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Film: Driving Participation and Donations in Museums

Rich Mintz is the Vice-President of Strategy at Blue State Digital, an innovative American company focusing on online fundraising, advocacy, social networking, and constituency development programs for nonprofit organisations, political candidates and corporations.

Rich talked at the MuseumNext 2011 conference in Edinburgh about how cultural institutions’ can effectively create relationship-driven online programmes, and what museums need to do and say in order to build supporters’ trust and a sense of urgency to drive them to take action.

So what is the Future of Museum Fundraising?

Rich: Good morning, all. Is the microphone set well? Can you hear me in the back? Yes. Alright. Good. I’m happy to see you. I’m enjoying my first visit to Edinburgh, a world cultural city, and I’m happy to see that there’s a bit of sun today, so it’s not all going to be the Scottish sky that I was accustomed to.

I’m going to start with one small social media anecdote from my own recent life. I visited the Natural History Museum in London about two weeks ago. Do we have anyone here from the Natural History Museum? Alright. You’re probably the one who is covered in this anecdote. I was meeting an English friend who was coming down on the train. I had never been there before, and in her email she said, “Meet us in the great hall by the big bony thing at 3:00.”

And I walked into the front of the museum and saw this. This is a photo I took. I assumed this was the big bony thing she meant, but I wasn’t absolutely sure, and so I tweeted this, “Was told to meet in the great hall by the big bony thing, does this look like the right place?” And I included that photograph.

Within five minutes I got a tweet back from the Natural History Museum, “That’s probably the right place, unless your friend meant Charles Darwin,” because there’s that statute just sitting halfway up the stairway. That I consider an excellent social media experience. And why do I consider it an excellent social media experience? Well, it happened right away. I didn’t expect to hear back from anyone and so it was a pleasant surprise.

It exceeded my expectations because not only was I acknowledged, but I laughed when I got the response, so it was fun. And it was memorable enough that I’m still talking about it now two weeks later. And this is not the first time that I’ve told this story. That, I think, will set the scene for the kinds of things we’re going to be talking about in the next forty minutes or so.

A couple of the speakers so far at the conference have spoken about this program of the Museum of Modern Art, where people in the museum were invited to participate by submitting their thoughts in writing in the galleries about what they experienced during their visit to the museum. And I want to note that this is social media just as much as tweeting and facebook and texting and so forth are. This is shared contribution by a member of the public that becomes part of a body of work that other people can then comment on. So I think it’s very much social.

With this campaign in the mind, I was browsing around on the internet recently on a New York City website that I use, gothamist, and I saw this headline: “World’s youngest art critic upset about MOMA’s lack of dinosaurs.” Some of you may already be familiar with this, but it’s worth showing you. This little girl went to the museum, filled out one of the cards, and what she said was, “Saw a coat closet, trash and two water fountains. I am very disappointed I did not see a dinosaur. You call yourself a museum.”

Right off the top of your head you think, “What is wrong with this child? Did her parents not prepare her correctly for what she was going to see at the museum?” But when you think about it a bit more, she does have a point. As one of the Smithsonian bloggers said, “Why shouldn’t the Museum of Modern Art have dinosaurs?” Dinosaurs are a touchstone of creative thinking for artists in various media over hundreds of years. Children love them. They are among the biggest living things that exist in nature, so they satisfy our interest in extremes. In fact, I don’t think it would be a terrible idea for there to be dinosaurs in the Museum of Modern Art. This, I think, is an example of how social media makes us think outside the box, because you never know what people are going to say.

The bottom line point here is that people have very strong feelings about arts and culture. This illustration I put up for two reasons. One is, as you may be aware, the Smithsonian American Art Museum is currently in the midst of a minor controversy about whether video games qualify as art, because they have an exhibit in preparation of video game art with a large, online social media driven promotion that has generated a lot of attention from people who don’t typically think of themselves as being museum friendly. Or at least who the museum traditionally hasn’t thought of as museum friendly.

