Win More Grants: Integrating Evaluation with Stories

Do you want to wow your donors and secure more funding? Arts programs that consistently attract more funding intentionally combine evaluation results with stories to inspire action. Like consumers, donors make funding decisions based on emotion, and then they rationalize their decisions with logic. Good grant writing and marketing copy capitalizes on this phenomenon by weaving evaluation data throughout participant anecdotes. The stories appeal to the funders’ emotional side and the program evaluation results helps donors rationalize their funding decisions.

Let’s examine this in practice by reading a a participant’s experience in VSA Ohio’s Adaptation, Integration and the Arts (AIA) Residency program. In this program, students with and without disabilities explored through dance the different ways in which we love. The students were placed in groups and worked together through the process in partnering, poetry creation, and image searching.

Kate, a student who is blind, had never experienced a dance or exercise class before the AIA residency. At the end of the residency Kate was performing on stage with her peers without the assistance of her aide. Another student, also named Kate, worked with her and became her peer guidance for the dance. It was beautiful to see third grade students gain compassion and understanding through peer-to-peer work in the arts, giving Kate the freedom to perform on stage for the first time.

The girls’ story highlights how the AIA program uses movement and art to build friendships and increase students’ confidence. A story like this helps individuals care and remember the program. However, it might not be enough to inspire a donation.

VSA Ohio’s evaluation data allows them to strengthen their storytelling, by focusing on the overall impact of the program. This is how they continue the story.

The AIA program served nearly 2,000 students last school year and 52 percent were like Kate, a student with a disability. Program evaluation results revealed that 100 percent of administrators with an AIA program in their schools agreed that the program impacts student learning. The majority of the teachers (80%) reported the program increased student creativity and appreciation of art. During the program, students experienced an 18 percent increase in the rate of growth in their reading fluency scores compared to the rate of growth before the residency.

When funders read these results, they know the social impact of their investments to the AIA program. They have confidence that their donation will allow 2,000 students to experience learning gains, creativity, and appreciation for the arts. Donating to this program becomes much easier because funders have the facts to justify their decision to donate.

Research conducted in Impact & Excellence reveals that more than 75 percent of nonprofits are likely leaving money on the table. Most organizations are missing the critical program evaluation data which help donors justify their decisions. The same study revealed that the organizations that do have evaluation data are significantly more likely than the other organizations to increase their revenues and better engage donors. The good news is that program evaluation can be done in any organization regardless of size and budget.

It doesn’t have to be difficult to start tracking your unique impact and value through program evaluation. The first step is as simple as answering the following questions:

  • What do your funders care about?
  • Why do they fund you?
  • What problem do you solve or improve for those you serve?
  • What need are you fulfilling?
  • Who would be impacted if you closed your doors tomorrow?
  • What are the consequences if you no longer provided your services?

Be honest. Have the difficult conversations about your role in this world.

Use the answers to these questions to get clear on the unique impact you are attempting to achieve. Once defined, turn your answers into survey questions or find measures that align with your desired outcomes. Commit to giving these surveys and measures to your participants to truly quantify and demonstrate your impact. Lastly, make sure you are gathering participant stories which illustrates how your program is achieving these outcomes.

In addition to making a huge impact on this world, you will attract the resources needed to provide the services in a much bigger way!

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Author(s): Americans for the Arts
Date of Publication:

Copy of the 2018 LAA Profile survey instrument intended as reference material.

Author(s): M+R
Date of Publication: Jan 01, 2018

This study contains data about online fundraising, advocacy, and marketing.

Engaging a Fan Base: Arts Patrons as Fanatics

Imagine a world where arts patrons tailgate before a Sunday matinee of A Raisin in the Sun. Or a world where kids are trading rookie cards of their favorite ballet dancers, or collecting posters of the MVP (Most Valuable Performer) of their local playhouse. What about a world where season ticket holders attend programs religiously, trusting that they will have a good time because they are loyal to your company? If this culture can be built around sports, why not around the arts?

