5 Tips for Arts Organizations to Weather Any Economy

By Jacob Trussell, Marketing Coordinator

Depending on who you ask, the U.S. may be looking at a recession come 2020, which obviously could have some adverse effects on your arts organization. But we’re not here to get all “doom and gloom” on you! As I’ve always been told, it’s much better to plan for the worst and hope for the best than to have no plan at all. So even if we aren’t hit with a major economic upheaval in the next year, it’s still a great idea to start putting procedures in place that’ll help ensure financial security if your institutional giving is ever negatively impacted by the ups and downs of our economy.

Learn from the Past

The last major recession was over a decade ago, and in that time we’ve been able to learn quite a bit about how different arts organizations adapted and survived through it. Recently, SMU DataArts released a report detailing what happened to arts institutions during the Great Recession of 2007-2009. The report can be used as a guide or an indicator of where you may want to focus your attention, from re-engaging with your subscribers to doubling down on a growing number of single ticket buyers. 

Focus on Your Organizational Story

Every organization has a story to tell that inspires patrons to return over and over again. In uncertain times, you may need to adjust this narrative to match the current mood. This article from Room40 says it best: 

You will still need to motivate and inspire during hard times. More than ever, you will need a compelling story that fills people with inspiration and urgency to act. You need to show your donors and staff that there is plenty about your organization to be excited about. Don’t let yourself be defined by the things you can’t do or have stopped doing now that the weather has turned.

You can keep the trust of your donors and soothe the anxiety of your patrons by reiterating the importance of your organization and showing them that you are putting an actionable plan in place.

Assemble a Task Force

Identify key employees to make up a team focusing their attention on your organization’s financial future. I’d suggest sourcing staff members from all different areas of your arts organization to create a diverse atmosphere with people looking at the situation from as many different angles as possible. With a team assembled, you can have them run through different scenarios and forecast what measures may need to be put in place so that you’ll not only have a Plan A, but a Plan B and C as well.

Your Organization 2.0

Reconfiguring how you run your arts organization doesn’t have to result in the feeling of losing your identity, but it is extremely important to be mindful of where your resources are going during a potentially precarious time. Think of new ways of approaching your upcoming season, from brainstorming creative ways to produce shows on a tighter budget to refreshing your marketing strategy! Using tools like a CRM system and Google Analytics can help drill down the who, where, and how potential donors and patrons are finding and interacting with you. Focus your resources on these targeted areas to revitalize your patron and donor outreach and ultimately get butts in seats when grant money isn’t a sure thing.

Lift Your Community Up

Connect with other arts organizations in your city to create a support system for institutions to learn from one another. Use these systems to share resources and information, as well as discuss best organizational practices. Additionally, explore the idea of different collaborative opportunities, which could help split the financial burden of producing a show and keep the community engaged with the arts during times of uncertainty. Lifting up your peers, and the reciprocal benefits of doing so might just make all the difference during an economic slowdown. 

While the impetus of this blog is about a potential economic recession, these are all ideas that could be helpful to put into action at any time. It never hurts to be over-prepared. And by having a plan in place and readying yourself now for what you may need to do when times are tough, you can save your organization from feeling blindsided by the need to quickly adapt to a changing financial landscape.

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