Revolutionizing the Arts with Technology: Introducing Customer Relationship Management & PatronManager CRM

Last month at the League of American Orchestras annual conference in Atlanta, the Duke Foundation’s Ben Cameron delivered a knock-out introductory speech about the challenging world that confronts arts managers. Afterwards, the audience of over 400 orchestra leaders was asked to quantify the amount of change arts managers believe their industry needs, on a scale from “no change” (1) to “radical change” (5). It shouldn’t be a surprise that over 90 percent of the audience voted 4 or 5. People know that the status quo isn’t working.

Yes, it’s time for new approaches to arts management, and new technology is one way to get there. This article is all about Customer Relationship Management (CRM) — the most important new technology for arts managers to come along in the last 50 years. I believe it can, and will, revolutionize the arts industry.

A CRM system is used by a company to track and organize all of its contacts in one database. Every interaction with a customer is recorded in the system, and is accessible online by all employees across the organization.

CRM isn’t a newfangled ticketing system with a donation module bolted on. It’s an entirely new approach to managing your relationships with your customers. Remember when the iPhone was introduced, and the whole notion of what a cell phone is was instantly transformed? CRM is that kind of change.

Hundreds of thousands of corporations already use CRM systems. One of the industry-leading CRM providers,, is a Silicon Valley company started about a decade ago that currently has 80,000 corporate customers. The corporate world has figured out that CRM is a better way to run their businesses!

Today, I am proud to introduce PatronManager CRM, a product we’ve been developing quietly for the last three years. PatronManager CRM is an all-in-one system for box office ticketing, subscriptions, donations, fundraising, day-to-day activities, email marketing, and calendaring.

Our goal in creating PatronManager CRM was twofold: To build a system that could dramatically improve the way the industry operates, and to make it affordable for small and mid-sized non-profit organizations which make up the majority of our 1,750 PatronMail clients. We’ve achieved this through a partnership with and the Salesforce Foundation, enabling us to offer a low-cost powerhouse of technology capability that has never been seen before in the arts industry.

Let’s look at why CRM really matters.

The Problem That CRM Solves

Today, most arts organizations are hampered by the technology that they use to run their businesses — it is outdated and conceptually flawed. We know from our clients that many organizations have an office full of PCs, and on each of these PCs are one or more “transactional systems.” These systems are:

  • Stand-alone: The software program itself, and all the data it houses, are stored on a single computer, and accessible only to the person using that machine.
  • Operation-oriented: The program is designed to help the user complete specific tasks in an efficient manner. Whether that’s processing a donation or completing a ticket sale, the system is designed to help office workers be more efficient in doing their jobs.
  • Department-focused: The system is designed to help a single department run better. The development department has donation software, the marketing department has email systems, and the box office runs ticketing software.

For the last few decades, these kinds of systems represented the state-of-the-art for business technology — but in today’s world, they are not good enough. The fundamental shortcoming is that while these transactional systems help departments run better, none of them were designed to optimize communication with a patron.

With systems like these, you never have a 360 degree view of any one patron. And if you don’t know everything about a patron at a glance, it’s very hard to maintain a professional relationship with her and provide excellent customer service.

Additionally, for executive directors or boards, transactional systems cause difficulties on a larger scale. Without aggregated data, it’s impossible to get meaningful reports that can help you run your organization. The box office manager might be satisfied with the ticketing system, and the development director is an expert at using the specialized fundraising software, but when it’s time for the executive director to prepare for a strategic planning meeting with the Board, and she wants to run a report of all the people who bought a ticket in the last six weeks who have also donated over $100 in the last six months, the shortcomings of those systems become clear. Gathering information like that requires an integrated system, not separate transactional ones.

How CRM Solves It

Enter Customer Relationship Management systems, an entirely different approach to office operations. What makes a CRM system so radically different is that it is fundamentally not a transactional system. Rather, a CRM system starts with a different goal: It puts the customer at the center by integrating the functions of all departments into one aggregated database and management tool.

CRM provides office workers and managers with a single place to capture and store all of their interactions with a patron. With customer information collected in this format, managers can report on it, act on it, and continually update it. Each and every email campaign, ticket purchase, donation, or any other kind of interaction with a particular patron (including individual email correspondence and documented phone calls) resides in a single database entry, all associated with the patron’s record. The history of that patron’s relationship with your organization is evident in the accumulation of all of those data entries over time.

Because all staff members can access the same system, everyone is empowered to help patrons get what they need. Imagine that Shannon calls the box office to upgrade her seats, and at the same time she happens to ask for a replacement copy of her last donation acknowledgement. Because she’s got someone on the phone, she wants her problem solved right away. She’s not thinking of this as a request that belongs to a different department; from her perspective, she has a relationship with the organization as a whole. Without a CRM system, it could take a while before Shannon gets what she wants — the box office manager has to ask around and get someone from development to take care of it. But in a CRM environment that enables departments to be more integrated and collaborative, her request could be taken care of before she even hangs up the phone.

The Biggest Benefit of All

CRM systems create institutional memory. Think of it this way: Every day when your staff comes to work, as they do their daily tasks and document all their interactions with your patrons as described above, they are, in fact, writing the history of your organization into your CRM system.

Because the CRM system is web-based, all of this knowledge is instantly accessible and searchable by everybody else in the organization, from today onward and forever into the future. There’s never a chance that your history with your patrons is going to get lost, misfiled, or walk out the door when a staff member leaves.

CRM Will Change Your World

I hope you can see now why running your organization with a CRM system will do far more than simply replace your current systems with better ones. Adopting a CRM system will enable you to do better email marketing by segmenting your patrons better. It will allow you to do smarter fundraising because the inherent reporting capabilities will streamline your operations. It will allow your staff to collaborate and be aligned in a way that they have never been before, whether working in your office, at the venue, or even from their homes.

With a CRM system, your organization will be more efficient, you will run a more collaborative and professional operation, and your staff will be more productive. Just as we started our company nine years ago with a bet that email marketing would become central to the efforts of every arts organization, today we’re making that same bet with CRM.

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Learn More about PatronManager, the powerful CRM platform that helps you sell more tickets, raise more money, and cultivate stronger bonds with your audience, all in one database.