The ACP Journey of Audience Building: From Data Desert to Data-Informed

By Amy Miller, Executive Director, Atlanta Celebrates Photography

Editor’s Note: Atlanta Celebrates Photography (ACP) has been an active participant in the Audience Building Roundtable, an initiative of The Arthur M. Blank Foundation, since its inception in early 2016. ACP received an audience building grant from the Foundation in the fall of 2016, and this is their story of translating audience building practices to meet ACP’s needs.


From Data Desert to Oasis on the Horizon…

During 2016, the Audience Building Roundtable offered member organizations a four-part workshop series about audience building practices. TRG Arts, a national consulting firm focused on the arts and culture sector, led the workshop series.

After the first workshop, we had a realization. We are a visual arts organization that produces mostly free and open events at various partner venues (including outdoors) so data collection through ticketing is not something we have ever done. Most of what the workshop presenters spoke to the Audience Building Roundtable about would not apply to us.

We were staring into a data desert!

Then we noticed the oasis on the horizon: we realized that people do connect with us in a few different ways:

  • They attend our festival, which features exhibits, lectures, and programs.
  • They buy tickets to our annual fundraising event.
  • They sign up to participate in our professional development workshops.
  • They list their own photo events in our festival guide.

These points of interaction with us depend on vastly different platforms (Eventbrite, Google forms and our own custom software.) However, we DID HAVE information, even though we had not organized that information in one place/platform. Because our audience information was not in one place, it had never been sorted and never been utilized.

Our realization was this: we need to use the information we have and set guidelines that will work for our future. To do this, we need knowledge:

  • Our staff needs to have a more thorough understanding of our DonorPerfect’s capabilities (we were using only the basic capabilities).
  • We need to build fields and reporting mechanisms that best fit data and decision-making needs.
  • We need to enter ALL our information into our database and decide what to ask of our database.


Wading into the Oasis…

We knew that having the answers from our data would open doors and unlock opportunities for growth. We came up with 8 action steps to move our organization’s use of data forward.

  1. Provide Donor Perfect training for all staff.
  2. Engage with Donor Perfect’s Advisory Services to understand best practices and create ACP-specific database requirements.
  3. Build database fields and create data import templates that take all fields into consideration.
  4. Locate all sources of disparate data that we have accumulated over the last 5 years.
  5. Engage data entry assistance to import our various data into the templates we had created and THEN into our database, DonorPerfect.
  6. Ask our Board and outside consultants to help us determine what questions we should ask of our data and how to interpret what the data is telling us.
  7. Make audience marketing and cultivation strategy decisions based on these results, with outside assistance if needed.
  8. Implement the agreed-on marketing strategies.


Emerging from the Data Desert…

As of July 2017, we have:

  1. Conducted a two-hour staff training on use of Donor Perfect, our database. This training session allowed us to compare what we are currently doing and what we COULD do.
  2. Worked with Donor Perfect’s Advisory Services team to understand best practices in setting-up and creating our specific database requirements. This deep drive into data structure and use was beyond helpful to our entire staff.
  3. Begun to build our database fields and create data import templates that take all fields into consideration. We are well underway with this, but not yet completed it. Some of our most complicated tasks to import data from various sources will happen in the next few months.
  4. Located the sources of the disparate data that we have accumulated over the last 5 years. A nice surprise: we have lots more audience data than we ever imagined! But as we noted above, wrestling these disparate sources into a template so that all the audience information can be imported into our DonorPerfect data is still underway. The easiest ones are completed, allowing us to continue moving forward in preparation for marketing our 2017 festival, which takes place in the fall.

We’ve also done a few more things that were not on our original 8-step list. Here’s what we’ve learned and done:

  • Having the whole team involved in the training and establishing of our desired database fields cannot be underestimated. We are now all of one mind about what audience information we want to track — and how we will track it. We are cognizant of our database’s strengths and limitations, which has helped us to realistically plan the remainder of our work on data integration.
  • We have, through theoretical and observational methods, constructed a constituent journey map that corresponds to the different program types that we offer. This exercise, done with preliminary audience data, has allowed us to understand who is participating in our various programs. We are excited to see how our constituent journey map changes as we continue to add to our database — and to then uncover and quantify what we learn about our audience in this process.

Every area of our business operation is being impacted by this work: our fundraising strategies and our programming. Even our post-event survey structure and methodology has changed because of the data work we have done to date.

Here’s what steps we are still working on:

  1. Hire a data entry staff member to import our various data into the templates and then into DonorPerfect. We anticipate filling this position by mid-August 2017.
  2. Ask our Board and outside consultants to help us determine what questions we should ask of our data and how to interpret what the data is telling us. We anticipate picking this work up again in November 2017 following our festival.
  3. Make audience marketing and cultivation strategy decisions based on these results, with outside assistance if needed. We are excited to have this ready by spring 2018, with a launch for our 20th anniversary.
  4. Implement the agreed-on marketing strategies starting in spring 2018.

Our Post-Data Desert Future Looks MUCH Greener…

I imagine anyone who has already been down this road nods silently when I say that this has been a daunting process, and it is so easy to get bogged down into data minutiae and to be plagued with upkeep. Not to mention the second-guessing of early decisions (should this have been a flag and not a toggle box?).

I anticipate a few things happening from our Audience Building project.

  • First and foremost, the discovery of audience members who participate with us in multiple ways (volunteering, donating, attending events, etc.) that we are currently unaware of. Those people, obviously, should be recognized and cultivated by our organization.
  • Second, I imagine we will discover multiple “tracks” that people take as they learn more and experience more of our programming. This may help us determine the most popular and effective points of entry to our organization, leading to new ways to market to others with similar backgrounds.
  • Third, we may discover other important information, such as high participation in certain zip codes. Developing strategies to reach potential audiences based on our new data is critical, as are strategies to fully embrace those who are already in our midst. This is a tremendous step forward for us!

Our future looks like meaningful growth. We believe that audience data + implementation of data-informed strategies = more people seeing, appreciating and supporting ACP’s work.

The journey has taken us from a “data desert” to having an organization that is firmly planted on the vegetation of audience knowledge. We look ahead to deeper engagement, a larger audience, and continued financial stability. Doing “more art” depends on it.


Keywords: TRG Arts, Eventbrite, Google Forms, custom software, Donor Perfect, data entry, audience marketing and cultivation strategy, constituent journey map, fundraising strategies, programming, surveys.

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