Gaining and maintaining those season subscribers is critical to the success of any arts organization!
Maintaining and increasing an arts audience is perhaps easiest through an arts organization’s yearly subscribers. Subscribers inherently demonstrate their love of the art by committing their dollars and attendance time throughout an entire season. Subscribers are, without a doubt, the tried, true and committed segment of an audience base.
Nurturing these folks is the first and foremost objective an organization should employ to ensure their continued commitment. This can be done by offering special events specifically designed for subscribers to get to know the artists and staff. As a result, subscribers feel more part of the “inner circle.”
A great way to consistently reach them is to have a social media page open only to subscribers. Then, post daily updates on what the art organization is doing. Give them information about the organization they cannot get anywhere else.
Let subscribers know that the organization cares about what they think. Ask for feedback following an event or performance and then respond immediately.
If subscribers feel well-established as a vital and cared-for member of the organizations “family,” they will then become champions of the organization!
Through subscribers an audience base can be increased by:
- offering a buy one get one free (BOGO) subscription for the upcoming season that they can pass on to a friend
- providing a significant discount (perhaps 50% – 60%) on additional individual ticket purchases for an event which the subscriber already holds a subscription ticket
- offering a “bring a friend” performance at no additional charge
- trade subscriber databases with other arts organizations and heavily market to subscribers of other arts venues
Aside from being an avenue to grow audience, subscribers are the heart of the audience. So remember to keep the subscriber database clean so the marketing department can write often and write well to these invaluable people.
By Peg McRoy Glover
Audience is the lifeblood of arts organizations
No other country in the world embraces volunteerism like the United States. Born in the United States as a necessary component of survival during our great expansion west, it is a value that has been nurtured and passed down from generation to generation.
And in the arts world, if you want to build audience, you need volunteers.
For a non-profit, and particularly a non-profit arts organization, the volunteer is invaluable. Most, if not all, arts organizations rely on volunteers to perform duties that would otherwise be encompassed by paid positions.
It is important to keep in mind that anyone who volunteers for an arts organization does so because of the emotional attachment that person feels for the artists and presentations. No one gives their time and talent freely without feeling some passion about what they are doing. This vested interest needs to be stroked and appreciated. In doing so an arts organization develops a strong, passionate, dollar free work force.
Volunteers are champions of the art organization that often interact directly with the general public within the art venue by performing the functions of an usher, box office attendant or boutique salesperson. In these positions they are presented to the public as a person “in the know”.
The very nature of their function makes volunteers one of the loudest voices in word-of-mouth marketing. The artists, board, staff and donors do not have as many opportunities to directly interact with the organization’s buying public as the volunteer.
A volunteer who declares the wonderful attributes of the art and its artists carries loads of influence among the people who attend events. Given that, the volunteer force needs to be well informed, respected and appreciated.
The best place to develop new volunteers is from within the audience. So the volunteers who interact with the audience can serve as a glowing example of what a worthwhile and great experience it is to give one’s time to strengthen the organization.
Make sure that the volunteer’s experience when interacting with staff and artists is always positive. They lead by example and embody the culture of the organization they serve.
By Peg McRoy Glover
Next: Growing an Arts Audience: Subscribers
Growing Donors is critical for any arts organizations. Go beyond!
It has long been the practice of arts organizations to create strata for donors based upon the dollar amount given to the organization. While the name given the level of donation might provide a certain social status, I purport that that is just not enough to fully engage, and keep fully engaged, the individuals and businesses that have generously given.
While it is fundamentally important to nurture all internal and external publics, nurturing the donors is essential. Corporate sponsorships help defray the costs of a specific production. Subscribers guarantee a portion of ticket sales for individual productions and “puts butts in seats”. Fundraising is, more often than not, a fluctuating revenue stream.
Most art organization administrators and managers will quickly acknowledge that it is the monies given by donors that ultimately keep their bottom line in the black. Donors are frequently the backbone of the financial revenues that keep doors open and artists working.
Two statements utilized within the corporate world ring very true when dealing with donors:
1) There is no substitute for personal contact.
2) Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
Events and perks designed specifically for donors and awarded at different levels of contribution greatly assist in keeping donors not only as valued patrons but as trusted friends within the inner circle.
