Connecting on that One Thing

A learning institution, great. A connecting institution, that’s different. And much better, for you and your audiences. Connecting is key. That takes information, real and applied. What about the insight on which we are basing our institutions’ futures?

It's about relationships
The Loop: Insight comes from relationships, which come from insight.

Dear to the heart of nonprofits are those wonderful emails, Yelp comments, dinner testimonials that extole the institution’s wonderfulness. It’s good for an all-staff smile. Of course, an all-staff scramble can come with the opposite.

We’ve all been there. This kind of input can be anything from gratifying to useful to downright annoying: something you did was valued, or an aspect of experience could use a tweek, or there is that same person back and They Still Don’t Get It!

But this kind of feedback can also be dangerous. That happens if these narrow snapshots color the overview too much, taking the place of the larger perspectives on which the organization’s ability to serve and thrive actually will depend:

  • What is that One Thing that the community actually understands your institution to do?
  • How is your OT that different – and perceived to be so – than what every other organization of like mission is doing?
  • At what level does your OT truly resonate — or not — with key audiences?

Until the first two answers are pinpointed and until communication in the form of experiences and message is informed by the third, the institution is in the generic aisle of decision-making on the part of any supporters, be they potential visitors or other users, donors, partners or gatekeepers. As a commodity, the institution will lose impact at best, and ability to survive at worst.

Today markets and conditions aren’t just changing – they’re a blur. Actionable perspective on those three questions is not so much achieved as it is constantly sought. This is both the fun of our work and sometimes the frustration: to locate and understand the intersection of the mission of the institution and that of the market (make no mistake, your audience has a mission, too. What the organization does to mold this meeting of goals into something unique and relevant is the story it tells through the experiences it creates and its message. Exhibits, programs and communications that are relevant, accessible and accurate create an institutional promise that can take hold and, in the one last way, fulfill mission.


California Science Center
The Lawrence Hall of Science
San Francisco Exploratorium
Smithsonian: National Museum of Natural History