What if you could inspire children to see the world differently? Since its founding in 1954, Coyote Point Museum has served as a center for engaging children and families with the natural world. The museum encourages its young visitors to explore and investigate the world around them. With interactive science exhibits, live animal encounters, and hands-on environmental science programs, the museum encourages children to get up close with the natural world. Almost 100,000 people visit the museum each year to see its exhibits, programs, wildlife, and gardens.
Yet in July 2006, that was all about to change. Facing a financial crisis with annual operating deficits, an ever-changing leadership team, and outdated exhibits, the museum announced it would close. That news rallied former board members and the community at large to take action, and in just 30 days, this committed group raised more than $500,000. With a new board and executive leadership in place, the museum was looking for fresh strategies to sustain its momentum. Enter the Alumni Consulting Team (ACT), and its eight MBAs determined to make a significant difference.
According to ACT Project Co-Leader Fred Thiemann, MBA ’67, "This was the best team I’ve ever worked with — part of that had to do with the rewarding work we were doing, we could see things happening, and it was a business planning exercise that had some teeth to it."
The Objectives and Methodology
From early April 2009 to the end of September 2009, the ACT volunteers set out to develop a five-year plan with a focus on increasing the museum's earned income, which at the time of the initial engagement was at 30 percent of total revenue. According to the museum's new Executive Director Rachel Meyer, the ACT consultants recommended a market analysis plan, which initially surprised her, but she says was absolutely the right approach, adding, "Right out of the gate, they were looking at our institutional readiness, and were helping us answer tough questions about our future — where do we fit, how do we differentiate, and are we on a path that is sustainable?"
The ACT consultants split into two groups, one team focused internally and the other was external facing. They conducted extensive interviews with the board of directors, the museum staff, school administrators, and comparable non-profit organizations. They also analyzed operating data, and surveyed local parents' clubs and museum members. After conducting a classic positioning exercise and SWOT Analysis that evaluated strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, the ACT consultants made six major recommendations: one, focus CPM efforts; two, strengthen the brand; three, expand school science education programming; four, increase revenue from summer camps; five, encourage drop-in visits; and six, address related issues (such as planned construction) but stay focused.
Says Meyer, "For a small non-profit, there is a certain cache to working with Stanford MBAs - a legitimacy to our efforts. While we had a strategic direction going into the ACT project, the work from the ACT consultants underlies most of what we are now doing to implement that direction. They pushed us in the right directions."
The Team’s Recommendations and Results
To date, the Coyote Point Museum has implemented many of the recommendations from the ACT consultants. For instance, it narrowed its target market by focusing on five- to nine-year-olds, and strengthened its brand as "experts at providing experiential education." That branding message was later refined to "we provide up close and personal experiences with the natural world." Using the ACT work, the museum conducted additional branding exercises now underway. Summer camps were restructured to increase revenue - shifting the age focus to grades 1 to 4, and prices were increased to be in line with comparable museums. Work is also underway to renovate the museum, beginning with the de-installation of the exhibit hall - which will be used for rental space in the short-run. The museum is also focused on building compelling programs with a high "wow" value that will meet educational requirements.
Meyer says they have applied for a grant to fund efforts to make exhibits mobile to enhance off-site classes, a revenue generator, and particularly important during the construction phase. And so far, she says, "We've been encouraged by robust attendance, positive feedback from parents, and enthusiastic reaction from the kids. Our attendance is up by 13 percent, membership is up by 10 percent, and the vast majority of our marketing is now viral - people are talking about us more and we've embraced social media and are now on Facebook and Twitter. Everyone seems to understand that this is not the same old Coyote Point Museum."
Says Thiemann, "The process was smooth, the team was fun to work with, and we could see our results, our recommendations just made sense. Several team members had young children - the museum had been part of their kid's life, so they had a real gut interest in making it work. We also learned a great deal from the museum’s dedicated board, and they learned from us too - every team member brought a different area of expertise. I think the key takeaway message is that if you get emotionally involved in what the organization is trying to do, then that will make the results that much more rewarding." And the Coyote Point ACT engagement is a great example.
Coyote Point Museum Consulting Engagement: Fast Facts
Challenge: Coyote Point Museum (CPM), a leader in environment education for 50+ years, averted a financial crisis four years ago, and now needed to develop a sustainable five-year marketing plan with a focus on increasing earned income.
Solution: ACT consultants developed a detailed strategic marketing plan with six major recommendations - focusing on everything from strengthening the brand to enhancing science education programming, to boosting revenue from summer camps, to creating new interactive, age-appropriate exhibits that would promote re-visits.
Results: Having implemented most of the ACT recommendations, CPM has seen attendance increase 13% and membership increase 10%.
- Chuck Battey, MBA ’85
- Gabriele Famous, MSM ’07
- Leo Joseph, MBA ’96
- Malin Leschly, MBA ’99
- Joan Roy, HBS ’93
- John F. Stephenson, MBA ’74
- Fred Thiemann, MBA ’67
- Anne Ting, MBA ’00