I just want to say looking at this, it’s obvious that video games are art. This is a shot from Civilization 4, which was one of my favorite games until Civilization 5 was released in October, and now this is one my formerly favorite games. You can see this is a fairly developed civilization of mine, and I’ve selected one of my knights, so you can see his hit points and his movements and so forth. But I bring this up primarily to make the point that in this game, civilization 4, you see on the left a blow up of the culture adjuster, it’s the thing with the musical note that’s currently set at 10%.

One of the features of this game is if you can reduce culture to save money if you want to, or you can increase culture if you have money to spend. However, if you increase culture for a short period and then take it away, your people revolt. I actually think that’s true to life. It’s a reminder that culture is something that people have very strong feelings about, and is not to be played with lightly.

This is an example of culture too. This is a website, not an old website, it’s a contemporary website for a bridal boutique in Florida. I hope you’re not looking at this as my recommendations, because I don’t think this what you should do. But this is a reminder of how far we’ve come in the last ten years. Most of the people in this room, as I look around, are old enough to remember what the internet was like ten or fifteen years ago, when it was really more promise than reality. You couldn’t count on anything to work. You didn’t really trust the sorts of people who use the internet. They were usually cranks or lunatics.

Nowadays everyone is always on. As Scott Adams, the American cartoonist who draws the strip Dilbert, has said, we are all cyborgs now because we’ve offloaded a lot of our memory to the devices in our pockets. As evidence of just how widespread the internet has become, this is my actual grandmother in a video on YouTube and I’m going to give you ten seconds of this so that you understand what I’m talking about. She’s actually 104 now. So if she can do it, anybody can.

So what are we going to talk about today? Obviously, things have changed. I want us to explore some of the ways in which they’ve changed. Some of the online organizing tactics that work now that wouldn’t have worked ten years ago and especially how they apply to idea marketers like yourselves. I know that to call yourselves idea marketers is a big jargon-y, but in fact most of us in this room are in the business of making people excited enough about an idea to take an action in response to that idea. Whether that action is to just to show up in a gallery, or whether it’s to make a financial contribution or to teach something to their children or even to vote or advocate politically in a certain way. For instance, in favor of arts funding and so forth.

And in the course of the next half hour as we go through these principles I’m going to show you some examples of things that work well. Just to introduce myself briefly, I’ve been at Blue State Digital about almost four years now. I joined specifically to help diversify us away from politics and into the nonprofit space, which now makes up more than half of our work. There’s another picture of me in front of a British museum, that’s me in front of the Tate about three months ago.

A little background about Blue State Digital. There’s our office in New York City. That was when we were fairly new in the space. In that space where you currently see two people seated, there are now about 52 people seated, as often happens when technology companies fill in. But in terms of our mission as a company, we are focused on helping organizations to drive measurable results by inspiring people and engaging people. The word measurable is important. For those of you who are in a position where you control budgets, you understand that budgets are not unlimited. They are less unlimited now than they’ve been probably at any time in the past forty years.

So, being able to demonstrate that your investments are paying off is a very important part of the equation.

Now in terms of what we’re inspiring people to do, as I said, there are a whole variety of things that you might be trying to push people to do. Obviously most of the people in this room are primarily concerned with getting people in the door of any exhibition or to participate physically in some way in a public program. But all of these things are examples of the kinds of goals that a good online organizing campaign can push people toward.

In an arts and culture context, there are high barrier (?11:31 asks) like, “Make a $10,000 gift” or “Endow an art teacher.” There are low barrier asks like, “Just show up with your children on a Sunday” to walk through a gallery. And then there are moderate asks like signing up for a subscription series if you run a musical program, or signing up for a membership. And all of these things can be influenced by a good social media program.

