Founded in 1982, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus (BGMC) is one of New England’s largest and most successful community-based choruses. With a mission to create musical experiences that inspire change, build community, and celebrate difference, the organization puts on over 25 public performances each year that feature pop culture, fabulous performers, and gay pride. While best known for their large-scale mainstage performances in Boston, the company has toured all over the world, from San Francisco to South Africa, as cultural ambassadors for the LGBTQ+ community.
Made up of a diverse group of men from across the region, the 200-voice ensemble sings a wide spectrum of music spanning classical repertoire, show tunes, and popular music. Named one of CBS-WBZ’s top 5 choruses in Boston, and one of The Boston Business Journal’s top 10 performing arts organizations in the city, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus is heard live by more than 12,000 people each season, plus thousands more through recordings, TV broadcasts, and livestreams. They also have a dedicated following on YouTube and Facebook, attracting over 1.5 million views annually to their online archive of over 350 videos.
In 2010, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus found themselves on the precipice of changing times, with ticket buyers expecting to purchase tickets online and organizations relying on consolidated technology systems to make decisions and connect with their patrons. Using a mix of outdated analog and digital systems, their audience and donor insights were opaque, and growth had stalled, putting the future of the organization into question. The BGMC team knew they needed a technology solution with ticketing, marketing, and fundraising capabilities to help them build a community of supporters and ensure organizational stability.
Antiquated Ticketing Practices
With no online ticketing system in place, BGMC took the majority of their ticket orders by phone, which meant having to hire extra personnel seasonally, exhausting precious financial resources. BGMC Executive Director Craig Coogan shared, “Before my time here, all of our tickets existed in a little plastic file box, pre-printed I might add. If a patron called, we would write their name on an envelope, place the correct number of tickets inside, and either mail it to them or hold it at the theatre for will-call.” This old-fashioned method presented the organization with obvious problems; the highest among them being that they had no way to track who purchased what tickets. Without this data, the organization couldn’t send targeted marketing campaigns, solicit donations from ticket buyers, or pinpoint what audience demographic they were reaching.
These antiquated ticketing practices also carried over into the box office. With no scanning infrastructure in place at their home performance space, the BGMC team found that it took almost a half-hour to get patrons through the door on show days, resulting in late start-times, a crowded lobby, and frustrated patrons. Furthermore, they had no way of gathering accurate data on how many patrons had been admitted into the concert hall. “The box office staff would literally count ticket stubs one by one during the show,” said Customer Engagement Manager Sarah Shoffner, “and that’s how we would find out the final house count.” This meant that they couldn’t accurately communicate house capacity with back-of-house employees before curtain, or reconcile accurate ticket fees with their venue after the show.
With ticket sales only representing about half of their operating costs, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus relied on individual donations to make up the difference. But, without a true fundraising solution in place, soliciting new donors proved to be a difficult feat, forcing the organization to depend on historical donors who had built personal relationships with BGMC’s former Executive Director. “I did inherit his Rolodex,” Coogan laughed, “which really speaks to the level of technology that they were working with at the time.” While this dated contact system was crucial in helping Coogan make his transition into the Executive Director role, it quickly became clear that to keep the organization above water, the BGMC team needed a CRM system with fundraising capabilities that could not only take in donations, but also help their team identify new donors and build upon established donor relationships.
Inflexible Data Structure
As part of the LGBTQ+ community, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus found it challenging that their technology systems didn’t allow for them to customize the data structure to meet the needs of their audience. “What’s unique about an organization like ours is that a lot of our patrons are in two-men or two-women households,” explained Coogan. “We were locked in to a salutation only being ‘Mr. & Mrs.,’ which just doesn’t suit our audience.” Knowing how important it is to speak authentically to their donors and ticket buyers, they wanted a system with the flexibility to customize specific fields so they could keep accurate data and choose the salutations and pronouns that correctly matched the patron’s identity and household makeup.
An Outdated Subscription Program
Following standard practices of choral organizations, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus offered the option for loyal patrons to purchase a season’s worth of tickets to their mainstage concerts at a discounted rate. Similar to their ticketing methods at the time, the subscription program was run manually, with no automated systems in place. “I would hire a designer to lay out a new mailer each year with paper sign-up forms for people to mail back,” said Coogan. “Meanwhile, some people would be calling in; it was chaotic to say the least.” Recognizing that there must be a better way to run a subscription program that included less manual work from their team, BGMC completely re-evaluated their processes.
“We were spending all of this energy, giving our best seats away to our most loyal patrons at the lowest price,” said Coogan. “From my point of view, people who are subscribing to an organization are the ones who are willing to pay the most.” With this in mind, the BGMC team wanted to implement a new type of loyalty model that incentivized giving in return for exclusive benefits. However, while they wanted to move forward with this new loyalty program, BGMC did not have the correct system in place to make it a reality.
With their current processes and systems becoming a hindrance to their growth, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus set out to find an all-in-one technology solution that could address all of their rising needs. “We were looking for the holy grail of a program that did everything from ticket sales, to donor management, to beyond!” Shoffner said. After a long search, BGMC finally found PatronManager, the only solution on the market with the CRM, ticketing, and fundraising capabilities they needed, plus flexibility they desired. “PatronManager has given us the functionality we need to succeed and grow our programs and our audience,” Shoffner said. “With this system, if you dream it, it can be yours.”
