Your Patrons Are People — Give Them a Hug!
When I interned at an Off-Broadway theatre years ago, I was sent to pick up some auction items from a board member for the upcoming gala. She was a very wealthy woman who lived in an enviable section of Manhattan. After I arrived to collect the painting she was auctioning off, I shared a cab ride downtown with her, and she shared a simple statement with me: “They always keep asking for more money.” The “they” in this case was the organization I was interning for, and the distaste in her tone was not entirely misplaced. She was expressing a frustration that many long-term patrons of the arts have come to feel — a frustration that I feel, too, every time my alma mater cold-calls me for a donation.
There’s a way to avoid this frustration with your patrons, though. To help you, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Are you ready? Okay, here it is. Your patrons…are people!
That’s not exactly the mind-blowing revelation you were hoping for, I know, but I share it with you now for a very good reason. All too often when organizations such as yours approach their patrons, it is with a focus on completing a transaction with them: getting donations, selling tickets, processing subscriptions or memberships. Capital goals get set and need to be met; budgets need balancing; the need for incoming revenue is a known fact of the non-profit world and those who support it. And guess what? Your patrons know it.
The focus in development or marketing strategy talks is often to make the necessary transaction faster and smoother because that will help customers be happier — and happy people give more, right? You know what really makes a customer happy, though? Knowing her name. Knowing her favorite composer. Knowing how long she has been your patron. Knowing her.
In the arts world especially, there is a strong incentive to get to know your patrons better, which is why there is such a growing interest in customer relationship management (CRM) and “big data”-type tools. Using a CRM system allows you to organize your patron records in a fashion that makes it easy to identify important details about them — as people. Who is married to whom? How many kids do they have? When are their birthdays? These personal details give you a fuller picture of who your patrons are when they aren’t in your theatre, gallery, or symphony hall. These details are the most important things to your patrons, and they should be to you as well.
Learning more about your patrons is super easy. All you have to do is ask. Don’t worry about collecting every detail all at once; instead, add to what you know about them as you continue to interact with them. Shake hands, send emails, mail a card on his birthday, anniversary, or other important life moment. Your company’s success hinges as much on the single ticket buyer coming in on a discounted night as it does on a major donor attending an annual gala. While the types of interactions you have with your many patrons may vary, at the core, they are all the same: all of these individuals love the arts and have chosen to support your efforts.
There are tons of resources out there that will give you tips on marketing to your patrons and using CRM tools such as PatronManager CRM. That is not the point of this post, however. The point here is that your patrons — the lifeblood of your organization, the reason you exist in this world to wield your craft — are people. Give them a hug!
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