JULY 2018 ISSUE: The Results are In: True Colors Theatre’s Patron Retention Analysis

True Colors Theatre

By Jamie Annarino, Audience Building Roundtable

True Colors Theatre is not unlike most arts organizations in that it strives to determine the most effective strategies to maintain audience engagement and keep ticket buyers/patrons coming back. But how does an organization know if it’s on the right track? Which marketing strategies really “move the needle” and contribute to the organization’s bottom line and which ones only have a marginal impact on patrons returning to the theatre? 

In November 2016, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation offered the opportunity for member organizations of the Audience Building Roundtable to participate in its first “patron retention study.” The Foundation contracted with TRG Arts, a national arts and culture firm grounded in data-driven consultation, to conduct the study. 

The study included a comprehensive review of transactional audience information, including each participating organization's growth in the number of households in its database of ticket buyers and subscribers; the rate of attracting new patrons (first time buyers;) the attrition of both new and existing ticket buyers (exits) and the data about same-year multi-ticket buying. Each of these metrics were studied by type (ticket buyers, members, donors, etc.), and then compared in each category to the other organizations participating in the study and to TRG's national comparison group. 

 The analysis included:

  • Buyer type trend analysis
  • Analysis of audience behavior for each individual organization and among the five participating organizations
  • Analysis of age cohorts for each organization and in the aggregate for the 5 organizations
  • A survey administered to non-returning ticket buyers, members, donors and subscribers to understand the reasons that they were not returning to the theatre
  • Analysis of marketing expenditures

True Colors Theatre was one of five organizations chosen to participate in the study. The key findings offered an opportunity for True Colors to revise its marketing approach. 

  • True Colors’ season subscriber growth is slightly above the national average, with the lowest attrition rate among the five organizations in the study
  • From 2012 to 2015, True Colors Theatre’s total household ticket buyers and supporters remained steady, then experienced a decline in 2016
    • True Colors Theatre became more reliant on its existing households as its new household growth slowed during 2016
    • True Colors Theatre was losing its existing audience at a greater rate than it was acquiring new audience members (households) and its attrition rates were similar across all demographics
  • The organization’s expenses remained flat while its revenue was declining
  • The study revealed inconsistent growth in philanthropic support and a marketing expense budget with above-average marketing expenses 


Translating Data into Action

Keep Em’ Coming Back
The study suggested diversifying marketing efforts to convert first-time ticket buyersinto returning patrons(multi-buyers, subscribers, and donors;) specifically, the analysis recommended using direct mail as a means of outreach. 

Following True Colors’ show, King Hedley II, a targeted direct mail and email marketing campaign was implemented - aimed at the first-time ticket buyers to the seasons past three productions. True Colors Theatre mailed a simple “thank you” postcard with a stunning image from this show and included a follow up 50% discount promotional code to these single ticket buyers; the code was good for tickets to attend the upcoming show Dot, with a promotion period of 6 weeks. 

The postcard mailing yielded a break-even on costs. True Colors indicates that this was probably because the follow up was sent months after the performance the ticket buyers attended; in the future, True Colors intends to implement the follow up postcard mailing within a week of the first-time ticket buyers attending a performance.

Cutting Costs
With the new season looming, True Colors is drastically reducing its subscriber renewal telemarketing budget (from $30,000 to $10,000) as well as raising adult ticket prices from $35 to $40 per show. Last season, the total subscription and single ticket sale revenue was $409,112. To date for the 2017-2018 season, revenue stands at $559,592, with one additional show on this season’s calendar. True Colors Theatre has implemented email and direct mail strategies for subscription renewals and will kick off a direct mail and email campaign to sell two- and three-show ticket-packages during July 2018. As of June 15, True Colors had sold $23,000 in subscriptions for the 2018-2019 season with four months to the start of the season.  

True Colors is using TRG’s expense projection report to determine revenue and expenses based on direct mail/email efforts. This report has been extremely helpful and is set up to track targeted promotional codes (that True Colors creates). 

True Colors’ achieved 95% of its ticket sales goal for its next season by July 17, 2018. (The goal was to sell half of its tickets for the entire season by July 17.)

Another Point of View
True Colors reports that it “blew their mind” to realize the impact of “household” revenue versus “individual” revenue. This realization changed the way True Colors approaches marketing to existing audiences.

In the 2015-2016 season, revenue of $505,392 was generated by 4,079 households. In 2016-2017, True Colors’ revenue decreased by $100,000 – from 300 households. True Colors’ staff notes that “in marketing, it can get overwhelming thinking about filling 27,000 seats each year (our capacity for 3 productions). However, understanding the patron retention data helped us to realize that we’re really only dealing with 4,000 households to fill those seats.”

This season, True Colors is focusing on getting those 300 “lapsed” households back, which seems much more manageable than focusing on selling 27,000 seats. 

True Colors reports that “cultivating those households when they first come to the theatre is crucial - then fostering the relationship with the household becomes easier to manage once they are more involved.”

True Colors indicates that they are better segmenting their audience as a result of the patron retention analysis, tracking the results of their marketing efforts, and using the data to work toward consistent growth of their audience. 

JULY 2018 ISSUE: Atlanta Ballet Alters Approach Following Patron Retention Study

Atlanta Ballet

By Gevin Reynolds

From November 2016 through March 2017, the Atlanta Ballet participated in the Audience Building Roundtable’s first Patron Retention Study, funded by The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and conducted by TRG Arts, a national arts and culture consulting firm. The purpose of the study was to benchmark the relative health of patron retention for five Audience Building Roundtable member organizations against TRG's nationwide industry analysis group and to compare the five organizations’ results with one another. 

The patron retention analysis included:

  • Buyer type trend analysis
  • Analysis of patron behavior within each individual organization and comparing the 5 organizations
  • Analysis of age cohorts both at the individual organization level as well as in the aggregate for the 5 organizations
  • A survey administered to lapsed patrons in each organization to provide qualitative contour to the quantitative study
  • Marketing expense analysis

Specifically, TRG Arts investigated Atlanta Ballet’s household growth, their rate of attracting new patrons (entrances), the attrition of both new and existing patrons (exits) and the impact of same-year multi-support on patron retention (escalators). Each of these metrics was studied by buyer type (ticket buyers, members, donors, etc.) and was compared in each category to TRG's Analysis Group.

Before the study, the marketing team at Atlanta Ballet knew that they had been doing well with acquiring buyers, but not so well with keeping them. They weren’t seeing their donor base grow in ways that they thought they should have. Furthermore, they had experienced a change of leadership in the Artistic Director position, which translated to a shift in artistic direction and a change in buyer base. As result, the Atlanta Ballet felt that the time was right to participate in this study so that they could quantify what they thought they knew about their patrons and obtain a baseline as their new Artistic Director implemented a fresh vision.


