Six Ideas to Help Your Marketing and Development Teams Grow Sustainable Revenue — Together

Both marketing and development departments are responsible for deepening patron loyalty at arts organizations. When they work together, everyone wins.

April 2, 2022
TRG Arts by TRG Arts

At many arts organizations, ticket buyers and subscribers “belong” to marketing and donors “belong” to development.

Sometimes it seems like marketing and development couldn’t be more different. Their communication styles are different, their immediate goals are different, their software tools are different, and they use different short-term metrics for success. They might work in the same building, but all too often it feels like they come from two different planets.

The habit of separating the two departments is convenient, perhaps, but misguided. It’s true that one department or the other may advance a patron relationship at each stage of its evolution. However, both departments aim to deepen audience relationships, despite the difference in their approaches.

Without an upgraded strategy that involves both departments, marketing and development can miss their best opportunities to deepen audience relationships with the organization.

Marketing and development should be empowered to work together as they use their unique styles and approaches to develop relationships — from first-time attendees to major donors.

Here are six ways to get both departments working toward the organization’s overall loyalty and revenue needs:

1. Share databases

One of the most valuable tools in an arts manager’s toolkit is a centralized, shared database system. Many arts organizations work in multiple systems. This practice, while providing the individual functionality that each department may need, can stunt collaborative efforts to grow patron relationships.

Atlanta Ballet has one of the most functional marketing–development relationships we’ve heard of. Atlanta Ballet took the leap to merge its two database systems years ago. Before doing that, the organization sent communications separately from its marketing and development departments.

Now that we share a database, marketing is able to easily pull a donation ask into renewals,” says Tricia Ekholm, Chief Marketing Officer at Atlanta Ballet. “We can base those asks on current donor renewal dates, past giving history, or entry-level ask for potential new donors. And box office staff is empowered to make the donation ask based on this information. This allows us to make one ‘ask’ to the consumer and avoid duplicate or conflicting messages that can be confusing,

Merging its databases helped the ballet’s marketing and development departments streamline audience communications, reducing redundancy, and confusion.

2. Coordinate campaign content and timing

Even if departments in your organization don’t share the same database, marketing and development should talk regularly about campaign plans and timing. It’s common for marketing and development departments to manage their own independent communications programs across a mix of media (social, email, direct mail, telemarketing, etc.). When marketing and development messages aren’t well-coordinated, arts organizations can confuse consumers or push them away.

Imagine that you’re both a donor and a subscriber of your city’s symphony. How would you feel if you received disjointed or conflicting messages about the symphony from its marketing and fundraising mailings or emails? It might be frustrating to get a subscription renewal notice from marketing in the mail the same week as a fundraising email asking for a donation to the annual fund.

Audiences, especially those who are highly invested, expect that an organization will take the context of their relationship into account when communicating with them. This requires an intentional, integrated messaging strategy and collaboration between departments.

3. Meet at the box office

TRG research shows that no matter the size of the gift, the effects of donating on loyalty and overall lifetime value can be tremendous. Most major donors are cultivated from lower giving levels, rather than entering the organization as brand new high-level donors. Given this fact, campaigns where a front-line sales team like the box office asks for a lower-level gift make sense—and also make money.

The box office regularly interacts directly with consumers and so can make asks that are appropriate in the moment. For example, a telefunding follow-up call to a first-time single ticket buyer may push the new patron relationship too far, while an invitation to add on a donation during a purchase may seem more natural.

In this case study, we showcased the successes that three of our client arts organizations had when their marketing and development departments worked together on box office giving campaigns. Des Moines Performing Arts, Arena Stage, and Ordway Center for Performing Arts each used a simple donation ask at the box office to strengthen patron loyalty. While the goals of these campaigns varied, the central success factor was the work of the box office staff.

Great things result when departments work together. Bring your box office staff in and incentivize them to invite consumers to make a small donation in the moment when they renew their subscription or buy a single ticket.

4. Work each other's events

Getting staff to collaborate goes beyond campaign timing and shared data. It involves a spirit of cooperation. At Atlanta Ballet, marketing staff are expected to work development events and vice versa.

I don’t think there is any arts organization that has enough staff to do everything they want to do, ” Ekholm said. “It makes sense that all staff share the duty of working events that are outside of regular business hours. It also allows staff across departments to get to know audience by name.

Having a staff of overall well-rounded individuals that can move with ease across events and conversations makes for overall stronger organizational relationships with consumers, ” she continues. “This does not preclude staff having an assigned list of consumers they are to steward at the event. But donors are also ticket buyers; ticket buyers are potential donors. All staff need to be able to give basic answers to questions across the organization. One of the best ways to cross-train staff is to have them work events across departments.

5. Incentivize collaboration

The transition from subscriber or member to donor isn’t always clear-cut. Until the patron relationship has clearly advanced to “major donor” status, both departments are still responsible for cultivating the patron relationship. And marketing, box office, and front-of-house staff may continue to interact with major donors in various capacities.

Arts organizations should engage in open, interdepartmental dialogue about the importance of consumer upgrades to earned and contributed revenue streams. We know of organization leaders like Chad Bauman at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre who actively encourage and incentivize departmental leaders to help each other make their revenue goals.

I make it clear to my director-level staff that they will be evaluated on how well they collaborate, ” Bauman says. “Working together is something that we talk about for their performance reviews. When all the people who are handling our patron relationships cooperate and work in alignment, audience development becomes a lot easier. Executives should absolutely make marketing–development collaboration a priority, and everyone on those teams should know that it’s a priority.

Incentives to collaborate can happen on multiple levels of the organization. Executive leaders may encourage senior staff to collaborate. At the same time, managers in each department should direct and motivate staff to cultivate patron relationships across a variety of investment activities. This is especially important for front-line staff.

In the example of box office donation campaigns, staff were actively incentivized to do the extra work of asking for donations. Small prizes, a pizza party, and financial compensation all motivated staff to contribute to financial goals that weren’t wholly marketing, box office, or development goals.

6. Offer subscribers a taste of donorship

Ticket buyers, subscribers, and members are more likely to look at their relationship with an organization as transactional. Taking the step to donorship requires a patron to see his or her relationship with the organization as a more personal, intrinsically rewarding investment.

By offering subscribers or members a taste of the special benefits of donorship, you welcome them into the club of support. Whether your organization offers a taste of the intrinsic or the extrinsic value of donorship, a little effort can reap big returns for the organization.

For example, the Atlanta Ballet tries to find two to three times a year to give subscribers a taste of what being a donor would be like. Their Donor Preview Parties are wine and cheese events that allow donors to go into the studio for a sneak peek at rehearsals and a chance to meet the choreographer and dancers. They are usually for donors over $1,000, but once a year, they host one for subscribers who don’t donate. “People love them,” Ekholm says, “and they ask when we’ll do it again.” The answer is that they do them 4 to 5 times a year, but they are donor-only events. It’s easy from there to inquire: “Would you be interested in becoming a donor?”

It is a slow-building process,” Ekholm says, “ but we have begun to identify subscribers who have the potential to be major donors, but aren’t yet on our radar.

Same Team, Shared Goals

No matter which department we work for, we are all working for a common goal: to see great art being consumed in our communities, ” Ekholm says. “That means we should all want strong financially viable organizations, and that comes from both sides of the house, marketing and development.

Marketing and development may differ, but each has an important role to play in audience development. How could much more could your marketing and development departments accomplish by working together?

If your arts organization has had success working across departments to manage audience upgrades, we’d love to hear from you.