NLN12: Transforming an Organization with Ellen Rosenthal

EllenRosenthal-headshotIn this episode of the Nonprofit Leaders Network Podcast series we welcome Ellen Rosenthal of Conner Prairie, close to Indianapolis, Indiana.

Conner Prairie has transformed from a very traditional outdoor history museum into a vibrant, busy family and educative destination, providing immersive learning about nature, technology, arts and crafts and the natural environment, all in a historical context. They are also the summer home of the Indianapolis Symphony. With visitations last year of just over 360,000 they are now one of the most visited outdoor history museums in the country.

Here are some of the highlights from our talk:

Rethinking Purpose Opens Doors To Greater Impact

We believed we were educating visitors by spewing information at them, but we were turning them off; they really didn’t want to take in reams of information when they were trying to have a fun day out. So we had to rethink what we were really trying to do. Se we started to record actual guest visits and found they were confused and bored with what we were offering. When we started encouraging people to explore, be hands-on, and follow their interests, they had much deeper engagement and satisfaction. That became the start point for our transformation.

Stop Assuming – And Have A Greater Impact

We have to go beyond focus groups and traditional feedback forms, and find ways to look at how people are actually behaving, responding to our offerings. It is hard to do, but essential to bring about true transformational change.

Be Patient. Big Changes Don’t Happen Overnight

At Conner Prairie this change took six or seven years. Alongside the mission and offering change, there were a lot of other realignment and skills diversification happening at the same time. The motive of staff and board members being with you in the first place relates directly to their own identify and their belief in what you are doing. Being sensitive to that and making significant change to your organization takes time and sustained effort.

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