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Ask an Expert: What Else Can We Digitize?

Category: Alliance Blog
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After the explosive digital growth of the past few years, what are the greatest areas of technological opportunity for museums going forward?

With the new needs imposed by the pandemic, museums have seen considerable digital growth over the past few years. Not only have they begun to deliver more content and programming online, but to adopt more digital tools that support core operations like ticketing, communications, and fundraising. At a time when many institutions are reconsidering their efficiency, workplace culture, and social impact, such tools might play a key part in streamlining and bolstering their day-to-day functions, helping them to open up to more of the world in more meaningful ways than ever before.

To find out how this might happen, we called in an expert. Dale Strange is the President & General Manager for Arts & Cultural Business at Blackbaud, a software company that helps organizations focused on social good increase their impact through digital tools. He told us about his observations working with museums and what he considers their greatest areas of opportunity for digital growth in the future.

In your years of working with museums, how have you seen their digital strategies evolve?

I’ve had the privilege of working with museums for the past nine years and I have seen a complete transformation in their use of digital technologies in every aspect of their business. Guests and members are interacting with museums in entirely different ways than they were even five years ago, and we have technology in place to allow them to engage long before and after their visits. Museum professionals have adapted along with their audience to utilize more robust management systems for communications, events, and tickets. Perhaps the best thing to come out of this digital transformation is that museums are at the forefront of public discourse, and the perception of them has evolved to more than just keepers of the past. By embracing technology, museums have increased their relevancy and officially entered the chat.

How would you characterize the current digital fluency of the average museum workplace, and how could it be stronger?

Museum professionals serve a diverse population, and their staff is likely just as diverse as the patrons entering through their doors. This diversity is what makes Blackbaud’s Arts & Cultural business so special, because we serve all kinds of museums ranging from modern art to baseball and literally everything in between. This level of staff diversity likely means that everyone has different comfort levels with the digitally connected world.

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Museums have always had all these wonderful academics on their staffs, but in the past, without technology, their expertise was often not widely accessible out of the four walls of the organization. Now that we have different digital communication platforms out there, opportunities to share knowledge are abundant. The key is just for museums to connect different members of their staff together to be able to communicate ideas and design content that is easily digestible to their audiences.

What do you think is the biggest opportunity museums are missing to use digital tools to improve their operations?

While most museums now offer an online platform for ticketing, memberships, donations, and reservations, there are still some ways to automate operations and streamline staff efforts. What we don’t see is museums utilizing recurring giving enough. The public is well used to having monthly payments for services, but they may not be aware that they can donate to their favorite museums in the same way. There are tools available, such as Blackbaud Altru, that have an easy recurring giving functionality that makes charging credit cards for membership payments and donations simple for patrons. This also provides a steady income stream for museums that requires little manpower. Another way to use digital tools in the development office is by using wealth modeling and prospect research. Robust screening tools can do the work for you in presenting you with a list of promising prospects so you can make the right ask. With so many great digital tools out there, there are even more opportunities for museums to raise support to further their mission more than they thought possible.

How can a strong digital strategy impact employee satisfaction? Is there potential to use tools in a way that frees up time and energy for meaningful tasks?

A strong digital strategy with the right technology can greatly increase employee satisfaction and streamline operations. Museum staff having access to real-time data on all aspects of the operation is necessary to shaping success moving forward. The guest services team needs to be able to report on what is working and how happy patrons are, which flows up to the membership and development teams helping to nurture relationships with them. The ability to convert ticket buyers into members and donors is critical to the success of every museum in the long term for sustainability. A clear strategy on how to manage these conversions along with tools like I mentioned above have been proven to save staff time so that they can focus on what is most important to them, caring for their museum’s collections and people.

How can the efficiency of using digital tools affect the impact of museums more broadly? Have you seen institutions manage to do more for their communities by using technology?

We have seen the museums we work with embrace their new platform that technology has given them in several new and innovative ways. Museums have been able to host their events digitally and attract a far larger audience than just who is able to come through their doors. Lecture series, chats with curators, virtual field trips, and silent auctions are just a few of the programs that our customers have been putting on. With the right digital tools, these museums have been able to raise more support than ever before and steward these new relationships efficiently. This means a greater impact and a more forward-thinking vision for their organization. The right technology makes all the difference and can help turn amazing moments into lifelong relationships.

Headshot of Dale Strange

Dale Strange is President and General Manager of Blackbaud’s Arts and Cultural division. This business unit strengthens our communities through a commitment to Arts and Cultural experiences and focuses on providing solutions to museums, zoos, ballets, aquariums, botanical gardens, performing arts organizations, conservation groups, and historical societies to increase their membership, improve the visitor experience, accelerate fundraising, and engage supporters.

As a seasoned executive, Dale leads with 25 years’ experience within the technology and telecommunications sectors. He has served as Chief Operating Officer of Blackbaud’s General Markets Group and led Blackbaud’s International Market Group overseeing Europe and Asia operations. Prior to joining Blackbaud in the spring of 2014, Dale spent 13 years in various senior leadership positions at Dell Technologies, a multi-national provider of technology products and services to more than eighty countries around the globe. Under his solid leadership, the business achieved record customer experience improvements and expanded service capabilities to support Dell’s $60B business.

Dale is passionate about the arts and outdoors. He’s an avid marathon runner having completed twelve to date, and often running for charities. Dale recently became one of less than one thousand individuals to complete every World Major Marathon which culminated in the completion of the Tokyo Marathon.

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