Keeping in mind personal contact and letting the donor know how much he/she is valued, a few perks to employ can include:
- Lapel pins
- Special receptions for donors to meet the artists and staff
- CDs/DVD of presentations
- Pre-show receptions with artists
- Special seating sections within the venue
- Special parking spaces during presentations
- Back stage or behind the scenes privileges
- Adopt-an-artist participation (Dinners together, pre-show interaction with the artist, sending personal notes of congratulations, etc.)
Each perk should be awarded as the level of donation increases. These perks not only serve as an incentive to increase the level of contribution, they encourage attendance to the artistic venue.
By Peg McRoy Glover
Next: Growing the Arts Audience: Volunteers
A critical internal public of the arts organization is its board of directors.
The community leaders who serve on this board have accepted this voluntary position because they care about the arts and the enrichment it brings to their community.
It’s vital to the growth of the arts organization that each board member clearly understands that their position on the board is indeed a commitment to the growth and health of the company they serve.
A board member can help grow an audience in subtle ways:
- By being a champion for the arts organization as the board member interacts with other members of the community. These interactions can occur professionally, socially and personally.
- By being a recruiter for future board members who are community and business leaders willing to embrace the goals of the organization as a fully vested stakeholder.
- By aligning the organization with their personal perception of excellence and alluding to that perception at appropriate occasions.
- By offering to speak at service associations such as, Sertoma (Service to Mankind), Lions Club, Kiwanis, etc., on behalf of the arts organization.
There are also more direct ways a board member can assist in growing an audience:
- Attending events. Nothing speaks louder than a person’s actions. This is particularly true when that board member brings guests to the event.
- Offer to sponsor an organized group to an event. Groups such as girl/boy scouts, middle school and high school art clubs, college and university art groups, etc., usually fully embrace such an opportunity.
- Sponsor a military family to a season subscription. This not only supports the arts organization, it is a patriotic act.
- Offer tickets to an event at the place of employment of those who work for and with them.
- Fundraise! Read the article on this Website, Fundraising: Eliminate the Fear Factor. Many Non-Profit Board Members Fear and Loathe Fundraising, by Joseph R. Johns, for excellent advice on how to fully engage board members on this endeavor.
Keep in mind that not every board member will be willing to employ all of these tactics. In fact, it would be downright unreasonable to expect it. But, a board member should be willing to undertake at least one subtle and one direct tactic.
By Peg McRoy Glover
Coming up next: Growing Arts Audiences: Donors
The competition for arts audiences is enormous today. The number of choices an individual has for entertainment has exploded exponentially due in large part to the Internet and cable television. Right at their fingertips are thousands of entertainment selections that viewers don’t even need to leave their home to enjoy.
Consequently, it has never been more difficult to lure people into the theatre for live performances of the classics at the opera, symphony and ballet.
So how do you grow arts audiences for the classics and get people into theatre seats? There are several solid avenues to accomplish this goal. But let’s begin at the beginning.
Let’s start with children.
Unfortunately, when school systems are strapped with tighter and tighter budgets, the first curriculum to be abandoned is art. Growing this audience is, of course, a long-term solution but well worth the effort.
Not only is the next generation the fertile ground for audience growth, it is also the springboard for the people who will become the next board of directors, donors, subscribers, volunteers and avid theatre goers.
Recognizing that the public school system is not or cannot develop this knowledge and interest within the next generation, then it is up to the arts community to embrace this educational undertaking.
A few avenues to successfully implement an arts educational outreach program include:
- Provide special performances for students during the school day that can serve as a field trip. Tickets should be drastically reduced for these special performances so every student can afford to attend. Free tickets should be provided to teachers, chaperones and students who can’t afford the nominal fee. A before and after question and answer session serves as an outstanding opportunity to educate students. These types of performances have been knows to “pack the house.”
So, be prepared to deal with school bus parking which can be exceedingly problematic if not handled correctly.
- Offer in-school performer educational presentations. This not only educates the students but also demystifies the performer and the discipline. Students then view the performer more as a friend, so to speak, and transforms their future attendances to the theatre into more of a personal experience.
- Offer online basic educational classes. After a student has successfully completed the online class, offer free tickets to the theatre for a weekend evening performance. It not only gets the student in the door, it also captures up their parent, guardian or chaperone for a theatre experience.
- Reach out to parents who home-school their children. This group of parent-educators quickly grasp onto educational field trip opportunities for their children. There are Websites where these parents exchange information. Post information regarding the arts educational outreach program offered.
This long-term growth approach is but one facet of growing arts audiences for classical theatre. Future articles will address other specific publics.
by Peg Glover