Among other things, TRG found that although Atlanta Ballet has experienced growth in total patron households since 2011, their subscriptions had been in a persistent decline since 2011. In total, the results confirmed the Ballet’s expectations that they were excelling at acquiring new buyers, especially for the Nutcracker (their main revenue generator) but were failing to retain those buyers. The results of the study also indicated that they were retaining subscribers at a rate less than the national average, which confirmed what they believed. The Ballet was surprised to find that their patron age demographics were slightly younger than they previously thought, with higher than expected generation X/early baby boomer market penetration.

Following participation in the patron retention study, which was completed in April 2017, the Atlanta Ballet created an implementation plan to build on their patron retention study results. They focused on the subscriber experience by implementing tactics to increase their touch points with subscribers throughout the year. Ultimately, they hoped that this would accelerate the transition from subscriber to donor. They segmented their subscriber list somewhat by grouping subscribers based on whether or not they were “new to file,” and by what kind of package they had (premier package of four ballets, or a “Choose Your Own (CYO)” package of three ballets), with the goal of encouraging CYO buyers to upgrade topremierbecause of certain perks they would receive. With the support of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Ballet rolled out their plan, which focused on industry best practices for subscriber renewals, during the 2016-2017 season and continued it into the 2017-2018 season. 

For the 2016-2017 season, all subscribers received a season welcome letter from the artistic director and a thank-you with chocolates on their seats at the final performance. Premier and New to File subscribers received an invitation to a January in-studio preview. Additionally, all New to File subscribers received a Nutcracker souvenir program (if they had Nutcracker tickets as part of their package) and a signed poster at the March performance. For the 2017-2018 season, all subscribers received a Nutcracker souvenir program (if they had Nutcracker tickets as a part of their package), a personalized thank you note via mail and email after their first performance, program notes via mail and email before each performance at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, and a free parking voucher for the February performance. New to File & CYO subscribers also received an invitation to the January in-studio preview.

The fruits of their labor have been sweet. Renewal rates have grown by 9%since the 2015-16 season and are on pace to exceed 10% growth heading into the 2018-19 season. Indeed, 56% of subscribers from the 2015-16 season renewed into the 2016-17 season, and 65% of subscribers from the 2016-17 season renewed into the 2017-18 season. For the 2017-18 season to date (as of June 11, 2018), 60% of subscribers have already renewed into the 2018-19 season. By comparison, as of June 12 last year, only 50% of subscribers had already renewed their subscription into the 2017-18 season. 

From this study, the Atlanta Ballet learned that focusing on subscribers can be a worthwhile endeavor for any arts organization. According to Atlanta Ballet Marketing Director Tricia Ekholm, subscribers have a less expensive cost of sale and are much easier to keep, meaning that an arts organization can generate significant revenue from subscribers in the long run. Therefore, she advises her colleagues at other arts organizations to hold these patrons closest. Her general advice to her colleagues is to stay focused on the data: track how and whatpatrons purchase as they move through the patron loyalty ladder.

The Atlanta Ballet is continuing its subscriber loyalty efforts and embedding the practices in their organizational behavior. The next step for the Atlanta Ballet is to dig deep into their data to see if they’ve moved the dial on their single-ticket retention program. Stay tuned for the results! 

JULY 2018 ISSUE: Penny McPhee talks with the Audience Building Roundtable


Penny McPhee, President of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Addresses Audience Building Roundtable

Good morning. On behalf of Mr. Blank and our Foundation’s trustees, I’m honored to be here today to talk with you about our Audience Building Roundtable initiative. 

The Blank Foundation invests in the arts because the arts make life worth living. Our trustees have a deeply held belief that communities thrive when our arts and cultural endeavors flourish. 

You and your organizations provide the creative intellect that leads to beautiful, challenging, sometimes provocative—and always thought-provoking—art. Your work is one of the cornerstones of a healthy community—and we are all enriched by it. We’re grateful to all of you for contributing to quality of life through the art that you produce and curate.

Our Foundation’s trustees challenged us to identify and invest in innovationsthat strengthen and support Atlanta’s vibrant cultural landscape.

As I talk with you this morning, I’m going to begin with a walk down the path of how we got here—in this room—today. 

When I was at the Knight Foundation, we invested in audience building strategies and learned a great deal about how the behavior of arts and culture organizations impacts their audience development activities. At the Blank Foundation, we began by looking at promising approaches that were being used around the country, including those of the Wallace, Knight, and Doris Duke Foundations. Their initiatives focused on individual organizations but held learning for us. Our Foundation is not of the size and scale of these national funders. We must, as a Foundation, continually think about scope and scale, so we tried to find a way to have a positive impact on multiplearts and culture organizations in our community. 

We spent time talking with our own community’s funders and listening to cultural organizations. We were mindful of the Community Foundation’s 2013 study that showed that 80% of Atlanta’s arts and culture organizations had less than 30 days of operating cash on hand. We learned the startling national statistic that 80% of arts and culture consumers do not return for a second sample.

As we listened, we heard a key theme:a loyal audience moves an organization much closer to financial stability.

By early 2015, we were taking a deep look at best practices in audience building. What we learned led us to an initiative that could support audience building in individual organizations.

Here are a few of the headlines that guided us in creating the Audience Building Roundtable.

  • People want more arts experiences. And thanks to the National Endowment for the Arts and its team of investigators, we know more about what motivates audiences to seek out arts experiences—and we know more about the barriers that too often prevent them from buying a ticket and getting to the performance halls and exhibition spaces.
  • Leaders in arts organizations canimplement game-changing audience building strategies that focus on building lifelong relationships with customers (as opposed to transactions). We know this from real-life examples—not theory and research—and we continue to confirm this every day from your experiences as part of the Audience Building Roundtable. 
  • There aretried and true techniques that arts and culture organizations are using to deepen their engagement with the individuals they reach—their ticket buyers, donors, subscribers and the individuals who may attend once or twice and not return. We have learned that arts organizations that succeed in building audiences are smart about applying the methods for capturing, analyzing, and acting on the data that they gather about their own audiences.

Everything we learned confirmed that arts and culture audiences fit into the same principles that the audiences for The Arthur M. Blank Family of Businesses fit into: that listening and responding to audiences is paramount for viable, long term impact. When I joined the Blank Foundation nearly 14 years ago, I really didn’t know or care much about football—or soccer. That’s obviously changed. Now, not only am I an avid Falcons fan—and an avid Atlanta United fan—I’m part of the team that is thinking every day about what it takes to create loyal, long-term fans. The conversations at Falcons and Atlanta United staff meetings are not very different, I suspect, from those at your staff meetings. How do we make the experience more compelling? How do we get fans off their sofas and into the stadium? How do we overcome the barriers of traffic, parking, ticket price and childcare?

No one on our team doubts that there are many more fans staying home than buying tickets. And everyone knows it’s easier to keep a current fan or regain a former fan than to find a new one. So, a great deal of energy is expended on doing everything we can to keep fans happy and make them loyal—and we focus on the “door-to-door” experience, meaning we don’t just focus on putting on exciting game. The Falcons and Atlanta United both want to provide a great experience from the moment you leave your house to the moment you get home. You might be thinking that these organizations’ budgets allow them to do more—and in some cases, you are correct—these organizations are choosing to allocate a share of their budget toward marketing and experiences. But much of what they do involves personal contact, ingenuity, and making a real connection with those who believe in what they are doing. They know that retaining those who walk through the door the first time is much less expensive than acquiring a new customer.

