David Johnson writes for Ticketsolve
15 November 2019 | By David Johnson
Head of Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy's Programme at Cause4 David Johnson explains how to think about fundraising for your arts organisations and the best tools to reach your goals.
In October 2019 I joined Ticketsolve at their annual forum at Leicester Square Theatre where I met with their clients and shared some thoughts on fundraising as it sits across marketing and box office teams. Sometimes organisations find raising funds sits in a silo within their business plan and the people doing it remain a bit of a mystery. In my experience though, the most effective fundraising organisations are those where it is embedded right across the team, where everyone feels empowered to support it as a key activity and have the tools to do so in a way that they don’t feel put upon or uncomfortable.
Box office, of course, can play a central role in this – that team are the gatekeepers to the welcome that audiences receive and are often the custodians of many people’s first experiences of the venue. Box office teams make great fundraisers as they are usually confident in selling; get to build personal relationships, and importantly, are passionate about their organisations.
It does sometimes feel like there are an awful lot of things to ask a customer when making a booking though – what date, which show, mailing list sign up and GDPR requirements, so adding a donation request at that point might feel like a low priority on an already long list. The key to achieving good point of sale donations is to work this into your regular conversations so it feels natural and not forced. If this isn’t working for you why not test different moments in the customer journey to make the ask? For example, some venues will make a donation request at the point of ticket collection for COBO sales when the audience member is excited, engaged and looking forward to the event.
We need to help box office if they are going to help us fundraise!
So how can organisations help your box office teams advocate for the work that your charity undertakes? Organisations shouldn’t expect teams to raise money without them understanding why they are doing it; in the same way that they wouldn’t sell tickets to a show that they didn’t have some context about. The Case for Support, therefore, is the most valuable story for teams to come together and understand why they need the money and what it will be spent on.
Including your box office teams in the development of your charity’s key fundraising document is invaluable in shaping how the organisation is going to talk about its fundraising messages. Key areas for all teams to understand from this story is why your organisation needs donations, how much money it needs, and how the donor can connect with the cause. I often talk to clients about storytelling and constructing a narrative that is engaging, informative and emotive.
Actually asking for a donation is one of the key hurdles that most teams face when thinking about fundraising for the first time. It can feel surprisingly uncomfortable to ask and needs to be practised, incorporated in the day to day activity and supported. Some teams respond well to being incentivised – either as a group or as individuals, and celebrating success on a monthly basis is crucial to get buy-in. When working with box office or front of house teams on asking people for money, the most common objection is that they might hear the word no. This will almost certainly happen and it's ok! Not every patron that your organisation comes into contact with will have the propensity or interest to give. Some will though, and if they aren’t asked in the first instance you’ll never know. Many donors will also support non-arts charitable causes and a number won’t realise that arts and cultural organisations have charitable status.
Tools at your disposal
Having a system like Ticketsolve is brilliant to facilitate an easier ask of your audiences. Automatic prompts at online sales are often very effective, especially when connected to a story and a cause. For organisations that run different types of event, it is worth looking back at trends in different audiences. Music or circus audiences, for example, might give differently to theatre audiences and building up a profile of this for your organisation can also help you work through how best to make the ask, as well as how to tailor your story.
Consider the return on your investment as well. Transactional donations at point of sale might yield less of a donation per booker than membership but they are relatively light touch in terms of the resources spent generating them. When you are thinking about where to fundraise, map the engagement points where someone will first access your venue, consider what their motivation to give might look like and how you’ll want the ask to feel when it happens. This might be entirely online which means your web messaging needs adapting to be concise, clear and compelling.
Your teams are your greatest asset in fundraising – the old adage ‘people give to people’ stands true. Help them to be as effective as possible by making sure someone is taking ownership of fundraising and providing them with the messaging they need to be confident in asking for donations.
Most of all, fundraising requires investment like any other income generation activity. Take the time to support your box office team and others so that fundraising runs throughout your organisation and is front of mind for your teams.