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In my most recent podcast, Martin Leifield, Vice Chancellor of Advancement University of Missouri, An Expert In Fund Raising, Gives Helpful Tips & Hints, I had the pleasure of speaking with Martin Leifeld one on one.

What I found most interesting in this discussion, is that the conversation went very much like my many other conversations I have had throughout the years of managing professional sales representatives.

From managing your current revenue (current donors/current program book advertisers) to always knocking on doors for new revenue (new donors/new program book advertisers) performing arts fundraising is very similar to what we go through every day when selling program book advertising.

And in this sense, one will quickly understand, regardless of whether you are trying to fundraise to new levels, or meet a new program book advertising sales objective, it is not easy!

But just as we teach our performing arts program book advertising sales reps, if you follow a system to your approach, you can at least make it a little easier on yourself, if not fun while doing it.

Saying this, for many performing arts organizations, it’s the end of a prosperous and busy season for your nonprofit performing arts group, and the start of the next year/season never offers much of a break before fundraising efforts find their way to the top of your fiscal to-do list. But, rest assure, you’re in good company; of the 1.8 million IRS-recognized U.S. charities, nearly 32,000 classify themselves as performing arts organizations. With nearly every group facing financial hardship (see Breaking Even But We’ll Be Broke If Something Breaks from Joe Patti over at Butts In The Seat) how do you secure the future of your nonprofit performing arts organization for the next year and beyond?

Jumping in the donor pool: current vs. prospective givers

Determining where to spend your fundraising energy depends on two things: the financial ability to support and personal affinity your current and prospective donors have for your organization.

Current donors: Your current donors clearly save a lot of love for your performing arts organization, or they would not donate. Their ties are personal, with family involvement, either as donors or artists/performers, or long-time residents with a desire to give back to a community they love and enjoy. The affinity is there but is their ability to financially support you next season and beyond a reality after so many years of donating? How do you keep their interest and enthusiasm?

Prospective donors: New to the community and/or the performing arts scene, but looking to cement a legacy of giving and make an impact in local society, they may not have formed an affinity for your performing arts organization, but they have the funds. How do you encourage an adoration for your organization and their financial support?

You have two objectives

Maintain current donors’ interest and donation levels, and infuse new ideas and fund flow with additional donors.

How to go about it

Ensure new and current donors meet each other with after-performance dinner or pre-performance cocktail events. Include perks such as free ticket drawings and backstage meet-and-greets with star performers. Present silent auctions and raffles (contact the local business for donations, so these events raise additional funds).

Provide new and prospective donors with early seat selection, discounts on package ticket selections and “sneak peek” email blasts to advise them of upcoming events before the general public receives the information.

Thank your donors with printed acknowledgment in your program books, during announcements and on posters or digital signage displayed throughout your venue.

Meet with donors and obtain their input for future performances. Ask them what plays, shows and concerts interest them. No matter how well-known and performed the play, symphony, opera or dance, if it’s not well-received by your donors, their support goes elsewhere.

Going beyond the one person, one check idea: the corporate partner challenge

Performing arts fundraising moves to a more sustainable level beyond the one person, one check idea by adding corporate partners. Local and national companies looking to enhance their socially responsible profiles find funding performing arts a perfect balance. Corporations and employees find mutual benefit in social responsibility: the employee-employer relationship is warmer and more personal, employees take pride in their company identity and enjoy the improved corporate culture.

In sponsoring the performing arts, employees also enjoy an increased level of creativity with better access to your arts organization’s performances. The corporation receives recognition for their endowment, enhancing their status in the community, earning them a mention in the business news media and national philanthropic publications.

Finding corporate partners starts with a company’s marketing division president. Approach them as a business seeking their business, rather than a nonprofit looking for a handout. Present a proposal, make it personal for them and provide statistics on how and why their investment has an important impact, not just for the arts organization, but for the entire community.

Leveraging beyond the first big donation

Says Martin Leifield, when someone says, “I’m all in, here’s the big check,” don’t take it and run. Make that first donation the start of a sustained alliance. Give the donor reasons to return; reward them regularly with recognition, and remember that your performing arts organization performs best when donors stay for the long term.

If you haven’t gathered by now, performing arts fundraising is about building relationships within the community. And just like performing arts program book advertising sales, it takes a lot of persistence. Good selling!

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