A Streamlined Ticketing Solution
With a powerful ticketing platform in place, the BGMC team was able to migrate nearly all of their ticket sales online. “Now if someone calls the office, it’s usually because they don’t understand how to buy a ticket online or need additional help,” Shoffner stated. “It’s a huge shift from when calling was the only way to purchase tickets.” In addition to streamlining ticket sales, PatronManager also enabled the organization to capture a 360-degree view of each individual ticket buyer, giving them the audience data they desperately needed. With all transactions, donations, and touchpoints recorded on each individual patron record, BGMC has been able to understand who their audience is and track how they’re involved and growing with the organization.
The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus’s box office system, too, saw some much needed improvements, as their new ticket scanning hardware fed real-time data directly into PatronManager’s system. “Scanning tickets enabled us to actually pull a report in real-time, where we could say ‘We’re not calling curtain, let’s hold for five minutes because we’re actually waiting on 300 ticket-holders,’” Shoffner said. Furthermore, with this new technological infrastructure in place, the BGMC team was able to seat their audiences quickly. “It used to take 30 to 35 minutes just to clear people through the lobby and get them seated,” said Coogan. “Now our process is way more streamlined, and we can clear everyone in less than eight minutes!”
Fundraising for the Future
By choosing a fully integrated CRM solution, the BGMC team has seen significant growth in their contributed income. Bidding farewell to the days of the infamous Roladex, they now have a centralized database with all qualified donor records and attached giving histories available at the touch of a button. And with PatronManager’s powerful and dynamic Report Builder tool, they can actually report on, segment, and analyze their various audiences efficiently. This information, along with the ability to make notes about any interaction on a specific contact’s record, empowers the BGMC team to have more meaningful interactions with their donors. No more institutional knowledge being lost when an employee moves on.
In addition to building stronger relationships with their existing donor base, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus has been able to convert more single ticket buyers into donors. Among other initiatives, BGMC has integrated a donation option on their ticketing page through PatronManager’s upgraded public ticketing site, which lead to an increase in donor giving. “With the new PTS in place, we increased donations made during ticket orders by 160%, and we aren’t even halfway through our season!” Shoffner said. The average donation on a ticket order used to hover around $1.86, and today BGMC is at an average of $5.99. “PatronManager has completely overhauled our approach to donor management. I can’t believe we ever did it any other way.”
Data for a Diverse Audience
In addition to strengthening the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus’ ability to process transactions, PatronManager enabled them to create new systems to speak to their audience in an authentic way. “By just updating the salutation fields in the system, we’re able to reflect the variety of household types we see in our audience,” said Coogan. “Now when addressing letters or emails, we’re proud to be able to communicate to our audience as individuals.” With the ability to easily customize individual fields on the front and back end of PatronManager with just a few clicks (and no knowledge of coding), the BGMC team could now ensure that the data they collected mirrored the diversity of their community.
A New Loyalty Experience
With PatronManager’s system in place, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus finally had the technology infrastructure they needed to transition away from their old subscription program. Utilizing the Membership feature, which allowed them to manage and administer benefits, they launched their new program, dubbed “The Ovation Society.” Patrons who donated at least $500 each fiscal year would receive access to perks, like advance purchasing, and with a four-year roll out plan in place to implement it, BGMC took a leap of faith. By the second year of their loyalty program, they saw huge results, as the number of Ovation Society members who had never donated dropped from 50% to 16%. “PatronManager’s fundraising system, and it’s connection with the ticketing functionality, was crucial for turning our loyalty program from an idea to reality.” said Shoffner. “We’re a small team of smart, passionate people willing to do whatever they can to further our organization, and PatronManager feels like a natural extension of that team.”
Wanting to increase benefits for these high-value members even more, the BGMC team used PatronManager’s PatronPortal to grant Ovation Society members special access to the public ticketing site, so they could view their own donation history and ticket information. “That’s when we saw the biggest growth, with double the amount of donations coming in on top of ticket orders,” Shoffner said. Even something as simple as having the ability to choose their own seats seemed to make a difference to Ovation Society members, with Coogan and Shoffner being inundated with emails praising the new system. “People who were already our biggest cheerleaders felt more connected to our organization than ever before, and that’s made such a difference,” said Shoffner. “Without PatronManager, this new program wouldn’t have been possible.”
PatronManager Delivers Results
- 100% Increase in the number of tickets sold online since adopting PatronManager
- 140% Increase in ticket revenue since launching Ovation Society loyalty program
- 396% Year-over-year increase in the number of donations made since adopting PatronManager
The Trusted CRM and Ticketing Solution for Arts, Culture, & Live Event Organizations
As the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus looks to the future, they’ll continue to rely on PatronManager as their trusted technology partner. With their ticketing, fundraising, and loyalty program all on one unified CRM system, the BGMC team has been able to facilitate growth in all areas of their business, ensuring the opportunity for their inclusive message to continue to reach thousands of people across the globe each year. “Our mission is to create musical experiences to inspire change, build community, and celebrate difference,” Coogan said. “And the artistic team manifests that through singing on stage. Every other element of our organization manifests that through storytelling and relationship building, and we can only do that with a system that allows us to engage with people. That’s PatronManager.”
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