We work with about 200 organizations in a typical year. It’s more than that actually. We launched 107 websites last year and provided technology support to 500 organizations, but there are about 200 organizations that get substantive program support from us, you can see that they’re across a variety of spheres, but I work mostly in the large NGO programs, like the United Way and the Jewish Federation System in the United States. And in the arts and culture programs where we currently are working with the British Museum, the Tate, the Metropolitan Museum and the US Holocaust Memorial

Museum. And I’ll have some examples of that work later on in the program.
My favorite little tidbit about our work in the last year is we helped get (The President of Brazil’s name) the President of Brazil elected, which was a lot of fun. The only person on our staff who spoke any Portuguese was an assistant project manager who very quickly got promoted and sent overseas along with the rest of the team.

So what makes a campaign really sing? We think of it as cyclical, in that a good social media campaign involves acquiring people first. Moving them through a cycle of engagement and cultivation with content that’s refreshed on a regular basis so they don’t get tired, and then asking them to do things and paying attention to what they do and don’t do and refining the campaign so that as it goes on you get smarter and smarter over time.

What are some of the characteristics of good campaigns? Well, usually they involve some sort of storytelling. Either explicit or implicit. And by storytelling I mean not just literal storytelling, but also leading your constituents through some sort of arc of involvements where you build up to some interim point of achievement in messaging over a period of time. You talk about where you’re going together. Then you go there, you do the thing, you reach the peak, you have the event, whatever it is, and then after the event, so it doesn’t drop off, you talk your way down the hill about what you all achieved together and how it connects to your long term mission and what it’s leading up to in the upcoming days and months.

You want to be responsive. When big events happen you want to respond to them. You want your messaging calendar to be respectful of the public calendar that your people are living through in the outside world. If there are any news events or developments that you can hang your program off of, do it. I don’t have a slide in here, I wish I’d thought to put it in, but one of the organizations that uses our online tools is the Working Families Party, which is a New York City based political party that is very trades union focused.

During the recent trade union protests in Wisconsin they ran a campaign that was very successful to raise money for the party by advertising that they were going to send pastrami sandwiches from New York City to the people occupying the Wisconsin State Capital. And then they actually did it. They took pictures of the delivery men picking up the pastrami sandwiches and pictures of the sandwiches and they used those photos to support another fundraising campaign. It’s important to note they were real pastrami sandwiches, otherwise the whole thing falls apart.

You want to be participatory, give people opportunities to do the things that make sense for them. And finally, you want to be as analytics-driven as you can afford to be. And I know that some of you are from very small organizations. You may not think you can afford the right tools. You may not feel you have the time, but it is important to do what you can to be respectful of what people are actually clicking on and actually participating in, as opposed to what you think they are going to.

So let me talk for just a minute about the Barack Obama campaign since everyone always wants us to talk about the Barack Obama campaign. I’ll start with just two minutes of video so that you get oriented.

Video Transcript
This election isn’t going to be about changing parties, it’s going to be about living (?0:17:24) for every other American. That’s what gives me hope.
I don’t want a nation just for me, I want a nation for everybody.
You can’t walk away and not feel hope, and not feel that glimmer of light again.
I don’t think I was ever this interested in the voting process.
It’s the first time that I’ve even felt compelled to be part of a movement such as this.
I’m going to get (18:14) involved in this process at the grassroots level first, and then let it go. That’s going to make me happy.
We’re organizing ourselves. The campaign helps us. They’re there to help us, but we’re organizing ourselves.
It is the relationships that we have with one another that is our strength.
I think for a long time I had given up that we could work together—

Alright, so you get the idea. I’m as cynical as you can possibly be, and even I get a little teared up when I see that, because that’s evidence that the campaign really was socially powered at its heart. That there were people who believed that it was giving them an opportunity to participate in something bigger than them, that they might not otherwise have been able to do.

