Spring/Summer 2020 was the last opportunity to use the Visitors Count! program to benchmark visitor survey results with museums and historic sites of similar type, size, location, and more. After 14 years, AASLH made the decision to discontinue the program in order to focus its attention on professional development for the field.
After the spring/summer group, research consultant debb Wilcox will offer the program on an ongoing basis for previous Visitors Count! participants only. If you have participated in Visitors Count! before and would like to continue working with debb, contact her directly.
What is Visitors Count?
Visitors Count! is AASLH’s visitor research program for mid- to large-sized museums and history organizations. This program provides the data and insights you need to create a successful and thriving history organization.
Visitors Count! clients receive a one-time use of the Visitors Count! survey instrument, guidance from AASLH staff from start to finish, data entry, processing and analysis, a final report, and a one-day meeting.
Participants in the program work with AASLH to customize a survey instrument and a plan for collecting replies. Then, an expert analyzes the data and creates a detailed custom report. The Visitors Count! report places your visitor survey data in perspective by comparing your results with similar museums, all while keeping your data confidential. It also provides statistically-derived “key drivers” that help you understand what makes for a great visitor experience at your unique institution. At the end of the survey and analysis period, participants are invited to Nashville for an optional (but highly recommended) meeting to discuss their findings with AASLH staff, the analyst who prepared their report, and other museums in the program.
Why is Benchmarking So Important?
Survey ratings only tell part of the story. Visitors Count! places your visitor survey data in perspective by comparing your results with museums similar to yours, all while keeping data confidential. Find out how you stack up to museums or sites in your region, those with similar budgets, and more. Visitors Count! is the only program that offers this valuable benchmarking feature.
Want to learn more? Watch this free informational webinar.
Why survey your visitors?
Gone are the days when you could base your museum or historic site’s definition of success on visitation totals, budget reports, or staff goals and objectives. Successful organizations understand what people expect, need, and want when visiting―and what will bring them back. And only your visitors can provide this critical insight.
It’s no longer enough to know why people visit museums and sites. You need to know why people come to your museum or site. What makes your museum unique? Only when you know this can you develop a visitor experience that builds audience loyalty and guarantees your doors stay open.
What types of surveys are there?
Gate Visitor Survey – The Gate Visitor survey collects data and feedback from general visitors to museums, historic sites, historic houses, and related institutions. If you want to survey your spring and summer visitors, the registration deadline is in mid-February each year. To survey your summer and fall visitors the sign-up deadline is June 1. Of course, there is some flexibility with seasons, particularly if your museum or site is located in an area where winter is a significant tourist season or you have other considerations you want to discuss with us. We are always happy to tailor your survey project so you can collect the most reliable and accurate data.
Once you register for Visitors Count!, AASLH works with you to create your survey instrument which is a combination of Visitors Count! questions and custom questions that focus on issues specific to your museum. We provide an online orientation session and program handbook along with personal service and guidance throughout the project. Once your survey instrument is ready, you distribute the questionnaires to people who visit your facility with the goal of collecting up to 100 completed surveys in each season (200 total). After data entry, processing and analysis, your final report is delivered electronically. An optional but highly recommended one-day meeting is held the following week in Nashville to help you understand your results, benchmarks, key drivers, and priorities for digging deeper. From start to finish, the process takes approximately 10 months.
The Teacher Survey – The Teacher survey collects data and feedback from teachers who bring their class to your facility for an onsite program. This program runs on the school year calendar. Sign up is each August. We work with you to create your survey instrument which is a combination of Visitors Count! questions and custom questions written to ask teachers about issues specific to your museum or site. We provide an online orientation session, program handbook and personal service and guidance throughout the project.
Once your survey instrument is ready, you distribute the questionnaire to teachers with the goal of collecting up to 100 completed surveys during the school year. There’s also a brief student survey; the goal is to collect up to 200 of them. After data entry, processing and analysis, your final report is delivered electronically the following September. An optional but highly recommended one-day meeting is then held one day prior to the start of the AASLH Annual Meeting in whichever city is hosting the conference to help you understand your results, benchmarks, key drivers, and priorities for digging deeper. From start to finish, the process takes about 12 months.
