When HiPPOs Attack

Being the voracious consumer of arts administration theory and philosophy, I jumped on the slide deck Drew McManus and Ceci Dadisman put together for their session at the Association of Arts Administration Educators conference.

The topic they covered was “Effective Data Driven Decision Making,” which may sound uninteresting until you realize that the main thrust of their session was providing guidance for dealing with a major barrier to progress in an organization, the HiPPOs.

In his post on Adaptistration reflecting on his conference experience, Drew expresses some surprise that conference attendees hadn’t heard of HiPPO decision making before. I suspect people are familiar with the practice, but just don’t know that particular term.

HiPPO stands for Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.

I am pretty sure everyone has had the experience where they put a lot of effort into developing a plan/proposal, supporting it with research, surveys, etc., perhaps going through multiple layers of people to get their buy-in and approval only to have the final decision maker summarily nix it.

Usually the rejection is based on a personal opinion or gut feeling about what should be done, despite the fact that the people they pay to do research, analyze data, and be subject matter experts say otherwise.

This slide from Drew and Ceci’s presentation summarize it pretty well.

Accompanying this and other slides in the presentation are scads of notes Drew and Ceci graciously supply. Including the following tips about HiPPO behavior:

How to tell if you’re a HiPPO (or work for one). HiPPOs ask:

  • How much traffic is coming to our website?
  • What are our conversion rates?
  • What are the top exit pages on our website?
  • How many average monthly leads do we generate?
  • What is the average site visitor time on site?
  • What are our click-through rates on the homepage slider?

In short, if your data requests sound like grant applications, you have yet to establish a positive data culture.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking about effective data driven decision making in terms of having to collect even more information for reports no one is going to read. Think about this in terms of creating a work environment in which data analysis and expertise is honored across the whole organization (Drew & Ceci also address siloed decision making) and acted upon rather than disregarded on one person’s word.

Basically, the goal is to reduce how frequently you utter the phrase, “So what did I do all that work for…” at work

Go check out the slide presentation and accompanying notes.

The Only Bank Where The Assets Appreciate In Value Upon Withdrawl

Barry Hessenius proved that we often don’t think of the most obvious things in a post he made last weekend encouraging people to create Story Banks to support your advocacy work.

Rather than having to identify an appropriate story every time we might have use for one, a Story Bank is a readily available, ongoing catalog of those stories, which can be used for a myriad of purposes.


Those can chronicle personal impact and value, can preserve the organization’s history and legacy, and can categorize beat practices and past mistakes.  While data and evidence based decision making is essential, stories can give data and evidence meaning, and enhance how we use data and evidence to make smart decisions.  It is our stories, particularly of impact and value, that support the argument of the preference for the intrinsic value of the arts.

I collect social media posts, positive comments, anecdotes, letters, etc into a file on an on going basis to support final grant reports. I don’t want to reach the end of a grant period and be scrambling to gather the materials. However, it never occurred to me to make those files available board and staff members in support of formal and informal advocacy and solicitation efforts.

But rather than waiting on someone to say or write something nice, Hessenius suggests a more active approach. He encourage organizations to survey their staff and board for stories about how the organization or the arts in general have impacted lives (including their own–not just what they might have heard from others). Then turn to donors, supporters and volunteers for their stories and then finally audiences.

Hessenius admonishes readers not to forget to include kids since their stories can be most poignant.

He points to a toolkit FamiliesUSA has assembled about creating and maintain a Story Bank as a resource.

Google Adword Grants – Use ‘Em Well Or Lose ‘Em

Yesterday, Non Profit Quarterly had an article mentioning that a goodly number of non-profit organizations had their $10,000 Adwords Grants shutdown by Google for not meeting standards that were rolled out in January.  Drew McManus warned this was a possibility back in January in an ArtsHacker post.

If you have an Adwords grant from Google, you may want to check on your status. NPQ warns that if your account gets suspended, Google has additional criteria for getting it restored.

A lot of the criteria seem aimed at making sure the non-profit organization is actively trying to make effective use of the grant. The click through rate on your ads has to be above 5%. You can’t just use one keyword and the keywords need to be associated with your mission. Your geographic target needs to reflect the communities you serve.