What’s this example got to do with arts audiences? Well, everything. We learned from the best practice comparisons in the arts that it’s less expensive to retain an existing ticket buyer, subscriber or donor than to attract a new one. We learned that, over time, this retention builds stronger arts organizations who are able to “do more art” as financially sustainable enterprises. We learned that the marketing principles applied in other customer-driven industries apply to arts and culture. We learned that forward-thinking arts and culture organizations challenge the idea that cultural events are a one-way transmission of content or ideas, from the artist to the audience. Instead, the magic happens when the arts open up and nurture relationships. When ideas are exchanged, from artist to audience and from audience to artist, loyalty builds. 

So we held an inaugural “workshop” in November 2015 to test the waters. Many of you were at that workshop, at the Omni Hotel on a morning that featured a torrential rainstorm. Still, more than 180 of you attended. In a follow up survey to that workshop, we asked you what type of audience building interventions would be helpful as you build your audiences. The result of that survey is the Audience Building Roundtable, now entering its third year with more than 50 participating organizations of all budget sizes and disciplines.

As you already know, the Audience Building Roundtable’s is focused on one thing: that each member organization increases the size of its audience and that this audience’s financial support has a positive impact on your ability to deliver more cultural enrichment to our community.

The Audience Building Roundtable’s member organizations have learned from experts in the field, experimented with new ways to both attract and retain audiences, focused on tried-and-true practices that work, and re-organized your staff, board, and budget structures to focus on your audience. 

When we began this work, we suspected—and we now know for sure—that audience building is not something that is done in isolation or in silos by the development director, the marketing director or the artists. It is not for the faint-hearted or half-willed. It takes collaboration, innovation and resolve. But, when it is done with complete organizational faithfulness, we engage with audiences in exciting ways.

Moving from transactional ticket sales into transformational experiences is well worth the effort.

We have encouraged experimentation in the Audience Building Roundtable. We’ve provided a forum for our member organizations to share their audience building experiences. We’ve heard about the ideas that have worked—and those that haven’t worked. When we began, we indicated that we would all need to have a healthy appetite for failure. We said this knowing that many organizations have very little margin for failure and we said this in the hope that when we all fail and learn from it, we do it quickly and with forward progress. We don’t all need to make the same mistakes—we can learn from those of others.

The Audience Building Roundtable’s purpose is to support our member organizations in building their own audiences—attract new ticket buyers, patrons and donors while deepening relationships with the audiences that they have. We believe that data about your audienceis one of the keys to success and using that data to effectively deliver marketing and messaging to your target audiences is another key to success. 

Just as you do in your organizations, we’re evolving based on what we learn. For 2018, here are the major changes to the Roundtable:

  1. We are requiring attendance this year by several key organizational leaders. One person from your organization, hopefully the person who is in charge of marketing, is required to attend all meetings. The meeting schedule is on your tables and on the ABR website. If your executive director/CEO is not your “designated attendee,” this person must attend at least 6 meetings this year—of your choosing. And lastly, a board member must attend at least 3 meetings this year; again, of your choosing. We have always tracked the attendance of member organizations, which has made us realize that those with consistent attendance are getting stronger results.
  2. Each of your organizations must set numeric and financial audience building goals for 2018. You began that work at the December meeting; that work will continue later this morning.
  3. Your organization must submit a report at the end of each quarter to let us know how you’re doing in building your audience. We’ll remind you well in advance of the due date. The format and the information we ask for will be consistent for these quarterly reports. We’ll be asking for the same information that you will need to know to track your audience results.
  4. And lastly, we will be asking you to submit financial information about earned and contributed income for multiple past years. This will occur once and may include your 990s, your annual audits, and/or reports from your ticketing and admissions systems. I say “may include” because we are still figuring out exactly what financial information will tell us what we need to know.

I’m sure you’re wondering “why the new requirements?”

The answer is simple: we owe it to our Foundation’s trustees to be able to articulate results over time, and in our third year of this initiative, it’s time to go deeper and understand our results. We’ve also engaged Bob Harlow of Bob Harlow & Associates to conduct an outside evaluation of the Audience Building Roundtable; we are grateful to those of you who met with Bob in December and to those of you who have completed the survey, which this year is being compiled by Bob. If you haven’t yet completed the survey, please do so by tomorrow—the survey data is a critical part of the evaluation.

I’ll close by challenging all of you to dig even deeper into audience building in 2018—even if it means re-organizing your organization’s budget and staff structure to do so.

I challenge you to take advantage of the resources we’ve created for you. Our blog, our podcast, our innovative knowledgebase, the presentations and video from previous meetings of the Roundtable—all information is housed on the Audience Building Roundtable website is available for you to consider, learn from, and use.

Our hope is that your organization succeeds in steeping itself in the practices that will bring you new audiences—and keep the audiences that you have.

More attendees—more often -means that more people will have the transformational experience of art and culture in their lives. And that is the point.

On behalf of our trustees, thank you for your incredible engagement in this initiative. We have been thrilled by your response—and now we need your help to gather the data to tell us exactly what our results are.

JANUARY 2018 ISSUE: Georgia Symphony Orchestra Experiences 13% Increase in Ticket Sales from 2015 to 2017


By Susan Stensland, Executive Director


Now in its 67th season, the Georgia Symphony Orchestra (GSO) has many years of rich history and tradition in Cobb County and surrounding areas. The continued survival and growth of our organization is a result of the commitment and dedication of hardworking arts appreciators and volunteers who recognize the value of the musical programs that we bring to our community. Thanks to the generosity of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, we were awarded an Audience Building grant to help grow our audience and be better positioned to deepen relationships with our community members.

To stay relevant in today’s very social world, we chose to use this funding to develop an action plan to attract new ticket buyers and energize existing relationships with loyal patrons. Our planning work, with the assistance of consultant Sara Leonard (another amazing resource provided to us by The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation,) identified key values of the GSO. We value being welcoming, inclusive, accessible, flexible, and collaborative. We incorporated these values in our communications and in our actual events, using the grant to fund the projects.



Empathy is a critical element of the design method of planning that we have discussed at length at Audience Building Roundtable meetings. With this in mind, we have committed to listening carefully to our ticket buyers and patrons. We know that our musical performances must be high quality, varied in nature and thoughtfully curated. We found that our patrons enjoy the GSO as a place for social gathering where they are welcomed, recognized, and appreciated. To more fully be a welcoming place, we began to incorporate unique opportunities to enhance the concert experience.

For our Musical Promenade concert, we included Pictures at an Exhibition and added a juried art exhibit to make our pre-concert lobby experience more welcoming, inclusive, and fun. This brought visual artists and their fans to a multi-faceted event. During the performance, a slide show was added with paintings that inspired the musical composition. The audience was then “flash mobbed” by the GSO chorus in the lobby during intermission as a way of further immersing the patrons in the experience. 

