How Fictional Arts Organizations
Can Inspire Your Real One

Today’s guest blog post is written by Whitney Rutter, Senior Account Executive, Patron Technology.

Last month in San Francisco, Gene Carr, Michelle Paul, and I led 100-plus participants at the Arts Reach Fall 2015 keynote presentation in an exercise aimed at increasing out-of-the-box thinking. The preceding talk, given by Gene and Michelle, was titled “Getting Personal with Your Patrons: What 1.26 Million Arts Patrons Can Tell You About How to Market to Them.” The Arts Reach conference is designed to discuss the very topics we are constantly talking about here at Patron: how to increase and improve your ticketing, fundraising, and marketing efforts within your non-profit arts organization. However, the purpose of this particular exercise was to push the boundaries a bit and start thinking about those topics from new perspectives.

The basic rules of the exercise were to create a fictional organization and, with the focus of “Getting Personal with Your Patrons,” create at least three great ideas for ticketing, fundraising, or marketing. The hidden obstacle came in when we asked participants to self-identify as in charge of ticketing, fundraising, or marketing within their current (real-life) organization and then we had them move into a new department within their new job (fictional). Ticketing folks went to fundraising, fundraising to marketing, and marketing to ticketing. Artistic directors (of which there were a few) went to fundraising as well.

The exercise immediately brought out creativity and illuminated the challenge of thinking from a different perspective within our organizations. But more interesting to me, the group embraced the idea of the exercise wholeheartedly and with such a determined spirit that they even started envisioning what their day-to-day lives would be like as they ran the organization. At one point a fundraising participant said in reference to our six fundraising ideas, “How are we going to accomplish all of this in one year?” At another point, an Artistic Director bemoaned the fact that we had to solicit donations for an event, saying, “I’m worried it takes away from the mission of our organization.” Reminder to the readers: These organizations were created 10 minutes prior in a fictional universe!

At this point you’re probably asking, what were these fictional orgs? Well, they were pretty near to reality, too.

Group A (Ticketing) designed a combination performance venue / community space / bar called ARTS+BAR, with a re-conceptualized box office called the “Welcome Center,” which was prominently located in the venue. Their staffers would be empowered to make decisions to improve the customer experience, including having a budget for gifting people with complimentary beverage coupons or even tickets.

Group B (Fundraising) came up with Songs for Everyone, a non-profit dedicated to bringing song into the lives of the community. Fundraising ideas included National Song Day, an “Ice -Bucket”–style online challenge about singing songs, and Happy Birthday singing telegrams.

Group C (Marketing) created a dance company called Big Fun Dance Company, and focused on patron retention through providing perks such as a personal welcome from the Artistic Director upon arrival; a photo booth in the lobby equipped with sets from the performance, meant to encourage folks to post on social media; and a totally out-of-the-box idea (maybe inspired by our presence in San Fran amid the tech companies), on-site childcare for parents who would otherwise attend performances more often if they had a sitter for the kids.

Gene, Michelle, and I were motivated by not just the energy of the exercise but also the quality of the output. There were too many great ideas to share all at once, so we wanted to introduce this to you now to encourage the start of this creative dialogue. We’ll be sharing more ideas in the future.

Overall, this exercise also had a powerful impact on the participants. I got the strong feeling that a few people started to think seriously about starting these organizations in real life, post-conference!

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One response to “How Fictional Arts Organizations
Can Inspire Your Real One

  1. Gene: Thanks for this. It seems that the group in San Francisco created some ‘discontinuous’ innovations that might inform our current business models. I’d be interested to hear if their work will be taken to the next level

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