Let’s talk about what was actually achieved through that campaign. About $500,000,000 was raised online. All in donations smaller than about $2,500, which is the limit according to election law. Most people gave in relatively small amounts. There were about two million people who gave money through the online campaign and most people gave more than once. And significantly, I think, the average donor was older than you might think. I’m 45 years old and I’m younger than the average age of the online donors.

We’re past the point in online organizing history where the internet is for the young. In fact, I was talking to someone last night at the social and we were talking about nursing homes and you know who you are, you’re probably in the room. And one of the things that we talked about was that I know a family that works in the nursing home business in the United States, and one of the things they’ve said to me is that every year the level of computer literacy among the residents of the nursing home goes up a little at a time, such that for some of the residents their level of literacy is challenging the level of the literacy of the staff. You never would have heard that ten years ago, and now it’s starting to be part of the reality.

The campaign wasn’t just about fundraising. It was about friend-to-friend engagement. To bring people in, to sign up, to participate, to take actions. There were millions of people who participated in online groups and in the private label social network of the campaign at, which is starting up again, because we’re going into a new cycle. So you can go take a look at it for yourself.

The biggest secret to how all of that was achieved was that the campaign lowered the barriers to entry vastly by making it very easy to take your very first action. And it raised the level of expectations by giving people a better experience than they expected they were going to have. When it made commitments, it fulfilled them and then some. It interacted with constituents and gave them ways to interact with each other in ways that had a sense of humor. For example, if you were aware – you probably are aware of this with a sort of curious detachment of this controversy about where Barack Obama was born, and about a month ago he released his birth certificate and that hopefully is the end of that. The campaign is now giving away as a premium for donors t-shirts that say, “Made in the USA” on the front with Barack Obama’s face, and a Photostat of the long-form birth certificate on the back. That has been a very popular premium because it’s lively, it’s a little sharp.

So let’s talk about principles that you all can begin to apply right away. This is not an exhaustive list, but these are things that we try to instantiate into every campaign that we run.

One is be systematic about building up your list or your constituency. We’ve had more than one speaker talk about being analytics-driven over the past day. I couldn’t be more in agreement with that. Remember that people you interact with online don’t obsess about your museum or your program the way that you obsess about it. Even if they’re fanatical supporters, they only think about you maybe four minutes a day. Whereas you think about yourself all the time. Remember that and be sensitive to that.

Remember that people need to be reminded every time you interact with them in a substantive way why you’re reaching out to them, what you want them to do right now, what the next action is supposed to be, and the third one is just as important and most often forgotten, what will happen next after they do it. In other words, you want to be constantly making small promises and then fulfilling them to pull people along a path of deeper engagement, because the more times you have promised something small and then met or outdone their expectations, the more likely they are to be willing to respond when you ask them to do something, whether that’s give money, or show up or buy a membership or share a link with their friends or whatever it is.

A very quick example of how to make emails more relevant from our work with the Tate. This before message is basically an exhibitions newsletter. It’s a good exhibitions newsletter, but it’s more about pushing new information out then it is about drawing engagement out of people. The newer style emails that Tate is now sending are about mobilizing people to take action around a specific campaign. And this campaign is about buying up these etchings and you can see there is urgency in the messaging. There is specificity about the amount of money. And there’s an actual human being, Dr. Alison Smith, singing the message. Not a Ministry of Information type signer.

This stuff really makes a difference and in every organization you have people inside who are excited about being part of your social communications program. You should indulge them. They are one of your most valuable assets.

The second one is you want to encourage people to be engaged. There are various aspects to engagement. Urgency, timeliness, relevance, continuity are four characteristics of good, engaging programs. Urgency is the hardest one for a museum because the fact is if they don’t give money or participate today, they figure you’ll probably still be around tomorrow and we all knows that that’s not necessarily the case, but it’s very hard to get that into people’s minds.

