Give an arts organization $1000 and they’ll put your name in the program. Buy $1000 worth of tickets and they’ll tell you that the cost of your ticket only covered 55 percent (or 40 percent or 30 percent) of the cost of you being there. Then a few months later, long after the performance, they try to hit you up for more money. Gee thanks.
Maybe this is backwards. Who’s the more valuable member of your community? The person who gives you money but otherwise doesn’t have much to do with you, or the person who buys tickets and shows up for every performance? A thousand dollar donation is the same as $1000 of ticket revenue in the bank. Except it isn’t.
Studies of how people make their cultural choices show that personal recommendations top the list. Most arts organizations try to incentivize donors by giving them perks. Your name in the program, special meet-and-greets with artists, club rooms, even your name in golden letters on the wall of the theatre if you give enough.
What incentives do ticket-buyers get?
A ticket sold isn’t just a ticket sold. One audience member isn’t the same as another. Communities are hierarchical, and if you can identify the hierarchies and incentivize them you can push people up the ladder. Along the way they’ll do things for you (and for themselves). People like to be rewarded for engaging with you.
Sure the performance should be enough reward, I know. But if word-of-mouth is the most powerful way of getting more people into the theatre, how do you promote that word-of-mouth? In online social networks, participation is rewarded for the frequency and quality of that participation, and even small recognitions encourage people to participate at higher levels.
If you have an audience member who brings five friends, find a way to reward them. If they bring 10 friends, give them something more. Every arts organization has a page in their program listing the names of people who contributed money and at what level. How about a page that lists the names of people who brought in more people? Reward them with free tickets to bring in even more. Make them feel like a partner and they’ll bring in even more.
The Obama campaign was brilliant at empowering supporters the more they participated. Supporters could sign up for their own page on the Obama website where they could make a personal case for the candidate. They could pledge to raise $1,000 from their friends, then send out emails that directed them to mybarackobama.com to make that personal appeal. It worked brilliantly.
There’s another thing. Most organizations don’t give people enough ways to support them. Some people can’t afford to give money, but they’d be happy to recruit their friends on your behalf. Some people don’t have extra time to commit to fundraising or being on your board, but they’d be happy to talk you up. All it takes sometimes is empowering them to do it. And in imaginative ways that don’t always cost you money or resources.
Who’s making the personal appeal for you? And how are you rewarding them?