Subscriber Matchmaking: Learning from Alumni Associations

Today’s guest post is written by Rachel Hands, Client Service Representative here at Patron Technology.

Subscribers Should be Friends
Is there a college or university without an alumni association? I doubt it! (Just among the four recent grads living in my house, we get alumni mail from six schools.) Alumni associations are ubiquitous for a reason: They present significant benefits to both the alumni and the institutions.

Does your arts non-profit create similar benefits? In particular, some of the greatest benefits offered by alumni associations are in intangible areas like career development, networking, and social events. These offerings help create the sense that the members are part of a community, and have relationships with one another as well as with the school.

For many patrons, being a member or subscriber signifies a relationship with the organization but not necessarily with other patrons. As a card-carrying museum member and orchestra subscriber, I feel a certain connection with those organizations even though I know only a few of my fellow subscribers and members.

However, I can safely assume that many other patrons — ones I haven’t met yet — are subscribers and members because, like me, they value the work that those organizations do. We are a group of people with shared interests, who want to use our resources to support visual art and music in our city.

I want to get to know these people, and I’m convinced that knowing more people who share these interests would deepen my commitment to the organizations we have in common. University alumni groups are successful in part because they take advantage of these connections — and with a few adjustments, you can use some of the same strategies to get your patrons together, get them talking, and strengthen their support for the great things you do.

Here are a few possibilities:

  • Hold special members-only or subscribers-only events — a gallery preview, a pre-show meet-and-greet with some of your performers, an ice cream social, or a potluck cookout. At these events, encourage your patrons to introduce one another to people they’ve never met and talk about their favorite recent performances or exhibitions.
  • Do most patrons drive to your venue? When patrons sign up for your mailing list or buy tickets, ask if they’d be interested in signing up for a rideshare program, and connect patrons who have space in their cars to those who might need a ride to your event. (If you already offer discounted parking for subscribers, consider offering the same discount for any patrons who use your rideshare program.) It’s a great way to introduce patrons who might otherwise never meet, and it’s greener than everyone driving alone!
  • Alumni organizations are skilled at developing business partnerships that benefit their members. In addition to your corporate sponsorships, try forming partnerships with other arts organizations in your area. You might offer discounts to each other’s members and subscribers, and hold joint member events.

These are all benefits to your members, but it’s important for your organization to get something out of it, too. A college’s alumni are often its most powerful advocates. US News & World Report’s college rankings include a list of the top 10 schools with the biggest percentage of alumni donors, and for good reason: These alumni are giving more than just scholarship money. They’re making a statement about the value they place on the experience they had at those schools, and that statement reaches prospective students as well as higher-level donors.

When your organization fosters a group of active members and subscribers, you get more than a vibrant patron base (although that’s nice, too). You have a group of people who are invested in your organization in ways that can expand beyond the walls of the theater, gallery, or concert hall. How can you make the most of that?

  • Showcase the work your members do, both in the arts and in other areas of your community. If one of your patrons has done something outstanding, call to congratulate her, and ask permission to write a profile of her in your next e-mail newsletter.
  • Use the information you keep about your participating members to support grant applications, appeals to other donors, and in developing strong business partnerships. It’s a clear way to show your organization’s importance to your community.

University alumni associations thrive because they’re able to create connections among their members as well as between members and the school. Consider taking the opportunity to encourage your members and subscribers to get to know one another; by helping them establish those ties, you can strengthen their ties to your organization, too.

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