which all meant it was a rather mundane bookstore experience. (BTW - when I opened the Amazon app to see if it would trigger anything … the app failed. Twice. When I finally got it open nothing different happened.)
Meh bookstore. So what made it "meh?" At first glance, it looks a lot like a Barnes and Noble. Bigger tech area (for selling Fires, etc.) Far fewer toys and arts and crafts supplies than B&N. Lots of shelves with books. But look again. Those shelves are not loaded. All books are presented cover out. It looks cool, and it is a lot like a virtual bookshelf you could swipe through, but it also means that the selection is very limited. B&N would fit 20 titles in the space Amazon fits 5.
The limited selection was presented, then, for browsing. Books were roughly organized by category, but not alphabetical by author. So if you were looking for something in particular, it likely wasn't there (and if it was it wasn't necessarily easy to find). Just browsing aimlessly? Sure, it's pleasant.
Actual selection and data. Where they did use data was to drive the selection they had and to make recommendations. Books were tagged with their Amazon rating and sales information, leading me to believe that Amazon uses sales data to place best-selling books in the store. I suspect they also overlay Seattle data onto this specific store, as there were local titles as well as some quirky titles that likely spike here in this techy/geeky culture.
Data was also likely used to make recommendations. No staff recommendations here. Instead, it was "like this, you'll love this." Which I took as "people who buy this book also buy these books."
Staff. There was staff there, sure. Mostly around the electronics. My presence was never acknowledged.
Ambiance. It was clean. Very clean. Jazz music an innocuous choice, but while it was conducive to browsing, it was too loud to encourage reading. No comfy chairs like a B&N might have (and that would signal reading is OK), but a long bench with attached Kindle Fires. It didn't look terribly comfortable. So clearly they want browsers, but not for customers to really settle in. Reinforcing that message was the lack of café.
Did I buy anything? It is hard for me to walk out of a bookstore without a book. I love books sooooo much. So it is pretty stunning that I was not inspired to buy anything. (If you are curious, see below for where I tend to buy books.)
Takeaways for museums. If Amazon, and all of its resources, hasn't figured out how to integrate their app into a bricks-and-mortar experience in a way that is seamless and gets more money out of customer wallets, is it any wonder that so many museum apps fall flat too? Maybe Amazon wanted to focus on the real-life experience. But if that was the case, they would have designed the store to encourage more lingering.
Amazon's plans. Amazon just opened a convenience store in Seattle that uses “Just Walk Out technology," eliminating cashiers. Right now it is only open to Amazon employees, but when it opens to the public (soon), I'll check it out and share my thoughts.
My favorite places to buy books. Yes, I buy a lot of books from Amazon. They make it too convenient. But when I lived in Massachusetts, the Museum of Fine Arts essentially served as my favorite local, and independent, bookstore (for both me and my kids). I often buy books at other museums I visit as well. I'm finding that Seattle has a robust independent bookstore culture, which we are exploring.
Why I picked it up: Philanthropy is changing rather dramatically, with more donors expecting evidence of impact before making (or repeating) gifts. One outgrowth of this shift is "impact investing," where a donor isn't a donor at all, but an investor … an investor that expects returns both mission-related and financial.
What you need to know: First, the terminology. The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) defines impact investing as "investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return."
An impact investor would thus look at a for-profit company through the exact same lens as a nonprofit. The investment choice would be the entity that can return the most bang for the buck, via both impact and financial returns.
Now, to this particular report, The Center for Effective Philanthropy surveyed 64 CEOs of private US foundations that give at least $10 million/year. Note, this is not a big sample size, so a grain of salt is prudent. (And it only covers foundations; impact investing is on the rise among individuals with high net worth as well.)
That being said, 41% of respondents said their foundations were already practicing some form of impact investing. That seems like a lot, but when it comes to dollars, it is pretty tiny. The median amount going towards impact investing was less than 1% of program/grant budgets. The median amount of endowment funds being used for impact investing was 2%.
