One of the most popular posts I’ve published is about fundraising for the arts.
That’s why I want to share some remarkable pieces I found on Medium. Then I want to talk about how this may have implications for fundraising in a broader sense – not just for arts organizations.
My discovery started with a post on Medium by Aubrey Bergauer, Executive Director of the California Symphony.
I urge you to read the series if you’re interested in improving your patron’s or donor’s experience – and in potentially being more successful with both marketing and development. (Start here, then here and here and here.)
How the California Symphony does it
The short version: relentless focus on the customer’s journey with the organization. This involves a next step for everyone they are connected with. And here’s the important part: they market and offer ONLY that next step.
The goal is increasing retention for patrons. And offering the development office only well-qualified leads.
So a first-time ticket buyer is only offered a subscription package. And no one is asked to give until they’ve become a renewed subscriber.
Practically speaking, this takes two things: the elimination of silos, and a great deal of discipline.
From the patron’s point of view, it means they’re showered with attention and gratitude. Staff do everything possible to get them to the next step. So new ticket buyer to subscriber, first-time subscriber to renewed subscriber, renewed-subscriber to first-time donor and first-time donor to renewing donor… and so on.
This is the rough outline. I urge you to read the series. It’s very good.
Why this might be a tough sell
This plan may seem difficult to you if you’re selling tickets and subscriptions. You’re restricting choices. You’re limiting the field!
As a fundraiser, my first concern was losing money on donor acquisition. But that’s not what happened at the California Symphony at all. Better qualified fundraising leads meant increased response rates, lower expenses and higher income.
Why you should do it, anyway
Here’s what I like as a fundraiser: this is built around the patron, not just around the organization’s needs. And the entire organization needs to be part of this effort for it to succeed.
Everyone is pointed in the same direction – move people along the path. Front of house staff place cards on the right seats. Performers get involved as well, signing thank you cards. Responsibility and success are organization-wide, not department by department.
It’s everyone’s job to increase the loyalty of the organization’s patrons.
That’s the same idea behind a culture of philanthropy – just expanded to a performing arts model.
Offers are designed precisely for the patron or donor’s next step in a journey that’s carefully planned.
No patrons? This can still help you work better
If yours is a membership organization of any kind – not just arts – this model may also work well for you. Substitute member for patron and design the steps necessary to acquire members, then renew them, then ask them to give, then renew and increase their gifts.
Arts organization or not, this idea still has merit.
How thoroughly have you thought through your donors’ journeys?
Where do your new donors come from? Is all the messaging prospects see designed to move them toward that first gift? Or are you just dumping names on a list and mailing them everything?
Is your messaging consistent with their first interaction with you? Say they first “liked” your Facebook page because they were served a particular ad. What was the ad’s messaging? Will their next communication pick up where it left off – or change the subject?
Not sure how they came to you? (That’s understandable!) Why not ask them?
Once you’ve designed their journey, resist the urge to put up signs suggesting they get off the path. If the next step is a first gift, don’t invite them to your gala.
Bring down the silos!
The biggest problem you will probably have with this idea is the problem you already have: your organization isn’t structured for this.
Your employment review is based on donors or dollars in the door. But the marketing person is being judged by something else entirely. And the program staff doesn’t want to be bothered with donors or other customers they don’t see as directly related to their work. Finance just wants enough money to make payroll. And HR just wants to avoid staff fights.
It has to come from the top. Everyone needs to agree to work this way for it to be effective.
If you’re reading this, but are not the top decision-maker, bring it to them.
Suggest studying the example of California Symphony. Talk about a culture of philanthropy – and also about the tangible results focusing on your patrons, donors – on your customers – will have.
Design the journey
Then sit down with whomever you should and design the journey. One step at a time. And commit to marketing only toward that next step. Be clear about the hand-offs from one department to the next. Agree on messaging and don’t stray from it.
Yes, you’ll need a good CRM – because you’ll be doing a lot of segmentation and tracking. But honestly, you should be doing that anyway.
I know if I were still a development director, I’d be printing out Aubrey’s posts and waving them madly in front of our ED.
We have many different opportunities to connect with donors. Channels abound, the noise is loud, and their choices are many.
But with donor retention so low, can we really depend on spray and pray communications? Can we give only cursory attention to gratitude? Can we mostly ignore what our donors want when they give?
You know the answer.