WolfBrown: On Our Minds

Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits, a new publication from the National Academies Press, makes it abundantly clear that both adults and children can learn from the informal looking, listening, and manipulating that they do as they move through exhibits and activities at children’s museums, aquaria, and science museums. In addition, the report points out the many different kinds of effects that informal learning can have: motivation, curiosity, facts, and even a sense of membership in the community of individuals who do, think, and love science. The report has bold implications for exhibition design, staff training, and evaluation whether the content is triceratops, Turner, or the Civil War.

How To Attract Donors

February 19th, 2009

We all know that donors are increasingly besieged by requests for gifts in these difficult economic times. How do donors decide to whom to give? How can nonprofits show that they are worthy of receiving precious philanthropic dollars? How can those who guide donors help them with their decisions? I recently read about a new McKinsey report on this topic entitled The Nonprofit Marketplace: Bridging the Information Gap in Philanthropy (executive summary), produced with the support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Philanthropy Program. One of the main points of the report is that current assessments of worthiness, which rely heavily on financial measures (fund-raising ratios, numbers of people served), do not provide adequate information about which nonprofits are effective and which are not. Some of the burden for communication falls on nonprofits themselves, who often don’t assess the intrinsic impacts or social benefits of their programs or communicate these outcomes to their donors, beyond anecdotes. The responsibility for communication of relevant information is shared with intermediaries (like Guidestar) who provide information to potential donors, and of course with the donors themselves, who need to learn how to ask appropriate questions. Anticipating some controversy, Hewlett Foundation has set up a web site devoted to this topic. Take a peek and see if you have anything to contribute to the discussion!

Corporations – both for profit and nonprofit – are looking for budget line items they can reduce during the economic crisis. Often, one of the discretionary items they consider is advertising. According to an article that appeared in the November issue of Knowledge@Wharton (University of Pennsylvania), “Research shows that companies that consistently advertise even during recessions perform better in the long run. A McGraw-Hill Research study looking at 600 companies from 1980 to 1985 found that those businesses which chose to maintain or raise their level of advertising expenditures during the 1981 and 1982 recession had significantly higher sales after the economy recovered. Specifically, companies that advertised aggressively during the recession had sales 256% higher than those that did not continue to advertise.” So before you cut advertising, perhaps a better strategy is to make sure that the dollars you are now spending are deployed where they will do the most good.

We are currently working closely with clients to incorporate the current financial realities into planning, management, and marketing strategies, helping them navigate through these difficult times. Lots of other folks in our business are offering advice these days about how nonprofits can cope with the current recession. The Nonprofit Finance Fund has developed an online resource that provides answers to basic questions about the economy and some tools for managing nonprofits during the recession. They offer an outline for organizational analysis and a self-assessment worksheet, as well as more general information about economic conditions.

Lifelong Creative Learning

February 5th, 2009

In a previous issue of OOM, Dr. Dennie Wolf drew our attention to three books that raise “important questions about the role that arts and cultural organizations could play in breaking down the stubborn correlation between a young person’s wealth…and the likelihood that her gifts will be discovered and cultivated.” Dr. Wolf stirs us to think about plasticity in not only children’s development, but throughout one’s life. Too often we are under the impression that as we age, our opinions, habits, feelings, and prospects become ever-more crystallized, and our futures increasingly pre-determined by our pasts. This is, however, an illusion, fostered only by the network of correlated constraints we each encounter in our routine daily lives. It is only when some extraordinary effort is undertaken or some truly unusual event occurs that these networks become disrupted, and the malleability of our development, at any age, is rediscovered. Perhaps this explains to some extent the transformative power of arts and culture, which whether through sustained outreach programs or a single event may change lives by disrupting networks so that new ones can be created.

How To Survive A Crisis

February 5th, 2009

The pilot and crew of the plane that landed in the Hudson River last month have been appropriately recognized as heroes, for the skill and experience they employed to save the lives of everyone on board. The passengers, as well as the nearby ferry crews, also deserve credit for the quick and correct decisions they made after the plane landed, which enabled everyone to exit onto the plane wings and then to the safety of ships. In a Newsweek excerpt of his new book, The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life, author Ben Sherwood posits that surviving a crisis has more to do with making calm, rational decisions than luck. According to survival psychologist Dr. John Leach, only 10% of us handle a crisis in this optimal way, knowing whether, when and how to act. But 80% are initially stunned and bewildered, frozen from action like “deer in the headlights” and 10% behave counterproductively, freaking out and making decisions with disastrous results. These alternative approaches to managing a crisis apply to the strategic and financial challenges faced today by nonprofit executives, as well as to transportation disasters and medical emergencies. Remaining calm and rational will help you make disciplined decisions about what changes to make and what changes not to make. Sherwood has also created a Survivors Club web site, with some resources you might consider checking out before your next budget meeting, as well as your next flight.

Do you have a “land line” for your telephone service? Or do you only have cellular service? Personally, I would never give up my “land line” (and I was upset when we were forced to “go digital” with that line last month), but I know others do not share this old-fashioned perspective. Increasingly, people are moving to cellular-only phone service, and this shift has changed the landscape of general population research for firms such as WolfBrown. Did you know federal law makes it illegal to call cellphones using automatic dialers? Did you know that a huge fraction of cellphone users are minors who are usually ineligible for surveys? (Did you know that “cellphone” is now one word?) While telephone surveys used to be a standard tool for reaching random samples of adults in a given community, response rates for phone research have decreased significantly over the past decade, while bias has increased (i.e., only people with an interest in the survey subject matter tend to respond). Meanwhile, the quality of online consumer panels has increased, providing a new avenue for gathering data quickly and at a reasonable cost. Phone research is not dead yet, but we are using it less and less frequently, while developing new approaches to online and intercept sampling.

Creative City Networking

February 5th, 2009

Just yesterday one of my clients sent me a copy of an interesting paper Fostering the Creative City, written by Carol Coletta. She is the CEO of an organization called CEOs for Cities, a national network of urban leaders dedicated to building and sustaining “the next generation of great American cities.” Although I was not able to find a link to that paper, (if you would like a copy, e-mail me), I did find a trove of blog entries on CEOs for Cities’ site, in a section called the Creative Cities Network. This informal network is “a collaboration of urban leaders working together to understand the opportunities associated with creative city concepts and to develop and apply strategies that take advantage of these opportunities in their communities.” In particular, you might look at an entry from October 2008 called “In Detroit for Creative Cities Summit.”

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