Are you confused now? I had to sort it out as well. The thing with impact investing is that it is malleable. The returns are both mission-related impact and financial. Thus, a proposal for an impact investment could be categorized as a program/grant expense because of the mission-related impact. Or it could be categorized as part of the endowment because of the financial return. Heck, I suppose some foundations could say their investment is in some part both.
The future of impact investing appears to be growth. Foundations practicing impact investing reported that it was a relatively new venture for them, but that they were seeking to increase their financial commitment to it. To date, however, the actual financial commitment of foundations to impact investing is small.
Note: the report also explored negative screening, or the practice of reviewing companies that endowment funds are invested in for red flags in conflict with their missions. Such as an environmental organization choosing not to invest in fossil-fuel companies. To be honest, I wasn't terribly interested in this part of the report and only skimmed it.
Implications for museums: Based on this report, this seems to be something to be aware of, and to consider if you have the right project. Impact investing may accelerate dramatically over the next few years … or stabilize at a relatively small portion of foundation allocations. I'll keep monitoring it and share new information going forward.
What concerns me more, however, is the bigger shift towards impact-based philanthropy. That's when foundations and donors expect far greater evidence of impact than museums have historically been prepared to supply (much less compete on). This trend appears to be accelerating much more rapidly, with far more dollars at stake. For museums to respond they need to invest more in measuring and understanding their lifelong impact on individuals and communities, and how they can deliver that impact more effectively than other choices.
Read or skip? Skip. Honestly, this report was difficult to read. While they took pains to define terms, it still ended up a being a bit of a muddle and I had to work to sort out what they meant. This may, in some part, be a reflection of how new impact investing is. But unless this is something you are seriously considering for your museum, skip. I'll keep looking for better resources.
Full citation: "Investing and Social Impact: Practices of Private Foundations." Research report published by The Center for Effective Philanthropy. Released 2015.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
Why I picked it up: I'm interested in why some people are connected to their community, and others are not so much. Does connection to community correlate with engagement with the broader world? Why might that matter? And how might museums help? I didn't expect this report to answer all of these questions, but instead shed some light from a very reputable source (I love the Pew Research Center, BTW).
What you need to know: Those who engage with their community more are also more likely to consume local news and more likely to vote. Or, in my words, the "do mores do more." The big concern I see coming out of this data, as well as my own and that of other sources, is that only a relatively small percentage of people are truly engaged with their community and/or broader world. Which means a rather big chunk of Americans have little or no external engagement or connection. That has some pretty big societal ramifications.
Implications for museums: This report doesn't mention museums, but based on my data (findings I am in the process of releasing over on The Data Museum blog), I think it is safe to assume a correlation between a high engagement with community and museum-going. The larger questions, however, are: how can museums help boost citizen engagement with community and the broader world; how may museum methodologies be particularly effective at this; and why does broader engagement matter in the first place?
Read or skip? Skip. It is a high-quality research project and a go-to report. But you get the gist of it from this review. The only exception might be if a museum was seeking a specific collaboration with a local media organization or if a grantwriter needed solid data points for a relevant community proposal (though it still would be of limited use since it does not include museum data).
The Nitty-Gritty (for those interested, my page-by-page commentary):
P. 3 - Starts off with some clear statements, noting that the civically engaged "play a key role in civic life" and are "more likely than the less engaged to use and value local news." Totally makes sense. But civic engagement is more than voting in local elections and consuming local news. What are the other factors of community engagement? How do they contribute? And, ultimately, what gives the civically engaged that outward view of life in the first place? That seems rather important to know (and, admittedly, out of the scope of Pew's report).
P. 5 - Pew characterizes about a third of US adults as more highly engaged in their community through perception or action (or both). This makes sense to me based on my own data sets as well, but that also means there are a lot of people who are only somewhat or not at all engaged in their community. In my data there is a very strong relationship between high civic engagement and museum-going. Museums are simply more relevant and useful to the engaged citizen.