Okay, so there are certainly cultural factors that allow the sports sector to appreciate this kind of deep, fanatic engagement more regularly; but what can we, as arts marketers, learn from sports marketers about how they cultivate a culture of fandom? How can we benefit from thinking about our patrons as fanatics?

These are questions that we asked some of Indianapolis’ leading sports marketers in a panel discussion entitled Engaging a Fan Base: Arts Patrons as Fanatics, hosted by the Arts Council of Indianapolis in partnership with the Indiana Sports Corp.

Indy Arts Marketers hosts a panel discussion at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Home of the Indiana Pacers) with some of Indianapolis’ leading sports marketers in “Engaging a Fan Base.”

As it turns out, there are a few things that we can learn from sports marketers, so I wanted to highlight a few takeaways from the discussion.

Know before you go

Web pages, blog posts, or social media posts that set expectations and answer frequently asked questions can go a long way in making new patrons feel comfortable when trying new things. What to wear? When to arrive? Will there be alcohol? These are unknowns to newbies and may cause them to fall back on the familiar. What can you do to quell their anxieties?

It’s all about the visitor experience

Hospitality is key in making people feel that their money and time is well spent. A non-fan can quickly become an art buff if they have an enjoyable experience, regardless of whether they “liked” the show. If a first timer is greeted with open arms, and their needs are carefully catered to, they are more likely to come back.

It’s all about the visitor experience

This continued to be a theme during our panel discussion and they could not emphasize it enough, so I thought it was worth listing twice. I am going to include into this the cultivation of tradition. This is where we get into tailgating or autograph signing after the game. What traditions can your organization bring to the visitor experience? Does your audience get a chance to interact with the artists themselves? Is there room for your audience to participate beyond casual spectating? Does your organization support a super fan section? What other ideas might you employ to cultivate tradition?

Indianapolis has a culture of utilizing the arts to build fan bases such as Welcome Race Fans, a partnership between the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Arts Council of Indianapolis. Photo by pauldbestphoto.com

Give them something to root for

Don’t be shy about sharing organizational successes—they give your patrons something to root for. Is your artistic director a finalist for a big award? Announce it. Do you have one of the top clarinetists in the state? Tell people over and over again. Did your theater just produce the world’s shortest one act play? That is something to celebrate!

It’s not just about game day

Arts and sports do share one thing in common: they are oftentimes season-based, but everyone will agree that our job does not end when the season is over. Blue, the Indianapolis Colts’ mascot, does over 125 school visits each year, mostly during the off-season! Combine that with player appearances and organizational volunteer efforts and the Colts are in the minds of the community year-round. Few arts organizations have the resources for that level of external engagement, but everyone should include community events as a valuable part of a patron-focused marketing strategy.

If it’s not social, it’s not fun

People go out to be a part of something because we are social beings. Make sure your organization is a part of that social experience. People are more likely to return if they made a meaningful connection the first time they attended an event. A social ambassador program may position volunteers in the lobby to interact with and connect newcomers. Or a “bring a friend” discount could incentivize your existing patrons to create their own social experiences while allowing your organization to reach new audiences.

Don’t think you have all the answers

Sports organizations often have the resources to pour over ROI (return on investment) data and analytics, which allows them to adjust their efforts to better reach their audiences. Arts marketers are often doing about five other jobs and don’t have the time to weed through a truck load of data. What arts marketers do have is the ability to speak directly to their patrons. Don’t forget to ask how they heard about an event, or better yet, how they prefer to hear about events. A little one-on-one insight can go a long way.

We are all in this together

Our biggest competitor is not other arts events. It’s not even sports. It’s sitting on your couch and not being social. When your community is a community that is known to be culturally engaged, everyone benefits. In sports, a league thrives when each team thrives. In the arts, a city’s cultural identity thrives when all arts organizations thrive. Don’t be afraid to elevate the work of other organizations in your community. It’s when you build that kind of culture that patrons start investing more frequently in the arts. When patrons are investing more often in the arts, they naturally become fanatics.

