Carlson Executive Education Helps Nonprofit Revitalize Programming

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Minnesota Historical Society preserves important moments in the state's history and connects people with stories from the past. The nonprofit oversees 26 historic sites and museums, offers educational programming for children and teachers, publishes books, and preserves historical landmarks. This year, Marketing Senior Lecturer Jay Lipe collaborated with MNHS to fine-tune the organization's marketing strategy and product mix, and bring the wonder of history to a wider audience.

Marketing history in new ways
The partnership began when Lipe led a marketing strategy and analysis workshop for 18 MNHS employees. Impressed by the session, MNHS invited Lipe to guide key employees through a "deep dive" analysis of two programs. The goal was to expand online History Live class offerings, and to refine the marketing plan of the Alexander Ramsey House, a historical site in St. Paul.

"We needed someone to come in and show us what tools we might be able to use to accomplish the goals that were outside our area of expertise," says Minnesota Historical Society Program Associate Jack Matheson. "We have a really clear idea now of what we're trying to do and how we're going to get there."

Nonprofit means business
Applying fundamental business models to shape programs has helped MNHS serve its constituents while minding the bottom line. According to the project's participants, in a world of constrained resources, it's increasingly important for nonprofit organizations to seek expert business advice to better achieve their mission.

"Being more business oriented helps nonprofit organizations serve their staff, organization, and end customers," says Jayne Becker, historic site manager of the Alexander Ramsey House. "This partnership has empowered us to ask the right questions."

Executive Education lends Carlson School expertise
Lipe connected with MNHS through Carlson Executive Education Corporate Services, a function that engages Carlson School faculty to solve business problems and lead employee professional development for organizations of all kinds.

For Lipe, the partnership was an opportunity to apply expertise gleaned from teaching and from his experience as a marketing consultant.

"My role at the Carlson School has helped me understand a broader perspective of marketing issues, so I'm giving [MNHS] the broadest access to information possible," he says.

Although the projects are ongoing, participating employees have begun to view their work in a new way -- Lipe was delighted at the high caliber and creativity participants have demonstrated throughout the process.

"The outside perspective helps us question our assumptions and causes us to think about why we do what we do. It's bringing new ideas in and getting us to think in new ways," says John Crippen, Director of Historic Sites and Museum at MNHS.

Check out the video below to learn more about the partnership.