In the arts we often confuse those that like what we do with those who support us. It matters because while we need to make sure those who attend our performances or exhibitions attend regularly, it is vital that we identify those who actually want to help us.
The problem is that while supporters will almost certainly be regular attenders, regular attenders may not be supporters.
We need to differentiate them because need to adopt a different tone of voice for each group. And we need to make a different offer. Without underestimating or belittling the effort involved, I believe the regular attender can be easily dealt with. It largely comes down to money- discounts for attending regularly, memberships that give them advance information and early booking.
The supporter is the more difficult nut to crack. