Here and gone – plus or minus, the ephemeral performing arts

In my work in theatre, I’ve often considered and discussed with colleagues the fundamental nature of live performing arts… the fact that it is so temporary.  It is live, in the moment, often different from performance to performance; either by design, spontaneity, inspiration or accident.

So unlike film or audio recordings produced as a product that will last potentially forever, is the fixed lasting quality of those a benefit over live performances that exist only in the moment?  Or is that live aspect, the fragility of the performance have its own intrinsic value that is preferred over the recording?

When discussing their work creating a film, directors and actors speak about their preference to rehearse or not.  The fact that you can leap into shooting a moment of the story without knowing exactly what the actors will do in front of the lens means that you can sometimes capture pure magic that may never happen again.  That true spontaneity might be more true, or genuine, than a scene on a stage that was rehearsed for weeks and now is trying to appear to be happening only in the moment, relying on the talents of the actors to re-enact it night after night for new audiences trying to make it fresh every time.  This skill is not something that film actors need rely on in most cases.  Out of as many takes of shooting a scene, the magic only needs to happen once, recorded by the camera, then onto the next moment of the story.  Now you have that one ephemeral

moment, a moment of pure magic between actors, captured forever, to be enjoyed by countless people the world over.  But, while it was live at the moment it was captured, it now is fixed.  Every person sees that exact same performance.  There is no energy passed from the audience to the actors and back as they watch it.

With theatre and other live performances, the magic is immediate. I

t’s happening right now, in front of you, and can take your breath away, when it works.  But it likely won’t be as powerful every night.  It may not hold up over weeks and months of performances.  The actors must work very hard to make it seems brand new each time, and an off night means that an audience, likely seeing it for the first and only time, may not see your best performance.

So which is better?  Or is it merely a difference?  Do you have a preference?

I’ve personally worked for many years creating theatre, and I’ve also done some work in films.  I enjoy both.  The energy of embodying a character, creating emotions in front of an appreciative audience and telling a wonderful story is powerful, electric, exhilarating and unlike any other experience.  However, I am often sad for that to end.  A show runs for a limited time. Some people see it, others don’t and never will, and when that show ends all that hard creative work you did is gone to soon be forgotten.  With film friends and family anywhere can see it, now or in the future.

Here and gone.  For the appreciative audience members out there.  Keep this in mind the next time you see a live performance.  Weeks, even months of preparation went into creating the work you’ll see.  Sets were built, costumes sewn and fitted, countless hours of rehearsals have happened and more, all leading to this moment when you’ll see the show.  It’s monumental.  It’s sometimes magical.  It’s the work of many passionate individuals expressing themselves, telling a story, for you to enjoy.  When the show ends and the cast steps out for a bow… they are thanking you for coming and enjoying their hard work, as much as you are thanking them for presenting it to you.

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Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts PeoplePatrick 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.

SETC 2018 Conference – Congratulations and Thanks

Arts People representatives Marc Ross and Jon Bailey recently attendedSETC Southeastern Theatre Conference the SETC (Southeastern Theatre Conference) in Mobile, AL.  They met theatre lovers and creators from high school to adults, shared in the camaraderie of support held by all as participants performed, competed, auditioned, shared and explored.

“We’ve always had a great affinity for the SETC and the great people of the organization and the groups that attend” said Marc Ross, Sales Manager.  “Meeting our clients, consulting with groups to see if we might be of help to them, and joining in the fun had by all, Arts People is proud to be a supporting part of the event each year.”

We want to congratulate all those that were honored at the event.

We also are proud to share the three winners of our daily drawing for $100 donations to their organization:

These very worthy organizations are doing great work in theatre and we’re very happy to support them.

Thank you to SETC and all those who stopped by our booth to say hello or chat about their needs.

DID YOU KNOW? Subscription sales and the needs of a ticketing system

For many performing arts organizations, subscription package sales are one of the key components of their overall earned income plan, their season ticket sales goals, and they’re audience development and loyalty targets and measures. By bundling together a season of events for a discounted price, your most loyal patrons can purchase the package before the season begins, secure they’re favorite seats for the entire season, and be sure to enjoy all your organization has to offer.

From an administration standpoint, subscriptions can be complex to manage, service and account for through the year, and can be even more tricky when it comes time to sell the next season to existing subscribers, ensuring they have the ability to retain their seats and tracking the income from packages correctly to the proper show income lines.

A subscription package consists of individual shows built into your ticketing system with their individual performances.  Pricing is set up for single tickets and then the discounted for subscription.  Performance series then are configured for the groupings of performances across the shows in each series option, such as opening Friday, first Saturday, first Sunday, etc.  Lastly are the packages themselves, such as a 6 show season package.  From that most standard configuration, the patron then chooses first the package, then the performance series and number of tickets by person type, then the seats they want which will be the same for each performance, then they pay for their package and they are done.  They have all their seats for all performances for the season.

Alternatively, some organizations don’t have matching performance runs, different pricing for each show, different venues for different shows and more.  These add to complexity and many systems ultimately do not handle these well.

Once sold, the system must also account properly for the income, and attribute it correctly to each show, even if the price of the individual shows may differ; what percentage or portion of the package goes to a specific show, for example.

Lastly, subscription sales from last year need to be rolled over into new unpaid orders for the next year to retain the existing subscriber seats, giving them an opportunity to renew their package and make any seating change requests prior to new orders being placed.  Once renewals are completed then new orders can be processed, and when ready, tickets can be printed and sent out, held at will call, or delivered in other ways.

As can be imagined, handling all these elements together, in an efficient and secure way, with outcome reporting you can rely on, can be difficult or impossible for many ticketing systems.

Thankfully the Arts People system is designed to help you configure all these intricacies smoothly, and our staff can help you to make it all happen easily and efficiently.  From seasonal setup to pricing options, order rollover to email notices and/or mail order forms, we make the challenges of season subscription campaigns easy to overcome.  We help you make your subscriptions a success for your organization, and a pleasure for your patrons.

For details about the Arts People system and how it handles subscription package sales in accurate industry-standard methods, contact us.  We’d be happy to consult on your needs to see if you’re a right fit for the system.

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.