As Sector Strategy Lead at Spektrix, it’s my job to ensure that we support the sector to tackle the big-picture challenges and opportunities we face in order to thrive in a changing world. This month, that has meant a lot of time reflecting on the relationships between arts organisations and their audiences and donors, as we plan the talks we’ll be presenting at 2020 events with the Institute of Fundraising, Arts Marketing Association, Ticketing Professionals and more.
This year we’ll be sharing ideas with colleagues from across the sector on ways to engage with individuals online, the language we use to talk about our audiences, and the power of automation. At first glance these seem to be very different topics, but when we dig into the heart of the matter they all end up being variations on a theme: what is the nature of the relationship between arts organisations and their audiences and donors, and what do we want that relationship to be? This realisation, alongside further reflection on the new ACE 10 year plan - which is itself posing some major questions about the place of arts organisations in their communities - prompted me to share some thoughts on the sector’s relationships with audiences and donors.
Generally speaking, as a sector we are not inspiring our audiences to develop lasting relationships with us. In the Spektrix Insights Report 2019, my co-author Sarah Frost and I found that on average, organisations were retaining only 26% of customers over two years and that each year, 56% of customers were brand new to an organisation. These statistics had not changed meaningfully since the 2017 Report.
Why real relationships really matter
Those figures represent a lot of churn, and that’s bad for the bottom line. ‘One and done’ visitors are less likely to become members, give a donation, or visit your shop or café. Furthermore, attracting new visitors over and over is expensive and inefficient (up to 25 times more expensive than bringing back a return visitor).
But that’s not all. These one-time visitors are also very unlikely to engage in other important ways, and this brings some long-term downsides. They are unlikely to introduce others, give good word-of-mouth, engage with communications channels or, when the chips are down, to advocate for your organisation as a vital part of the community when local and national governments are making planning or funding decisions.
How should our relationships progress?
Obviously this answer depends on every organisation’s own context and community. The relationship between an audience member and a charitable multi-arts centre in a small town is substantially different from their interaction with a West End venue.
Nevertheless, I would suggest that there is a case to be made for most, if not all, arts organisations or venues to build deeper relationships with their visitors. Almost any given audience member or donor can be persuaded to take a next step, provided you know where they are and where you want to take them.
In my experience of working in performing arts organisations, most individuals wanted to be more involved. They are pleased to be invited back, asked to help through small and then larger donations, and generally to be recognised as part of a two-way relationship with the venue or organisation.
Our analysis at Spektrix bears this out. When asked, 76% of individuals signing up for memberships choose to make those memberships automatically renew. This was true even when there was no financial incentive offered to do so - at the point of signing up to a new membership, they were already motivated to turn that transaction into the start of a lasting relationship. This was equally true regardless of whether the memberships was a commercial transaction providing access to early booking, discounts or perks, or a charitable donation supporting the mission of the organisation.
That’s just one example, but with modern CRM systems a multitude of tools like automatically renewable memberships exist. They enable organisations to recognise individuals when they take their first steps, and automatically target them with a series of options to continue that journey. With an unprecedented degree of personalisation, and increasingly sophisticated automation taking much of the manual work out of the process, that recognition can lead to a lasting relationship that grows ever closer and more valuable.
Here are three steps to consider for organisations of any scale looking to develop the deepest possible relationships with their audiences and donors.
- Each relationship has a next step. Understand each individual’s starting point, make a plan for what comes next, and segment your plans as much as possible to keep them relevant to that person.
- Don’t be afraid to ask. Many of the individuals you are interacting with want a deeper relationship as much as you do.
- Monitor how your audience members or donors respond. If you are not getting the response you’re expecting, either across the board or from a particular group, review your ask of the individual or segment with these two questions:
- Was this the right next step?
- Did I ask in the right way and at the right time?
Find out more about membership auto-renewals
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Liv Nilssen is Global Sector Strategy Lead at Spektrix