The Most Important Marketing Questions
Your Organization Should Be Asking – Part III

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

We wrap up this series of blog posts on the most important marketing questions your organization should be asking by looking at the final part of the pipeline:

Attract + Retain + Upgrade = Marketing Revenue Success

If you missed the first two posts in this series, you can find them here: Part 1 and Part 2.

At the end of Part 2, we left you with a question to help you prepare to upgrade your patrons:

What percentage of your subscriber base also includes your donors?

This question is critical because it goes directly to the subject of patron loyalty. Patron loyalty goes beyond just supporting your organization with donations. If your subscribers aren’t supporting you with donations, you are losing out on an opportunity to deepen your relationship with them. You also run the risk of losing them from year to year because they may become more fickle about your organization’s programming.

Subscribers who are donors more often get involved in your organization beyond a financial commitment — they also become your volunteers, event committee chairs, board members, and vocal ambassadors for the organization in the community.

Let’s look at a real-world example. Let’s talk about coffee.


There’s a growing commitment in communities to support local businesses over chains. In the retail coffee shop market, Starbucks is the 800-pound coffee bean tree in the room. However, local shops in communities all over the country are flourishing despite Starbucks’ tremendous foothold. Why? Well, let’s look at the pipeline of a coffee shop.

Your single-ticket buyers in the coffee business are those people who drop by for a quick cup of coffee. Maybe they are traveling and need a pick-me-up to keep them going, or perhaps they are meeting a friend or colleague at the coffee shop for the first time.

Multi-coffee buyers, similar to multi-ticket buyers, come in a few times per month, maybe on the weekends while running errands. During this period, the staff of the coffee shop gets to know them by recognizing that they come in often. They may give a discount on a cup of coffee, invite them to taste a new blend, or offer some other special feature. They may also ask for feedback on their experience or the quality of coffee.

Coffee subscribers, meanwhile, come in several times per week, are known by the staff, and always order the same thing. They talk with the staff and perhaps spend more time enjoying the atmosphere of the shop. They also schedule meetings and free time with friends at the shop as it becomes an extension of their home.

Coffee subscriber-donors do all the things that subscribers do, but the staff knows what the subscriber-donors want without having to be told; it is ready promptly and their name is spelled correctly on the side of the cup. Coffee subscriber-donors also leave their change from buying their coffee in the tip jar and then go out and tell everyone about this great coffee shop in their neighborhood!

In the above example, you can clearly see how the relationship moved from one of convenience to one focused on quality and experience.

Now, you may be reading this and thinking that there is no way some of your subscribers will become donors. After all, many subscribers firmly believe they are already donating to your organization by purchasing tickets to your performances. Persuading them to support you using the “real cost of a performance” argument won’t work. You are just wasting your breath. Although it is true that not every subscriber will become a donor, the more subscribers who support you with donations, the better. Let’s look at some ways you can deepen your relationship with subscribers and turn them into subscriber-donors.

As the editors put it in the seminal book Achieving Excellence in Fundraising, it all begins with “thank you.” You can’t ask for a commitment until you have earned it, and you do that by being grateful for the patron. Here are some excellent ways to deepen your relationship with your subscribers.

  • I once worked for an organization whose staff stood at the exits of the theatre at the end of every performance and thanked patrons for attending. This behavior encouraged the patrons to stop and talk with the staff. Not only was feedback given, but this demonstration of thankfulness also resulted in increased donations as the staff got to know the patrons.
  • Every year, pick a random group of your subscribers — those not currently your donors or otherwise involved in your organization — and meet with them. Ask them why they are subscribers and what brought them to your organization. Listen to their experience. Don’t try to sell them; just listen.
  • Ask your subscribers to become involved in other facets of your organization. One organization invites subscribers who are teachers in their community to become involved in curriculum planning for the organization’s educational programs.
  • Invite your subscribers to attend donor functions, such as special events with your artists.

This is just a small sample of the things you can do to get to know your subscribers.

You can also use your CRM system to look at affiliations between your subscribers and your organization. Some organizations make it a point to work with their board to review their subscription lists annually to find connections that can lead to deeper relationships. If your CRM system doesn’t offer this important functionality, then it may be time to look at some alternatives. Upgrading your patrons is a perfect example of when your customer relationship management system really needs to be capable of being a customer experience management system, too.

Some organizations have had phenomenal success at converting subscribers to donors. I’ve seen percentages as high as 75 percent. Take the time to really get to know your audience. Along with the staff of your organization, they are your most important asset. Remember, subscriber-donors will amplify their experience to their community in ways that marketing dollars will never reach. By spending the time to really connect with your subscribers, you will build relationships that will be rewarding and provide renewable and sustainable resources for the future.

Kevin Patterson is a Senior Account Executive at Patron Technology. He also hosts a podcast on the arts at

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