By Jill Robinson, CEO
It’s the beginning of April and almost exactly a month since the World Health Organization deemed COVID-19 a global pandemic. April is the time when arts and cultural organizations are typically in full swing on subscription and membership campaigns, and when many performing arts organizations in North America are preparing fiscal year-end giving appeals.
This year is anything but typical. But those campaigns are running. People are subscribing, becoming members. They’re giving.
In this week’s TRG 30 Stephen Skrypec and I surfaced some bright spots in the data from our friends at Spektrix and our own COVID-19 Sector Benchmark. Sarah Frost, Client Insights Manager at Spektrix, shared that a full 67% of their clients’ ticketing income has been retained (through credits, exchanges or donations) since the crisis began, and in the UK they’ve seen a whopping 57% increase in the volume of donations made with ticket purchases (22% in the US) compared to this time last year.
TRG clients are seeing growth in subscription and membership campaign income, too. Ranging from 1-12% growth compared to last year’s campaign activity, these results suggest that the campaigns started strong, and while the crisis is affecting momentum, organizations across the globe are pushing hard now to ensure a solid finish.
A solid finish. Will we be finished? Hardly. This year, interrupted in every way, will require us to pivot regularly, and to plan for those pivots with different approaches, different resources, perhaps a different team. And the data tells the story: it’s our loyalists—however we define them—that continue to engage. We must continue to focus on supporting and creating these kinds of patrons.
What do I mean?
Last week I was reminded how badly we all want a crystal ball. No one knows when our performances will begin again, when our museum and zoo doors will open. In the face of this uncertainty, we must now scenario-plan about timing and income and patronage, allowing ourselves to peer into those potential futures where the impact is (min) minimal, or (med) middle-of the road, or (max) perhaps much more painful. I suggested yesterday that if you haven’t already done this, you’re late.
Then every week, now and for the next 12 months, we must review our patron’s behavior against these scenarios. I suggested a whole year of planned pivots that simultaneously anticipate these scenarios, and also react to the shifts in our local and national crisis guidance, the behavior we’re seeing in our own patrons and in the COVID-19 Sector Benchmark, and the needs of our businesses.
This is war-room-like work, requiring nimble, cross-functional teams, combined resources focused on patron loyalty engagement, and daily or weekly adjustments. And in the context of the staffing limitations so many organizations face now, this cross-functional, integrated work will be the only way.
So what do you do?
1. If you haven’t already, create the scenarios I’ve described above for all your patron revenue streams (indeed, all revenue streams).
2. Develop tracking reports that enable your organization to see current results in the context of these scenarios.
3. Plan for the whole patron from this point forward. Move beyond separate membership, philanthropic and ticketing campaigns; instead segment and plan based on loyalty. Integrate all patron communications into one calendar. Integrate budgets in marketing, development/philanthropy and guest services so that resources can work together to accomplish patron needs.
4. Create your pivot team from across your organization, based on strengths and capacity, less on current role. Your organization will have all kinds of functional needs, from initiating 1:1 contact with patrons via phone and email, to writing copy, to creating content. Find out now where skills and talents exist and use them.
5. Plan to pivot. Consider what will need to change in your patron approach given different scenarios your organization might face, including messaging, incentives, programs, content access and more. Plan together for these changes, map them out.
6. And finally, meet as a pivot team regularly. Now is the time for war-room-like posture and behavior, working nimbly together to optimize every expense budget, every staff hour and all the energy you have.
This kind of work, done in this way for the next 12 months, will revolutionize our organizations in ways that will positively evolve our sector. Like I said last week: gather your teams, remove the obstacles and silos so you can innovate, use data. Believe and be bold.
We’ll come out of this stronger together. Until then, remember: #artsnowmorethanever.
Each week TRG 30 will address the issues important to you, the arts and cultural field we serve. In the meantime, join me, your international peers, and our TRG team in the LinkedIn TRG 30 Virtual Network for real-time, daily exchange of ideas and information.