What is the Price of Being Stubborn?

By Joy Johnson, The Georgia Ballet

Are you responsible for the financial health of your organization?

Have you been through some hard financial years in your organization? Well, I certainly have.

When I arrived at The Georgia Ballet (GAB) in early 2013, the organization had been through an entire management change with most of the staff leaving. Why this happened is a story for another day. Suffice to say that there were many past due invoices and no documentation. At that point, money was everything — we were just trying to keep the doors open.

As the months and years passed, things improved but I kept the mindset of “guarding every penny.”

Just a little background on The Georgia Ballet. It is a non-profit organizationfounded in 1960 by Marietta native Iris Hensley. The mission of The Georgia Ballet is to inspire the public through professional ballet performance and to influence students through the positive impact of dance training and community outreach. We have a 24-member professional ballet Company, a ballet school that serves 3-year-olds through adults, and an active Arts in Education program.

In late 2015, we joined The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s Audience Building Roundtable. During the initial workshops, my marketing coordinator and I learned a lot and remembered what we already knew but were too busy to think about. A number of the strategies we learned about required more money than we had in our budget; I wasn’t able (or so I thought) to spend any more than we budgeted each year on building our audience, if even that!

However, we learned that the truth of old proverb: you have to spend money to make money - as long as you spend it intelligently with a tested and measured approach. 

Here are some historical results:

  • During our 2015-2016 season, we sold 2,297 tickets to two productions.

  • During our 2016-2017 season, we sold 2,348 tickets to three productions.

During the 2016-2017 season, I was still controlling our cash flow pretty tightly. I had a good deal of frustration because I felt that we just didn’t have the money to benefit from some of the strategies that were working for other arts and culture organizations in the Audience Building Roundtable. As we approached the 2017-2018 fiscal year, my marketing manager and I sat down to look at the budget and see what we could stop doingto reallocate dollars to more productive marketing and audience-building channels.

We also took a leap of faith and increased our marketing budget by 108%. We didn’t spend every dollar we budgeted -  but we spent 85% of it, which was an increase year over year of 79% in our marketing-and-audience spend.

So what happened?

We sold 38% more tickets than the prior year and that trend has continued into our 2018-2019 season.  For our 2018-2019 season, we have sold 56% more ticketsto our first production of the season and are currently 27% higher in ticket sales for The Nutcracker than at the same time last season.

All of this convinces me that you have to take the plunge and re-arrange your budget priorities to get different results.  

We plan to continue our new way of working and budgeting, and wish you all great audience building success!




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