The importance of pivoting online

On the EDGE: An opinion column about current issues in the United States and Norway

Christina Carleton - pivoting online

Photo courtesy of Norway House
Christina Carleton is the executive director of Norway House, located in Minneapolis.

Executive Director, Norway House

On March 16, 2020, Norway House—the National Norwegian Center in America—closed its doors to the public in accordance with the executive orders by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz. Many organizations just like ours turned off their building lights for the foreseeable future. We immediately asked a critical question: How does a cultural gathering place pivot to the online world?

How do you alter an organization’s platform overnight? Norway House is a nonprofit culture and business organization formed in 2004 in Minneapolis. In 2014, we acquired a property near the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, painted it bright blue, and remodeled it to suit our mission: to connect with contemporary Norway through arts, business, and culture. We have a cafe, a gallery, a lending library, meeting spaces, and plenty of events each week. 

The decision to pivot to an entirely online platform was determined to be the best route for us, for we already had the tools, staff, and know-how in place to create content quickly and effectively. We had originally thrived by drawing people to our physical space. Our online presence became our mission at work, instead of just a way to communicate and draw folks to our building. 

From the beginning, I stayed in close conversation with other leaders in our field, consulting with one another. I had a huge urge to send out messages to our supporters and say how much this was hurting operations, but we thoughtfully decided not to panic and, instead, to wait, as many were struggling in similar situations. 

We’ve found that it’s important to keep a sense of calm during an unknown time, as well as to manage expectations and clearly communicate, step-by-step along the way. Ethan Bjelland, our marketing and communications manager, set to work creating a resource blog on our website to direct those who want to stay connected to the Nordic community during the shutdown. Through increased email communication and social-media activation, we created a virtual space to communicate changes and updates, engage with our members, and continue providing resources to connect with contemporary Norway. 

Max Stevenson, our director of exhibitions and programming, quickly shifted our current exhibits at Norway House to make them available on YouTube and our resource blog. We also shifted many of our in-house events to the online world, meaning our staff had to quickly adjust to the world of Zooming and YouTube as new means of communicating with partners and supporters, as well as each other. Many of these resources took time to get used to. We chose not to underestimate our members, and partially through necessity, we’ve found that the majority have also learned and joined us online.

It was also important to us to check in with our donors and members, so we began a “call-a-thon” of sorts, reaching out to key stakeholders personally. Through Zoom meetings and phone calls, we were able to talk through the changes and adjustments we needed to make. We didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, and because of that, we started planning on a week-by-week basis. 

Our Midtsommer Gala, held in June of each year, is our most important fundraising event.  Whether or not to postpone or cancel this year’s event, scheduled for June 16, was one of the biggest decisions we had to make early on. Our events and reception coordinator Rachael Barnes conferred with the rest of our staff, gala committee, and board of directors to decide that it was better to keep the same date and pivot to an online platform. We are excited to say with much research and planning, we are confident we will have a fun and successful gala this year. It will be a free event, and we hope many can participate from the comfort of their homes.  

With a groundbreaking on our new facility still planned for the fall, we can’t thank our supporters and members enough for their ongoing support during COVID-19. I wish all organizations the best of luck as they move to a new platform and continue to stay relevant today and into the future. It is important for us all to stick together and work on supporting one another. I am so proud to work with a resilient team and a supportive board of directors. As one of my board members told me early on, “This too shall pass, and we will return to our normal daily lives.”  

As for now, stay healthy, stay well, and please connect with us virtually at our Midtsommer Gala on June 16 at 7 p.m. CDT. 

The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

This article originally appeared in the May 22, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Christina Carleton

Christina Carleton is the executive director of Norway House, the National Norwegian Center in Minneapolis.