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Author(s): Vidyard
Date of Publication: Jan 01, 2017

This report shares trends from analyzing data colleced from Vidyard video platform of more than 500 businesses over 600 million video streams in the year 2016.

Ballin’ on a Budget? Five Reasons Why You Need to be Using Canva

If you’ve never used the online design platform Canva, then you need to change that—starting today!

Canva is truly a gift for nonprofit organizations. Through my work with a membership-based capacity-building nonprofit, I’m able to spread the word of Canva’s wonderful features far and wide. But that just isn’t cutting it—I thought I would spread the word to you, too!

Let me be honest: I once thought that the creative gene had decided to pass me over. I could appreciate great graphic design, but every time I tried to create a work of my own, I was sadly disappointed. However, when I was hired on with my current employer, “marketer” was added to my job description (hence, I now enjoy referring to myself as an “accidental marketer”). If you work in a nonprofit organization, I’m sure you are familiar with the idea that we wear multiple “hats”—you may be a development professional, but you’re also the event planner and the marketing person, too. That’s just how it goes! So, I found myself in a position where it was time to be creative and produce marketing materials, even if I didn’t feel I was talented enough to do so.

When I found Canva, I found a platform that allowed me to express myself creatively – and be proud of the things I produced, too. I often tell people that they don’t need to be creative to produce beautiful marketing materials with Canva. However, while thinking about this blog post, I realized that Canva has actually provided me with a medium that allows me to finally be creative. With a free and easy to use platform, I feel confident in my ability to create attractive and effective materials.

Photo credit: Pexels

With all of this being said, you may be a professional designer and feel that this post just isn’t for you. HALT! That may not be the case. I have interacted with many professional designers and those familiar with platforms such as InDesign and Publisher—99.99999% of the time, these people have made comments like, “Wow, this is so much more intuitive than ______,” or “Golly, this sure will save me time vs. working with ____.” So, stick around, professionals, this “accidental marketer” might have some gold for you!

Without further ado, here are five reasons why you need to be using Canva:

1. Canva likes nonprofits—another reason why I love them!

Canva offers an enhanced version of their online product, “Canva for Work,” free of charge for nonprofit organizations. Canva is aware of the financial pressures within our sector and they’re giving us a break by allowing us to produce awesome collateral on a real budget.

2. Canva recognizes that teams need to work together, and that brand consistency lends legitimacy to organizations.

By using the Canva for Work account, users can set up a Brand Kit. With the Brand Kit tool, the user can identify their specific brand colors, fonts, and logos. Then, while working with teammates via Canva for Work, members can access this kit. Not only does this save time by making brand items easily accessible, it also lends itself to teamwork and consistency, which gives organizations an air of professionalism and legitimacy.

3. Canva offers free layouts for any and every occasion and need.

Looking for a Facebook cover? Canva has those. Looking for a Halloween card? Canva has those. Looking for a presentation template you can use to spice up an average PowerPoint presentation? Yep, you guessed right—Canva has it covered. Literally. Anything. You. Could. Want.

4. If design elements aren’t labeled free (which most are), then they’re $1—gosh, Canva, break the bank why don’t you!

Did you ever notice that most subscriptions and tools always have some sort of gimmick? 14 days free, then BAM! A huge charge hits your account (because, of course, they made you enter your credit card information right off the bat). Well, I have wonderful news—Canva isn’t out to scheme you out of your hard-won dollars. I have looked up, down, and all around for where they may be hiding the gimmick, and guess what, folks—I can’t find it! And trust me: I’m a naturally suspicious person. I have an eye for these things. Canva is just truly good. Ah, how refreshing!

5. As if they hadn’t already done enough with the FREE Canva for Work for Nonprofits, they also have FREE resources available to ANYONE. WHERE DID THESE PEOPLE COME FROM?

I think the Canva people may be angels. They also have resources such as color palette generator, photo editor, font combinations, design tutorials, colors, design size guide, and more!

