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Subscriptions are dropping, ticket sales are rising - what to do?

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According to a 2015 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, more than half of U.S. adults (about 126 million people) attended at least one art exhibit or live music, theater, or dance performance within the past 12 months, and another 31 million people were interested in doing so. Although demand is strong, arts presenters (orchestras, theaters, museums, etc.) are experiencing a shift in the ticket buying habits of audience members as ticket subscriptions decline and the number of single ticket purchases grows. Clearly there are implications for those who are responsible for developing the artistic programming offered to audiences, but what are the implications for fundraising?

Different ticket purchasing behavior means new variables to take into account when segmenting the audience and developing solicitation strategies. For example, frequency of purchase becomes a factor in addition to number of years as a subscriber. Buying patterns can offer insights into possible donor motivation. How should our plans change when conceptualizing, testing, and implementing the strategy to raise operating support? Who should receive our appeals and at what point in their relationship with the organization? GG+A has tackled these and other questions for arts and culture clients.

People who are in the audience less frequently may still be strongly committed to a presenting organization, but how we make the case for support may need to change. We have to understand what purchasing behavior suggests about ticket buyers’ understanding of the organization, what elements of the mission they will find compelling, and what will lead them to make a gift.

We also need to understand whether audience members who purchase single tickets rather than a subscription have a different relationship with the organization, one that is more transactional in nature. A more transactional relationship may mean we should employ different channels to carry our appeals, perhaps depending more on social media to engage, educate, and solicit.

This new reality also gives rise to a host of data questions including who gets added to the fundraising database and at what point. Should a purchaser of a single ticket to one performance be solicited? What steps can we take to limit the number of duplicate records, and how do we ensure that we are building a comprehensive record for each purchaser? GG+A has helped some organizations use electronic screening to evaluate audience members for philanthropic capacity before an event in order to offer enhanced cultivation opportunities. Are those approaches appropriate and effective with non-subscribers? Partnering with volunteers who are willing to help in the cultivation effort may become more important as the number potential supporters in the hall may surpass the capacity of the staff to make a personal contact.

The rise of single ticket buyers is an important consideration when arts presenters develop and implement fund raising plans. Being attuned to shifts in audience behavior allows us to ask and answer new questions and improve our results, as well as to consider what data is needed to guide efforts to adjust our fundraising programs.

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About the author

Eric Snoek

Vice President

Eric Snoek, Vice President, joined GG+A in 2012 and brings to the firm 30 years of development and advancement experience within higher education and independent educational institutions. Eric has significant experience in individual giving; advancement planning and management; capital campaigns and campaign planning; training development staff and Board members; engagement…