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Theatres on the Brink: It's Time for a New Strategy

According to the Theatres Trust, more than 30 of the most historic theatres in England and Wales are now at risk from closure, decay, or irreversible change. The derelict Brighton Hippodrome, for example, is set to be converted into a massive cinema and restaurant complex. Three of the new additions to this year's list are at risk of closure because of local council cuts.

Whilst the fact that arts funding is on the wane will surprise no one, the potential loss of so much theatre heritage is shocking.

Many will jump on the report as proof positive that governments need to re-prioritise the arts -- and quickly -- as they set annual budgets. I would argue differently.

Strong state support is a must for the arts but we also need to acknowledge that the funding landscape has changed forever. Theatres need a new strategy too for generating and sustaining revenues. Waiting for politicians to act will simply lead to more theatres joining the at-risk list.

The derelict Brighton Hippodrome is set to be converted into a massive cinema and restaurant complex.

With traditional funding sources drying up, the ability to identify high net worth individuals in the audience is now essential to successful fundraising in the arts. Too many organisations struggle to articulate a compelling case for philanthropic support, and need to develop skill sets that will enable them to identify and reach out effectively to wealthy individuals.

The low-level, benefit-based membership schemes we’ve relied on in the past are no longer fit for purpose. Within them however could be supporters with the potential to ‘move up’ and become major donors.

Technology can help too. Theatre databases contain a huge amount of information on audience behaviour and preferences, and in some cases their wealth, but are badly underutilised as a fundraising tool.

In fact, Arts Quarter found in 2012 that 3.4% of the people in arts organisation databases had personal wealth of more than £1m.That’s a small percentage with huge potential. Consider an average-sized database with 150,000 names in it. If just 1% of the wealthy 3.4% were to donate £5,000, a total of £250,000 would be raised.

One-to-one relationships need to be instigated and nurtured with potential major donors. This means being smart about how you identify them, and having a plan in place to progress the relationship towards an eventual gift.

Michael Nabarro is co-founder and Managing Director of Spektrix.

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