Donor experience matters – a lot – to every nonprofit that needs donors.
And it takes many forms. But if yours is an arts organization, you have a built-in super power. Are you using it?
What is “donor experience”?
Just what it sounds like. What is it like to be a donor to your organization?
When you make a gift to an organization, every step along the way is part of the experience. How did the organization first catch your attention? How easy and pleasurable was it to give? How did the thank you make you feel? When, and how, were you asked again? What else did they do to make you feel involved and important?
This might seem overwhelming. So much to think about! But it’s actually a series of opportunities for you to bond with your donors. Chances to build donor loyalty.
And for arts organizations, this can be your super power. Why? Because your mission is a fabulous donor experience itself!
Arts donors give because they love the art form. So building their connection means helping them experience it more deeply. One theater executive I worked with encouraged us to “feed their addiction” for great theater. Maybe not the best wording, but it sure got the point across!
How do donors experience our mission?
So begin by considering: what is it that your donors experience? How they feel about your organization will be hugely influenced by how they think you feel about them. You need to show them they matter.
Arts patrons give to support an art form they care about. And they probably come to experience the art. They buy theater or symphony tickets. They visit your museum. But so do many other people who aren’t donors.
To bring and keep your donors close, you need consider how you can use your activities and communication to make the experience of being your donor something they value.
How can you make your donors’ experience special?
1. Look for opportunities to underline your gratitude
Leave a thank you on their theater seats or at the door for them.
Go beyond a gift acknowledgement – thank them again. Successful press for your new exhibit? Celebrate with donors. Make sure they know they contributed!
If you don’t have a donor newsletter, create one. Use it to bring donors behind the scenes. Just be sure the credit goes to them. This isn’t a bragging opportunity!
2. Offer social opportunities tied to your art form
Art is not a solitary experience. It’s at its best when it brings people together. Connecting your donors to each other is a wonderful way to build a network with your organization at the center.
Create giving circles with social benefits. A pre-show talk, a special donor rehearsal, a dinner with the artist(s) – these are activities donors can share.
Educational events based around your current offering can be very interesting. Invite a local professor to speak about an artist and his or her work.
Be as creative as you like – invite donors to take part in a play reading. Or offer a painting lesson so they can better understand the art form. Maybe a dance class?
Not every donor will accept your invitations. But they will all appreciate being included.
3. Invite their feedback
Ask your donors what they would like. Try a donor survey to help you understand what’s important to them. Having that information will also help you encourage artistic staff to let you create some of these opportunities!
Check in with donors after they’ve attended. Ask them for their thoughts. (Be sure they understand they’re not being invited to take over for your artistic staff.) Knowing you care what they think will bring them closer to you.
One elderly woman regularly wrote to our artistic director after every opening. I’m sure his first reaction was along the lines of “who does she think she is?” But she was quite insightful. And knowing that he read, and sometimes responded to, her thoughts was so important to her. And while she had been generous for years, she became even more generous as she learned we cared about her thoughts. (I miss her!)
You might be surprised about what you learn when you invite donors to share their thoughts. Not just from a critical point of view, but from a very personal one. You’ll gain so much insight into your donors as people!
What about a special donor listening session? Moderated by a member of the staff, or perhaps a local critic, a session to hear from your most committed audience members could be both interesting for you and engaging for them.
Your art is the key to their hearts – use it!
Art aims to be a transformative experience. And that experience is what people are looking for. You change minds and you change lives.
Giving can also be transformative. If you extend your mission – your art – beyond the performance or exhibit, you create countless opportunities to bring your donors closer. And you have these opportunities! They’re right there for you to use.
One caveat: don’t simply create events and market them. If you want to build relationships, you have to be there and meet your donors.
Take advantage of your donors’ love of your mission with experiences and treatment that says they matter to you as much as you matter to them.