What Data Tells Us About The Future of Nonprofit Arts Institutions

I tend to read broadly and voraciously.  This frequently offers opportunities for cross-sector observations.  While I know that life = change and that the world is changing faster than it ever has before, insights into how and why it is changing can be gleaned through thoughtful analysis of dispersed data.  I offer four unique articles that provide perspectives on the mindset and values that drive some of the changes we as nonprofits serving society are facing.  These articles reveal that organizations need to become fun, relevant and social while recognizing their theory of change and emphasizing their social impact. Furthermore, these shifts must occur against a technology backdrop enmeshed in the institution's culture not just relegated to marketing. 

1. It has to be perceived as fun, relevant and social if it is going to register with those under 40 and I would argue those of any age with a similar mindset (Generation Y is living out the dreams of the baby boomer hippies)   

Offerings in the artistic marketplace can have curatorial and artistic integrity while still being passionately pursued by the public.  This article identifies some unique markers that any arts institution can implement. For example, organizations should get rid of security guards that make the institution feel like a prison.  Accomplish the same work with individuals dressed in every day clothes who want to talk about the art increasing the meaning making and relevancy to the viewer. While the Broad Museum has contemporary art, the same could be done with historical works. Education can be fun, why do we always want to make it dry?  At the Broad they make waiting in line fun and social not tedious. Yes, people are waiting in line to get into a museum. The Whitney Museum in NYC they stays open late for those interested in an after-work, after-dinner artistic experience thereby becoming a part of the social fabric of New Yorkers' lives.  Hamilton has Ham4Ham (Hamming it up for Hamilton).  The show is sold out with tickets selling at over $800 so this is not a marketing ploy. The producers don't need to do it, but it has become an ethos of the company.  Have fun! 

2. Technology is a part of almost every individual's values, lifestyle, and identity that cannot be ignored.

While this SXSW article focuses on an over-the-top aspect of how the tech set is making tech part of everyday life from food to clothing, it is critical to note that the tech set is the same market that the arts used to serve (well-educated with leisure time and money to spend).  While the tech elite may be beyond the scope of almost any organization aside from the MET and SFMOMA, the recognition that technology permeates every aspect of people's lives must be embraced by organizations or those markets will move elsewhere. This is not a push for tweet seats and artworks that allow for tech engagement, but rather a call for organizations to work with their mobile audiences. Over 65% of US citizens have a smart phone and the demographic aligns even more directly with the arts-going public.  Thus institutions  must maintain or create websites with responsive design (don't just make another app to sell a ticket), use social media as a space for conversation not advertising, and, when necessary, respect and educate audiences and support their 'turning off' for the 2 hours to enjoy a performance. 

3. The workplace  and marketplace are increasingly driven by values, fulfillment and social impact.

The magic words for both the workplace environment and artistic offerings seem to be collaboration, transparency, and impact. Working is no longer about bringing home a paycheck and moving up the ladder but "making a difference."  64% of those under 35 want to work to make the world a better place.  

When trying to attract donors, an organization must know their theory of change then identify and report their social impact. ". . . the area nonprofits can improve the most is identifying and reporting outcomes. Identifying and reporting outcomes was most important to Gen Xers, 61 and 29 percent, followed by Baby Boomers, 47 and 27 percent, matures 44 and 30 percent, and Millennials 41 and 10 percent."  While these numbers are reported from a survey of high net worth individuals, HNWs are not alone in their values, they just have the money to give. 

The arts change lives every day.  It's time to demonstrate that transformation bluntly, in numbers and stories, and share the good times we all have creating it. 

This was first published on June 10, 2016 by the author on "A View from the Grid."