Not mentioned in the ArtsHacker post and associated articles, but appearing in the NPQ piece is that Google is apparently verifying that the links in Adwords are going to websites owned by the grantee. So if you use a third party site to provide ticketing or process donations, you need to be very careful. It does appear that you can get the use of those sites cleared by Google.

Additionally, your website should be entirely dedicated to your non-profit purpose.

Owned and operated website

Your organization must own the domain that users land on when they click your ad.

High-quality website

Your website must function well and not contain broken links.
Your site must have a robust and clear description of your organization and mission. Each web page must have sufficient information for visitors to understand your organization’s purpose.
Your ads, keywords, and website may not make claims that promise results after a consultation, service, or purchase. Claims on your website must cite verifiable references to provide transparency to users.

Commercial activity

Commercial activity must not be the main purpose of your website. This includes sales of products and services, consultations, lead generation, and providing referrals.


Another noteworthy change is that grantees can only direct paid search users to approved domains, so be careful when using donation sites or landing pages that are located on related subdomains before receiving approval.

If any of this makes you concerned, take a look at the NPQ article and revisit the terms and conditions of your Adwords account.

Museum Hackers Target The “Not For Someone Like Me”

In the last week I have seen mention of Museum Hack, in both Bloomberg (h/t Artsjournal.com) and Washington Post (h/t Nina Simon). The company does customized tours of museums from a particular frame of reference.

For example, their Badass Bitches Tour,

…shares stories of female artists, muses and subjects. (Versions of the tour are also offered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, National Gallery of Art in the District and the Getty Center in Los Angeles.) Over the course of two hours, we hear about witches and their love of psychedelics; we view works dedicated to the African goddess Oshun, who has inspired the art of Beyoncé; we peer into the dollhouse-like miniature rooms conceived by artist Narcissa Niblack Thorne; and we chew on the fact that works by women, historically, are largely underrepresented in art museums.


…a tour tailored to “finance bros,” for example, will immediately take them to the most expensive object in the museum, with a blunt discussion of its worth—an entry point to engage the newbie audience.

For Harry Potter fans, there is “The Completely Unofficial and Definitely Unlicensed Boy Wizard Tour”

Their core mission is to “go after people who think museums aren’t for them.”

This was a top response in the recent Culture Track survey among people who don’t participate/attend/visit arts and culture organizations. It is also a goal of Arts Midwest’s Creating Connection initiative. Not to mention Nina Simon’s whole raison d’etre.

According to the news stories, Museum Hack is increasingly being hired by cultural organizations to train their docents to present the content in a more accessible manner in terms of language, context and delivery.

My first thought was that there might be a lot of push back from cultural institutions who felt like this was dumbing down the experience what they have to offer.  (Though the fact Museum Hack brought $200,000 in revenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art last year is something to be dismissed.)

The thing is, people who regularly visit museums already have different motivations for doing so that may not align with the assumptions or goals of the institution. I have written about John Falk’s Identity and the Museum Experience before. What is described as the motivations of the a Experience Seeker pretty much aligns with the tour designed for “finance bros.”

While the experience provided at a cultural institution can often delight, you can’t control what type of experience people expect to have.  Falk’s identity scheme acknowledges that the same person might not return to the same museum with the same agenda. They may be acting as a facilitator for others during one trip and simple seek to recharge the next time around.

From what I have read their focus seems to really be more about storytelling and forming an engaging narrative about what is found in the museum rather than trying to exploit pop culture trends.

I have often seen titles for university courses that invoke pop culture associations that don’t always follow through and deliver on the promise of an engaging course.  There is probably less to complain about in terms of misrepresentation in a two hour museum tour than a 14 week university course.

One thing I was curious about that I didn’t see mentioned in either of the two articles was how many people who have never entered a museum have used their service versus how many regular museum attendees are signing up for the change of perspective.

I can believe that someone who never entered a museum might pay $59 for a tour that resonated with their interests. It would be good to know how often that happens because it could further refute the argument for free admission days.

Research already shows that free admission days are largely attended by those already in the habit of going to museums. Indications that people are willing to pay for an appealing experience might go some distance to bolstering museum finances.

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