French Lessons in Donor and Visitor Engagement

How is your summer? I am just back from Paris, the beautiful Loire Valley and sunny Provence in France. It was my first trip to Europe. When you have babies in your 20s and start a business at 30 there isn’t much time for travel.

I went with my brother to celebrate his 50th birthday. We figured going someplace where everything was half a millennium old would make being half a century old seem young. And clearly I have spent too much of my life catering to children. I kept looking at quaint French villages and thinking they look just like Disney.

Every day was filled with visits to museums and historical monuments and sites. Somehow it was all so much more interesting than when I had to take Art History in college. I was supposed to be on vacation, but kept seeing examples of visitors and donors more deeply connected so I thought I’d share a bit with you.

We started out in Paris where my friend Katia Blanchard Lapeyre, Private Events Manager at la chez Musee de Louvre, was able to give us a guided tour.

Did I mention it was on Tuesday when the Louvre was closed! We got to see the Mona Lisa all by ourselves.  I am still pinching myself. 

Katia said the Louvre has only recently begun individual giving. Despite its size, even they cannot afford to acquire everything the want so they decided to experiment to find other ways to fund acquisitions. They created a very focused campaign to buy a piece of furniture. Initially, individuals could contribute as little as 1 euro to become part of the effort. They hung a huge banner in the museum about the campaign and have some simple temporary banners listing the donor names. It was hugely successful in getting new people involved and really ended up working like an internal crowdfunding campaign.

The Louvre is also using their brand very effectively in their events to create really individualized experiences for donors. Katia shared the work she has been doing to create enticing major giving packages that include allowing the donor to hold an event in the museum as part of the opportunity.  Luckily for you I recorded our conversation and it will be coming out as a podcast in a few weeks. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes to be sure to catch it.

Next we headed southwest to Chartres Cathedral. Cathedrals were my favorite part of Art History. I am fascinated by the fact that people could imagine and construct something so massive and enduring so long ago. This version of Chartres was begun in 1194. It has these crazy mismatched spires that I love. One got struck by lightning in 1506 and that architect decided rebuild it in the High Gothic flamboyant style. You know what its like when the new boss comes along and wants to chase the latest trends…Noah_IMG_1833

On this trip I got to see the inside and hear the story of the windows. Back in the 12th century, the cathedral was the place for education and the center of the community. The windows each tell a story. Most people couldn’t read so they translated the stories into pictures so all the people could participate. A critical part of storytelling is making sure your intended audience understands. That is often missed in all the talk about the importance of storytelling. This one is the story of Noah.  Click here for  a key to reading the panel. My favorite is scene #33 — Noah getting drunk. Nice to know they had a sense of humor in the dark ages.

The other interesting fact about these windows is that they were donated by groups of craftsmen and merchants. Colored glass windows were expensive.  Specific windows were donated by the butchers, the farriers, the shoemakers, etc. Just like putting your name on a building, the donors are showcased in the panels.

For more than 800 years people have come together to contribute to creating something greater than themselves. To literally become part of the story. It was really inspiring.

On Creating Experiences

Further south we stopped to visit Chambord Castle. We had to see it. My parents used to give us Chambord Liqueur when we had a cough as kids. My parents are awesome.

The Chateaus are now mostly state run organizations. Who else could afford to heat them? Here we saw some interesting things in visitor engagement. Many places only have tours and signage in French, which I can’t speak at all. I came here knowing the art terms trompe l’oeil and papier-mâché. Not the most helpful travel words. I have since picked up the much more useful “toilette.”

Many sites had what looked like great apps that gave you an enhanced experience of the site. The Eiffel Tower, Versailles, the Chateaus all had them. But we found out about them on a sign at the site which, if we were lucky, had some English. I now appreciate the design and accessibility challenge of deciding when to offer translation. They provided a QR code to download the app, but I had removed the reader to save space for pictures. And, as foreigners, we didn’t have cell service to download it on site. This is where a wifi hub would have been brilliant.

At Chambord, they offered a rented ipad with a virtual reality tour and a treasure hunt for kids. There were cute icons all over and clues that families could search together. It was a perfect choice for that specific space since it was cavernous and had almost no furniture. Running kids were no problem and no one was whining or crying. I’ve dragged my kids on educational excursions so I know how rare and blessed that is.

Technology has been growing as an engagement enhancer to onsite experiences. One of my staff was at Universal Studios the same week. She bought her son a magic wand in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Throughout the park there were medallions in the ground that showed a wand movement and spell to say that would trigger some action around them.

The worlds of education and entertainment draw closer together every day. It will be interesting to see if the new beacon technology will take hold and add something valuable. I could see this working well at museums, conferences, city, garden and college tours. Have you tried it in your organization? I’d love to hear from you so we can share it on the podcast.

Lifting Your Head Up

I’m not known as a good vacationer. I haven’t had a lot of practice and, as you can see, I’m still squeezing in a little work. This year I am trying to learn that stepping away from the day-to-day is important. I can’t tell you how many times I have sent a designer or a writer home because they were fighting the problem only to come in the next morning and nail it.

Stepping away and thinking about other things can really spark creativity. I need to remind myself of this. You may, too.

I hope you took some time this summer to change gears, and do something that re-energizes you and shifts your perspective.

Being in Europe was a rare treat for me. Its totally different, and I was mostly without my beloved technology.  I left my laptop in the care of my staff. I couldn’t look things up on Google, research restaurants on the go or check directions. I had to actually look around and live in the moment, make uninformed choices, wander, get lost and not ask Siri for help. It was unsettling and disruptive. That probably means I need to do it more.

Next summer I’ll head to Spain with my youngest son to celebrate his college graduation. He speaks the language so I’m basically trading translation for transportation.  I’m looking for new friends with connections for private tours there now … call me!