· For the money-minded board member – potential funders want to know about our visitors. Federal granting agencies for many years have required basic demographic information about whom museums serve as part of the grant application process. State and local funding sources are beginning to ask for that information more and more. Private foundations also want to be sure that their money is making a difference and will ask you how you will evaluate the success of your efforts. If we want to ask the county tourism bureau for funding, real numbers about who is visiting from outside of the county will help us demonstrate how we impact tourism.
· For the efficiency-expert – by investing a little time and money now, we’ll have more information that will help us allocate time and money better. Why? Because we will know more about whom we are serving and who we are not and where we should be focusing current dollars and time.
· For the museum-content-lover (history, art, geology, etc.) – our mission is, ultimately, to get people to care about and learn from our subject. As we compete for attention with work, school, sports, pop culture, television, and the latest internet craze, we need to know how and where we can connect with our visitors and potential visitors and what will engage them with our topic. This information will help us better articulate and pursue our mission and our reason for being.
· For the civic-minded, community booster – asking our visitors what they think and value is a way of showing we care about our visitors. It can also help us identify potential visitors that may not be aware of our programs and services.
· For the person who says we never DO anything – visitor studies and evaluation provides evidence we need to shake us loose from the status quo. How will those people who say, “we’ve always done it this way” argue when the information is coming from the horse’s mouth – from our visitors?
· For the director, finding out who your visitors are and what they think about your museum can help the director determine which balls are most important to juggle. That in turn can help all staff and volunteers keep their eyes on the key activities. During the process, board members and staff/volunteers will also be forced to define and articulate what they want visitors to know, feel and do as a result of a visit to their museum.
By making these arguments, you can work to convince your board and all the people, paid and unpaid, who work in the museum that your organization should spend some time finding out about your visitors.
Conny Graft is a consultant in interpretive planning and evaluation for museums, parks, and other nonprofit organizations. Conny retired from The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 2010 where she worked for 27 years as Director of Interpretive Planning, Director of Interpretive Education and Manager of Research and Evaluation. Before coming to Colonial Williamsburg, Conny worked for the Division of Historic Preservation in Fairfax, Virginia and was in charge of planning programs for four historic sites.
Stacy Klingler currently serves local history organizations as the Assistant Director of Local History Services at the Indiana Historical Society. She began her career in museums as the assistant director of two small museums, before becoming director of the Putnam County Museum in Greencastle, Ind. She chairs the AASLH's Small Museums Committee (2008-2012) and attended the Seminar for Historical Administration in 2006. While she lives in the history field, her passion is encouraging a love of learning in any environment.