I wish that we were all like the Red Cross where all we had to do was wait for something disastrous to happen and then people would come flooding in the doors with money. In fact, I was actually once in a meeting, it wasn’t the Red Cross, but with another non-profit where someone said – this was a development team meeting, where someone’s said, “Thank God for that Tsunami.” And then (makes gasping sound). She was absolutely horrified by what she had said, but she’s right. From the perspective of the organization, those external events drive people to participate.

As we saw on this Tate example, you have to manufacture urgency by creating milestones that are somewhat artificial but still feel real to people. And just as importantly, when something happens that you can hang messaging around, be ready to move quickly. Here is Sarah Palin in 2008 at the Republican National Convention giving her debut speech in which she attacked community organizers as somehow un-American. The Obama campaign, they had finished their own convention a couple of weeks earlier, they were all back in the office half the people were on vacation, so this was unexpected.

They scrambled, and on the same night, this says ten minutes later, it was probably thirty minutes later, they got an email out to the ten million or so people that they had on the email list at that point. A very basic email, nothing fancy, no art. Just regular headers saying, “I wasn’t planning on sending you anything tonight but if you saw what we saw I’m sure you’re upset.” It was the biggest success from a fundraising perspective in the entire campaign, because it was timely and relevant and direct. So when something happens that you can use as a lever, use it.

If you’re one of those organizations, and I know there are a couple here, where 17 people need to approve copy before it goes out, the one thing that I would ask you to do when you go home tomorrow is convene a meeting of those 17 people and get 12 of them to delegate permission to the other five, so that you can trim it down. We actually had an organization – I can say who this is, it was the American Red Cross, where I think when we started with them 22 people had to approve copy. Except in an emergency when 19 people – it was something like that. We were very successful and they were very successful – they deserve the credit – in making themselves more nimble, which is really important if you’re in the business of responding to disasters and dealing with urgency, to be able to be nimble. And now they are much nimbler, they are now typically the first out in email, rather than the last when something happens of general concern.

Remember that making a facebook page is not engagement. Facebook pages are very nice, and we should all have them, and you can do things with them that are engaging, but just putting the page up is the rough equivalent of saying, “Well, I launched my website, so we’re done.”
You’re not done. You’re just starting when you launch your website. That’s when all the fun begins. That website is the platform on which you can build enagement programming, but it’s not the programming itself.

It’s about getting people to do things, not just about (?) up your accounts. You want to empower your constituents by giving them websites that are easy to use, where they understand what the things are that you’re asking them to do. Give them tools to share. Give them tools to opt in to things, to raise their hands and say I’m going to support this and so forth. Just as importantly, invite people to take actions offline that support your online program. This is one of the signature surprise hits of the Obama campaign, and this happened organically. Somebody painted their barn with Obama messaging and the campaign found out about it and decided to facilitate more of this by putting up a page with tools and so forth for people who wanted to do it.

So one guy did this with the campaign logo and then thousands of people followed. I actually think it as probably hundreds. This is a map of Northern Ohio showing the locations of the barns at one point in time. Yeah, 1500 barns were painted. It becomes significant if you let people express their energy. And that, I think, is the main point. The goal here is not to be able to do lots of stuff yourselves, it’s to be able to mobilize lots of other people to do things on your behalf and then reap the benefit of that as an organization. And to do that, you’ve got to be authentic, so that people believe what you are saying to them.

Your message has to be clear and in terms that people can then carry out to others and faithfully represent. People have to be empowered to take those actions. In other words, you don’t want to be shutting people down who use your logo or who speak on behalf of the institution, you want to be encouraging them. And that’s where the energy of a true people-powered campaign comes from.
So a few examples of what I mean by each of these items. First, authenticity. It’s okay to be who you are. If you are a large, national museum, good for you. And if you are a small, community-driven repository of artifacts or a small neighborhood playhouse, good for you. Those qualities are the qualities that people love about you, and it’s okay to embrace them, whatever they are.

