Fundraising and marketing departments are some of the biggest friends and foes in the live event industry. They often work side by side and share resources, but it can quickly become a competition if marketers become concerned about cannibalizing ticket sales because of too many donation campaigns, and vice versa for your development team.
Those of us who specialize in these two revenue-generating areas can forget that both fundraisers and marketers have the same goal – to create long-term relationships between audiences and an organization.
I recently presented on the art of fundraising at the Arts Marketing Association Conference in Birmingham, UK. This is a hot topic for cultural industries worldwide, as evidenced by the standing room crowd that spilled over into the halls during the early morning session!
To prepare, I spoke with development professionals from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Norway and The Netherlands. Each of these markets has different nuances when it comes to earning contributed revenue, but there are patterns that relate to interacting with donors and why this is important for any organization as a whole.
When you contrast European and North American ecosystems, Western Europe traditionally has the most public funding while Canada and the USA rely more on private support. However, even this is changing as more and more governments require arts organizations to earn contributed revenue from corporate and individual sources.
This is no doubt a learning curve for most organizations and it’s hard to know where to begin. But if you’re just starting out as fundraisers for your arts organization, you probably have more skills than you realize.
Fundraising and marketing use the same procedures to earn revenue – each department is just hypertargeting their efforts to different people in the customer pipeline.
Marketing is the first department to target a customer. They focus on the masses to attract new audience members, and then cultivate those who attend their first event into a repeat buyer and hopefully a subscriber. Once the customer is passionate about your organization, development can take over to deepen the relationship and offer an expanded customer experience. Marketing principles are critical to success in both of these areas, and it starts with knowing how to position your offerings so that your target audience will be motivated to act.
The Gateway Performing Arts Center of Suffolk County is an excellent example of an organization that transformed its model based on a deep understanding of its customers. It transformed from commercial theatre into a non-profit. The switch was very recent and incredibly successful!
Strategic communications to The Gateway’s subscribers described the change and how it would allow the team to offer a more interactive experience.
“Commercial theaters don’t really provide the opportunity to build a personal relationship with their donors,” explains Scot Alan from The Gateway. “Because The Gateway is now a non-profit organization, we have a team dedicated to knowing our donors and how to make the experience valuable for them.”
Understanding Donors is Key
The Dutch National Opera and Ballet has faced numerous changes in the last few years. These include a merger of the ballet and opera under the same organizational umbrella and a change in the funding model for the country, which requires the organization to raise contributed income to receive government grants.
“Our audiences are very different,” describes Teun Westhoff, Fundraising and Relationship Manager for the Dutch National Opera and Ballet. “Ballet is a much more popular and accessible art, while the opera is viewed as a more exclusive experience.”
Instead of trying to make ballet and opera relevant to everyone, the organization separates the art forms and their corresponding fundraising efforts to offer the best experience for each donor.
Having a thorough knowledge of your donors is not limited to individuals, but also extends to public funding bodies and sponsors as well.
“If there’s ever an option on a grant application to call someone with a question, I do,” says Scot Alan. “This is a relationship you need to cultivate as there’s always a person behind that government grant or that sponsorship your organization is receiving, and it’s vital to make sure this person feels comfortable with your organization.”
Same Goals, Different Tactics
Marketing and fundraising use different strategies to reach the same goals. For example, a development professional will use personalized notes to target specific donors while marketers send mass communications to wider target audiences. Other differences that are important to recognize include:
- Heightened sense of urgency in fundraising. It is more personal and immediate than marketing.
- “The business of no.” Rejection is expected in this area of the arts, which adds stress to the work that fundraisers do.
- Marketing has to work around artistic programming as opposed to generally creating “the ask” as fundraisers do.
So what is the key to success to marketing your fundraising initiatives? It really begins with understanding that fundraising and marketing are one and the same – they’re just positioned in different spots along the pipeline of cultivation.
Ticket buyers become subscribers. Donors are ticket buyers. These are not separate audiences, so it makes sense that marketing and development teams can benefit by working together.