So, if my somewhat embarrassing enthusiasm hasn’t convinced you that you need Canva in your life, then I don’t think we can be friends.

Take my advice, start designing with Canva today!

Special thank you to Canva for all of the free resources for nonprofits, and also to the National Arts Marketing Project for this opportunity to share my Canva love.

P.S. If you want to learn more about Canva and/or some other great email marketing tips, join Americans for the Arts on ArtsU on Thursday, April 26, 2018 for an “Email Marketing Makeover” session.

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Help, I’m Marketing and I Can’t Get Up

Queue up that social media post. Write that blog article. Respond to a bajillion emails. Check your site’s Analytics dashboard. Adjust the Facebook ads budget. Check in on your Google AdWords account.

If you’re an arts marketer, this to-do list might feel all too familiar. If you’re not, it might leave you feeling overwhelmed or maybe just a little checked out. But how many of us are walking a line between both extremes? Nowadays it seems as if dual and blended roles are becoming increasingly the norm for all except the largest arts and cultural organizations.

Seth Godin once wrote, “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is a failure. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.” Like so many things, this is easier said than done. There’s a sweet spot out there, or so we all hope. We aim to distinguish ourselves from the crowd, meaningfully demonstrate our organization’s value, and drive people to want to experience our product (be it a performance, service or any number or related arts and cultural activities). But with ever changing and emerging media platforms and advertising modes, it can be difficult to figure this all out or, let’s face it, have the time to even think about figuring it out.

Awareness of issues stemming from this growing imperative for marketing expertise and the reality of capacity limitations inspired the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts to team up with Americans for the Arts’ National Arts Marketing Project to develop Arts Marketing and Audience Engagement in the 21st Century: Building the Capacity of Pennsylvania’s Cultural Sector (AMAE21). This training initiative aims to equip Pennsylvania arts and cultural organizations with the knowledge and ability to build and engage with audiences, address systemic issues of declining arts participation and audience loyalty, and assist organizations—particularly those within diverse communities—to attract and retain broader audiences.

Signature characteristics of the program include a two-person team structure (per organization), tailored curriculum, and a two-year training arc.

The team structure (usually the marketing person and a “decision maker,” like the executive director or a board member) is designed to ensure that participating organizations absorb learnings and methodologies in such a way that both the why and how are understood in terms of why prioritizing this work is so important.

Each cohort begins by participating in a three-day “boot camp” to ensure they have a baseline knowledge set on which to build. Curriculum is then tailored around the needs and interests of the specific cohort. From this process, some of the training topics from year one included: branding; developing a marketing plan; diversity, equity and inclusion; and web assets and SEO.

In terms of qualifiable benefits, the program outfits participants with, and makes them a part of, a network of peers. In the same way that attending a niche industry conference gives you the chance to connect, learn, and—let’s be honest—commiserate with people who are dealing with the same challenges and experiences as you, AMAE21 cohorts work together closely over two years, building deep relationships while sharing challenges, successes, and tips along the way.

I realize this is a lot of information, but the long and short of it is that we all need help sometimes, right? Or in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.” So, if this program sounds like something that would help you and your organization (and you’re based in Pennsylvania), you can find out everything you need to know here. The deadline to apply is April 27, with notification by May 18.

And if you’re not in Pennsylvania and thinking “Well, thanks for nothing!”, fret not—you can bring this program to your state too! Contact Americans for the Arts’ Local Arts Advancement team to learn more.

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What does hosting a birthday party for a hotel duck have to do with arts marketing?

(Only the Cohort 1 attendees of #NAMPC 2017 know!)

As arts organizations, we collect stories of transforming individual lives; sometimes, we have stories of transforming communities. We also collect survey information with “numbers served” or assess the effect our programs and events have on our constituents. And we have hard data that show the arts have an economic impact and add public value to our schools. But storytelling is essential. We need to do this in a way that addresses current and future modes of communication. We must tell our stories to the world in an impactful way that reaches our current and/or new audiences. We must command increasingly fleeting moments of attention, Facebook algorithms, and new trends.

