Reading Rebranding As “You Aren’t Wanted”

Last month you may have read a number of news stories about the Methodist church in Minnesota with declining attendance that decided to kick out all their old members so they could attract younger members. Except that wasn’t exactly what the church was doing. They just wanted to close the one church for about 18 months in order to do some renovations and rebrand it and were asking members to attend a sister church in the meantime.

The goal definitely was to attract a younger congregation and the new pastor would be about 30 years younger than the current pastor. It sounds like the renovations had the goal of creating spaces in which younger people felt comfortable worshiping.

Shifting all this to the context of arts organizations, there is an eternal conversation about attracting new, younger audiences. However, research shows, arts organizations are actually pretty good at attracting new audiences, but not too good at retaining them so they return with some consistency.

This story about closing and rebranding made me wonder if there is any value in doing so if it makes your organization look more welcoming to a broader range of the community. We know that one of the biggest barriers to participation for people who aren’t already doing so is not seeing themselves and their stories being depicted.

If you were going to pursue closing and rebranding in a similar manner, it would have to encompass more than just freshening up the physical plant with a renovation.  The type of programs the organization offered would need to be revised. Likely the way in which they were delivered might need to be changed. Staff would either need to be retrained and/or new staff hired to deliver on the promises the organization was making.

Is there a good chance that all of this might scare your existing audience away in the same way it is turning off the current congregation of the church? Yep, good chance of that.

In the past I cited a couple of Nina Simon’s talks about providing relevance to the people whom you hope to serve. While she talks about creating metaphorical new doors for people to enter, if you are doing a renovation, you might create physical ones. She notes that it may be difficult for long time supporters to understand that not everything that is being done now is for them, even if nothing has been subtracted to provide experiences for others.

As I wrote:

A new initiative may displace one of regular events. Instead of 10 things designed for you, you only get nine. For a lot of people even 1/10 of a change can result in them feeling the organization is no longer relevant to them. This may especially be true in the case of subscription holders. That one bad grape in ten ruins the value of the whole package.

In this situation it can be a little tricky to say, that’s okay you don’t need to come to that show, we have other discount configurations that may suit your needs. Not only might your delivery of that message be flawed and sound offensive, but even with perfect delivery, the patron may only hear “that’s okay you don’t need to come.”

Even if the new initiatives are additions and don’t displace any of the current offerings, patrons, donors, board members can still feel the organization is no longer the one they value, despite having lost nothing.

Reading the different stories about the church in Minnesota, I got the sense that the current congregants were hearing “that’s okay, you don’t need to come,” in the planned renewal of their church. While that may turn you off of considering making changes for fear of losing what you already have, consider that what you are already doing may be telling a lot more people who have never walked in your door or come once or twice, “that’s okay, you don’t need to come.”

Delivering Social Services At Libraries

Hat tip to which posted an NPR story about libraries that are bringing social workers on staff. The main reason is that libraries are serving the role as a community resource beyond a source of books. Libraries are increasingly a place for classes, after school activities, meetings as well as providing daytime shelter for homeless and unfortunately, those with drug addictions.

I served on the board of a library until about a year ago and there were frequent conversations regarding concerns about used needles and blood splatters in the restrooms. There were also debates about whether to stock Narcan and what the library’s liability might be if doses were administered. Just before I left the board, we were discussing signing a letter of agreement with social service agencies to provide services at some of the library branches.

The NPR story touches on these same issues facing the social workers at the libraries they profile. One of the benefits of having a social worker in a library is that it changes the dynamics of the traditional relationship people have with social services. Instead of people going to a government run office and waiting to petition for assistance, the social worker circulates among patrons, discusses services that are available and helps them connect with those services.

“I walk around and try to talk to people who might be experiencing homelessness. We never ask them directly, but I would just come up to them and say, ‘I don’t know if you’re aware there’s a social worker and there are social services here,’ ” she says. “Because of my role as a professional, clinical social worker, I can do assessments and determine if I need to provide extra support by linking them with community services such as clinics or mental health or for them to see a doctor.”


But Esguerra says the idea of bringing social workers into libraries isn’t just meant to help librarians; it encourages people in need to take advantage of the services the library-based social workers offer.

“Coming to the library is not attached with any stigma, unlike coming to, like, you know, other traditional settings,” she explains. “So public libraries really are the best places to reach out to the population and be effective at it.”

While not every arts organization serves groups that need this type of social service support, there may be other social support activities they can make available.  In some instances, they key may be to take the same approach as the social worker in the library. Instead of saying come here to receive these services with an eye to attracting larger groups of people, just have the services available in a low key way for those that do arrive.

During the summer there are a lot of free plays and concerts offered across the country. There may be people who show up whom an experienced eye could identify as potentially having a need for everything from food and medicine to help registering for school and getting school supplies. I am sure I am thinking too narrowly in terms of the type of support arts organizations might offer.

Then there is the approach from the other direction where arts organizations are present at social service and medical facilities. One of my favorite stories the project that put pop up art stations at a health clinic in Minneapolis.


Donors Can Gain From Giving Circles

I have written a few times about the way people are organizing themselves in Giving Circles. It seems like an interesting approach to philanthropy because it is social and communal the way some online giving platforms are, but just as personal and local as individual giving. In some ways, it actually inspires people to be much more involved and deliberate in their giving.

Via Non Profit Quarterly is a link to a story that talks about those very factors.

“There is tremendous anxiety out there about social inequality and how stratified our society is. People want to do something about it,” says David Callahan, editor of the Inside Philanthropy news site.

“Giving circles create structure for people with shared values to learn about the causes they care about and support them while creating community.”

For members, the experience can be identity-changing.


The intentionality of the process — the vetting of proposals, visits to potential fundee’s sites, hours of thoughtful debate with passionate circle members in five separate committees — has changed Rothenberg’s self-perception.

“I used to think of myself as a donor,” says Rothenberg, who’d annually write checks to her college alma mater and give $50 gifts to this or that cause. “But I didn’t really know where the money went, or it felt like a drop in the bucket.

“Now I see myself as a philanthropist — I’m part of something bigger. I feel invested in the success of the nonprofits we support.”

Kinda Silly Use of Geofencing

I have written before about the ethics of geofencing since there are all sorts of questions raised about where data collection stops and stalking starts.

One of the uses I had suggested might occur was geofencing other arts and cultural organizations in your region and using the information about willingness to participate to present people with options at your organization. Which again, could also been seen as letting someone else do the hard work of attracting participation and then using geofencing to gather information about those who show up.

Last week I came across a pretty puzzling use of geofencing that almost seemed to be using the technology in the to send people to a competitor. Burger King was offering people one cent Whoppers…but to qualify, you have to be standing near a McDonalds.

Burger King geofenced McDonald’s locations so that when you use their app near a Mc Donald’s you can place an order for a Whopper and will be directed to the nearest Burger King.

Big question is obviously, why someone would make an extra effort drive away from a McDonalds they just took time to get close to?

Then of course there is the fact that BK has 6600 locations. McDonalds has 14,000. Which means there is a fair chance you will actually be closer to another McDonalds than a Burger King restaurant and possibly pass it on the way to the Burger King.

This seems like the type of promotion geared toward people who already prefer Burger King over McDonalds rather than something that will attract new people to Burger King.

While art and cultural organizations might be accused of running promotions that reinforce their relationship with existing audiences even as they say they are seeking new ones, I can’t think of a practice that makes people go through such absurd lengths as stopping just short of the threshold of an alternative option to redeem it.

But if you can think of one, I would love to hear it.