Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Membership trends: A word to the wise art museum

March 31, 2009

A fascinating report charting current trends in membership includes a rude wake-up call for art museums, where membership is declining–in marked contrast to other member-based agencies (including associations, conservation groups, aquaria and zoos).

Maybe it turns out that increasing your door price 50% (a la the Art Institute of Chicago) isn’t, after all, a way to get people to say, “Might as well get a membership,” but instead a way to get people to say, “Those bleepers!  Bleep them–let’s go to the zoo.”


Membership Totals

When comparing 2008 to 2007, the largest percentage of responders, 48.7%, stated that they ended the year with more members than the previous year, and 10.5% stated that membership totals “stayed the same.” Less than half (42.1%) stated that membership totals had decreased.

Membership Revenues

From the revenue perspective, membership departments fared even better: 59.2% stated that membership revenues were up in 2008 over 2007 while 14.5% stated that membership revenues “stayed the same.” The percentage that reported revenues decreasing from year to year was 37.5%.


Pulse of Membership by Sector

The most interesting results emerged from comparing sectors of the membership world. The categories of respondents included Museums, Conservation/Nature-related organizations, Associations and Zoos and Aquariums. The difference in responses by sectors was significant and very telling. In general, Associations, Zoos and Aquariums, Science Museums, Conservation/Nature organizations, and “Other” types of membership organizations reported much more positive membership results compared to Art and History Museums. Respondents totaling 80% of Associations and Conservation/Nature organizations reported greater membership totals in 2008, as did 61.5% of Botanical Gardens, 58.3% of Zoos and Aquariums, and 53.8% of Science Museums and “Other” membership organizations. Only 33.9% of Art Museums and 44.4% of History Museums reported greater membership totals in 2008. Art Museums reported fewer members at a rate of 51.8%, and 61.1% of History Museums reported fewer members in 2008 as well.

On the revenue side, all types of membership organizations, except Art Museums, reported greater membership revenues in 2008 than in 2007. While all other membership organizations reported greater revenues (76.9% of Botanical Gardens and Science Museums, and 72.2% of Zoos and Botanical Gardens), only 41.1% of Art Museums reported higher revenues.


Over half of Botanical Gardens, Science Museums, Zoo and Aquariums, Associations and Conservation/Nature organizations reported attracting more members in 2008 than in 2007. Art Museums (40%) and History Museums (50%) attracted fewer members in 2008 than in 2007.

If you would like to receive the full tabulation of survey responses, email your request to


Gone cruisin’

December 15, 2008

It’s the holidays, and the Nonprofiteer is seeking sun and solace in the company of friends.  A joyous season to you all.

Publication will resume Monday, January 5, 2009–a mere 15 days before we finally have a President again.

Halfway to strategy

December 5, 2008

The Nonprofiteer spoke to a very smart Executive Director a few days ago who said, “[Our agency] doesn’t need to be any particular size.  Once we accept that we can’t provide services to every one of the million poor people in Cook County, we can concentrate on doing what we do best for as many people as our resources will allow.”

Seven or eight months ago an equally smart Executive Director responded to the Nonprofiteer’s question about the cost of fully funding every financial aid request the agency receives by saying (very slowly, so her listener could keep up), “Not.  The.  Point.  What we have to do is provide what services we can while building public support to repeal the Hyde Amendment,” which prohibits public funding of abortions.

So here’s the problem with trying to be a fundraising consultant and a strategic planning consultant at the same time: it’s easy to forget that certain strategic questions cannot be answered with fundraising.  A provider of legal services doesn’t need to grow its private funding base nearly as much as it needs to prick the conscience of the Congress to supply public funding for the defense of poor people’s legal rights.  A provider of abortion services doesn’t need to find patrons who will pay for abortions nearly as much as it needs to restore reproductive health services to parity with other kinds of medical care in the public mind, and therefore in the public fisc.

More succinctly: from a strategic standpoint raising money matters, but raising consciousness (and/or hell) matters more.