Nonprofit organizations are tasked to do much with little, all the while growing programs and reach, and always keeping the plates spinning. All too often, organizations give short shrift to marketing and communications, rather than making them an integral part of a strategic plan. But they are essential tactics that ensure we serve our mission and stay focused on vision. Professional development for nonprofit employees often is also an afterthought, rather than a part of strategic focus.

It was these factors, and a desire to shift my organization to be more marketing-minded, that led me to the Arts Marketing and Audience Engagement in the 21st Century initiative created by Americans for the Arts and funded by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

I began my tenure as Executive Director of 35-year-old Perry County Council of the Arts one year ago. I knew it was vital that the importance of marketing in our organization be expressly supported by leadership, so one of the first (and smartest) decisions I made was to move our part-time media coordinator, Missy Smith, to a Communications Director role.

We applied and were selected to participate in the first cohort of the program, along with twelve other arts and culture organizations from the eastern part of Pennsylvania. The Cohort training requires engagement by an organization’s leader, paid or volunteer, and a marketing representative, whoever that may be. So together, Missy and I began our work with the training group in the fall of 2017. We were up for the challenge, and we have had invaluable arts marketing learning experiences since.

The experience of this training group has helped transform our organization as we reimagine our branding and marketing initiatives. We’ve also seen it in the other arts organizations that have participated in this group. We’ve received phone and in-person trainings, and attended last year’s National Arts Marketing Project Conference at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis (home of the famous Peabody Ducks referenced in the headline). The value of having, for the first time, a marketing plan cannot be understated. We have also adopted a brand identity guide that was co-created with our board, development committee, and entire staff team. In many ways, small and large, we are designing, re-designing, and assessing our organization as we focus on telling our story to the world.

Without this Cohort experience, it’s fair to say that we would have moved much slower in our marketing self-assessment and planning. The trainings, readings, exercises, workshops, and, most importantly, time with our fellow arts marketers have given us the tools we need to expand our organization’s reach and strengthen our strategies, and to share the broader message that the arts are vital to life.

Applications for the next cohort of the initiative are open through April 27, 2018! You can learn more and apply online—or nominate an organization you think could benefit from the program—on the National Arts Marketing Project website.

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Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Arts Marketing and Audience Engagement Initiative

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Arts Marketing and Audience Engagement in the 21st Century: Building the Capacity of Pennsylvania’s Cultural Sector kicks off its second year of programming. This two-year capacity-building initiative, funded by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, supports, strengthens and advances the arts marketing and audience engagement skills of arts and cultural professionals.

With internally-facing and externally-facing goals and objectives, the Initiative seeks to:

  1. Assist Pennsylvania-based arts and cultural organizations achieve increased and engaged audiences on a consistent basis through skill-building in the areas of arts marketing and audience engagement.
  2. Address long-term systemic issues of declining arts participation and loyal arts audiences in Pennsylvania.
  3. Assist arts and cultural organizations – particularly those within diverse communities – in attracting and retaining expanded audiences.

Focusing on the Western part of Pennsylvania, the second Cohort (a group of 50 participants made up of 25, two-person teams) will participate in an intensive two-year curriculum that provides all participants the opportunity to build new skills in arts marketing and audience engagement. The Cohort will have access to both common core resources as well as resources tailored specifically to regional teams. In addition, each Cohort will have access to a new network of leading arts marketing experts/trainers to guide their work.

Applications for the 2018-2020 program are open now through April 27, 2018.

For more information on how to apply, click here.

Have questions? Send e-mail to Ruby Lopez Harper or call (202) 371-2830, x2079.

Customer Retention is Broken. Here's How to Fix It.

Content sponsored by Spektrix.

If I told you you’d lose 68% of your customers next year, you’d probably be a bit worried, right?

The recent Spektrix Benchmark Report highlights a concerning issue for the arts: we’re just not doing well at retaining our customers. And not much has changed since we last did this report in 2014 where the retention rate was 31%.