P. 6 and P. 16 - The data shows that young adults are less civically engaged than older adults, and my data generally agrees. I find a general uptick in engagement begins in the 25 - 34 age band, while Pew notes it in the 30 - 44 band. The question that Pew doesn't raise is why. That is, is this a problem (and the current generation of young adults won't grow into civic engagement), will they transition into civic engagement with age, or did Pew not provide a broad enough range of answer choices in their survey?
I suspect it is a mixture of the second and third factors. Young adulthood is about establishing your life, so it makes sense that civic engagement happens a few years later. But I also strongly suspect Pew wasn't capturing the things young adults are more inclined to do. On p. 16 they note that they tracked "activity in seven different types of civic groups, from sports leagues to church groups to charity organizations, and six political activities." Since the report did not actually list all of those activities, based on this language my hunch is that it doesn't include newer, more informal, forms of engagement. To give one example, in my research I am finding that food is a catalyst for community engagement for a strong segment of young adults. While I can't be sure, I doubt that was on Pew's list.
P. 8 - People's interest in sports news has no correlation with other forms of civic engagement. This is what I expected to see as well (though I was surprised they noted it).
P. 14 - A frustration I felt throughout this report is that they did not distinguish between those who felt connected to their community by virtue of birth (and lifelong residency), and those who had moved in and worked hard to establish roots. While many lifelong residents work hard to keep their roots healthy, I suspect there are quite a few others who feel strongly connected by birth but are, in actually, not that civically engaged. I would have liked to have seen that broken out … especially since they asked the right questions to do so.
P. 21 - Political persuasion has little effect on local news consumption or attitudes. While national news may be rather polarized, local news seems to cross political boundaries.
P. 28 - Republicans are more likely than Democrats or Independents to say they know "all" their neighbors. This makes sense to me. According to my data, moderates and liberals are more likely to have moved away from their childhood hometowns, and that mobility would make knowing "all" your neighbors less likely. Conservatives are more likely to reside in their childhood hometown, and that lifelong residency gives respondents a whole lot more time to know "all" their neighbors.
P. 29 - Pew asked how respondents rated their community, and what leapt out at me was how differently white, non-Hispanics answered than people of color. Whites were 50% more likely to rate their community as "excellent" than people of color (who were, in turn, well over 2x more likely to rate their community as only "fair" or "poor"). That indicates to me some difficult divides based on lived experience. Do museums contribute to this, or can they be catalysts for change? Let's be honest that this is a more difficult question to answer than we would like it to be.
Final thoughts: The report backed up some of my assumptions with data, and had few surprises. The do mores do more. But I want to dig deeper into generational differences (as some of my tweets have indicated) and consider how museums can increase civic engagement among those who are not-so-engaged now.
Full citation: "Civic Engagement Strongly Tied to Local News Habits." Research report published by Pew Research Center. Released November 2016.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
What is it: Forced From Home is a traveling exhibition created by Doctors Without Borders (MSF, for their legal name, Médecins Sans Frontières) to raise awareness about refugees.
Why I went: I had a lot of questions about this exhibition before I even went with a group of museum friends. Why would a humanitarian organization decide that it was part of their mission to create an exhibition on refugees and tour it around the United States? Is that a good use of their resources? Shouldn't those resources go to help others? Or is there a long-game that they are playing? Do they think that what is, essentially, a museum exhibition, is useful and efficient for continuing their work? If so, how and why?
Quick description of exhibition: I'll be honest. The exhibit itself was solid, but nothing special. A short introductory movie (good), and then several exhibits that essentially took you through a general refugee journey: unexpectedly leaving home; the journey; legal status; refugee camps; medical care at camps; and ending with VR videos. It was logically laid out, and had what my friend Rainey Tisdale referred to as the "material culture" of refugees: refugee tents, a latrine, water jugs, etc. Most powerfully, they had a small raft that many in our group "boarded;" we then learned that typically 40 refugees would cram onto a raft of that size … for a week. Gulp.