This is a picture of Barack Obama before he was elected president. This was in the Summer of 2008. He was nominated, but he hadn’t yet been elected. And he’s sitting in someone’s backyard, I don’t know where this is, eating a hamburger off of a plastic plate, with his hands like a normal person. I happen to recognize the chair, it’s sold by Costco, the national discounters so this is not brand name furniture. This is off-price furniture in someone’s yard. There’s a scrubby lawn in the back, and he looks just fine. And that’s okay. Be comfortable being who you are.

Just as importantly, part of authenticity is remembering who your supporters are, and remembering who you are speaking too. I could just as well have used in place of this photo, the photo of the Queen coming off the plane in Dublin wearing the emerald green coat and hat. That’s a statement of respect for the people who are underpinning your communications effort.

I talked a little bit about authenticity, now let’s talk about message. Message matters because everybody is busy, and because nobody cares about any of this as much as you care about it. You’ve got about five seconds when people encounter an online communication from you. Communication broadly defined, whether it’s an email or a tweet or a webpage or whatever, to draw them in.
If five seconds isn’t enough for them to understand why they want to see more or why they want to participate, you’ve lost an opportunity. Which is why, when we worked with the University of Florida on their capital campaign, they had two different kinds of branding. They had this forward looking branding on the upper left, which is suitable for elderly, conservative, forward-looking, socially
responsible donors.

And then they had the Florida Gator on the lower right, which is what younger people affiliate with. Unfortunately, they weren’t using the gator at all in fundraising messaging. And we said, “Wait a minute that’s the symbol that makes people proud if they’re under 30 to be affiliated with this institution. If you want donations from younger people you need to speak to them in terms that they are comfortable with. And they did.

You want to be respectful of brand protection. There are a handful of institutions where you want to be super respectful of it, but not as many as you think. Most of us are not that important. If people want to go a little off the rails in promoting you because they have too much energy to be controlled, it’s okay. Let them do that.

And finally, empowerment. I’m going to show you a couple of examples of this. One is Hope Not Hate. Many of you are probably familiar with this campaign, which we ran against the British National Party in an attempt to demonstrate that there was a silent majority of people in Britain who were unwilling to have themselves associated with fascism. And this is an example of a campaign that mushroomed. The list went from I think 15,000 people at the beginning of the campaign to about 120,000 people in a matter of about six weeks. Because the message was very popular.

We gave people simple things that they could do that were over and above what they normally thought of. Obviously people turned out to leaflet and canvas in their communities. In fact they repeatedly reported running out of leaflets because they got more turnout than they expected. But we also made this video, I’ll show you just thirty seconds of it so you understand what the thing felt like. And some of you probably have seen this. This is an example of a campaign where a small number of super-supporters got involved early, submitted photos of themselves, those were made into a video that draws other people to sign onto the campaign, and then the mushrooming numbers became a story in itself. Which is what you want. Part of the goal of any social media campaign is to find opportunities for earned media that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. By earned media I mean press that you don’t have to pay for.

One more example of a really good socially-driven campaign and we built the infrastructure for this, but we can’t take credit for – I mean, we’ve run the social campaign, but the campaign is essentially self-propelled at this point because it has reached a point of scale where it’s got its own oxygen generated now.

The It Gets Better project which started with this video that you see in the center by Dan Savage and his partner focused on lesbian and gay teenagers who are bullied in school, telling them that they just need to hold on, that life will get better, that their adult life will be more interesting. There are now thousands of videos submitted to this site making that story and a social media campaign that is no longer in anyone’s control. It’s run from this site which we built, but the social sharing has become organic. Just to give you a flavor of that, Google’s video about this, I think, is the best.

High school was bad. I was obviously gay and some kids didn’t like that and I did get harassed.
What I would love for you to take away from it is that however bad it is now it gets better, and it can get great.

