Case study: Kansas City Repertory Theatre

Case study: Kansas City Repertory Theatre

Annual fund success: more donors, bigger gifts, and a 41% increase in annual fund upgrades

Photo by Taylor Ford
When Kansas City Repertory Theatre began its Capacity Building Consulting partnership with TRG Arts in January 2014, increasing patron revenue, both earned and contributed, was the top priority.

TRG conducted an initial Baseline Assessment, which analyzed patron, pricing, and revenue data to identify key issues at KC Rep. Among them were aligning resources with revenue opportunities and focusing on building loyalty in addition to prospecting. The assessment identified the annual fund as an opportunity for growth. After a large influx of new lower-level donors in the 2011-12 season due to a one-time experiment with telefunding, donors and revenue had dropped off and stayed flat.

The relevant factors in the declining annual fund numbers included:

  • In 2011-12, KC Rep ran a telefunding campaign that brought in 450 donations and $46,645 in revenue.  For a variety of reasons, the telefunding effort was not repeated in subsequent years and the number of donors declined.
  • Gift renewal campaigns were run on a quarterly basis, which meant that entry-level and mid-sized donor renewal rates were low – 32% for the gift level of $100-$249.
  • Segmentation of previous annual fund appeals was very broad. While the appeal reached a large number of potential donors, certain segments like single ticket buyers consistently brought negative ROI.

In 2014 and 2015 KC Rep had a capital campaign to renovate their flagship venue, Spencer Theatre. The capital campaign was supported mainly by major donors, which meant that KC Rep needed to shore up support from lower-level donors more than ever before.


Since engaging TRG, KC Rep has seen a 14% increase in revenue and a 4% increase in gifts in the annual fund, including a 17% increase at the $100-$999 levels.

Where did the increase in revenue come from?

1. Gift size increased overall. KC Rep raised their minimum ask to $100 in all solicitations to subscriber non-donors and current donors under $100, which resulted in 10% growth in average gift size under $1000.

2. The pool of donors was slightly larger. KC Rep saw an overall 4% increase in donors and a 7% improvement in renewal rate.

3. The slightly larger pool of donors gave more. KC Rep experienced a 41% increase in the number of donors who increased their donation from 2013-14 to 2014-15. At the same time, they experienced a 26% decline in downgraded gifts.

4. More donors gave more frequently. The 2014-15 season saw an 18% increase in multi-givers, donor households who gave more than once in the fiscal year. Multi-givers grew from 71 in 2012-13 to 116 in 2014-15.

How they did it

Executive Director Angela Gieras described the changes that helped KC Rep turn around their annual fund campaign. “Working with TRG has changed our strategies for growing revenue. Mollie Alexander and our team are doing a lot right. Using TRG’s data-based approach, we focused on industry-proven best practices that made growing donors and revenue even more effective. We are thrilled with our progress in fundraising and ticket sales.”

2009-10 and 2010-11: Donations flat, decreased during recession years.
2011-12: 64% spike in revenue with telefunding.
2012-13: Revenue dips as telefunding is removed from campaign plans.
2013-14: TRG is hired.
2014-15: Revenue rebounds with reinstatement of telefunding, second ask, and changes in acquisition strategy. 


KC Rep’s world premiere production of Roof of the World. Photo by Don Ipock.

Adjustments to medium, frequency:
Hard work gets results.

TRG consultants advised KC Rep to add more touchpoints to their campaigns. KC Rep invested more heavily in direct marketing as a proportion of their development budget.

One element of this deeper investment was the addition of an in-house telefunding campaign, designed to help replicate the success they’d seen in 2011-12. They also began running a monthly renewal campaign, whereas before donation renewal appeals had been quarterly. TRG also advised KC Rep to make a second appeal to donors who’d already made a gift in the current year, a practice not previously undertaken. The campaign had an 11.3% conversion rate.

