Arts Fundraising

Raising contributed revenue happens at every stage in the patron journey. Likewise, taking a personalized approach to reaching donors at each point in their giving partnership leads to higher returns on investment. Segmenting campaigns can double in performance compared to unsegmented ones. Knowing who their prospects are is essential for fundraisers to make those personalized communications possible.

However, having a complete understanding of the patrons fundraisers are targeting is a sizable responsibility, and in order to be successful, this responsibility cannot be limited to the fundraising department. Just as growing retention requires the box office and marketing department to work together, maximizing return on individual contributions needs shared patron data and for the whole organization to use their tools to their fullest.

By developing a shared approach to reaching their patron base, fundraisers can create efficient funnels to identify new donors, nurture existing patrons, and streamline touchpoints with their audience so they can focus their time on high-value, in-person relationships.

Explore how arts fundraisers are connecting the box office and marketing departments to cultivate donors across their entire patron base and drive contributed revenue growth.

Using data to define roles and drive strategies

Arts fundraisers often use fundraising-specific vocabulary to to track their efforts for converting ticket buyers into donors, be it moves management, stewardship, the donor pyramid (illustrated below) or other best practices. While these vocabularies are key to fundraisers’ daily workflow, it’s also important to develop organization-wide definitions for what makes a loyal patron and the different stages leading up to that. Some organizations approach donor management as a stairway; others take the same approach to overall loyalty, defining set characteristics for how they move patrons from first-time attendees to loyal ticket buyers, which feeds into prospective donors.

Donor Pyramid - Illustration

Personalized donation campaigns rely on shared data between ticketing, marketing, and fundraising. Shared data empowers arts marketers to identify patrons who are most likely to donate. Without a complete view of each customer’s interactions with an organization, it’s impossible to execute shared strategies that move patrons up the ladder to loyal attenders, advocates and donors. Fundraisers should work with leaders across the organization to centralize recorded patron information. Then the organization can categorize each group of patrons. This could include new patrons, reattenders with high potential to join the patron loyalty program, that core group of loyal patrons, and lapsed patrons.

Having a consistent, shared understanding of how the organization is working together to grow loyalty from their patrons sets everyone up for creating targeted campaigns to reach each of those patrons at every step of their relationship with the organization. Within that, fundraisers can set strategies for identifying new donors and nurturing existing ones into loyal sustainers.

Identify new donors by leveraging shared channels

Creating opportunities for patrons to make first-time gifts can help fundraisers identify patrons to cultivate into more substantial donors and secure more revenue for the organization over time. Leaning into their shared resources with the rest of the organization, fundraisers can take stock of how they currently identify new donors via their website, in-person contact at shows and email or mail communications as major contact points. Fundraisers should analyze how they can maximize each channel:

Website: Having small donation asks across the organization’s website is an efficient way to secure small donations from patrons that may not otherwise be targeted. They can use box office data to track how patrons respond to each ask and how to hone them in terms of copy, placement and how much they’re asking for. Small online asks can help fundraisers through the research stage, gauging who to target for cultivation over time.

In person: The organization’s front-line staff is a great resource. While box officers and ushers do not always cross paths with fundraisers, their frequent interactions with patrons provide ample opportunity for donation asks. Explore how the sales and front-of-house team could take care of some initial fundraising legwork by making small asks or priming patrons for when they do receive an ask. Just be sure to track these interactions on each patrons’ record so the fundraising team can accurately analyze how these efforts are working and take over when needed.

Mailings: Fundraisers should regularly consult their box office and marketing colleagues to understand how they communicate with new patrons before and following the first show they attend. Even if these messages don’t include direct solicitation, fundraisers can work with these departments to build messaging that primes patrons to donate in the future. Tracking patrons’ engagement on non-fundraising touchpoints can help pinpoint which ones to approach as new donors.

All of these methods require organizations to be able to efficiently identify these new prospects. Finding ways to flag new patrons’ records will help quickly inform box officers on how to approach their conversations and help marketers segment them in communications.

Use segmentation to better reach core patrons

One recurring question for fundraisers is how to channel existing core patrons — be they members, subscribers, flex pass holders, etc. — into equally loyal donors. There is a constant push and pull between thanking patrons for their attendance and asking more of them.

The better fundraisers can understand each group of patrons they’re communicating with, the better they can land that message. That’s where segmentation, the basis for personalized donation campaigns, comes in. By dividing up cohorts of loyal patrons based on their buying habits and their interests, fundraisers can develop messaging that speaks to those specific interests.

Start by segmenting on behaviors like which types of events patrons have attended, then branch into pairing that with demographic information like age and where they live. A fundraising email addressing patrons who often go to family or educational programs calls for different value points than one geared toward patrons with a young professionals membership. By targeting these defined groups, fundraisers can create focused messages for telling them how donating will help the organization do what they care about — providing buses for school matinees or putting on more social events, for instance.

With focused messaging that created a persuasive case for donating that speaks to each groups’ interests, fundraisers can build their return on investment from these communications.

Streamline fundraising communications

With a clear idea of how to identify new donors and message to core patrons, fundraisers should look for ways to make their communications with them repeatable, scalable and as hands-off as possible.

On the website, look for opportunities to tailor small donation asks to patrons’ orders, both by amount they’re buying and type of performance, to make the most relevant ask possible. In segmented donor communications, explore how the organization's email tools allow for emails to automatically send to patrons at key times, such as after a patron becomes a new donor or after they have seen several shows but not donated yet.

By leveraging the tools available to automate these touchpoints to their fullest extent, fundraisers can maximize their contact with patrons at every step of their journey. Likewise, automation can help fundraisers save their time for in-person communications with higher-profile donors.

How Improving Organizational Efficiency Promotes Greater Fundraising

Creating personalized online fundraising campaigns can help organizations identify new donors and cultivate them into high-value donors, securing more contributions for the organization over time. Here is how one organization put these strategies into practice: Two River Theater rethought their process around asking for donations at checkout. Leveraging their website, they added small donation asks to the checkout process, resulting in $4,000 in additional income and quadrupling their donations under $100.

Working with the marketing department, they tried three ask amounts with different messaging and then analyzed which ask performed best, honing their strategy for the next year. Two River now has a new income stream, and more importantly, has a new method for attracting first-time donors and people with the potential to become higher-level supporters.

By sharing data throughout the whole organization, identifying opportunities to target new donors on each communication channel and bolstering donor communications with segmentation and automation, fundraisers can maximize their efficiency and grow contributed revenue.

For new metrics on the connection between donation channel and value, and how arts organizations are using checkout donations to maximize staff time, download Chapter 2 of the Insights Report: How to Increase Donations from Individual Contributions



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