Bright Idea: Sell Something Like Girl Scout Cookies

Why doesn’t the arts & cultural sector have something to sell that’s equivalent to Girl Scout cookies?  

I mean, why isn’t there something that high school drama clubs, marching bands, dance schools, community theatre groups or others can sell that drives people to specifically participate in their community’s arts & cultural activities.

Earlier this week, I suggested a “universal gift card” – but today, I offer that idea with a twist:  A universal gift card with a built-in incentive to allow a third-party (i.e. your favorite kids organization) to keep some % of the proceeds as a fundraiser.

According to the official Girl Scouts website, “Nationwide, girls receive an estimated 10 – 20% of the purchase price of each box of cookies sold.”  Last I checked, a box was $4 – so, interesting to learn that just .40 to .80 cents from each box stays with the local troop.

Would you be willing to offer a commission for someone to sell $’s into your company?

What I love most about this idea is that it completely reverses the conventional pattern of consumer transactions.  It asks prospective audience members to lock in their $ commitment BEFORE they are ever asked what or when that might be.  THIS IS HUGE!

Do you agree that people generally INTEND to participate in arts & cultural experiences (theatre, dance, concert, exhibition or whatever) long before they decide WHAT that activity might be, WHEN it falls, or WHETHER they can convince their partner to go with them.  If you have ever reviewed the results of a telephone survey that asked people about their arts & cultural participation, you’ve likely seen that people vastly over-report their participation.  They’re not lying – they’re answering based on their INTENTION!

So, let’s sell to that strength!

Imagine the earnest drama club kid standing in front of the grocery store:

“Do you like music?  

“Will you be going to any concerts this year?”

“Do you enjoy theatre?” 

“Do you think you’ll be visiting the museum this year?”

“What’s your favorite local attraction to show out-of-town guests?”

and then continuing, “Here’s a card (available in $25, $50 and $100 denominations) that you can redeem for theatre, dance, musicals, concerts and museum & attraction admissions all over town – and best of all, if you buy it from us RIGHT NOW, you also help support our drama club/band/etc.”

Of course, there are all kinds of details that need to be figured out – percentages and redemption processes and un-redeemed value and the like.  I especially like the suggestions that have been made on the prior blog entry that such a card should be NATIONAL!  Let’s not let such details interfere with our brainstorming today.  That’s why we have bankers, lawyers and accountants.

The key question here is:  Could such a process do such a good job of “capturing” audience $’s into the orbit of the arts & cultural economy that it would have a significant impact on actual participation.

What do you think?

The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas!  In that spirit, AUDIENCE WANTED dedicates this summer to stirring up a potpourri of creative notions & half-baked thoughts around the purpose of growing audiences for the arts & cultural sector.  

Suspend practicality & judgment for the moment.  We are just brainstorming here – with an emphasis on BIG thinking and CREATIVE efforts.  Together, let’s amass a HUGE number of wild & crazy ideas.  

Got a Bright Idea to contribute?  Write it up in less than 500 words (along with a brief self-introduction) and send it to:

And if this happens to be an idea that you’re already doing (or if you know somebody who has the power to make it happen) please get in touch, too! 

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  1. says

    In regards to k-12 education, I think that taxes should pay for arts programs. I’d go beyond that: amend the constitution so that all public k-12 education is entirely Federally funded with the same amount per capita, thus leveling all funding for rich and poor. And fund it well. One can dream in America.

  2. says

    Hi Matt,

    I actually pitched a similar idea to my local arts alliance a couple of weeks ago with the twist that the pass could help all non-profits.

    I wanted to share that some schools do have their “girl scout cookies” equivalent. My school sold candy bars, others sell wrapping paper or even books. I like the idea of selling a card or pass to support arts audience development, but the pricing points would probably need to be closer to that box of cookies. Saying “It’s only $25″ is quite different than saying “It’s only $4.” Take it from a kid that did sell candy bars in front of the grocery store back in the day for her band program. It was still a challenge to sell at a $1 until the person was hooked on either the product or the warm fuzzies from purchase. Perhaps a $5 pass that could be used for any arts organization or artist that signs up?

      • says

        Shoshana – your Girl Scout experience is very meaningful to this discussion and I think your point about selling a pass as a $5 “indulgence” is a fascinating insight.

        No wonder I didn’t think like that. When I was a Cub Scout, we sold light bulbs as our fundraiser!

        • says

          At my last job, we reversed the pitch for $50 and $100 donations, using the ArtsCard (a 2fer1 card that could be used at dozens of cultural organizations) and Orlando Arts Magazine as the hooks. A consumerist approach to fundraising to be sure. To lead with the $600 expected value of the ArtsCard got people’s attention. And it’s still a de minimus reward. You’re exactly correct, Matt–people DO intend to participate and there is well-intentioned but erroneous self-reporting all the time in participation surveys.

          Since the #1 reason for not participating is time the next Bright Idea is to manufacture more hours in the day.

  3. Tracy says

    Mr. Lehrman, have you been living under a rock for the last 30 years? As a high school band and art club member in the 80’s I ALWAYS sold something for each group. In my hometown it is a given that the band members will be selling a certain product every year to raise funds for the program. These were programs set up just to help a third party raise a % of the funds. My teachers/advisors worked hard to organize with groups that would give our groups the best %. For band it was 40%…pretty good. As a drama club member we charged a reasonable fee to see our productions. Those funds helped pay for drama club programs. Just about every person I have met in my life who participated in the arts/cultural groups in school participated in some kind of fundraising program for their groups.

    Now as an art teacher I am the one organizing the fundraising. The percentages are not as good as they once were, but if I shop around, I do pretty well for my kids.

    • says

      Ouch, Tracy! That individual school bands and art clubs conduct all sorts of fundraisers is obvious. The point of this idea was to suggest that there should exist a more convenient and compelling MECHANISM for a region’s arts & cultural organizations to offer that capability.

      As you describe it, right now you’re responsible to create your own ad-hoc sales/fundraising relationships with such organizations. I’m suggesting that those organizations (think: theatre company, museum, symphony, ballet, art museum & more) should work together to make it incredibly easy for you (and many others) to engage in sales/fundraising relationships.

      I want to be especially clear on this point: THEY should be pursuing YOU for your services – and providing incentives and technology that make it a true win/win relationship.

      Thanks for your comments!