In Historic Reversal of Policy, Met to Start Charging Admission Fees

Branding is just as important for nonprofits as it is for private enterprises. In today’s marketplace, nonprofits are up against stiff competition from a variety of industries for consumers’ attention, and effective communications are nearly impossible without a public identity that your constituents can understand and recognize.

One major U.S. institution just reversed perhaps its most notable policy, and the price its brand will pay in the long run is uncertain.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (more popularly known as “the Met”) has been free to the public since the 1970s – that is, until now. Organizational leadership has announced that non-New York residents will now have to pay a $25 fee to enter.

Residing inside a publicly owned building, the Met is the largest art museum in the country, and its nearly 50 years of pay-what-you-want entry fees contributed to its international stature and cemented its identity as a truly democratic cultural resource.

During a visit in September, I participated in the pay-what-you-want system and gave the Met $25. In theory, visitors who can afford this recommended fee offset the cost for others who cannot readily pay. Some critics suggest that the museum did not effectively communicate this concept over the years.

Museum officials have cited two trends that led to the policy change: the last decade has seen yearly attendance sore by three million, while the percentage of visitors donating the suggested amount has plummeted by 46 percent. Additionally, the institution has struggled with mismanagement (its director Thomas P. Campbell resigned in ignominy last year), and it tackled its massive deficit only after receiving an $80 million gift from the estate of the late Herbert Irving, the largest gift the Met has ever received.

That life-sustaining donation, however, went toward stalled projects, such as a massive expansion planned for a contemporary art gallery. None of it was earmarked for subsidizing visitor access to the storied museum.

Arts and culture writers have pointed out that the change in policy diminishes the Met’s fame and character. Writing for the New Yorker, Alexandra Schwartz argues that accessibility of the museum “is an ethical mission, and an especially important one in a city that feels more and more closed.” Considering NYC’s increasingly prohibitive cost of living, the introduction of admission fees at the city’s historically free world-class museum does seem like the end of an era.

The art critic Roberta Smith from the New York Times specifically criticized the policy’s differentiation of visitors: “It divides people into categories — rich and poor, native and foreign.” Long billed as a shining example of equal access, the museum’s somewhat confusing admissions policy now separates visitors into different groups.

What these writers make clear is that this policy change marks a turning point in the museum’s history. Once, the Met was accessible, democratic, and open; now, it is like any other museum, a reality even more painful considering that its building is publicly owned.

There are no easy solutions for the Met’s woes. Perhaps the greatest takeaway from the situation is a cautionary tale: prioritize your organization’s key objectives and brand-affirming practices and proactively communicate them to the community and your audiences. Organizations will find themselves suddenly entering periods of change, so best to plan ahead and craft an effective messaging strategy for when difficult decisions need to be made.

How Nonprofit Management Should Treat Pro-Labor Millennials

Previously on Nonprofit Pro Media, we discussed the economic distress experienced by millennials, and how their financial plight has changed public opinion on labor organizing.

Unions experienced a precipitous drop-off in membership from the 1970s to the present. The public’s understanding and appreciation of labor unions followed a similar trajectory. The advent of the sharing economy, however, has resulted in a decidedly pro-labor environment, as contract workers in the rising millennial workforce miss out on the benefits that older generations enjoyed while struggling to make ends meet.

There are a number of reasons why nonprofits should treat pro-labor staffers with respect, valuing their opinions and working with them to create a more just workplace equipped to pursue the social good.

In today’s marketplace, millennials offer a number of indispensable skills; they excel at digital marketing, understand how to employ software to enhance productivity, and are adept at quickly researching and synthesizing disparate bits of information to solve complex problems. Additionally, millennials are passionate about social causes, including labor rights. Unions are adapting to millennial interests – such as social justice and equality – in efforts to appeal to them.

If your organization wants to attract the best talent of this generation, you cannot afford to under-compensate or exploit your workers. Doing so will hamstring your organization’s ability to hire skilled and passionate employees, thereby threatening your nonprofit’s efficiency in the long-run.

Furthermore, millennials make up a growing share of the voting public. This past election cycle, Generations X and Y surpassed baby boomers as the largest share of votes cast. Whether or not today’s political class is willing to accept it, millennials will soon be the decision-makers. Public policy affects all sectors, including nonprofits; building good faith and affinity with rising generations today can pave the way toward a fruitful relationship with the political class of tomorrow.

Here are five steps nonprofit management can take to ensure a just workplace:

1) Be Transparent
This may sound obvious, but as we explored in the second post of this series, nonprofits often overwork their employees. One deceitful way of doing so includes withholding key details of an employee’s rights and benefits. While nonprofit professionals are committed to advancing the social good, they also want to live balanced lives, and should be able to take advantage of all their contract has to offer.

2) Encourage Your Workers’ Passion
Studies show that millennial workers value employers who provide them with opportunities to contribute to the social good. While nonprofit professionals are able to work toward positive social causes on a daily basis, there is always room for organizational management to further harness the passions of its staff. Make sure to engage your millennial employees; ask them how the organization can better pursue its mission and adhere to its values. Invite discussion around the most pressing issues facing your nonprofit’s particular area of focus. Doing so will prevent daily work from becoming rote while strengthening your staff’s commitment to the organization’s agenda.

3) Understand Labor Rights
It’s the law: employees can express opinions about labor organizing and confer with their colleagues without interference from management. The fundraising affiliate for U.S. PIRG and Environment America shuttered entire offices that had threatened to unionize. The organization also pursued anti-labor polices that the National Labor Relations Board deemed illegal. Do not waste your organization’s resources on potential legal trouble: you will only tarnish your nonprofit’s image in the process.

4) Open Dialogue
If you are concerned that your organization cannot cope with a unionized workforce, talk with your employees instead of trying to derail their conversations. Many private businesses run disinformation campaigns to stymie labor organizing. This could have the unwanted effect of sowing division among your workforce – the last thing that a nonprofit needs. By addressing employee’s concerns from the start, you can prevent the situation from getting more complicated.

5) Provide a Seat at the Table
When everyone’s voice is heard, it is easier to work together. If your workers unionize, don’t panic. Nonprofits already navigate the back-and-forth between management, board, and funders. Educate your organization’s key stakeholders about the merits of unionizing and how it can benefit your organization’s brand by connecting with the key interests of millennials. At the end of the day, creating a just and fair workplace not only creates staff cohesion, but builds longevity.

PricingPrivacy PolicyRefund Policy