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Marketing is from Mars; Development is from Venus

Let’s face it: sometimes it seems like marketing and development couldn’t be more different. Their communication styles are different, their immediate goals are different, and they use different short-term metrics for success. They might work in the same building, but all too often it feels like they come from two different planets.

At many organizations, single ticket buyers and subscribers “belong” to marketing and donors “belong” to development. It’s true that one department or the other may advance a patron relationship at each stage of its evolution. However, both departments aim to deepen patron relationships, despite the difference in their approaches.

Without an upgrade strategy that involves both departments, marketing and development can miss their best opportunities to deepen patron relationships with the organization. Marketing and development may come from two different planets, but they should be empowered to put their unique styles and approaches to work developing patrons from first-time attendees to major donors.

Here are six ways to get both departments working toward the organization’s overall loyalty and revenue needs:

1. Use Your Data. Together.

One of the most valuable tools in an arts manager’s toolkit is a centralized, shared database system. Many arts organizations work in multiple systems. This practice, while providing the individual functionality that each department may need, can stunt collaborative efforts to grow patron relationships.

At the 2014 NAMP conference, I had the pleasure of hosting a roundtable on marketing-development relations with Tricia Ekholm, Chief Marketing Officer at Atlanta Ballet. Atlanta Ballet has one of the most functional marketing-development relationships I’ve heard of. Before merging its two database systems, Atlanta Ballet sent communications separately from its marketing and development departments. Merging its databases helped the ballet’s marketing and development departments to streamline audience communications, reducing redundancy and confusion.

“Now that we share a database, marketing is able to easily pull a donation ask into renewals, based on current donor renewal dates, past giving history or entry level ask for potential new donors. Atlanta Ballet box office staff is empowered to make the donation ask based on this information. This allows us to make one ‘ask’ to patrons and avoid duplicate or conflicting messages that can be confusing,” Ekholm said.

2. Coordinate Messaging & Message Timing

Even if departments in your organization don’t share the same database, marketing and development should talk regularly about campaign plans and timing. It’s common for marketing and development departments to manage their own independent communications programs across a mix of media (social, email, direct mail, telemarketing, etc.). What happens though when the two departments don’t talk to one another?

Imagine that you’re both a donor and a subscriber of your city’s symphony. How would you feel if you received disjointed or conflicting messages about the symphony from its marketing and fundraising mailings or emails?

When marketing and development messages aren’t well-coordinated, arts organizations can confuse patrons or push them away. Patrons, especially those who are highly invested, expect that an organization will take the context of their relationship into account when communicating with them. This requires an intentional, integrated messaging strategy.

3. Get the box office involved.

Great things result when departments work together. Development, marketing, and especially the box office, are deeply intertwined when it comes to loyalty development.

In this case study, we showcased the successes that three arts organizations had when their marketing and development departments worked together on box office giving campaigns. Des Moines Performing Arts, Arena Stage, and Ordway Center for Performing Arts each used a simple donation ask at the box office to strengthen patron loyalty.

These cross-departmental inbound asks can be a great addition to traditional outbound asks handled by development alone. Bring your box office staff in and incentivize them to invite patrons to make a small donation in the moment when they renew their subscription or buy a single ticket.

4. When you say “work together,” mean it.

Getting staff to collaborate goes beyond campaign timing and shared data. It involves a spirit of cooperation. At Atlanta Ballet, marketing staff are expected to work development events and vice versa.

“I don’t think there is any arts organization that has enough staff to do everything they want to do,” Ekholm said. “It makes sense that all staff share the duty of working events that are outside of regular business hours. It also allows staff across departments to get to know patrons and donors by name.”

“Having a staff of overall well-rounded individuals that can move with ease across events and conversations makes for overall stronger organizational relationships with patrons. This does not preclude staff having an assigned list of patrons they are to steward at the event. But donors are also ticket buyers; ticket buyers are potential donors. All staff need to be able to give basic answers to questions across the organization.  One of the best ways to cross train staff is to have them work events across department.”

5. Incentivize staff to manage patrons in transition together.

The transition from subscriber or member to donor isn’t always clear-cut. Until the patron relationship has clearly advanced to major donor status, both departments are still responsible for cultivating the patron relationship. Even then, marketing, box office and front-of-house staff may continue to interact with major donors in various capacities.

Arts organizations should engage in open, interdepartmental dialogue about the importance of patron upgrades to earned and contributed revenue streams. We know of organization leaders like Chad Bauman at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre who actively encourage and incentivize departmental leaders to help each other make their revenue goals.

“I make it clear to my director-level staff that they will be evaluated on how well they collaborate. Working together is something that we talk about for their performance reviews. When all the people who are handling our patron relationships cooperate and work in alignment, audience development becomes a lot easier. Executives should absolutely make marketing-development collaboration a priority, and everyone on those teams should know that it’s a priority,” Bauman said.

Incentives to collaborate can happen on multiple levels of the organization; executive leaders may encourage senior staff to collaborate. At the same time, managers in each department should direct and motivate staff to cultivate patron relationships across a variety of investment activities. This is especially important for front-line staff. In the example of box office donation campaigns, staff were actively incentivized to do the extra work of asking for donations. Small prizes, a pizza party, and financial compensation all motivated staff to contribute to financial goals that weren’t wholly marketing, box office, or development goals.

6. Giving Subscribers a Taste of Donorship

Taking the step to donorship requires a patron to see his or her relationship with the organization as a more personal, often intrinsically rewarding investment. Ticket buyers, subscribers, and members are more likely to look at their relationship with an organization as only transactional.

By offering subscribers or members a taste of the special benefits of donorship, you welcome them into the club of support. Whether your organization offers a taste of the intrinsic or the extrinsic value of donorship, a little effort can reap big returns for the organization. Here’s what that looks like at Atlanta Ballet:

“We try to find two to three times a year to give subscribers a taste of what being a donor would be like. Our Donor Preview Parties are wine and cheese events that allow donors to go into the studio for a sneak peek at rehearsals, a chance to meet the choreographer and dancers. They are usually for donors over $1,000, but once a year, we host one that is for subscribers who don’t donate.  People love them and they do ask when we are going to do it again.  The answer is that we do them 4 to 5 times a year, but they are donor-only events.  So, then the question is, ‘Would you be interested in becoming a donor?’”

“It is a slow building process, but we have begun to identify subscribers who have the potential to be major donors, but aren’t yet on our radar,” Ekholm said.

Two Planets; Same Destination

Marketing and development may differ, but each has an important role to play in audience development. Arts audiences — from single ticket buyers to the highest-investing donors — are the lifeblood of our organizations, so the importance of audience loyalty to earned and contributed revenue streams cannot be understated.

”No matter which department arts administrators work for, we are (I hope) all working for a common goal:  to see great art being consumed in our communities,” Ekholm said. “That means we should all want strong financially viable organizations, and that comes from both sides of the house, marketing and development.”

Cultivating patron loyalty is the responsibility of marketing and development. If your arts organization has had success working across departments to manage audience upgrades, we’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment here or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #artsmarketing #frommars.

Photo Credits from Top to Bottom:
Photo by Ryan Dickey (CC BY 2.0)
Shibboleth by Doris Salcedo at Tate Modern, Photo by
Nick Garrod (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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