Gifts that keep on giving

December 1, 2008

Kudos, as always this time of year, to, and, each of which encourages people to celebrate the holidays by making gifts to charities in their loved ones’ names.  The Nonprofiteer is less than thrilled by Changing the Present’s shiny new Web ad campaign, which embodies doubts about this approach (Who wants a loaded syringe for Christmas?) instead of refuting them.  It is, after all, no more ludicrous to buy someone a village water-pump s/he doesn’t get to keep than to buy him/her a star.  The Nonprofiteer hopes each of the pro-charity gift agencies provides a gift package that’s as exciting as having “your star’s name recorded in book form in the U.S. Copyright Office.”

And thanks to the incoming Obama Administration for acknowledging at least tacitly that the best way to renew the economy is not to have poor and middle-class people engage in an orgy of retail spending but to have the government buy more of what we all need–roads, bridges, flu vaccine–and spread it around.  It’s almost weird, isn’t it, to have a government that works with the voluntary sector instead of against it?

As befits the eve of an eating holiday: A long spoon*

November 26, 2008

When the Nonprofiteer becomes Queen of the Universe, the following phrase will be eliminated from all discourse at, about and affiliated with nonprofit agencies:

“I’m just playing devil’s advocate here.”

Let’s examine why people use that phrase:

  • Because they have an opinion they know to be unpopular and/or stupid and/or actively revolting to their interlocutors which they’d like to express without having to accept the necessary consequences of owning that opinion, namely, the opprobrium of the people around them.  (See also those who giggle “No offense” after saying something offensive.)
  • Because they like to listen to themselves talk but don’t have anything to contribute to the conversation that hasn’t already been said better.  Solution: say something they don’t actually believe which will restart the discussion and multiply their chances of returning to the center of attention.
  • [Most relevant to the group processes and consensus-building on which nonprofits rely so heavily] Because they delight in interfering with group process and consensus-building.  Either they oppose the consensus that is building (but don’t have the balls to say so) or they’re treating the nonprofit as their personal playground instead of a forum for the completion of actual work.  Key clue?  The words “I’m just playing . . . “.

Suggestion to Executive Directors and Board Presidents: the next time you’re in a meeting and someone says, “I’m just playing devil’s advocate here,” say the following:


Suggestion to facilitators who think a roomful of people aren’t thinking about something that needs considering, or are falling into consensus so quickly that it’s not true agreement but merely groupthink: Instead of saying “I’m just playing devil’s advocate, here,” try:

“If [X circumstance] turned out to be false, would that change your mind?”

That’s a polite way of getting people to examine their assumptions without modeling “I’m just playing . . . .” and thus turning the room over to its most disruptive denizen.


Tomorrow is the Nonprofiteer’s favorite holiday (food without religion: what could be better?).  Publication will resume on Monday, December 1; meanwhile, happy celebrations to all.


*When you sup with the devil, bring a long spoon.”

Time, place and manner

November 24, 2008

A small but significant step in the development of any nonprofit from kitchen-table enterprise to community-based going concern is the scheduling and location of Board meetings.

  • Just having a regular schedule for Board meetings makes it more likely that current Board members will attend (because they’ve put it in their calendars months in advance) and that prospective Board members will sign up (because they CAN put it in their calendars months in advance).  Board Presidents and Executive Directors think they’re being inclusive by scheduling every meeting afresh and considering everyone’s calendar idiosyncracies; in fact, they’re being unintentionally exclusive, screening out people whose busy lives require advance planning.  And it’s as true for Board membership as for any other endeavor: “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”
  • But not all regular schedules are created equal.  Another essential step toward Board growth and diversity is to choose a business-friendly time, and that means giving up the weekend morning kaffeeklatsch for a weekday morning or evening.  Scheduling the Board’s work for a weekday shows a regard for Board activity (and the agency as a whole) as a serious commitment rather than a social engagement or hobby.  And why put an extra obstacle in the way of Board recruitment?  Weekends are family time for businesspeople, especially business women, and if you don’t impinge on them you increase the likelihood that those desirable prospects will be willing and able to participate in the governance of your agency
  • Weekend Board meetings also tend to take place at someone’s house; and most people are at least a little bit uncomfortable going into a stranger’s living room.  It’s hard to remember, when you all know how friendly and welcoming you are, but to newcomers a meeting at someone’s home feels like a party they’re crashing.  Again, why put obstacles in the way of inclusiveness?  Someone’s office is neutral territory–we all go to strangers’ offices for meetings all the time–and “neutral” in this case means “welcoming.”