Spotlight Surveys – Spotlight surveys offer organizations that have used the Gate Visitor survey in the past fifteen months the opportunity to take a closer look at their marketing, exhibitions, or programs. Spotlight surveys are an affordable and quick way to shine a light on one key area and collect valuable visitor data. We work with you to customize the two-page survey instrument. Upon your collection and shipment of 150 completed surveys, Visitors Count! will deliver your electronic report in 6-8 weeks. Sign up for Spotlight surveys is year round.
How is Visitors Count unique from other survey programs?
A survey is more than a list of questions. In order to gather and receive the meaningful, actionable information you need to create and sustain a successful organization, you need a proven survey instrument.
Not every survey is a proven instrument.
AASLH worked with the Center for Nonprofit Management of Nashville for more than three years to develop and test each Visitors Count! survey instrument. Pilot sites across the country helped with survey development. Visitors Count! surveys are a combination of the following types of questions:
Survey questions were tested and piloted in the field. The result is an in-depth, detailed, and thorough look at your visitors that uses empirical, statistical, and rated data.
Visitors Count! has taken the guess work out of surveying. The results leave no doubt in your mind. When you use your survey results in reports to board members, requests to funders or communication with your community partners you can be confident with the data you are presenting.
AASLH always keeps your institution’s data confidential and preserves your results so when you decide to survey again (recommended every three to five years) you can compare the data to see if changes you made improved your position with visitors (or teachers).
How do I get started?
To enroll in the Visitors Count! survey program or find out more about how Visitors Count! can help your organization, contact Cherie Cook, AASLH Senior Program Manager, at email@example.com or 573-893-5164.
Visitors Count! Fees
- AASLH Member: $3,750
- Nonmember: $4,500
- Spotlight Survey: $1,850
Payment can be made in two installments (over two fiscal years for most institutions).
What’s included in the fee?
- One-time use of the survey instrument
- Guidance from Visitors Count! staff from start to finish
- Custom survey questions
- Data entry, expert analysis, easy-to-use report, and materials to help you prepare to present the results to others
- Materials to help you begin to dig deeper into your survey data and prioritize next steps
- Benchmarks (comparisons to similar organizations)
- Statistically derived list of areas most critical to your visitors which we call your Key Drivers
- Backup and storage of your report
- Complete confidentiality
- One-day meeting and ongoing communication with AASLH and Center for Nonprofit Management staff
Who else is using Visitors Count?
You can see a list of the organizations using Visitors Count on the Visitors Count! Client List
“We were planning to spend thousands of dollars to create an orientation video but Visitors Count! helped us understand that’s not what our visitors want. Participating in the Visitors Count Survey! was a smart move for us.” – Sarah Whiting, Executive Director, St. John’s Church Foundation
“Visitors Count helped us launch a very successful collaboration between our programming and exhibits departments to better understand what our visitors want. It changed the way we approach temporary exhibits.” – Melissa Tyer, Museum Educator, First Division Museum at Cantigny Park
“Fort Ticonderoga began working with Visitors Count in 2011 and we’ve repeated our visitor survey four times since then. Survey results have influenced our strategic plan, annual goals, and daily work. One area we were particularly interested in was addressing was “value.” Because we are perceived as a military site, our guests often assume we are a National Park and expect free or steeply discounted admission cost. Fort Ticonderoga is owned and operated by a nonprofit educational organization. We now inform our visitors how admission fees support our operational costs. Additionally, we have invested heavily in programs and product development to significantly expand our visitor experience across the 2000-acre site and onto the waters of Lake Champlain offering more than 14 tours a day and experiences for diverse audiences of all ages and backgrounds. The increased investment in programs and experiences as well as our ability to articulate the value of the experience and who we are as an organization has greatly impacted our overall rating in “value” for our guests. In fact, guests who spend the most money with us, with a boat and admission combination ticket, rate their experience overall the highest. Visitors Count! has been a key partner in Fort Ticonderoga’s success. We’ve used the program five times since 2011 and recommend it!” – Beth L. Hill, President and CEO, Fort Ticonderoga Association
“From simple to complex decisions, such as including a museum map in a new brochure to deepening our programming and exhibits for military audiences, the insights received through our Visitors Count! report were used immediately at the USS Constitution Museum.” – Jennifer K. Zanolli, Manager of Interpretation & Visitor Services, USS Constitution Museum
“From our first Visitors Count! survey, we learned that wayfinding was an issue for visitors. So we enhanced our gallery entrances and exits, enlarged directional signage, added an easy-to-follow map to our brochure, and posted docents in areas identified as confusing. When we repeated the Visitors Count! program, visitors’ comments were glowing. They were impressed with our galleries and the ease with which they were able to travel among them. Visitors Count! helped us quantify wayfinding problems and justify the resources needed to solve them.” – Lin Ezell, (former) Director, National Museum of the Marine Corps
“Naper Settlement participated in Visitors Count! so we could get to know those people who so often remain silent in our planning processes—our visitors. Through the program, we heard what we are doing right, what meets expectations and what needs work. When resources are tight, as they certainly are right now, this is critical information. We need to put our time, money and resources into the things that are most important to our customer base. This program is helping us to do that.” – Donna Sack, Vice-President, Chief Program Officer, Naper Settlement
Roanoke Island Festival Park (RIFP) Manteo, North Carolina
With Visitors Count! RIFP learned that its Key Drivers were all about offering visitors an experience that was fun, family-oriented, and focused on the mystery of Roanoke being the first colony before Jamestown. After completing the program, RIFP concluded that its branding and publicity material did not accurately convey those Key Drivers.
