Elaine holds her phone up a moment, goes to the museum’s website, and with a couple of clicks she’s made a donation to our Save Our Stories campaign. The entire process has barely interrupted our conversation. In the time it takes to enjoy a few bites of our lunch, my colleague has explored our message, seen the value of the campaign, is impressed with the cool logo, and assumes enough trust in our platform to link her personal information for the donation. We both take the speed of the transaction for granted. A sign, indeed, of the amazing times we share. A rapidity unimagined only a few years back, has become the routine, the expected.
I’m glad it went so smoothly, having recently spent time at my desk setting up the donation portal. Our website is a constant work in progress, and a good example of our 21st Century skills at work. As a small museum, most of our tech work is done right in house. It can be maddening. The speed of the 21st Century means what you create today might be obsolete by morning. Our website, our social media, even our email platforms have to constantly be updated to keep up with an ever changing landscape. And it never stops.
That very morning my wife is making fun of my phone, since it has one of those home buttons you push. That button is long gone. My phone is last year’s model. Plain and simple, it’s old now. Just no other way to say it; old.
Upon returning to the office, I walk directly back into the 20th Century.
Jessica and Abby are both stuffing envelopes. Our fundraising campaign, if we are to see any success, must also go back to the basic, familiar steps of decades ago. About half of our donors are like Elaine; they donate online. They have the latest technology, they are up to date on how to use that technology, and have an immediate impact on our fundraising, and on our economy as a whole. The other half of our donors are having the same financial impact, but they are doing it in a very old fashioned way. They want to read letters they get in the mail. They want to sit at their desk and write out a paper check. They will fill out the paper form, put that form and check in the provided addressed envelope, and send it back to us in the mail.
Make no mistake; the 20th Century is alive and well. The money is just as real as that online donation. The salient issue is the funding coming from the 20th Century is a lot more expensive than the dollars provided by the 21st.
Managing that cost is crucial today. If you’re not careful, it will cost you more than the donation provides.
Elaine looks at her phone, and her hard earned $100 bucks is transferred to the museum’s account in seconds. The costs are hidden; the website, the forms that work on the website, the links that work to the bank. Those costs, however, are pretty manageable up front, and pretty small to maintain.
Sally is also donating $100 today. However, no one has taught Sally how to use the modern world. She’s a former business owner, a community leader, and can still raise some hell on a tennis court. For some reason, though, society doesn’t want to teach her how to use technology. Why society thinks she’s incapable of learning how to use a website is unknown to me. Yes, I understand that perhaps Sally has shunned the new, cursed modern society, and has no interest in learning, but for the most part she’s going to write that paper check because she’s expected to; she’s old. We pay a big price for that expectation.
To get Sally’s hard earned money, the museum has paid for the envelope, the return envelope, the ink that prints the label, the printer that uses the ink, the stamp that sends the envelope. The cost continues with the staff that manages the mailing, prints the envelope, stuffs the envelope, takes the envelope to the Post Office. Then we return to the Post Office, sort the mail, un-stuff the envelope, process the paper check, and in many cases, take the paper check to the bank.
When I’m standing in line at the bank I might as well be standing in 1978.
Back in the day, of course, businesses could afford this. It was the only way. Now, it is the costly way. And every day we keep our processes rooted in the 20th Century, it gets more expensive.
I live in a fascinating paradox as I continue moving the institution into a fast moving 21st Century. As the museum strives to preserve the history of the 20th Century, my biggest challenge is to not keep living in that century.