The America, Vol. 1, concert showcasing works of American composers, included a bluegrass band in the lobby before the performance and the Georgia Spiritual Ensemble in the lobby at intermission. The Just the Beginning concert that closed the 2016-2017 season happened to fall on Earth day, so we created an earth-themed photo booth in the lobby, and the GSO partnered with Trees Atlanta to give saplings to each of our concert attendees. Everyone loved their free gift and the collaborative atmosphere. We added a VIP option to our GSO Jazz concerts, where guests can upgrade to a reserved seating section, and attend a meet-the-musicians reception before the show.

During the 2017-2018 season, our “concert extras” continued on the themes of being welcoming, inclusive, accessible, and collaborative. We added musical performances in the lobby, a new stop-n-shoot backdrop for social media photos, a surprise visit during and after our Holiday concerts by the famous Santa from the Macy’s parades, Valentine’s Day treats, and collaborations with the Morehouse College and the Spelman College Glee Clubs, the Georgia Spiritual Ensemble, and the Uzee Brown Society of Choraliers. 

Through spring 2018, we will assess our quantitative data to determine the impact of our new strategies on our ticket numbers. Ticket sales from 2015 to 2017 increased from an average of $5,714 to $6,448 per concert, a growth of almost 13%. We hope for even more growth as we continue our implementation of new strategies. Audience response to the enhanced concert experiences has been overwhelmingly positive, energetic, and appreciated. Attendees have said that they not only look forward to the music but also to the pre-concert surprises which will be there for them!



The second part of our strategy is to incorporate our values into our communications. This summer we rolled out a new website designed to be up-to-date, user-friendly, and compatible across all mobile platforms. We purchased video equipment and have plans to create blogs, videos, and social media posts that invite our audiences to get to know our musicians, to get a glimpse into the world of the symphony and create a sense of community ownership.

We began an ongoing analysis of our web traffic and trends. Our new website has more analytical capability, which will aid in collection of online traffic. We refocused our marketing on social media platforms, making use of our new video equipment and new website. Early results are positive, with considerable increases in online activity. 

Our primary focus for social media has been on Facebook, as it reaches our target demographics and found a 16.7% growth in page likesover the past year. In the past few months, we experimented with different Facebook ad campaigns, testing the results of videos versus event sharing with photos. We found it interesting to note that men clicked on our videos more than women, at a rate of 57% -43%. Women clicked on posts and events more than men: 67% - 33%. The highest number of our fans are online from 9am-9pm on Wednesdays – Fridays. We get the most significant response from videos and are learning to strategically plan when our posts and event reminders are sent and which audiences to target. Our first video post in 2016 received 110 views. Using our new video equipment together with our new data-based initiatives founded on the study of our analytics, our current video for “From Darkness to Light” has received 5979 views. That is an increase of over 5000% which is significant for our organization's visibility.

The Georgia Symphony Orchestra is enjoying the renewed energy and excitement from the community. We are grateful to The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s Audience Building Roundtable for providing the tools to help us grow stronger as arts leaders and in service to the people of our region. We are happy to share our ideas with the other Roundtable members and with others in the arts and culture community.

JANUARY 2018 ISSUE: Community Engagement: Adding Value to Productions, Developing New Audiences, and Supporting the Mission - All at the Same Time.


By Jennifer McEwen, Former Executive Director, True Colors Theatre Company

Thanks to The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, True Colors was able to expand a marketing initiative that we first tried in 2013: a Community Conversation Series. We were able to use the grant to produce a community conversation series for the entire season, focused on cultural understanding, with each conversation directly tied to a theme within the three plays we produced during 2016-2017. This grant allowed us to look at each True Colors production as a question for the community — How does race influence the law? What can save failing schools? How can we combat the stigma of mental health? In addition to deepening our relationships with our existing patrons, we found that these conversations have also introduced new patrons to True Colors.

We started this series in 2013 with one conversation each year, connecting topical social issues with themes in our plays and giving participants a safe space to discuss race and issues surrounding race. The goal of our Audience Building Grant was to expand these conversations from one to three (in a year) to fill patron demand. We were able to accomplish this, starting in October 2016 when we hosted the first conversation for the season: an expert panel to discuss “Combatting the Mental Health Stigma in the African American Community” before we opened David Auburn’s “Proof.” The group included psychiatrists, counselors, and journalists and was one of the most engaged and impactful talks we’ve held. Audience members discussed in-depth additional challenges and hurdles that people of color encounter when dealing with and finding resources for mental health issues.

In February, we hosted a one-on-one conversation with Monica Pearson interviewing Dr. Meria Carstarphen, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, at Clark Atlanta University. The event was well attended with an unusually diverse audience, and it was evident that we were reaching an audience beyond the traditional True Colors ticket buyer. Similarly, our June conversation around “Race and Policing,” moderated by social justice journalist David A. Love and featuring Atlanta’s Chief of Police Erika Shields, journalist Alexis Scott and Rev. Markel Hutchins, was equally successful in generating both attendance and audience engagement. This conversation had a packed house and a diverse audience, many of whom were first-time attendees. We used these events to offer special incentives to future True Colors performances, and we have successfully reached new patrons.

This grant gave us the freedom to explore different venues for each conversation, partnering with the Southwest Arts Center, Clark Atlanta University, and Actor’s Express. We strategically chose our venue partners based on the conversation topics, based on our assumption that audience demographics are correlated to venue location. We used grant funds to pay for travel, lodging for our out of town speakers, technical support, marketing and PR initiatives to support the programs, including radio and print press, social media promotions and email promotions.

We found that planning for this initiative allowed our team to implement innovative and strategic methods of engagement for both the theatre company and the community. The conversation series has been set up in a way that introduces new and existing patrons to our work. These free programs created a safe and nonjudgmental environment for our audience to express thoughts and opinions about issues facing their community. Our community conversations have added value to our productions for our existing patron base and engaged nontraditional theatergoers in our work, which then translated into ticket sales.

To see more about our community conversations, click here:

JANUARY 2018 ISSUE: Do Good. Be Great. Shift from Marketing to Storytelling

Museum of Design Atlanta

By Maria Royal, Museum of Design Atlanta

After attending the AMA Nonprofit Marketing Conference this year, I learned that it takes defining the “why” to set yourself apart and it takes human-powered stories to inspire others to care.



As Simon Sinek puts it, “most organizations know what they do. Some know how they do it. But very few know why they do it,” or what their larger purpose is. Using Apple as an example here – the iPhone gives users a lens through which to capture the world, their products enable innovative design work, and on top of having good products that work they choose to market user stories to reveal a kind of empathy and reverence for their audience, positioning the device as the enabler and the user as the pioneer. This realization altered my entire approach to marketing the MODA brand and building the museum’s audience. Nonprofit marketers must begin to think of their brands as people with human voices in order to move audiences from event-loyalists to brand-loyalists.