But the exhibition, except for the raft, was very generic. It was not the story of Syrian refugees, or Honduran, but instead a generic stage set. This was likely by design, because you cannot visit the exhibition on your own. An MSF fieldworker provides a guided tour of the exhibition. This makes the exhibition personal through that fieldworker's own experiences and stories, which can happen anywhere in the world.
MSF's big goal - empowered empathy: For the exhibition to work, that fieldworker/guide is key. Our guide told his stories, putting a human face on what we read about in the media. He wielded the ability to make it emotional. He bore witness, which is, to my surprise, part of the MSF charter:
"We may seek to bring attention to extreme need and unacceptable suffering when access to lifesaving medical care is hindered, when medical facilities come under threat, when crises are neglected, or when the provision of aid is inadequate or abused."
If I had to boil down the exhibition's goal to just a few words, I would say "empowered empathy." Let's pick apart why that is, and why I think they only succeeded at meeting half the goal.
Empathy. As our guide said, "no one ever wakes up and says they want to become a refugee." It is forced on them. It is a trauma inflicted on them. The guides tell specific, personal stories so we can connect to refugees as people, not statistics. That's why the drowning of three-year-old Alan Kurdi last summer viscerally hit so many of us. Or why the impassive face of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh in Syria was so searing and shocking for us. By bearing witness with their own stories, the guides put a human face on the millions of refugees around the world, and we feel empathy and compassion. That is a mission as worthy as caring for those in need, because without bearing witness, how would the rest of the world know enough to understand or care?
Note, however, that the guide is what made engendering empathy possible. The material culture of refugees that was shared in the exhibition only served to support what was said. Normally, I am opposed to guided tours as a forced march, but this was different. I struggled with why until Rainey observed that "… he was a different kind of docent … chosen based on the life stories and deep knowledge [he] can share, not whether [he was] available to volunteer regularly …" Rainey raised a good point. While a guide at a museum may be committed, and genuinely care about what they are sharing, the interpretation generally doesn't come from lived life experience. They are one or more degrees removed from the content. Not the case for our guide at the MSF exhibition. It was real.
That realness also made another friend, Matt Kirchman of ObjectIDEA, reflect on what it means to financially support MSF. He shared that if he were to do so, "I’m helping people help people. The exhibit experience does not emphasize the largeness of the agency, rather, the close and personal attention of the people in the field." Or, rather, compassion translated to action.
Empowered. Clearly, by bearing witness, MSF wants us to do something about it … to empower us. But here I felt they fell short. I came out feeling far more knowledgeable about the refugee crisis, but did not feel I had gained new information to do anything about it. I wanted them to be more proactive and forceful. To specifically tell us how we could help. Not necessarily a strict fundraising ploy, but specific ways to educate ourselves further, advocate for and support refugees, and yes, give financially. Instead, the experience ended rather abruptly, and fell short in helping us, as participants, follow through with action. (Though to be fair, I am already a donor to MSF, so I didn't stop at their donation table at the end. Yet I wonder how many people did stop.)
So what does MSF get out of this? Bearing witness is part of their charter, but that is only meaningful if creates change. Does this exhibit do that? That is not so clear. In Boston, the primary audience seemed to be groups of students from area high schools. Short-term, the outcomes are likely to not be meaningful for that audience base.
If the long-game is their goal, however, I suspect it may reach enough youth to effect some change in perspective in enough of them to matter. If I were running the exhibition, I'd do something to capture visitor contact information (no, they didn't even do that for any kind of follow-up). Then I'd reach out to all visitors (students and other adult visitors) a year from now and ask about the experience. True, not many would respond, but enough would to capture the exhibition's capacity to change people. Or to find out that if this isn't the most effective way of reaching people after all.