And it’s important for adults to reach out to kids and share our stories so that they can pictures futures for themselves that are worth sticking around for.
Okay, little ones, here’s the first thing you need to know.
You are perfect and wonderful exactly as you are.
You are not alone.
There are a ton of us out here in this world.
Who love you without even knowing you.
It gets better.
There’s art to be made, and there are songs to sung.
So hold on.
Look at me, eighty years old, it gets better with age.
Listen to me.
It gets better.
It gets better.
It gets better.
It does get better.
Todo se mejora.
So much better.
You’ll be fine, partner.
Life can be amazing, but you have to tough this period of it out and you have to live.

Now that is a piece of Google corporate propaganda, and it still is as engaging as an organic social video.

What we’re saying is that campaigns that are successful make room for everyone to participate in their own way. And ideally if you’re running an organization like a museum, they will show your constituents what is happening behind the curtain. Everybody wants to be an insider and so sometimes video is the way to do that. These are videos from – at the top, that’s the public television station in New York City, Channel 13.

At lower left is David Plouffe, the Obama campaign manager speaking in web video from his actual office in the campaign headquarters. And there on the lower right is the president of the American Red Cross talking from a disaster operations center. That one is particularly notable, they wanted to humanize an organization that is typically thought of only in the context of two things, major disaster relief, like tsunamis and floods, and blood donations.

In fact, the American Red Cross responds to 200 disasters every day, large and small, around the United States and there was no sense of that diversity in the public image of the organization, which is why we were brought in. And part of the way of doing that is by putting the director in front of people in an organic way in videos like that one.

If you do this right, what you end up with are constituents who are willing to own their participatory relationships with you. This is an actual piece of mail that Bill Clinton received from a campaign donor in January of 1994. And I know it’s authentic because I opened the envelope back when I was a flunkie in a communications firm. My job was to sort through the assorted correspondence that came to the fundraising post office box and decide what needed to go to the campaign, what we could answer ourselves, like by sending a photo, and what had to go to the Secret Service, there were a few of those.

But most of it was, “Please send me a photo.” Or if you’re old enough you’ll remember Bill Clinton kept losing his voice on the campaign trail so people would send him cough drops and stuff like that. But this one I kept, and this – I actually have this up in my house because what she wrote it, “Dear Sir. I look forward with great anticipation to high speed Amtrak USA.” She wants high speed rail. “Please hurry up, I am 77.” What’s interesting about this is not just what she said, but that if you look at the top, she gave $25 to the campaign. I know that she had been a campaign supporter and then he got elected and she got a letter saying, “Please make one final contribution to help us retire our campaign debt.”

And she did, she gave $25 to that. And as a woman on a pension, age 77, living in Arizona, she felt she had the authority to tell the new President of the United States what to do. That is a evidence of an empowerment campaign that has really been successful.

I’m going to flash through a few examples of what I meant by lower barriers and higher expectations, and then show you what I think of as a great museum program as a close.

Lower barriers means giving people easy ways to sign up for things. Even if you think you don’t have anything to sign up for, it’s worth inventing something to sign up for just so that people will. You can figure out what to do with them afterwards.

Notice that is says here, “Sign up here to receive community updates and the latest news.” If you say that, you actually have to send them community updates and the latest news. That should go without saying, but I am going to say it, people love to contribute something personal. These are photos from a tribute website to Ted Kennedy that was organized right after he died. He was a beloved crusader for liberal political values and the social ethic in the United States and so people kept the photos that they had had taken with him for their whole lives and were willing to submit them for this living wall of tribute.

Even people who make small gifts or take small actions to opt-in, should qualify as full members of the community. When the Obama campaign ran this Dinner with Barack program, where a dozen people at a time were selected to actually sit down and have dinner with Barack Obama, they were flown in to a central location, which was then filmed and put out on video as part of the campaign propaganda.

Anyone who asked to be invited was considered. There was no sense that you had to be a big donor or committed. All you had to do in this case was give a genuine reason why you wanted to. And those dinners were very successful.