AMA’s overall conference theme this year, Do Good.Be Great, brought some of the best story tellers in the nonprofit realm to Washington DC. Among many compelling presentations, the following three speakers stood out and spoke in some ways directly to MODA’s mission – to use design as a force to inspire and create positive change in the world through exhibitions, education, and programming for visitors of all ages. Here are a few game-changing tips I took away:



For Martha Adams, the goal of the Girl Rising campaign was to inspire audiences with real stories that would create lasting emotional connections. Why? In order to highlight the critical role that education plays in life. The Girl Rising team created nine chapters with nine different girls to reveal nine unique stories that distill a sense of trust, authenticity, and consistency with the audience. In her words, “if you know how to nurture a human relationship, you know how to build a brand” and in some cases, it’s an emotional connection to a brand’s mission that matters more than customer satisfaction with a particular product. Since brand status is something that must be earned, it’s the user who gives a brand its value. For Martha, promoting Girl Rising was not about driving sales but about building a strong community of like-minded individuals to back a movement for education.



John Vranas began his presentation with a statement that tickled his audience of nonprofit marketers, “No money, no mission,” making a compelling argument for how crucial it is that marketing and development to dovetail. John explained that the need for funding to support the Make-A-Wish program always existed but in the organization’s early years, it turns out they were telling the wrong story.

Historically Make-A-Wish focused their marketing efforts on showcasing the end result –wishes made possible by their organization. After years of sub-par returns on their marketing investments, they realized they were telling the wrong story because they had identified the wrong hero. The real heroes in this story were the people who actually made the wishes possible – the donors, fundraisers, volunteers, social workers, and the doctors working together for a cure. Flipping their model completely and adapting their why to showcase funders and doctors as the heroes yielded tremendous success that allowed the organization to eventually scale up to 102 individual foundations in the US.



With the idea that “cultural shifts precede change,” Jennifer explained that YBCA exists to serve as a creative home for civic action – a place for people to carry change forward. Under new marketing leadership YBCA put new programs in place to actively support and celebrate San Francisco’s change-makers. Their team started the YBCA 100, their own award program to highlight their city’s top change-makers, inviting as many honorees as possible in to speak on one question – what’s the question that keeps you up at night and how are you addressing it? Their team launched a Think Tank for prototyping new city improvements complete with a Culture Bank that selects risky organizations and artists who can’t get grants to fund as long as the artists are designing for good in their city.



Re-inspired by the incredible work of the above organizations, I returned to Atlanta to restructure the MODA marketing plan for 2018 with an overarching marketing goal of building a brand-loyal MODA community that understands the power of design to change the world and that believes MODA is essential to doing it for Atlanta. I worked with my team to create an internal and external marketing plan to help turn this goal into a reality.

On the internal side, we are working to build an army of radically friendly, cohesive brand ambassadors to drive membership up by 20 percent year over year, capture data, and push patrons to brand loyalty organically. We are finalizing a brand voice guideline to ensure message consistency and to better define our why when conversing with patrons in our exhibition space, at our events, and in our camps and classes.

On the external side, we are aiming to increase patron brand loyalty and donation amounts by 20 percent year over year. There are a number of strategies that support this objective including better defining our why to set ourselves apart in external communication pieces, choosing the right hero in development pieces, and taking a human-centered approach to both our paid and earned marketing efforts.

We are creating real campaigns around MODA’s mission-centered work including exhibitions, Design Conversations, and summer camps. We are focusing our social communications on celebrating the people in Atlanta and beyond who are living our mission of using design to make the world a better place. And once we ramp up these specific MODA initiatives, our blue-sky dream is to move from event-marketing campaigns to brand marketing campaigns at the end of the 2018 calendar year.

JUNE 2017 ISSUE: The Georgia Ballet - Gray is the New Gold…


By Kaitlyn Pack, The Georgia Ballet

The National Arts Marketing Project Conference was a wonderful experience. I attended in November 2016 on a scholarship provided by the Audience Building Roundtable, an initiative of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. The conference is a unique opportunity for the arts community from across the US to come together and talk about marketing. At the conference, my two favorite workshops were: “Gray is the New Gold” and “Arts Marketing + Patron Journey”. 

“Gray is the New Gold” was of particular interest to me. The panel was about how our community likes to always seek the younger audiences that more difficult to reach and get investment from, while there are millions of seniors that are already love and appreciate the classical arts like ballet. So why are we, as arts organizations, discounting older generations? One of the panelists, Desmond Davis of Verb Ballet, shared his experience with a Summer Camp Program for seniors which has had amazing success for Verb Ballet. With the information gleaned from this workshop, The Georgia Ballet is place more marketing emphasis on group sales from Assisted Living Communities. We are aiming to fill more seats with these patrons in the upcoming season. 

The workshop on “Arts Marketing + Patron Journey” focused on how to identify our organization’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP). We identified what makes our organization different and how we can incorporate that into our marketing. Using this method, The Georgia Ballet built our marketing campaign for The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty on our affordability and the convenience of our location. We DID see a difference from our approach. We received many phone calls from new patrons who responded with excitement to our offer of affordable tickets and that convenient location for family entertainment.

To sum up my conference experience: don’t forget what makes your organization special! Use that in your marketing. And just because we want younger audiences, we can’t forget about the existing, older audience that is ready and waiting for us to make an offer to them.


JUNE 2017 ISSUE: Core Dance-Building our Audience


Building our Audience 


This year at Core, we have spent quite a bit of our audience building effort on our brand development. In this huge endeavor, we have managed to change our logo, add graphics to our building, change our colors, our fonts, our website and much of our language. We have also added new positions to our staff and have more company members than we have had in the past 4 years.

Through all of this effort that Core Dance has taken to re-brand and re-fresh, communicating our changes is the most challenging part. Our social media pages have new photos but our page still looks the same and the followers are still growing at a very slow pace, the same with our e-blast clicks and open rates.




I begin to search the website for the National Arts Marketing Project, the title of the 2016 conference caught me immediately! “Fueling the Change” It was exactly what I needed, with an emphasis on social media marketing.

As I moved through the different sessions at the NAMPC, one of the universal messages I took away is that, this marketing world changes with each minute of the day and it’s moving as fast as our technology. We have to keep up. It is 2017 and we are marketing like it’s 2011. Just think of your cell phone now and the Blackberry you had 6 years ago, and what about the technological advances of your 2012 Toyota Corolla to your 2017 Corolla, it probably has wifi now, backup cameras and push button start, to name a few. It all became clear to me that the effort I was making to communicate wasn’t as fresh as our new branding.



Re-branding took a year of planning and research. That is the groundwork that needed to be done and the same needed to be done for our communications. Since the department is staffed by one person, and we are in the middle of the season, I knew this would be challenging. So I started with social media because it's at the majority of society's fingertips. I began by implementing a few tips I received from the social media breakout session.

I tried the light-hearted, funny post, because people like to laugh and enjoy social media for leisure. We receive minimal engagement from this post. It didn’t speak to Core Dance's audience.

