What the Association of Children’s Museums InterActivity 2014 Had to Say About Cultivating Donors | npENGAGE

What the Association of Children’s Museums InterActivity 2014 Had to Say About Cultivating Donors



Last week I had the opportunity to attend and present at the Association of Children’s Museums annual conference, #interactivity2014, with Julia Kennard, CFO from EdVenture, Carole Charnow, President and CEO from Boston Children’s Museum and Katie Boehm, Annual Fund & Events Manager from KidsQuest . I learned SO MUCH from the industry panelists in our session, Cultivating Donors, Not Shoppers.

When it comes to cultivating donors, it all comes down to Relationships and Rewards.


There are two types of relationships that organizations can establish with their constituents: communal or exchange.

  • Communal: A relationship where the constituent wants to help the organization and doesn’t expect anything in return.
  • Exchange: A strictly business, quid pro quo type of relationship.

When there is a communal relationship, you can expect your constituents to be more likely to donate, volunteer and spread positive word of mouth. Sounds good, right? The only problem? Establishing these relationships can be difficult, time-consuming and costly.


When there is a communal relationship, the constituent will respond to donor appeals that emphasize intrinsic rewards, such as the positive feelings that come from knowing you are helping the organization and their mission. If, however, there is an exchange relationship, the constituent will respond to donor appeals that emphasize extrinsic rewards, such as priority parking, program recognition or tangible items like a coffee mug or sweatshirt.

Panelists and attendees agreed that relationships with museum members tend to be exchange relationships, as member benefits tend to be extrinsic rewards. Because of that, it can be difficult to solicit donations from members without investing in expensive, tangible donor benefits, which members have become accustomed.

What’s interesting here is that an organization’s messaging can bias a constituent to change their motivation. If post-donation messaging, such as a thank you letter, focuses on extrinsic rewards (“your donation has guaranteed you priority parking and a company poster!”), the donor is actually more likely to believe they gave to receive those rewards, even if that wasn’t their initial motivation. This is also true in reverse: emphasize how a donation is helping your organization impact the community, and the donor is more likely to believe that they gave to impact the community, even if their initial motivation really was that priority parking.

So that’s the theory. But how does this work in practice?

That’s where the insightful industry panel comes in.

Key learnings from the panel:

Members at museums see their membership as a donation – Museum members often don’t donate. Carole Charnow presented marketing research that showed that members (and not just members at her organization) often saw their membership as a donation already, making them less responsive to true donation appeals. However, they were most likely to donate beyond their membership for activities or events, such as fun runs or walks.

You have to change the relationship before you can change the reward Katie Boehm shared that changing appeal messaging to focus on intrinsic rewards is NOT a slam-dunk. In fact, they had greater success with campaigns with more transactional messaging. When they created thoughtful appeals that centered on the community impact of making a donation, it didn’t resonate as well with their members. This suggests that changing the rewards, without changing the relationship, is futile. Remember how we mentioned earlier that establishing communal relationships is more time consuming, difficult and costly? Katie also asks the question, if your donors and members respond to tangible benefits and extrinsic rewards, is it necessary, or worth it, to try and change that?

However, you CAN change the relationship – Julia Kennard shared the success her organization was seeing by changing their organizational culture to restructure their relationships with their donors. EdVenture is driving an increased community impact through new programs to serve underprivileged youth. Further, they are doing more to message those community programs to their constituents. Through that, they are starting to see a shift in their relationships with their constituents from exchange to communal.

What types of rewards and messaging have been successful for your organization when soliciting donations?

Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below or on twitter with me, @laurabeussman, or the other panelists: @julkennard, @boschildmuseum, and @kidsquestcm.



Laura joined Blackbaud in 2013 as the Senior Product Marketing Manager for Arts & Cultural Solutions. Previously, Laura spent two years at Dell, most recently as the Lead Pricing Manager for North American Consumer Desktops. Before receiving her Master’s of Business Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Laura worked for 5 years in non-profit arts. During that time, Laura worked as the Associate Director of Finance at Austin Lyric Opera and in Finance/Accounting at the Dallas Theater Center. Laura is also a proud graduate of Texas A&M, where she received her Bachelor’s of Business Administration, Magna Cum Laude and with honors.

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