Is theatre its company, or its Artistic Director?

Here in Portland we’ve been seeing a great number of companies announcing the exit of their Artistic Director.  The search now begins for the new!  As I’ve considered the ramifications of this type of major transition, it’s made me consider… Is an artistic company defined within itself, or does the public associate it entirely with it’s artistic leader?  If it’s the latter, then what happens when that leader leaves due to retirement, a new position elsewhere, or some other reason?

In the different cases here in Portland that I remember in recent years, I think there’s been a combination of the two identities.  In some cases a charismatic and affable artistic leader can bring donors, sponsors, artists and audiences into the fold through their inspirational speaking and personable nature.  In others a more timid artistic leader may prefer to recede to the background when it comes to selling the organization to funders, preferring to let the work shine and other members of the staff and board take the more public role.  Both can work, but in my experience the Artistic Director in the spotlight, schmoozing the audiences and convincing them of the importance of the work we do as artists is the more common, and probably preferred model.

So if that is the case, what happens when that leader leaves?  It’s a very challenging and often difficult transition.  The news must be kept unannounced until the right time.  A search must be conducted; often nation wide, sometimes involving an agency to help in the search and filter process.  Then when the time comes, the news needs to be kept positive, exciting, and used as a means to transfer the energy of the audiences, donors, sponsors and others toward the promise of a new and thrilling vision.  ‘We’re not losing our beloved AD… we’re getting a fresh face with a fresh approach and a boost of new energy to the company.’

What the company hopes will NOT happen is that your supporters and fans feel betrayed, that they are less interested in the new direction the company is taking, that they will be comparing everything new to everything former, and in worse cases, they no longer wish to support you.  If that were the case then an entirely new audience may need to be found and developed, and the company could very well not survive the transition.

Not unlike the scrutiny of Apple in a post-Steve-Jobs world, the artistic company faces similar challenges but with one very different dynamic… The world of art is one of creation within a lens of a specific point of view.  We’re not making a widget.  We’re making stories, told in visceral ways, live before your eyes.  A great artistic leader will work to engage the audience on many levels, inspiring their imaginations and their sensibilities, to think, to feel, to want to share the experience.

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Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People

 

Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. www.patrickspike.com

 

Equity, Diversity & Inclusion: Are you doing all you can?

I recently attended the annual board meeting of Bag&Baggage Productions in Hillsboro, OR.  I’m an Associate Artist with this organization and have been involved with them as an actor, director, former board member and more since 2008.

Last year they opened their new theatre called The Vault and launched into their first season.  A few of the season’s shows very pointedly attempted to highlight problems in our culture with long embedded racism and silencing of people of color, women and other marginalized groups.  It was tremendous to see these stories being told.

But the theatre realized that they needed to do much more.  They need to actively work to bring about change within the organization, as an example to the community in which we share our work, and hopefully let that spread out by inspiring others.

At the recent meeting it was discussed as a key part of their new 5 year strategic plan, and a new committee of the board was created specifically for EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion).

Already the theatre has gone about launching programs dedicated to telling more stories of women and people of color.  They have hired a number of new staff to oversee various programs from these groups and more programs are planned.  Prior messages and policies already welcome and express support for people of different sexual orientations and gender identity.  The organization, from the Artistic Director on down, is completely on board with these clearly defined plans and efforts and while this type of work will be very much ongoing, developmental and a great effort, it’s also such a great feeling to see these efforts taking shape so quickly, with such talented and passionate individuals joining the team to lead the way.

EDI is something that we as a culture must all work to embrace in order to uplift our community members that in the past have been silenced, ignored, belittled or worse.  We as performing artists have a unique opportunity to bring their stories to light, to help educate our communities on the value and joy in the diverse members of our society and learn to welcome them to the team as equals.

Will we as the privileged make mistakes along the way?  Of course.  But if we make the effort with an open heart and with full intent on learning and improving our interactions with others, that effort will be appreciated and can create a doorway toward a richer community.

What can you and the organizations you work with do to become more equitable, diverse and inclusive?  It starts with that question.


Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People

 

Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. www.patrickspike.com

 

 

Get creative for board fundraising engagement

For those of us who have served on arts boards, or have been staff in an organization with a board, we all know the typical responses to the idea of fundraising: fear, rejection, refusal, discomfort… Yet your board’s primary responsibilities to the organization are fiscal oversight and making deeper connections into the community that include contacts with deep pockets.

So how do you get your board engaged in fundraising without running up against a wall of refusal, or worse yet, setting up for failure?

One creative way is to tap their contacts without them feeling pushed to cold call for donations. Consider creating a list of businesses in your area that are currently NOT supporters of the organization.  Group them into business categories and put them on big paper sheets that you can tape around the room.  At the board meeting, put up the lists and give each board member a sheet of colored dots, recording who got what color.  Then ask your board to take 10 minutes and put a colored dot next to every business that they have any association with… a contact, have done business there, family connection, etc.  At some point, have them detail for you the specific contact name and title for you to write to.  Once done, you’ll have a list of board contacts at these businesses.