It’s worth remembering that you don’t know who is going to turn out to be a big supporter when they first raise their hand. This is my actual sixth grade graduation photo. You look at these people and you say it’s a bunch of random looking 11 year olds. But I actually remember all of them and to me they were all very different and they’ve gone in all sorts of different directions in their lives, so don’t assume that people based on demographics, so forth, based on giving history don’t love you, because you can’t predict. As Jim showed yesterday, in looking through Twitter participation, you can’t tell just by scores who is going to be a big influencer.

And then, finally, don’t drive people crazy. I say that sort of lightly. You need websites that work. You need landing pages that are connected to the things you’ve asked people to click through from. This example I put up because when the Republican Party released their new website about a year ago, they released it with an animated talking Michael Steele, who was the party chairman, walking onto the screen telling you about the new features and pointing at parts of the screen. You see that on the lower right, there was the Michael Steel standing there. The problem is he walked on and then stood in front of the donate button and the sign up link, so you couldn’t use them.

And that’s an example of the sort of thing that should have been caught in QA and I encourage you to think from the perspective of a user if you can. You want to test if you can afford to because you never know what’s going to work best. Here’s an example of two pages that look almost the same to you, but one of them did 29% better and 29% better is significant in the course of a whole campaign.
I’ve almost run out my time, but I want to close with an example of what a really good social media campaign can do, and that is affect the world in a way that it would not have otherwise been affected.

This example is from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. We built this program for them to help them showcase a bunch of photos of children liberated from concentration camps because they wanted to just as a social experiment and, from a cultural perspective, they wanted to invite people to try and locate these children and find out what had happened to them in the intervening 60 years.

And no one knew exactly what the results of this program would be. In fact, the results were quite remarkable. This is an example of one of the pictures, and this was linked to Facebook, and there was a big social media campaign built around it, the top comment there says, “I am that person. Steve Isrealer. “I am now 80 years old. At the time of that picture I was 14 years old. Librated on April 23 in Bavarai, near the town of Schwarzenfeld where US Army 90th Division found us.

We came from Flossenbürg. I now live in New York City. I am the sole survivor of a family of eight, parents and six siblings. It’s chilling to realize that there are real people who survived from this period and not only flourished, but lived to an old age and had a full life. And similarly here, this one’s a bit – I think a bit lighter. Here’s a fellow that found himself. “This is me, indeed, with more hair and less wrinkles.” That’s him talking about his childhood photo.

Here you see in this exchange we think he’s found a family member who he didn’t know on this facebook page connected with this museum exhibition. And this conversation goes on, the two of them actually make contact. So it’s a reminder that there are real world effects of these campaigns. It’s not just about doing something creative. It’s not just about supporting your museums or institution. It’s not even just about creating cultural experiences for your own community. These things, these campaigns spread out to the world. People notice them. You inspire people in other museums and other communities to copy your best ideas. This should make your proud and not defense. You want people to find what you’ve done as relevant and emotionally fulfilling.
I guess where I’ll leave it is to say that when I started in this business twenty years ago I was writing direct mail copy to scare old people into giving money to protect their pension benefits. And now I get to help museums ensure their financial future and mobilize their communities and I like that work I’m doing now a lot better. So you should all count yourselves very lucky, and I thank you for having me here.


Rich Mintz is the Vice-President of Strategy at Blue State Digital, an innovative American company focusing on online fundraising, advocacy, social networking, and constituency development programs for nonprofit organisations, political candidates and corporations.

The most effective online programmes build relationships over time via email and social media, and use the trust established in those relationships to encourage supporters to give and upgrade.

Rich talked at the MuseumNext 2011 conference in Edinburgh about how cultural institutions’ can effectively create relationship-driven online programmes, and what museums need to do and say in order to build supporters’ trust and a sense of urgency to drive them to take action.

Filmed at the MuseumNext conference in Edinburgh. To stay informed about our International Museum Conferences follow MuseumNext on Twitter or like MuseumNext on Facebook.

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