On average arts organizations retain just 32% of their customers in the year following a visit (year two), and just 27% in year three. 

This means you will probably lose around 68% of this year’s customers. That’s a lot of people. Let’s say you have 30,000 customers a year, that’s 20,400 customers. Ouch.

But, the step change in the number of customers you retain in year three is evidence of the value of customer retention. If you can get your customers to come back in year two, you’ll only lose a further 5% of them in year three.

How do the arts compare to other industries?

The arts are doing a little better than some industries, such as clothing who retain 24% but worse than the health and drug supplements industry who retain 44% of their customers.

But some companies are achieving great retention rates. Apple retained 92% of iPhone customers in 2017 while Amazon Prime keep 96% of their customers.

What are the benefits of increasing retention?

It’s around five times more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to retain customers. If we think about the resources we need to invest in getting in a new customer, such as expensive advertising, compared with the cost of emailing a customer who has already visited you once, it’s clear to see the return on investment is much greater when retaining customers.

For arts organizations, this means building a core audience who are loyal, will take risks with you and in general are easier to sell to. These customers are also more likely to support your organization with donations.

So why do the arts struggle?

In recent years there’s been a growing need to increase audiences. With the average age of audiences getting older, many organizations are focusing on getting in new audiences from all walks of life. And while this is valuable and necessary, we’re ignoring our existing customers in the process.

What are some examples of good retention strategy?

Okay, so you don’t have a budget like Apple or Amazon but you can steal the guiding principles behind their strategies and apply them to your own efforts.

Case study: Apple

Let’s look at Apple. They release a new iPhone pretty much every year at the same time. When they released the iPhone 6 in September 2015, it’s likely that they already had the iPhone 7 ready to go. Apple carefully manages the timing of their new product releases because they know that releasing a new phone every month won’t keep retention rates up. On the other hand, releasing a new phone every year is in tune with when customers naturally start thinking about getting a new gadget. A parallel in the arts is the way that you manage your programming. If you program the two most anticipated events of the year back to back, how will you get a customer to come back in 12 months? Wouldn’t it be better to have a great excuse to get your first-time buyers back around six months after their first visit?

Case study: Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime does two things:

  • they offer benefits members want;
  • they make it easy to stay a member with auto-renewable membership.

Neither of these are expensive to offer and they keep their customers engaged. In arts organizations, it’s easy to monitor the uptake of member benefits so you can make sure members are getting the benefits they want. You can also offer auto-renewable membership with significantly increased retention rates.

Three Things You Can Do Right Now

As well as using inspiration from the above, there are a few more things you can do to increase your retention rates.

1. Make that first visit really great

Everything leading up to a customer’s first visit has to be great: from buying a ticket, to finding out all the information about their visit, to getting from the front door to their seat. Their experience has to be positive and everyone in your organization contributes to this.

Firstly, staff have to be friendly and approachable. If you can flag first-time buyers to front of house staff, do it and make sure staff know how to greet these customers.

Cut the line wherever possible—whether it’s lines in the parking lot, at the box office, for the bathroom, or at the bar. Offering print at home tickets, advance dining options and plenty of information on when to arrive can mean your customers go from standing around and getting frustrated right before the show, to having a great evening even before the curtain’s up.

2. Pay attention to the morning after the night before

So, your customer has had a brilliant evening and you have permission to email them. What could be better timing than getting in touch the next morning, just as they’re raving to their work colleagues about the great night they had last night?

Capitalize on the post-show high by inviting first time buyers back with an incentive. Something as simple as 10% off tickets or a free drink is a great way to drive them back to your website and start thinking about their next purchase.

3. Always make one last attempt

With all the best strategies in the world, some customers might not come back, and that’s okay. But before you give up, send lapsed customers one last amazing offer, and make it really special such as $5 tickets, access to a sold-out show, or a free meal. Not all of them will bite, but the ones who do are much more likely to come back again.

What retention strategies have you tried that have worked? Let us know in the comments below. 

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