New Mexico Part 2: Really Getting your Constituents

In Sustainability by Karen Buck

After the training in Albuquerque, I rented a car and drove up to visit Ghost Ranch about an hour north of Santa Fe. If you’re unfamiliar with Ghost Ranch, it is a 21,000 acre property in the Chama River Valley of New Mexico, famous for being the home of the artist Georgia O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe has been my favorite artist since my 7th grade art class and I couldn’t pass up a chance to visit the place that inspired so many of her paintings.

I arrived just in time for the “Georgia O’Keeffe Landscape Tour”, paid my $25 dollars, and off I went in a converted school bus with a driver, volunteer tour guide from the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, and 11 other tourists from Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Georgia, and Japan. Ghost Ranch began giving tours following an exhibit that featured photographs taken by art historians who hiked all over the ranch and located the exact spots where O’Keeffe had created some of her most recognizable work. Each photo was hung next to the artwork inspired by that view. People loved the exhibit so much that droves of tourists started showing up and tramping all over the ranch, threatening the fragile landscape.

This is what constituent-centered looks like

Maybe it was because I was fresh off the sustainability training in Albuquerque, but I spent a lot of time during the tour noticing all the ways it was constituent-centered.

  • Developed in response to a real constituent need or interest? Check.
  • Guide who could answer questions from all market segments? Check.
  • Information about the next steps we could take (stay at the Ranch; visit the Museum in Santa Fe, etc.)? Check.
  • Appropriate, high-touch, individualized suggestions (why yes, tour guide Pat, I do think I’d love to come back and take one of the private guided hikes to visit the exact spots where the paintings were created!)? Check.

How it benefits the organization

Let’s consider the benefits Ghost Ranch reaps from this well-designed, constituent-centered, marketing and outreach strategy (remember, the best marketing and outreach strategies are often the programs and services you offer).


  • Revenue: 12 people x $25 dollars x 2 tours a day x 250 days = $150,000
  • Costs: driver (4 hours/ day) + gas + bus depreciation = $10,000 (guide is a volunteer)
  • Net: easily $100,000/ year unrestricted net revenue (+ additional revenues raised from lodging stays, gift shop sales, etc.)

Deepening engagement:

The tour I was on was their entry level offering and I was invited to take the next step along the constituent engagement path multiple times. My options for that next step included a private tour of O’Keeffe’s house in Abiquiu, NM, a group hike that gets closer to the painting sites or that private hike the tour guide made a point of mentioning to me. Or perhaps I’d like to buy a copy of the book from the original exhibit or a poster featuring the painting O’Keeffe designated as being exclusively for the use of Ghost Ranch. And if those options weren’t enough, I could go full on and attend the 3-day “O’Keeffe Experience.”

See how they did that? They didn’t give it all away at once. Instead, they broke it up into pieces and I can cherry pick the ones that most interest me. I only had time for the 2-hour tour this time, but they have me hooked. I bought that book and I’m sending vibes to the New Mexico folks to bring me back so I have an excuse to do that hiking tour. And they also made sure to get my address and phone number so I’m sure they will be following up.

Broadening reach:

And here I am, writing this blog post telling you about this tour. I’m using it to make a point about constituents and sustainability, but I’m talking about it. And linking to their website. And, no one had to ask me to do it.

Constituent engagement and sustainability

There you go. If you want your organization or program to be sustainable, that’s the mark. Do to your constituents or potential constituents what Ghost Ranch did – get to know them so deeply and intimately that the first time they interact with you, they feel like you know them – you’ll get the support that you need.

In case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t feel sold to. Remember, I’ve loved this artist’s work since I was 12 years old. To get to see the landscape that inspired her was truly moving and I want to know how to experience more of that. They weren’t selling to me; they were meeting my needs and interests. They understood that they are the only ones who could meet my needs and interests in this way. Yes, I can go to the Museum in Santa Fe – but how much more unique was what they had to offer?

What are the needs and interests of your core constituents relative to your cause? What aspects of what you offer or how you offer it are truly unique? How can your organization meet their needs in ways no one else can? Find those places of connection. That’s where you start.