By Nena Gilreath, Executive Artistic Director, Ballethnic Dance Company
For more than 27 years, Ballethnic Dance Company has celebrated multicultural diversity in dance, with a uniquely Atlanta style. The Company, and its vibrant Ballethnic Dance Academy, has touched thousands of children, youth and adults throughout its history. However, as the organization embraces its mission and looks ahead to its next phase, it is grappling with financial challenges. These challenges resulted - in part - from saying “yes” to too many programming requests without stopping to evaluate the implications of each “yes” answer.
Assessing Where We Are So That We Can Get Where We Want To Be
It had become clear that we did not had the proper tools to support our programming vision. Our website was archaic. It did not guide our supporters to help our organization and the site did not have the capacity to capture essential data from supporters and ticket buyers. On the programming and production side, we were manually capturing data, resulting in incomplete data and inadequate records. We have been unable to stay in contact with our customers and patrons due to the lack of data about them.
We found ourselves in a state of frustration; some of us were feeling defeated. We took a step back and began to ask what would remove us from the cycle we were in: trying to do too many things and still not being able to effectively communicate with our audiences, leading to a lack of support.
We received an Audience Building Grant from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation just when we needed it most: in October 2016. The grant, coupled with our participation in the Audience Building Roundtable’s meetings and workshops, provided us with the knowledge and the resources to solve problems that we had been dealing with for years. With our grant, we acquired a database and fundraising platform, rebuilt our website into a more dynamic state, created a web-based business portal, obtained new photos for the website, acquired coaching and training for the staff and hired a social media intern and consultant.
Reprioritizing to Survive — and Begin to Grow Again.
As I reflect on the concept of “what do we stop doing,” I am beginning to learn what it means to say “no” to some things in order to say “yes” to other things that I need to do. I am finding the freedom that I have longed for!
My co-founder and I are close to reaching our third decade at Ballethnic and we are no longer able — nor do we have the desire - to sustain the rigorous work of our younger years. We have begun to ask for help.
Adopting New Technologies to Support Data-Gathering and Fundraising
With new leadership from our Board Chair, Rebecca Smith, the Board, and the Ballethnic organization, we have created a fundraising committee comprised of Board members, staff, parents of our students, and other volunteers. Responding to our need for data collection software, one committee member, Bill Curtis-Davidson (also a Ballethnic parent and donor) volunteered to take on the task. I started the research and after the initial flurry of sales calls from software companies, I gladly turned it over to Bill. He spearheaded an effort to research data and fundraising software platforms that could move us to a data-driven approach in our marketing, operations and fundraising. Each software platform was assessed for its ability to help Ballethnic meet its goals of managing constituent data, performing multiple types of fundraising activities (e.g. campaigns, annual drives, monthly giving, one-time donations, etc.), tracking memberships, managing events and volunteers, automating communications, integrating with social media, offering online product sales, producing reports, and integrating with our accounting software. A tall order!
After comparing the features of six software platforms, Ballethnic has selected Neon CRM (https://www.neoncrm.com/nonprofit-software/). Now that the selection of a platform has been made, Ballethnic will be configuring the platform, entering data, and implementing a staged approach for fundraising and marketing campaigns. While there is much work ahead, Ballethnic is excited to reach this milestone of having a robust software platform on which to grow with a dedicated expert leading the work.
Working on Non-Technology Processes at the Same Time
Continuing with this success, another supporter, Julia Nieves, stepped in to provide leadership in fundraising, logistics and follow up. Julia’s leadership allowed me to focus on other tasks while staying engaged in the fundraising. Julia has categorized the most important and time sensitive tasks for completion. She has organized the tasks that need to be completed and put them into units of work that are manageable. She then communicates with other volunteers and staff members about due dates of each item that needs to be completed. Whether it is a marketing, development, or a fundraising issue, Julia pulls together the pieces so that we can act. Recently, in preparation for a major fall production, Julia revised our sponsorship packet and playbill ad packet to create an even more professional tool for our volunteers to use in raising funds. As Bill is preparing and sorting our data collection platform, Julia has been working to create systems and processes to accurately enter new data into our new database. Julia has provided consistent Development Committee leadership and has helped us to set short- and long-term goals. As a former executive director herself, Julia has a knack for organizing my thoughts and the thoughts of my co-founder about succession planning and visioning for the organization. She understands how to cull information and bring the pieces together into a larger picture. She was also instrumental in directing our social media intern in raising money to meet our required match for another important grant we were seeking.
Regularly scheduled social media postings increased activity on our Facebook page. We’ve seen a significant increase in alumni participation which is important for a new initiative for we have this season.
While all of this has been going on, we’ve also been rebuilding our e-commerce business. Through Bob Littell of CEO Netweavers, we met Mel Dowdell, President of Online Media Interactive, who has guided us in researching and redeveloping the Ballethnic site for e-commerce. We have worked slowly to build a site that will reflect who we are while still capturing the data that we need.
Our new site includes the following categories:
- Video Gallery:
- Photo Gallery:
- Events Registration/Tickets:
- Events Calendar:
- Dance Classes:
- Online Store: (shop.ballethnic.org).
- Social Sharing:
- Newsletter Subscription:
- Sponsor Slider:
- Sponsorship Pricing:
- Google Analytic:
- Search Engine Optimization
- Authorize.net Integration
- Event Registration/Tickets
- Dance Classes
Finding A New Venue
While we’ve been revamping our organization, we also had to find a new performance venue. We have now confirmed Morehouse King Chapel as our venue for Urban Nutcracker.
Launching Communications on October 15
We are all set for the complete launch of all new systems on October 15th. During our journey in the Audience Building Roundtable, we also received consulting support from a strategic communications firm, Spitfire Strategies, provided by The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. Spitfire helped us to develop and refine our communications messages and we are now ready to fully utilize all that we’ve learned.
Acting on the “Stop Doing” Concept
I have been fortunate to connect with highly skilled volunteers and collaborators to support Ballethnic’s mission. This collaboration has allowed me the space to act on the “stop doing” concept. In past years, I often longed for the kind of space and opportunity that “stopping doing” would have allowed, however Ballethnic did not always have the staffing or volunteer base to support this. I am excited to say that now, with the work and generosity of amazing volunteers and staff, I am living out the power of “stop doing”.
What have we stopped doing? Anything that doesn't contribute to building our capacity to attract and keep our audience!
As a result, I have been able to focus on our strategic direction leading up to our 30th anniversary in 2020 and concentrate on board development, our artistic direction and my own succession planning.
It’s too soon to report any concrete results in terms of numbers, but we fully expect that within the next 3-6 months we will be back to tell that next step in our story.