Politics: An exhibition on refugees could have easily gone political. Especially given events in Mosul over the past week and the bulldozing of "the Jungle" in Calais. It is a hot, political topic globally. Yet MSF managed to avoid politics completely. Instead, it was about witnessing and presenting a human story. In some ways, despite emotional content being presented, it was presented neutrally. That is an impressive feat, and one that museums could model instead of their general tendency to avoid these topics altogether.
Should you go? Yes, absolutely. It is in Pittsburgh now, and headed to Philadelphia soon. MSF plans to take a few months off and start up again on the West Coast (so they told me). When they reach Seattle, I plan to volunteer so I can learn more about how people actually responded to the exhibition … and because I support MSF.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com. (Note: I don't intend to regularly review exhibitions; this was an exception because of how this exhibition originated.)
Why I picked it up: Early this week I came across the annual impact report of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ). Annual reports are common. They share financial statements and perhaps a few accomplishments of the year (not the same thing as impact). This is different.
This is an annual impact report. Real impact. With evidence. I loved it, and immediately started picking apart its purpose and considering why it would be a good idea to emulate. (WCIJ is the impact report I came across doing other research; others exist but they are few and far between.)
What you need to know: As philanthropy continues to shift towards a higher expectation of impact, organizations that cannot clearly articulate and provide evidence of impact will not be sustainable.
This report pulls together why an organization matters into one tidy document. Why WCIJ matters. And why WCIJ is deserving of philanthropic gifts over other organizations that may simply not be as effective. If I was an executive director/CEO or development director, having this at my fingertips with a major donor would be gold. I suspect it is also a fantastic tool for staff morale, retention, and recruitment, as it allows them to point to a clear document of why their work matters.
Implications for museums: In a world where there is so much strife and trouble, museums are in the long-game of improving our communities and world, one visitor at a time. Through our own distinctive medium. If we don't champion that, we have no pro-social or educative purpose (and do we deserve that charitable status then)?
But few people make the connection between museums and changing lives (Michael Bloomberg excepted). Thus, we need to articulate and provide evidence of impact, which is why this example of an impact report is so compelling. It forces us to make our case, clearly and concisely … and then back it up. It also exposes the holes in our arguments, which we can acknowledge and then commit to studying and understanding. And for donors and funders, it enables the long-term connection between meaningful experiences with art, history, and science, and a better community and society. To thrive in the future, we need that too.
Frankly, if your organization cannot put a compelling impact report together, it indicates to me that impact probably doesn't really matter to you. And if a lack of resources to track impact is the issue, maybe putting together this report, acknowledging the gaps in evidence, and instead positioning impact as hypotheses, will help secure resources to track that evidence. After all, with evidence you will know for sure what is working (and what isn't).
Read or skip? Read. It is seven pages. Read it and emulate!
Page-by-page commentary, and how I would adapt for a museum (for those who want the details):
Who We Are (p. 2)
Starts off with a short description of the organization and what they do. They did this concisely and effectively by hitting four main things:
For museums: For a museum, I'd start off by not assuming it matters, but taking time to articulate why. Why does the history of this community matter? Or why does art matter? Play matter? Once I had prepared my answer, I would then ask again "why does that matter?" And how does that mattering make a difference to individuals and communities?
For example, a local history organization might first say that it matters because it helps people understand their community. OK. Why is understanding their community important? Answer that in the report, and place history as a key tool for getting there.
Can you boil down your guiding values to three definitive things you do that do matter? It won't be things like share (insert art/science/history), but things like expand knowledge. Cultivate compassion. Increase understanding. You get the idea.
Then, your reach. If you reach a traditional museum audience (and I'll be blunt here) of affluent, well-educated, white folks, well, that's not going to cut it. Glad you help them (everyone deserves museums!), but you probably don't need my support. But if you tell me how you are expanding your audience, and acknowledge you have to do better (and talk about how later in the report), you'll keep my interest.
And yes, I want to know how you do this. But keep it short here.