So if you’ve just agreed to a regular weekday schedule and a central business location for Board meetings, recognize and celebrate your transition to the big leagues.  And if you haven’t, please consider doing so sooner rather than later: it may seem to be a step toward stiffness and formality but in fact is just the opposite, making your agency more appealing and welcoming to the diverse Board you’re trying to attract.

. . . . but not from me

September 29, 2008

Some of you who subscribed to e-mail delivery of the Nonprofiteer at its previous address have received a couple of postings in the past few weeks.  They are not from the Nonprofiteer but from an outfit called “Shiver Me Timbers,” which appears (as the name suggests) to specialize in pirating e-mail identities.  In fact, if you re-read the two postings you received you’ll see that they’re about precisely that: hacking and piracy of e-mail accounts.  I also received a demand for ransom of the name “,” to which I responded with the electronic equivalent of a raised middle finger.  I can tell you all that even a brush with the world of identity theft is disquieting.

The good news is, the experience caused me to change a bunch of passwords (just the way the security experts tell you to!) and–more important to you, dear readers–to arrange for e-mail delivery of the Nonprofiteer from this addess.  If you’ll look in the upper right-hand corner of the blog, you’ll see two buttons: “Subscribe to the Nonprofiteer” and “Subscribe to the Nonprofiteer by e-mail.”  The former will deliver my ramblings to your Bloglines account or other RSS feed; the latter will deliver them to whatever e-mail address you provide.  Several people had asked for e-mail delivery; at last I’m responding!

News from the front: the campaign is equal parts exhilarating and exhausting.  As I recruit volunteers, I’m reminded that you have to justify yourself constantly to them: why are you doing this thing, and why are you doing it this way?  That, of course, is their compensation–understanding and believing in the mission–but it’s not surprising that volunteer managers get cranky: justifying oneself over and over and over again starts to feel like a response to a personal attack.  The project (I’m carefully not calling it a job!) also reminds me that people need time off, and that “time off” doesn’t mean “at the other end of a cell phone.”  And all of us who raise money for charity should be grateful every day that we don’t raise it for politics, where “give me your wallet” passes for a cultivation strategy.

I am nonetheless having a blast and a half: I’m using all of my skills (and many I didn’t know I had, and some I actually don’t have!) to do something I know to be important; and the longer I do it, and the more I encounter people’s willingness to spend 9 hours on a bus in a single day for the purpose of knocking on strangers’ doors for 4 additional hours that same day to persuade those strangers to vote for Barack Obama, or to finish a full day’s work and then (3 days a week!) come to the office for 5 hours of calling strangers to persuade them to take that bus ride and knock on those doors–the more I experience such passion and commitment, the more persuaded I am that we’re going to win.   We take nothing for granted, but we don’t panic, either.

Please get in touch with me if you want to volunteer.  And please re-subscribe to the REAL Nonprofiteer, and let me know if you hear anything further from “Shiver Me Timbers.”  As I mentioned to my old blog hosting company, the next time this person decides to hijack someone’s identity, he should probably make sure he isn’t messing with a lawyer.

Gone campaignin’

July 22, 2008

The Nonprofiteer has not scrupled to conceal that she thinks the most important thing anyone can do for the nonprofit sector right now is secure the election of Barack Obama. Having been fortunate enough to secure a volunteer gig helping to do just that (running a local campaign office whose mission is to round up enough volunteers in Illinois to win over neighboring Iowa), she’s going to devote her full time and energy to the task.