Now, have your staff prepare introductory letters written from the board member to the contact at the business that they know, explaining that they are on the board of this arts organization and how they value the work it does and its contribution to the local economy, education and more.  When completed, contact the board member to stop by the office and sign the letters, adding a short personal note if they wish.  Then send the letters.

About a week later, the board member should call those contacts to verify they received the letter and invite them to come see a show at your venue.  Give them a couple comp tickets and the board member should followup after to see if they’d be interested in supporting the organization, as they do, through a sponsorship, a donation, a company volunteer program or other possibilities.

So, during this process, you have helped that board member through the beginnings of making connections with potential donor businesses and made in roads with personal connections.  Hopefully the result will be increased business contributions and support.

This is just one idea for board fundraising engagement.  Obviously the possibilities are endless.  Build on this idea for other possible ways to utilize their support.  And remember, every board member should be a donor as well.  They should be giving at a level that is significant to them and their budget.  No one can comfortably explain their investment in your organization if they aren’t actually investing in it themselves.

Disappearing is one act your arts organization should avoid

“Out of sight is out of mind” as the old adage goes. This is especially true now, in our digital age where social media posts fly by and news cycles last minutes instead of days.

It is important to keep your organization in the minds of your patrons, even between your events, or between your seasons.  As soon as you stop communicating, even for a short period, it’s as if you vanished from the public sphere.  If you were to ask your patrons what your organization is up to a few weeks after your season has ended, what might they say?  Or what event or show is coming up next?  As media splashes onto the eyes and ears of the public constantly, it washes away things formerly seen or heard, even if the patron cares about the other details more.

So what do you do to keep your organization present in the zeitgeist of your community?

It’s really pretty simple.  You communicate, with fun and frequency.

Between projects or seasons, you need to have regular social media postings, blog posts, email newsletters and even press releases going out about what you are up to, how you are working toward the next project, and more.  How can you share insider information with your followers to excite them about things to come?  Consider doing a feature story or series of posts about the costume staff and their advance work on upcoming shows.  What about changes in your organization’s methods and procedures that patrons might find of interest?  Might some upcoming guest performers offer a blog post about their excitement and preparation for things to come?  Of course, coverage of special events and fundraisers is great content as well.  Include pictures and videos where possible, and keep it all coming.

For the most loyal and invested patrons, they will find plenty of detail and interest to dig into.  For those less attached but still wanting to know what’s coming up, they can scan the content or even just look at a well crafted subject or headline giving them enough to remember you’re still out there working on the next thing to entertain and enlighten them.

Bottom line,  your communication system needs to remain active and engaged with your digital community even if the rest of the company is taking some down time, or only working behind the scenes.  Don’t let your loyal patrons or community forget you.  Keep up the fun and anticipation of what’s coming next!

 

Are you penalizing your patrons for making your life easier?

As we work with various clients, coming to us from various other systems, we see numerous former cases of patrons being charged high fees when they buy their tickets online.

Many ticketing systems don’t give you, the customer, the ability to set what fees you want to charge to your patrons.  They often try to make this sound like you get to their system for “free,” since the patron is paying their high fees.  But also it usually means that your organization has no option of how you want to apply fees to patron ticket orders. Thankfully, the Arts People system allows you to set fees in a number of ways; per ticket, per order, box office vs online vs door sales, per subscription package, with a maximum per order, etc.

We also see cases where clients have set up to charge higher fees for online buyers vs box office buyers.  While the industry has taught us that this makes sense, due to the fact that so many systems started out as online only, so the fees your organization had been paying to use the system also linked to online orders.  But now this model is contrary to the goal of online ticket sales, which is to provide convenience to your patrons and to alleviate workload from your staff in your box office.  By shopping online, printing their tickets at home, the patron is making things easier for your organization, so why not give them an incentive to do so?  Orders processed on the phone or in person are where you’re spending the time and money to serve them personally, so it makes more sense that they should pay a small fee to help cover those staff and office expenses.

Box Office

All the above, of course, is provided for your consideration based on your circumstances and only if you wish to offset your costs by charging fees to your patrons.  Many organizations charge no fees on top of ticket purchases.  They embed costs in their ticket prices, or they simple absorb the costs knowing that it’s simply a budget item as part of a performing arts organization’s expenses.  Just as we have seen online shopping go more and more to free shipping, the performing arts industry has also been moving more and more to not adding fees on top of ticket purchases in order to attract more customers, to keep them happy, and to keep them coming back.  Just one of the benefits of the Arts People system is that it gives you the control and options you need, and we’re here to help you set things up as you wish.