I tried the 80/20 rule—80% of your content should be entertaining or about community—not be a hard sell—and 20% should be about Core Dance and our events. They were hit or miss, depending on how well I could relate to our audience.

I realized that I wasn’t engaging our audience because I didn’t really know them. I needed to go back to the drawing board, put a plan together, research and put the same energy into communicating that we did with our branding.


I am at the beginning of the planning work. I began by working with our current tools to figure out where we are in our audience engagement. I looked through Facebook Insights and found that our most engaging posts are those that are directly related to the community, with no ulterior motive. This was also true of our e-blast data.


This data was useful in learning what excites our current audience. Then it was time to set goals. How much do we want to grow, how quickly and what do we want our audience to know about us or how do we want them to see us? These are all questions I need to answer before I can set goals for our audience engagement. I will be taking these questions to the whole organization on an organization-wide planning day, so we can work in the way that our values dictate: in collaboration. At this session I will conduct an internal focus group about where we are currently, and together we will strategize on goals we should set for audience engagement through social media.



Once the internal focus group is completed, the external focus group will be held. This is where the challenge lies. How do we get audiences that we have yet to engage to participate in a focus group and what groups do we use? The answer is “the lowest hanging fruit:” the group that goes to dance performances, just not ours; the group of art lovers or creators—the group that has come close to engaging and for some reason just didn’t get around to doing it. We need to do research, find out who that group is and approach them at their level. Once I get the information I need from our current and prospective audience members, the plan is to create content based on speaking to the audience we want to market to. I will continue to test different ways to communicate throughout the summer months until we have a solid plan in place for the next fiscal year. Our plan will include a content social media calendar and scheduled posts.


This data was useful in learning what excites our current audience. Then it was time to set goals. How much do we want to grow, how quickly and what do we want our audience to know about us or how do we want them to see us? These are all questions I need to answer before I can set goals for our audience engagement. I will be taking these questions to the whole organization on an organization-wide planning day, so we can work in the way that our values dictate: in collaboration. At this session I will conduct an internal focus group about where we are currently, and together we will strategize on goals we should set for audience engagement through social media.



My advice to my fellow Audience Building Roundtable members is to set aside dedicated time to develop your social media: let it be your mission and be sure that it is strategic. It isn’t just a simple marketing tool, it isn’t something that we can leave to a volunteer or intern to plan and implement. Don’t just post on social media, but engage, share and comment on others if you want that engagement in return. Start off with mastering Facebook, because it's the most utilized platform and managing more than one won't be as effective, quality over quantity. Lastly, try, if you can, to hire someone specifically for social media. It is a job all its own.

We look forward to growth in audience and engagement through our new information, new tools, and knowledge that we gather

JUNE 2017 ISSUE: Exploring our “Film” Beginnings 


By The Rialto Center for the Arts


For over a century, the Rialto has been a dynamic arts venue in the heart of Atlanta, showcasing exceptional artistic talent and advancing education initiatives in our public schools. As part of a vibrant downtown landscape, the Rialto has remained true to its mission: to inspire, educate and entertain diverse audiences by presenting innovative and exceptional arts programming and cultivating community partnerships.

But the Rialto’s original purpose was to showcase what was arguably the most influential art form of the twentieth century – film. Opened in 1916, the Rialto was part of the original theater district of Atlanta. Evolving from a 925-seat vaudeville and silent film theater to the Southeast’s largest movie house to what it is today – a performing arts center showcasing live arts programs from all disciplines and around the world. The Rialto is located on the same corner as the original building, Forsyth and Luckie Streets, and has the distinction of being one of only a few businesses in the city that has done the same type of work for 100 years in the same spot.

As a celebration of our centennial year, (the “new” Rialto opened on Christmas Day, 2016) we wanted to explore our “film” beginnings. We are now undertaking a comprehensive campaign to raise money for upgrades to our current systems to allow for digital and film projection on a giant, tension-mounted motorized screen. The goal of our audience building initiative is to attract both younger patrons and new rental business. Given the bustling film industry and all of the film shoots in downtown Atlanta, there needs to be an intown space to hold premieres. We want to be that space. We requested grant funds from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s Audience Building Roundtable to do two things: upgrade our existing film/media equipment and implement a new AudienceView ticketing system for tracking and follow-up of patrons.

The grant funds allowed the Rialto to upgrade our film/media capabilities through the purchase of a 27’ x 15’ Stumpfl screen with an aluminum frame and legs. A screen like this was something that we previously had to rent at a much higher price point. In addition to saving the rental fees, this upgrade enables us to set up quickly, with less labor and faster turnover between events. We debuted this screen for a very special evening – a Rialto Series show designed to attract a new, younger audience - a screening of the restored print of the 1927 German silent film Metropolis, with live, original accompaniment by Boston’s Alloy Orchestra. ArtsATL and Creative Loafing gave us much-needed preview coverage. The pre-show talk, by film scholar Dr. Allesandra Rhangos, drew more than 100 attendees. Our concessions featured popcorn and movie candy. Our ticket sales topped $6,000.

A portion of the grant funding was used to purchase the new AudienceView integrated ticketing and customer-management system, enabling us to customize payment plans, create real-time reporting and connect via e-mail marketing. We have been able to capture data and follow patrons from the beginning of transactions all the way to post-event surveys instead of relying on Survey Monkey or on paper copies in the lobby after a show. The new system allows us to capture more information, including the high percentage of new ticket buyers we attracted to the Metropolis offering (First-time buyers must create an account in the new system). The follow up comments in our audience surveys included: “Very cool – loved the event;” “More film please – tonight’s performance was amazing;” and “Awesome sound with movie.” The ticketing system indicated that we reached part of our target audience since many of our attendees were students one of the stated goals in our application for funding. We had a much larger walk-up audience than usual for our Series events and observational data confirmed that the audience demographic skewed toward attendees in their 20s and 30s.

Since we chose the Metropolis event as a test program that would use both aspects of the funding we received, we feel that we succeeded. Our takeaway is that film events, especially unusual ones that attract press attention, will drive a different audience through our doors. Later in the season, we reached out to the same audience for our show Shaolin Warriors and received an enormous response from students and younger attendees. As a result of the Metropolis project, we anticipate presenting another film festival during summer 2017 (In summer 2016, we presented the Be Downtown film festival which brought 400 new attendees into the space). We will target our new audience through special discounts, offers for behind-the-scenes tours and meet-and-greets with filmmakers and others affiliated with the screenings.

We chose to focus on film and media because of observations showing a lack of proper screening facilities intown; because we wanted to capitalize on our centennial and be the only place downtown that remains a movie venue; and because of the success of last summer’s foray into film showings. We made the decision based on research: we reviewed downtown offerings and noted what isn’t happening; we asked ourselves if there is a niche we can fill; we looked into what might interest a different audience; and we capitalized on the proximity to continuous film/television shoots.

