Unpopular Opinion: You don’t need a grant to start something new

When we have an idea for a new initiative, we immediately think about how to fund it. Yes, some do need funding just to get them off the ground; especially if they involve artist services.

But I’m not talking about those kinds of programs. I’m talking about things that impact the patron experience like communications campaigns, customer service enhancements, and educational services.

We talk about needing to change how we communicate with current and undiscovered patrons (as we prefer to call them at FORM) to be more relevant and engaging. We talk about putting the customer first and designing a patron-centric experience. These things don’t need a grant to accomplish. In fact, all that is needed is a change in mindset and a little bit of effort.

Most of my writing is prompted by something that I see can be applied to the arts and this one is no different. You probably saw the story and accompanying video on Facebook of the elementary school principal who reads bedtime stories to her students via Facebook Live. She saw a way that she could fulfill a need and so she came up with a way to do it. A FREE way — all it takes is some effort on her part.

How many things can we accomplish if we were mindful about it and made a real effort? Here are some no-cost (or perhaps low cost depending how you want to do it) things we can do:

  1. Communicating with a new target audience. We’re really great at talking to our existing patrons, but we’re not so good at engaging new patrons, and especially audiences with whom we maybe don’t talk to currently. All it takes is a little bit of investigation into the best channels to reach them and then putting yourself in their shoes to come up with messaging that’s compelling to them.
  2. Encouraging word-of-mouth marketing. Are arts orgs, we have the luxury of having thousands (maybe millions) of people coming through our doors each year. Friends telling friends how great your organization is is better than any marketing message you could put out. Harness that by prompting patrons to share photos or check in on social media (using a hashtag) while they’re visiting. Maybe provide a little incentive like a free admission or ticket to an upcoming event. As long as you’re not sold out, it doesn’t cost you anything and you get free marketing.
  3. Provide an extra customer service touch point. One patrons donate to our campaign or buy a ticket to the show, we suppress them from sales communications. (If you aren’t suppressing people who have already bought from sales messaging, please start immediately.) Rather than never talking to them again for the life of the campaign, send them additional communications beyond a thank you (or parking information if it’s ticket sales for an event). How about updates on the fundraising campaign or features on the performers. This group is highly engaged because they’ve just spent money with you. Use that to deepen your relationship with them.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list but you get the idea. I wrote a post not too long ago about making sure we’re doing what’s inside the box really well before we have the luxury of thinking outside the box. Lets focus on building a strong foundation.