Fees are a strategic element in the overall structure of your income budgeting and in the image you are projecting to the public.  These are important choices for you to consider, and therefore it’s important that you have a system that supports you in making them.  CONTACT US if you have any questions.

 

DID YOU KNOW? Automated emails should be branded and recognizable

When you send a brochure, letter, postcard, you’re certain to pay attention to the look of that item, ensuring that it is branded and recognizable at a glance as coming from your organization, representing your style and professionalism.

Email communications should be the same… even if sent from your automated systems.

The Arts People system sends out notices and reminders to patrons automatically, when they make a purchase or donation, schedule a reservation, when their membership is coming due for renewal, reminding them of their upcoming performance, and more.  These emails are important for good customer service and communication with your patrons. They instill confidence and build loyalty among your customers and ultimately can help you to build on relationships to step those patrons up the ladder from ticket buyer to subscriber to donor and more.

Of course, these emails only have these benefits if they look professional and solidify your brand in the recipient’s mind.

In Arts People, all of these emails are customizable, allowing you to tailor the language to your typical tone of voice, using terminology that your patrons are accustomed to, with your logo and styling to reflect your brand.  Easy to configure, or with assistance from our friendly Client Services staff, you can make great impressions with your patrons through all your communication, even automated confirmations and reminders.

To learn more about the Arts People system and how it can help your organization in many ways, CONTACT US, or visit our website for more details.

Don’t let burnout drag your organization down

SETC Southeastern Theatre ConferenceThis week is the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) in Mobile, AL and as I was thinking about the theatres that participate in this fun event each year, my mind went to ways that our system can help these organizations.  One of the biggest challenges any non-profit arts organization faces is employee and volunteer burnout, and one of the best ways to combat it is through automation and organization.

The Arts People system was designed from the beginning for performing arts organizations.  It was designed by and for people working in this industry and has a huge number of combined years of experience behind the staff, all working to help these groups to thrive.

A key to helping organizations like yours to keep a handle on the business end of things, and to free up your staff to work on the creative things they love, is a system that is efficient.  You need to be able to sell your tickets, hopefully with patrons making use of the self serve simplicity of online purchase.  You need to be able to work the fundraising side of your ledger sheet, developing lasting relationships with your loyal patrons and donors.  You need fast and accurate reporting for up to the moment information and feedback on your marketing efforts to make quick decisions when needed.  You need all these things and more in a single integrated system that staff and volunteers can learn quickly and utilized cleanly so as to not make a mess of your CRM data for future mining and reference.

“Our online sales increased from 10% to 62%. [Arts People] has made my job ten times easier, and I feel like our entire organization crossed over into the 21st century!” – Keri Larsen, Ticket Office Mgr – Cache Valley Center for the Arts

Arts People is the system so many theatres and other performing arts organizations choose, and return to, because it helps with all these things.  Clients report it helping them alleviate staff stress and burnout because now they have hours freed up in their day to help their patrons and work on important things without getting bogged down in details.  They tell us how in the first year a huge percentage of sales moved to online, alleviating box office burden.  They tell us how patrons love it.

Arts People was highly recommended to us and has never disappointed. From their excellent, easy-to-use software to their hands-on personal tech support, this company continues to serve our theatre very well.“ – Sue Ellen Gerrells, Artistic Director – South City Theatre – Pelham, AL (SETC, AACT Member)

When you look for a system to handle your ticketing, marketing, fundraising, reporting, volunteer management, class enrollments and more, make sure it works fluidly, efficiently, is familiar in terminology and appearance and ready to help your team to succeed.  We’d be happy to consult with you on your specific needs.  We can give you a demonstration or even customize a test system just for you to help you see how our system can change your operation for the better.

Soon your staff will be smiling, stress reduced, burnout averted, patrons happy, with your work focused back on the creation of your art.  Let us help.

#SETC2018

How will performing arts charities weather the new tax plan?

Tax PlanningThe new tax plan from Donald Trump and the GOP has drastically changed the landscape for fundraisers in charity arts organizations.  By altering the standard deduction, supposedly in an effort to make individuals tax preparation much simpler, it has also created a new paradigm that does not well encourage individuals to make donations that they can later write off on their taxes.  Here’s why.

In the past, by making donations to charitable organizations, an individual was able to deduct those donations from their taxable income thereby lowering their tax liability overall at the federal and often state level.  So if you donated $500 to charity, you would remove $500 from your taxable income and then the portion of that that you would have paid to taxes as income was removed.  This was a large contributing factor encouraging the giving of money to charities that you support.

Now, with the standard deduction being much higher, it creates far less need to itemize deductions for most individuals on their tax return. Instead they can just take the standard deduction without having to have made any itemizable payments, such as those to charities.  Only in the event of a relatively high level of income will an individual or family need to itemize on their tax return.  Due to this there is far less incentive to come up with tax-deductible expenses in order to reduce tax liability.

