Your Nature Center Isn’t Spending Enough on Marketing
I like to learn about nature centers by reading their reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp, and similar websites. There are praising remarks and critical ones, but nothing says “Kiss of Death” like a review that describes a center as “______’s best-kept secret.”
The reviewers may consider “best-kept secret” to be a compliment, but no center administrator I know aspires to that title. He or she has lit a candle, and does not want it under a bushel.
Nonetheless, many nature centers are, in fact, their community’s “best-kept secret.” A study completed last year by the National Audubon Society and several major universities looked at nature centers and how they are known and valued by the people who live near them. The study didn’t just talk to nature center visitors—it sampled the entire local population, Roper-poll-style. There is a wealth of interesting information in the results (some of which can be found in a recent posting on the Association of Nature Center Administrators’ website). What attracted my attention, though, was the listing of major issues and challenges that prevented respondents from visiting their local center. According to the study’s authors, “lack of awareness was the major constraint to visitation for our sample of respondents.” In other words, the people said, “Nature center? What nature center?”
Why are such wonderful places so unknown? I think the answer may be pretty simple: They aren’t spending enough money on marketing.
A quick online search suggests that most experts think non-profits should spend 5% to 15% of their annual operating revenue on marketing. That includes:
- All your advertising and promotion media, including internet, newspaper, radio, TV, and direct mail;
- Your design, production, and printing costs;
- The time of staff, consultants, and freelancers.
Because I worked for Audubon for many years, I am familiar with the marketing dollars spent by many of the nature centers in the recent study. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples, Florida, spends about 2% of their operating income on marketing, not including staff time (which would likely kick them up a couple more percentage points). In the survey, 82% of their local survey respondents had heard of them. Most of the other Audubon Centers spend less than one-half of 1% on marketing (also not counting staff time). Their “awareness scores” range from 70% down to 29%.
How much is your center spending? And how big a secret are you?