Highlights (p. 3)
For WCIJ, they created 8 blurbs that tell us in more detail what they do:
To be honest, I felt like this was too many, and it was a wordy page. Five would have worked better. That being said, it did give me a strong sense of what this organization tries to do based on what they have done in the past year. To be clear, however, that's not the same thing as impact.
For museums: Taking it down to five things, for a museum I would probably share:
Major Investigations (p. 4)
WCIJ broke some major stories in Wisconsin. This shares six via a picture for each and a one-sentence description. Yes, that concise.
For museums: This is where you get specific show off the great stuff you did.
Impact (p. 5)
The most important page of this report. I want to frame it and hang it on my office wall. How their stories really mattered to Wisconsin citizens. And I am impressed by how many they are!
For museums: This is going to be the hardest page of writing your own version of this report. To be truly effective, you have to understand, and share, evidence that what you are doing matters over the long-term. And link it back to your exhibitions and programs. Pieces of this evidence could (and should) come from high-quality evaluation of specific exhibitions and programs, but that typically doesn't convey why the museum methodology is better than alternatives, or longer-term effects. There also needs to be high-quality community research to track long-term impact trends and provide community context. You need both.
Put them together, though, and this one page could clearly make the case of why your museum matters. To individuals and to a community. It won't make the financial support come in by its mere existence, but man would it make raising money a whole lot easier.
Audience Matters (p. 6)
For WCIJ, putting their operations into numbers. How many investigations, how many news outlets picked up their stories, how many readers. It conveys depth and reach.
For museums: This could start with attendance numbers, of course, but I would go further to use data to track how the audience is (ideally) shifting over time in ways to better reflect the community, broadening and deepening engagement. How you show who you matter to.
Investigative Reporting + Art (p. 7)
WCIJ mounted what is, essentially, an art exhibition on water quality and traveled it through Wisconsin. Basically a deeper look at one of their initiatives and how it furthered their work. What I find most fascinating, however, is that they chose a museum methodology to do this.
For museums: This could be a page that also takes a closer look at one major initiative that really mattered (and why).
Financial Information (p. 8)
This is fascinating. It is not the annual report of the organization, with balance sheet, etc. It gives the operating budget, and plainly states that they have a goal of doubling it. And then shares two paragraphs about funding and how it does not affect editorial decisions. It does list some of their largest donors, but keeps it short. The point here is that this isn't the financial nitty-gritty, but instead an acknowledgement of the budget they have to deliver the impact they share. And it is an articulation that the impact is only possible if those donors cannot influence their day-to-day work.
For museums: Go and do likewise. Your normal annual report can (and should) still exist, but the two main outcomes here are different and crucial. Share what your budget is so readers know the resources you have to deliver the impact you have. If the numbers are not in alignment, discuss how that will change. That is, if you have a relatively large budget and little impact to show, talk about how you will focus those resources to deliver more impact. And if you are doing amazing things on a teeny tiny budget, be proud and demonstrate how more resources could extend that impact even further. Additionally given some of the controversy around museum trustees whose political positions are in conflict with either the historical or scientific record, it probably isn't a bad idea to also state that donors cannot influence the scholarship at museums (especially if it is true; please be true).
My final response: Museums are in the long-term impact game. But if we cannot provide evidence of that impact, we are seen at nice but not necessary. Or even fluff. That cuts me to the quick since I know museums have the capacity to change lives (they did mine, after all!).
One thing missing from this report, however, is a failure statement. I'd love to see that included as well. Whether it is a long-standing exhibition or program that simply isn't effective (and you axed) or a new initiative that didn't live up to your expectations, share failures. It tells me you are willing to try new things and to make the appropriate decisions to focus your efforts on what does work. It also tells me that you learn from failure. No one expects you to be perfect.
Finally, I believe in this impact report so much that if you send a draft impact report for your museum to me, I'll be happy to privately comment on it. So do it! (I'm thinking about how I could develop one for my practice.)
Full citation: Report to Stakeholders. Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. July 2016.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
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