This could mean that many individuals may choose not to contribute to charities and instead keep that money for themselves, since they’ll get the standard tax deduction anyway.  Without tax deductibility being an encouraging factor in donating, what will be the new strategy for charities, including performing arts organizations, to encourage donations?

Alternatively, could the increased standard deduction put some more money in the pockets of donors who want to support you, and lead to increased giving?  This article seems to think so.

Hopefully many donors will want to financially support the work that you do despite this change.  It remains the strongest reason a person may choose to donate. They love what you do.  They want to support your work. If you can also make especially clear that your organization cannot survive without contributed income, and not only on earned income from things like ticket sales and education program fees alone, you can help them to understand why their donations are critical to your survival.

Granting organizations and corporate support will play an even more important role with the sizable risk of individual giving declining.  However, their income sources could be affected also by the new tax plan.  The down line support that they provide could change as the effects ripple out over time, and of course now there is talk of Trump wanting to cut funding to the NEA and other arts and humanities funders.

Increased prices may be required as well.  If an arts organization has survived on a balance of 50% earned income from sales with a 50% contributed income level to balance the budget, the percentage balance may need to shift to higher on the earned income side.  Of course depending on your patrons, this could reduce sales as prices are increased resulting in bigger problems in the end.

What does YOUR organization plan to do in this shaky and changing fundraising environment?  How will your message shift?  What combination of tactics do you feel are needed or are planned to maintain your bottom line?

Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts PeoplePatrick Spike – Marketing Director, Arts People

Arts organization consultant
Former Board Member Portland Area Theatre Alliance
Former Audience Development Director & Board Member Bag&Baggage Productions

White Paper – Create a powerful and efficient Volunteer workforce

Non-profit organizations, certainly including performing arts groups, rely heavily on a well organized and satisfied volunteer workforce. In many cases, running that portion of your operation should be given as much importance and attention as management of the staff, since often they do just as much work overall. The success of your volunteer coordination starts at the top and works its way down.

In this white paper we’ll walk you through a recognized structure to your volunteer workforce that will help ensure that your volunteers are honored, happy, and managed in a way that benefits both them and your organization.

Request a download link for this white paper:

Note that you will have 10 minutes to download your requested document from the email received.

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White paper written by

Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts PeoplePatrick Spike is the Marketing Director, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. His work with clients has helped them to increase their revenue while streamlining their box office and back office operations. www.patrickspike.com

Arts People, software for the performing arts, serves theatres, music and dance groups, choirs and opera, high school, college and university programs, performing arts center facilities and more.

 

Up-sell gift and donation options at your holiday show

Strike while the iron is hot, as my mother used to say to me.  Take the opportunity when it presents itself!  We all know that the holiday time is when many performing arts organizations make their most ticket sales and donation transactions.  It’s the season of giving!  (…and shopping for giving, and donating, and stressing over the perfect gift.)

So how can we maximize our patron interactions to boost our holiday income opportunities AND also help them to reduce the stress of holiday gift giving.

Easy!

Take the opportunity while guests are at your venue, enjoying the holiday presentation, to sell them on some simple gift giving ideas via your organization, WHILE THEY ARE THERE!  If you send out an email reminder of their upcoming performance, mention in it that special gift offers will be available as well!  Here’s some ideas:

Create some holiday gift and donation opportunities that provide benefits and discounts:

  1. Create a holiday gift pass or package of shows that you offer to attendees at the theatre at an extra special discount, but ONLY if they buy it that night during intermission.
  2. Offer gift certificates.
  3. Offer a holiday donation option that provides some special incentives such as a pair of free wildcard tickets for any upcoming show of the season.  The patron can donate, support your organization, get an end of year tax write off, AND they get a pair of tickets for themselves or to use as a gift.
  4. Create stylish and fun t-shirts or other branded goods from your organization or that tie into your season to offer at special pricing if purchased that night.

With all the above opportunities, you want to emphasize how they can make the buyer’s life easier by getting some holiday shopping out of the way. Remind them how much fun they have at your performances and what could be better than giving that type of enjoyment to others.  Remind them how a donation at the end of the year helps support your organization and can be deducted off their upcoming taxes. And lastly, it’s critical to promote these things during your well presented curtain speech communicating that these special offers are available only if they do their transaction during intermission.  Have people waiting in the lobby to help the guests with their orders.

Have a great holiday season of sales and fundraising!


The Arts People system provides tools to easily setup and manage all the above efforts including full pass and package functionality, online pass and gift certificate redemption over multiple orders, donation tracking, membership details and automated discounts, even automated emailed ticket reminders that you can customize as you wish.  Contact us at sales@arts-people.com if you’d like more information or a free personal demo.