Research certainly worked for the Rialto in this case. Utilizing a design thinking approach to our planning allowed us to work through empathy: we observed, engaged with, and listened to our new audience. We used data in the define stage of design thinking. The conclusions we drew are pushing us to another level.

The Rialto was able to leverage the funding we received to purchase new equipment; create a new type of season offering; and to use the new AudienceView[1]  system to its full advantage by tracking ticket buyers from point of purchase to post-show.

At the Rialto, we feel that the grant we received from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation launched us on a new path; the funding gave us the ability to take a risk. We believe the risk was well worth it. We are now on pace to reap the rewards of upgrading our technical capabilities coupled with enhanced data capture.

JUNE 2017 ISSUE: High Museum of Art


The Plan

The Audience Building Roundtable Technical Assistance grant funded recruitment and engagement events for the High Museum of Art’s Young Professionals (YP) members. The event was modeled after the High’s popular First Fridays and was promoted to acquire new YP members, renew expired members and engage current YPs.

The target audience included 1,500 current and/or prospective YP members, ages 21 to 39. The goal of the event was to cultivate current and prospective members, deepen their connection to the Museum and connect YPs to arts culture in Atlanta.

Funding allowed the High to provide attendees with free admission and activities throughout the evening.

What We Tried

The High’s membership team collaborated internally with the public programs, marketing, creative services, special events and guest relations teams to plan the event.


An event logo was created and featured on flyers, the website, the “Art After Dark” Facebook event page and on glow-in-the-dark admittance stickers.

Local print-making duo, Broken Window Theory, created exclusive prints. The Shutterbooth photo booth gave guests a printout and a gif version of their picture to share on social media, both featuring the event logo. The 139 attendees received an event-specific koozie and a drink ticket. Music was provided by DJ Teknology and Photo by Gannon provided event photography. 


To build on “Art After Dark” momentum and engagement efforts, the High will host two membership drive events to continue to grow this membership level before the end of the fiscal year (May 31, 2017). 

What We Learned

Many of our patrons do not understand that Young Professionals is a membership level, not just an age bracket. We are considering changing the group’s name from Young Professionals to Young Patrons in order to convey that YP members are also donors that are vital to supporting the mission of the High Museum.


We recommend peer organizations create events with a myriad of components to keep guests interested while still providing networking opportunities. YPs come to events to have fun, creative experiences and to make friends.

We also recommend boosting the Facebook event. This inexpensive marketing technique packed a big punch. For $200, 485 individuals indicated they would attend, 5,200 were interested and the event reached 174,000 with 22,000 views.

Our experience showed that YPs appreciated the event exclusivity but we believe many more individuals would have attended the event if we offered an event-specific ticket. “Art After Dark” then could have provided the opportunity for attendees to upgrade their ticket purchase to join, engaging potential new YP members in person versus pre-event.

JUNE 2017 ISSUE: Marketing to Millennials: Could less be more?


 By Sicily Ledford, Dance Canvas


While at the National Arts Marketing Project Conference in November 2016, which I attended on scholarship from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and the Georgia Repertory Theater, I learned (and was reassured) that not all millennials prefer to be reached through online platforms and social media. Although, it is worth noting that we still tend to social media outreach as an integral facet to our audience building tactic,it’s important to remember that reaching patrons through face-to-face audience building tactics can develop a more resilient, lasting relationship. Face-to-face interaction can also be useful to focus on reaching small groups of this generation of individuals at a time. Essentially, once meaningful relationships are created, patrons will tell their colleagues and friends to attend events or support the organization. This classic bring-a-friend tactic is, undoubtedly, very effective. Although this process does not yield an immediate increase in number of patrons attending events or amount of donations, it does increase the authenticity of the organization to patron relationship which, in turn, results in long term organizational health. It also increases the likelihood for donations as these patrons grow in their careers. As a part of this generation, I felt charged to  share this simple, but vital and refreshing idea. 


Since my return from the National Arts Marketing Project Conference, our administrative team developed a Dance Canvas Ambassador Program. Our team first met over pizza and brainstorming; this evening of discussion did not cost anything more than pizza, paper, and pencils. Our Executive Director, Angela Harris, began by leading everyone through a design thinking activity using the template that we received at an Audience Building Roundtable meeting, only stopping conversation when we realized that the restaurant was closing! We finished with a hearty list of ideas for engineering our student engagement initiatives and recruiting an energized group of inaugural Dance Canvas Ambassadors.


In light of the face-to-face and word-of-mouth concept mentioned above, this small but mighty group of young, dedicated Dance Canvas ambassadors—all patrons and volunteers—serve to connect our organization to the younger population in the metro Atlanta region. This initiative essentially serves as a way to engage college students in professional development opportunities and Dance Canvas events. Our ambassadors are inspired to complete special projects, carry out audience engagement initiatives and lead a cohort of peers from several of Dance Canvas’ partner colleges. Ambassadors are asked to volunteer for at least three Dance Canvas events including our “Introducing the Next Generation” performances. 

In return, ambassadors receive these benefits!

  • Free Dance Canvas T-shirt & magnet
  • Free admission to all Dance Canvas shows and events
  • Special invitations to private Dance Canvas events (networking opportunities) 
  • Access to Dance Canvas choreographers through masterclasses, workshops, and meet & greets
  • Access to free professional development seminars, VIP Q&A's, and special DC Ambassador social / networking events
  • Cohort of Peers from several colleges
  • Mentorship and career goal assistance from the Dance Canvas staff

Currently, our partner colleges are the University of Georgia, Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University and Georgia Tech. These partnerships support the part of our mission that serves emerging artists that are college students, recent graduates,and/or of the millennial generation.

In review, our ambassador program provides volunteer support for audience building tasks and projects including,but not limited to, social media content development and targeted ticket sales. 

Each of our ambassadors reached out to their peers to increase student ticket sales for our “Introducing the Next Generation” performance series in March 2017. Our group of ambassadors also led the two post-show receptions in the Ferst Center for the Arts lobby. These gatherings were an absolute hit and the post show vibe led to even more relationship cultivation as patrons could interact directly with choreographers, dancers and Dance Canvas students while enjoying free hors d'oeuvres and beverages. 

The challenge that comes with having an ambassador team is the time it takes to educate and lead rather than simply delegate tasks. But I hesitate to call this a “negative.”  The ambassadors are eager and quick to learn and we hope to support them in becoming leaders for our organization and for the Atlanta arts community. We encourage organizations to take the time to generate or further develop their relationships with this group of “art-zealous” patrons. It is an investment that will yield returns into the future.


We welcome you to share our Ambassador program with others using the link below. We are happy to answer any questions at



JUNE 2017 ISSUE: Actor’s Express

Actor’s Express

With the support of the Audience Building Roundtable Technical Assistance Grant, Actor’s Express set out to turn our large group of one-time attendees (tryers) into repeat ticket buyers (buyers) and our repeat ticket buyers into subscribers (advocates). During our 2015-16 season, which included six mainstage shows and a large summer musical, AE welcomed over 4,000 households into the theatre. Of those households, 78% were one-time ticket buyers, 14.5% were repeat ticket buyers and 7.5% were subscribers. Based on this data we determined that we really need to focus our energy on moving patrons from one-time ticket buyer to repeat ticket buyer status. We have not yet reached the end of our 2016-17 season, so cannot give a full report on the effects of the project, but we have encountered some success with our tactics thus far.

