Ideas for Funding Your Organization’s Visitor Research

By Cherie Cook, Senior Program Manager, AASLH

Visitor satisfaction is a “big deal,” writes Colleen Dilenschneider in her blog post “The Three Most Important Reasons to Prioritize Visitor Satisfaction. It “plays a major role in making sure that organizations can both execute their missions and keep their doors open.”

Since 2006, AASLH has been helping museums, historic sites and houses, and other organizations learn more about their visitor experience and whether it meets people’s expectations (or not). By offering visitor and teacher survey components, our Visitors Count! program guides organizations in collecting valuable data and feedback so they can measure satisfaction and include visitors’ and teachers’ voices in planning, program development, marketing and other areas. More than two hundred organizations across the U.S. and in Canada have used the program.

However, while many museums and historic sites recognize the value of visitor research, it is often a low priority due to cost and pressing needs like facility maintenance and repair, especially for organizations that own and operate historic structures.

Indeed, the Visitors Count! program is AASLH’s highest priced program at $3,750 for member institutions and $4,500 for non-members. We’re told, however, that’s less expensive than what museums and sites typically pay for a visitor survey. Moreover, Visitors Count! offers something that few, if any, vendors can provide and that’s our benchmarks. Visitors Count! benchmarking data helps an organization place its survey results in perspective by comparing the results with similar museums and sites. Access to these comparisons helps the organization avoid dedicating precious resources like money and time to an issue that, when viewed in the context of similar institutions, may not be the red flag it initially appears to be. Likewise, an organization may realize that its “high” visitor ratings may in fact be lower than what institutions of similar type, budget size, governance structure, and geographic location received.

Last month, two organizations from upstate New York began Visitors Count! survey projects after receiving funding from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation of Syracuse, New York. Both the Onondaga Historical Association headquartered in Syracuse, and Cayuga Museum of History and Art in Auburn, will collect visitor surveys this summer and fall.

“Gaining real insights about visitor experiences is invaluable to cultural and historical organizations,” says Deryn Pomeroy, Pomeroy Trustee. “At the Pomeroy Foundation, we know that when an organization has a tool that can help them to quantify those experiences, then they are in a much better position to give their best and deliver on visitors’ expectations. AASLH’s Visitors Count! program is an exceptional resource for organizations to understand visitor feedback with actual numbers and insights. That’s why we wanted to provide support so these two great organizations can have the opportunity to dive deeper into their numbers and feedback, and perhaps even inspire others to continue to pursue serving their visitors with the highest quality experiences.”

Foundations appear to be the most common source of support for Visitors Count! participants. In post-project evaluations, nine of twenty-three organizations stated they received funding from a foundation when asked, “If your organization received funding specifically to support participation in Visitors Count!, please provide a general idea of the funding source.” Other respondents reported their funding came from the following sources: IMLS grant, donor restricted or board managed funds, state humanities council, county grant, an individual, convention and visitors bureau, internal grant fund, provincial government regional development funding (Canada), and federal innovation communities fund (also Canada).

If you are interested in conducting a survey of visitors or teachers, I encourage you to research whether there are foundations in your area that may be interested in receiving a grant proposal from your organization. The Foundation Center is a great place to begin your research.


Learn more about Visitors Count!