Why Your Museum Needs a Data Solution

Last week I had the privilege to interview Ashley Alexander, Director of Memberships, at one of the largest paid membership organizations in the country: the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

I can sum up this experience in one word: INCREDIBLE!

Her energy and passion for the Denver community is contagious. It was inspiring to learn how the organization is shepherding member and visitor data into their day-to-day lives. Here are a few of the key takeaways I have from our conversation.

Don’t Have a Data Solution for the Sake of It

Just because someone in your organization says “we need a data solution” does not mean you go and buy or build the first solution to come across your desk. It is important to evaluate how you are going to use the data, what data you already have and where there are gaps in your data. You also need to think about how all of those answers directly affect your job, your department and your organization. Early in my conversation with Ashley, we discussed why a data solution was something that the Denver Museum of Nature & Science needed. It quickly became apparent during the museum’s evaluation process that there were things they were doing with data that were unnecessary. You might be surprised to find that there is member data being collected that is seen as intrusive (thus a barrier to entry), but is not being used by your organization.

Think About the Structure of Your Data Solution

Whether you are just starting out on your data journey or you are part of an organization that has an established data structure, it is never too late to think about the best way to optimize your data. One specific thing that became apparent to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science during their implementation of Umbel, was that they needed to start thinking of their members and member data in a different way. A great way to think through how your data should be structured is by looking at what data is available to you, how it is structured and how people interact with your organization. For the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, they were capturing Household data, but they weren’t capturing Individual data and the Individuals that make up the Household interacted with their museum in different ways. So now, they are taking on the task to restructure their database to reflect the individuals that make up each household.

Maximize What You Already Do Well and Supplement with Data

Data isn’t just something to be thinking about for new and exciting projects, but can also be a highly effective tool for maximizing the things you are already doing well. One of the ways that the Denver Museum of Nature & Science was using data was to validate the hunches and results of membership campaigns they were already running. They were able to see, in a tangible way, that by targeting certain groups with a direct mail campaign they were more successful than they had been with a blanketed approach. Now they are building on those existing campaigns with data-driven digital campaigns. By having the data, they are not only able to effectively target potential members, but also measure at which touchpoint (email, direct or social) the person converted.

Be Okay with Experimenting

Throughout my conversation with Ashley, it became more and more apparent that she and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science approach their challenges and their data as an experiment to see what works and what is useful. No matter where your organization is on its data journey, be okay with failure. When approaching problems where data is part of the solution, use the data to validate or explain results and most importantly always be evaluating.

If you are like most people, time is limited and the day-to-day tasks make looking ahead difficult. This makes this last step – evaluation – essential to ensure that your data, the system and your organization is always one step ahead of your members’ needs. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand and use the data you have available. If you think there are gaps or needs, data can help define and validate what you are seeing. Not every organization is going to approach data the same way, but every organization could use data to improve their members’ experiences and impact on the community.

If you would like to watch the whole conversation with Ashley Alexander, Director of Memberships at Denver Museum of Nature & Science, click here.