First, we employed the help of an hourly box office assistant to clean up our database. This work included inputting new customers from third-party vendors and merging duplicate records. Our database can now output more accurate data to inform our marketing decisions. We found the results so beneficial that we have incorporated these tasks into the role of a new part-time business manager who started with Actor’s Express at the beginning of 2017.

For each show in our 2016-17 season, we have been following up with single ticket buyers with an email immediately following the performance the patron attends and a postcard mailing after the production closes. The email and mailer both include a discount to the next two productions if booked by a certain date.

Follow-up postcard mailing for Company

Follow-up postcard mailing for Company

The good news is that the follow-up piece has increased our number of return single ticket buyers! We have compared last season’s Sweeney Todd and Yockey Repertory, which had no follow-up mailings, to this season’s Company and Appropriate, which both had follow-up mailings, in the chart below. Both sets of shows had comparable attendance and draw to the two following productions. In both cases,  the percentage of single ticket buyers and first time ticket buyers was higher than  previous seasons.


While the follow-up piece did have a direct impact on single ticket buyers returning to the theatre, we did not see much use of the promotion codes. The code on the Company piece was used 32 times and the code on the Appropriate piece was used just 9 times. Based on these results, we believe it was not the discount that enticed patrons to come back, but instead the follow-up mailing  served as a  reminder. Going forward we plan to experiment with these alterations to the follow-up mailing:

  • Using an exciting production photo from the show the patron attended instead of artwork from the upcoming shows as the focal point of the mailing
  • Eliminating discount code on the follow-up piece
  • Using a deeper discount on the follow-up piece to encourage advance purchase of tickets
  • Sending more follow-up pieces between shows

To address the next level of the patron loyalty pyramid, we have instituted a telemarketing campaign targeted toward repeat ticket buyers to turn them into subscribers. In the past, we have experienced some resistance from patrons in making the leap to a subscription package.To combat this, we created a special package called a 4-Pack aimed toward repeat ticket buyers. This package was not available to the general population. It was only available to the identified patrons who were contacted via telemarketing and through follow-up emails. The package, instead of providing one ticket to each show in our five-play season, allows the buyer four tickets to be used in any way he or she wants. The patron can use all four tickets for one show or use one ticket for each of four plays. This package provides  flexibility to repeat ticket buyers while increasing their commitment to the next season. With the addition of the 4-pack option we saw the number of subscribers rise from 528 for the 2015-16 season to 728 for the 2017-18 season, a 38% increase in the number of subscribers. We plan to use the telemarketing approach in two ways for 2017-18 subscriptions.

  1. Target repeat ticket buyers from the 2016-17 season with an exclusive 4-Pack option
  2. Target 4-Pack buyers to move into traditional subscription packages or a 6-Pack option

Finally, to increase patron engagement for those already deeply involved with the organization like subscribers and donors, we have created two programs based on results of patron feedback. During our conversations with subscribers and donors, we learned that patrons:

  • Want facetime with Actor’s Express artists
  • Want to know more about the behind the scenes work of a professional theatre company
  • We're excited about our upcoming 30th Anniversary Season

The first program we created is called Fridays with Freddie. On the fourth Friday of every production run we invite subscribers and donors to have lunch on stage with Actor’s Express Artistic Director Freddie Ashley. Each lunch has a theme and special guests if appropriate. The first lunch was a sneak peek into Season 30 and the second focused on the casting process. These lunches allow patrons to have an intimate insider experience at AE. We also include a donation request tailored to the event presented by our Development Director as part of the program. Each luncheon has been attended by 25+ patrons and netted at least $2,000. We plan to continue these lunches into our 30th Anniversary Season.

Fridays with Freddie during The Crucible

Fridays with Freddie during The Crucible

The second program is a fundraising campaign called the $30k Club. The goal of the campaign is to leverage the enthusiasm for our 30th Anniversary Season to raise $30,000 in new gifts to support Season 30. Patrons can join the $30k Club either by making a new donation of $100 or increasing their annual fund gift by $100. Members of the $30k Club get special access to events during Season 30 and a pin that gets them a free drink at every show. After launching the program in February, we have already recruited 123 members. The goal of this program is to raise additional funds for Season 30 while growing our base of entry-level donors.

The Technical Assistance grant has allowed us to really look at our own patron engagement pyramid and determine the best ways to elevate patrons to the next level. Our efforts to convert repeat ticket buyers into subscribers through special telemarketing packages and to engage our subscribers on a deeper level through programs like Fridays with Freddie and the $30k Club have been very successful. We have seen some success with converting single ticket buyers into repeat ticket buyers, but we feel there is more to do here. Over the next season, we will experiment with different iterations of the follow-up mailing in addition to introducing some new tactics.

We would recommend that our peer arts organizations really try to understand what their patrons are looking for and develop programs that are mutually beneficial to both the patrons and the organization. Is it access to artists? Is it a behind the scenes tour? Is it guest passes to bring friends? One of our keys to success is making sure that when we do more deeply engage our patrons, we don’t let them leave the theatre without showing them the next step in their relationship with AE.

During this process, we have not encountered anything that we would tell other organizations to completely avoid. We would say to be wary of discounting. With people who are already familiar with the organization, this may not be a necessary tool in getting them to further engage. 

JUNE 2017 ISSUE: Atlanta Ballet


Atlanta Ballet held a Board Summit on October 13, 2016 for senior staff and board to discuss key organizational issues for a future strategic planning process. TDC, a nonprofit research and consulting firm, facilitated the discussion. The summit focused on addressing the following four questions:

  1. Are you in agreement that audience growth should be the primary goal of the next several years? Are there other key goals that need to be considered?
  2. What does Atlanta Ballet need to drive audience growth?
  3. What other organizational issues need to be tackled going forward?
  4. What other questions does the planning process need to answer?

The room was divided into four assigned groups, each with a mix of board and staff members. The following are the findings from the breakout session:

  1. All groups agreed that growing audiences should be one of the major goals considered over the next several years. Many felt strongly that growing diverse audiences should be a top priority and that Atlanta Ballet should be striving for greater visibility throughout the city of Atlanta.
  2. The group focused on several of the key points: 1) Test and act on programming preferences of audiences; stage productions with high levels of title recognition; 2) pursue lapsed patrons; and 3) enhance visibility through civic pride and personal connection.
  3. The following additional questions were identified: 1) Who should be Atlanta Ballet’s audiences? How can the organization achieve this? 2) How can Atlanta Ballet raise the needed endowment funds in the long term? 3) What level corporate support would be possible to achieve within Atlanta’s unique corporate fundraising environment?

A planning committee made up of both board and staff will launch a planning process, which will include a more in-depth internal analysis alongside external research.

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