So (while there may be occasional postings, probably about the challenges of managing fellow volunteers!) publication of the Nonprofiteer is hereby suspended til after the election. Look for a resumption of the orthodox every-business-day schedule in mid-November.

Thanks for your patience, and may your summer and fall be filled with all the democracy you can stand.

Multiplication* beats division+

July 21, 2008

Here’s an intriguing development in the ongoing process of trying to connect residents of deep-poverty nations with the resources of the Internet and, thus, the world economy: a computing device and software that enables up to 30 people to use a PC at one time, as if each person had a computer of his/her own. While this may sound like the sort of triumph only a gearhead could appreciate, what it really means is computer access costing less than $70 per person–all the world’s knowledge in a form approaching the affordability level of bednets and clean water.

The Nonprofiteer is rarely enthusiastic about e-this or cyber-that; but making information commonly available to people who have been deprived of it is an unalloyed Good Thing, and even she’s not churlish enough to withhold her thanks and praise from people who’ve figured out how to accomplish it while making a profit at the same time. Excerpts from the company’s press release appear below.

REDWOOD CITY, CALIF., July 15, 2008– NComputing, the leading provider of desktop virtualization software and hardware, today announced it is working with leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide to help reduce the digital divide between developed and developing countries. The company has already deployed successful partnerships with such leading NGOs as U.S.-based Save the Children, France-based Ateliers Sans Frontieres (ASF), Bangladesh-based BRAC, Latin America-based Organization for American States (OAS), UNESCO, and India-based Azim Premji Foundation to name just a few. NComputing further announced special discounts and programs to help NGOs on every continent reach their goals for digital inclusion in emerging markets.


The NComputing solution is based on a simple fact: today’s PCs are so powerful that the vast majority of applications only use a small fraction of the computer’s capacity. NComputing’s virtualization software and hardware tap this unused capacity so that it can be simultaneously shared by multiple users. Each user’s monitor, keyboard, and mouse connect to the shared PC through a small and very durable NComputing access device. The access device itself has no CPU, memory or moving parts so it is rugged, durable, and easy to deploy and maintain – especially critical in developing nations. The NComputing software and hardware costs as little as $70 per seat. With NComputing, people and organizations around the world are maximizing their investments in PCs.


No other attempts at bridging the digital divide have been as successful. Low-priced laptop solutions, such as the $188 OLPC XO, carry very high hidden costs—like maintenance and support—that far outweigh their benefits.


[S]aid Medhy Davary, director of DSF[,] “The virtual desktops are extremely affordable and durable, require very little maintenance, and use only one watt of electricity. This allows users in even the world’s poorest countries to benefit from computer access and the Internet.”

“Almost one billion users around the world who would benefit from access to computing have been unable to afford it—until now,” said Stephen Dukker, chairman and CEO of NComputing. “It is only by fundamentally changing the economics of computing that our industry can bridge the digital divide. We are going to deploy more than a million virtual desktops in the coming year and are honored to work with such prestigious NGOs to improve the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.”

“In response to increasing interest from NGOs, NComputing is developing programs to help them better leverage their skills and funds,” said Ms. Lindsay Petrillose, Government Liaison for NComputing. “We offer seed units and special NGO discounts that multiply the impact of an NGO’s limited funds.” Interested NGOs and governmental institutions seeking NGO assistance can contact Ms. Petrillose at, (650) 454-4991.


*of computer access

+as in “the digital divide”

Funders’ Friday: Now here’s an actual scandal . . .

July 18, 2008

instead of manufactured ones like whether ballet companies are promoting smoking by accepting tobacco money. If the American Psychiatric Association receives funds from manufacturers of psychoactive drugs, might it have an incentive to suggest that those drugs are effective against mental illness? Even when they’re not? So Congress is asking the question.

And before people have apoplexy about government interference in the professions, let’s remember the cardinal rule: Those Who Do Not Police Themselves Will Find Others Doing It For Them.