Using the scientific and comprehensive data that supported this claim, RIFP was able to secure several grants to rebrand all publicity material. They hired an outside consultant to create a new public face for the site and a strategic marketing campaign that included new advertising, publicity materials, corporate collateral, way-finding signage, and even a new tag line.
Once RIFP visitor numbers increased they could demonstrate strong community support and engagement with the public. With these successes, RIFP was able to receive $3 million from the State of North Carolina to overhaul existing exhibitions spaces and create new ones.
Again, RIFP turned to the results of the Visitors Count survey for guidance on what topics, subjects, and types of experiences visitors were looking for. From the survey, RIFP:
- Created a new living history experience on Native Americans
- Overhauled the Visitor Center
- Updated the Roanoke Adventure Museum
By using the results from the Visitors Count survey program, RIFP was able to learn what its visitors were looking for and then develop an advertising campaign and eventually new exhibition spaces to meet those expectations. RIFP created a thriving history site and continues to enjoy high visitor numbers which translates to stability and increased revenue for the organization.
National Civil Right Museum at The Lorraine Motek (NCRM) Memphis, Tennessee
The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee used the Visitors Count! program to help with a major strategic planning initiative involving the renovation of their permanent exhibitions and a new master interpretive plan. In 2008, NCRM was beginning the reinterpretation and redesign of their primary exhibition space. As they prepared to select a design firm, staff needed more information about who their visitors were and what they expected and wanted from their museum experience.
In their first survey from 2008, NCRM determined exactly what visitors were looking for:
- A chronological approach to the Civil Rights Movement instead of a thematic one
- More artifacts and film footage
- Increased attention to the Lorraine Motel’s significance as the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination
This was crucial information because staff were contemplating moving to a thematic approach of teaching the history of the Civil Rights Movement. The survey also identified that the Lorraine Motel was a Key Driver for visitors and a major association for the physical location of the museum and its connection to the Civil Rights Movement. Knowing this, the NCRM began using the Lorraine Motel more prominently in their marketing material. For example, on the website they refer to themselves now as The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel.
In 2010 NCRM had finished with its new strategic interpretation plan for the permanent space. They conducted their second Visitors Count! program to test how visitors responded to their interpretive plan in the current space (pre-renovation). They were able to use these results as a baseline for how to plan the new space. The newly designed space will open in Spring 2014. NCRM plans to use Visitors Count! a third time after the grand opening to again measure visitors’ experiences and compare the data with the 2010 results.
Visitors Count! also helped NCRM create, for the first time, a visitor demographic matrix. Now, NCRM knows the exact demographics of its visitors, what they are looking for, and how they change throughout the year. This information can be used for strategic planning to ensure high and consistent attendance.
NCRM staff were also able to establish their economic footprint on the community. This data, along with the visitor demographic matrix, allows for better fundraising and gives development staff solid information when making local requests for support. When fundraising for the renovation, NCRM was able to use this data to secure not only local sources of revenue, but national funding as well.
Visitors Count! Client List
Visitors Count client list by region.