We help museums and cultural organizations add value to more people's lives.


How can design research help cultural organizations add value to more people’s lives?

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Museums require engaged audiences to survive and thrive. Museums must communicate the value of their offerings effectively to engage their audiences. However, many museums are not systematically studying their audiences, or they are limiting their efforts to visitor surveys. This lack of insight as to audience motivations hampers museums’ ability to acquire more visitors, increase enrollment, and raise money.

We hypothesize that cultural organizations can benefit from applying Jobs To Be Done thinking to solve customer (member/donor) related-problems.

Research Objectives

The primary objective of this research is to identify the underlying motivations that drive engagement so that museums can develop distinct value propositions. 

The secondary objective of this study is to identify and size museum member/donor segments.

The information learned from this study will museums communicate more effectively to specific audience segments.

Research Questions

  • Define engagement…

    • From a cultural organization perspective.

    • From a member/donor perspective.

  • How do members/donors differentiate between visiting, joining, and donating?

  • What mental models support engagement from a member/donor perspective?

  • How do cultural organizations currently seek to understand the member/donor experience? 

    • What methods do they currently employ?

      • How effective are they?

    • What methods have they tried in the past?

      • Why did they “fire” them?

  • What mental models do cultural organizations currently use when thinking about the donor/member relationship?

  • How do cultural organizations establish their value propositions?

    • How do these approaches compare (in terms of speed, quality, cost, etc.)?

  • What perceptions do leaders at cultural organizations believe is motivating people to visit, join, and donate? 

    • What informs these beliefs? 

  • What motivates members/donors to become members or donors?

  • Do visitor reviews of these organizations reflect the reasons people “hire” these organizations, if at all (stated vs. revealed preferences)?

Approach & Methodology

We will conduct a multi-phase, mixed-method, research project to answer the above.

Phase 1: Literature Review

  • Conduct an analysis of secondary data to identify and/or define the correct segment, i.e. members or donors.

  • Identify research conducted using “JTBD” for museums or similar visitation-based membership nonprofits.

Phase 2: Survey

  • Sampling criteria

  • Screener

  • Create a questionnaire

  • Analysis and Synthesis

Phase 3: Interview(s)

  • Using data from Phase 1, identify segments to conduct interviews

  • Get legal release for constituent interviews

  • Screener

  • Discussion Guide

  • Interviews (recorded)

  • Analysis and Synthesis



07-18-19: Launched survey of org leaders. Survey questions are:

  • At what type of museum or cultural organization do you work?

  • How many people visited your organization last year?

  • What motivates people to become members or join your organization?

  • What motivates people to donate to your organization?

  • What motivates people to visit your organization?

  • In the last two years, has your organization spent time or money on studying its audience or constituents?

    • (If “yes”): In what ways has your organization studied its audience or constituents?

  • What best describes your current or most recent role at work?

  • Would you like me to share the 100% anonymous results of this survey with you?

Soon, we’ll share an anonymized view of survey submissions here.

07-30-19: This week, we’ll be contacting survey respondents to request interviews, and preparing a field guide for interviews.

08-05-19: Interviewing executive directors at cultural institutions who responded to our survey. This will provide a better look at how leaders view audience motivations, what informs their beliefs, and what obstacles they face in understanding audience segments.

08-12-19: Continue interviewing; Begin coding survey responses.

08-19-19: Contacting respondents from larger museums to request interviews and coding survey responses.

If you’d like to keep up with our research, consider joining the SuperHelpful mailing list.

How do museum leaders view audience engagement and motivations?

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About the survey

118 people have responded to our survey.

Who has taken the survey?


Role of Respondents

What best describes your current or most recent role at work?

Annual Visitation

How many people visited your organization last year?

Type of Institution

At what type of museum or cultural organization do you work?

Visitor Research

We’ve received 104 responses to our survey of museum leaders about audience motivations. Here’s a peek at survey results for list members.

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What do museum leaders belief about visitor motivations?

I’ve categorized responses into ten categories. (Other includes very low frequency responses — like online reviews or word of mouth.)


Visitor Motivations

What motivates people to visit your organization?

Museum-centered vs audience-centered

I’m thinking about these visitation themes as belonging to a few broader categories:

  • Museum-centered motivations: Respondents who cited things like subject matter, price, and location are thinking of visitor motivations more in terms of what the museum offers.

  • Audience-centered motivations: Respondents who cited things like social motivations or entertainment were thinking of motivations more from the visitor’s perspective.

  • Other: Either there were only a few responses for these motivators (e.g., marketing/communications, reviews, commercial) or — in the case of weather, which itself was cited only six times — it doesn’t fit the model of museum-centered vs audience-centered.

Categorizing museum leaders’ perspectives on visitor motivations

I’m not entirely comfortable with these categories. For example, if a respondent believes some people are motivated to visit the museum because of it’s price/cost, is that a “museum-centered' motivation”? Price is an aspect of what the museum offers, but even so you might find overlap with what I’d call an "audience-centered motivation.” For example, someone who is looking for an educational experience for their child at a relatively low price. Can you really separate those?

And what about the difference between some of the sub-themes — for example, how is “education/curiosity” and different than “self-improvement/other”? Isn’t education a form of self-improvement?

Again, I’m not totally happy with these distinctions, but — in the case of education/curiosity versus self-improvement — I’m trying to distinguish between more surface or vague statements about educational interests and those respondents who expressed a deeper motive on the part of visitors.

Let’s look at some examples. Remember, the question is, “What motivates people to visit your organization?”


  • “Special events or programs, educational play space, inexpensive, great rainy day activity, play dates”

  • “Curiosity, information...”

  • “history of local area”

  • “Affordable opportunities for early learning, family fun”


(Emphasis added; Some editing to remove identifying information)

  • “Presidential/ founding era history, world heritage site recognized architecture, natural beauty, and honest dialogue on difficult topics like slavery

  • “Guests want a combo experience where they enjoy an unique experience that is fun with a trace of education. I worked for a children's museum in the west that hired a researcher to investigate parent motivation for attending a children's museum. What we found was that parents felt better about themselves when they took their children to fun experiences that were also educational.”

  • ‘Pilgrimage’ to the birthplace of… Immersive experience. Learning new things. Hands on historical objects. ‘Quaint’ location… and "I was passing by and had to stop when I saw the sign" - sense of duty.”

  • “Interest in history; sometimes a mixture of patriotism and interest in history; location and setting”

As I write this, I’m beginning to think that “Self-Improvement/Identity” would be a more accurate way to distinguish this category from “Education/Curiosity.”

Is the distinction clearer having read those examples?

Do you get the sense that I have an agenda in making these distinctions?

Maybe I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m not prepared to listen to the findings and admit that my assumptions may be wrong.

For example, as I was putting these categories together, I realized I was expecting a different outcome as to how many respondents were thinking more from the museum’s perspective rather than from the audience’s perspective. In my experience, organizations often struggle to think in terms of audience motives. I expected more respondents to be thinking in “museum-centered” terms.

As you can see, the majority of respondents have described audience motivations in ways that at least included some of what I’m describing as audience-centered categories. I think this is something special about museums — they may be naturally more tuned in to their audiences than many other kinds of nonprofits.

Defining Engagement

In interviews of museum leaders, we asked how they define engagement. Here’s what we heard.

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