“Operating our own in-house telefunding campaign has been an adventure and a challenge,” Development Director Mollie Alexander said. “We are thrilled with the results, which are improving with each new telefunding effort.”

Thoughtful, data-informed upgrades:
Never ask for less than $100.

KC Rep made changes to how they asked current donors to renew. Before, they determined the ask amount on the renewal based on their previous amount, with a set percentage increase. TRG recommended that KC Rep set a bottom limit of $100. Donors who gave less than $100 in the previous year were asked for $100, while donors who gave more than more $100 were asked for the increased ask amount based on the percentage system KC Rep had already created.

KC Rep’s production of Sunday in the Park with George. Photo by Taylor Ford.

KC Rep expanded the “don’t ask for less than $100” rule on the subscription renewal appeal, which is designed to attract new donors. All renewing subscribers who hadn’t donated or had donated less than $100 were asked for a $100 donation. This amount qualified them for the Super Subscriber benefits like a drink coupon, an invitation to an exclusive sneak peek reception with Artistic Director Eric Rosen, and a backstage tour of Spencer Theatre. This led to a 34% increase in Friends level donors ($100-$249), as well as an increase in Member level donors ($10-$49).

KC Rep has an early bird subscription renewal club, called the “Standing O Club,” which consists of subscribers who have agreed to renew without knowing what the programming will be for the following season. Knowing that these patrons are more loyal than the typical renewing subscriber and informed by data on how much these patrons typically give, KC Rep tried a different approach. Instead of asking for an increase or the $100 Super Subscriber gift, Standing O Club members were told that people like them donate a specific amount.

Response rate reporting:

Stop asking people who aren’t likely to give

Cost of sale is a ratio which shows how much
was spent in order in comparison to the revenue
generated, similar to ROI. Any percentage over
100 indicates that the segment or campaign had
negative return.

KC Rep cast a wide net to acquire new donors, asking subscribers, lapsed subscribers, multi-buyers, and single ticket buyers for a gift through direct mail, email, and telefunding. While the appeal reached a large number of potential donors, some segments consistently did not respond. The data showed a clear pattern: KC Rep lost money on appeals to everyone but current subscribers.

Additionally, KC Rep was only investing in new donor acquisition at a 7% cost of sale in the 2012-13 season. KC Rep increased that ratio to 26% by increasing the frequency of contact with the most qualified existing and potential donors, resulting in growth in donors under $1000.

“We knew we needed to grow both our revenue and number of donors to prepare for some major institutional campaigns. The data showed us that we could be more focused without compromising revenue. Once I saw how few single ticket buyers and lapsed subscribers were responding to our appeals, it was an easy decision to start asking only current subscribers,” Mollie said.

Renovated Spencer Theatre. Photo by Taylor Ford.

About Kansas City Repertory Theatre

Kansas City Repertory Theatre (KC Rep), the professional theatre in residence at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, continues its five-decades long tradition of producing works which are compelling, passionate and imaginative. 

KC Rep was founded in 1964 by Dr. Patricia McIlrath, whose vision was to establish a training program where theatre students could work side by side with professional actors, designers and directors.

KC Rep’s long-held dream to establish a second, smaller theatre was realized in 2007 when Copaken Stage opened in downtown Kansas City, expanding the theatre’s performance options and further establishing KC Rep as a leader in Kansas City’s arts community.  In 2014, KC Rep celebrated its 50th Anniversary, and successfully completed a $5.5 million campaign to renovate its main stage home at Spencer Theatre, its first major renovation since its opening in 1979. The renovation was designed to provide a better experience for the patron by improving acoustics, the theatre interior, restrooms, and reducing lines at the bar during intermission.  The new Spencer Theatre will allow KC Rep to further develop its vision as the heart of a great theatre town.

KC Rep is working with TRG Arts in a Capacity Building Consultancy, TRG’s premier engagement for organizations who want to affect an institution-wide shift toward a patron-centered approach. To explore a Capacity Building Consultancy for your organization, email


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Posted July 11, 2016

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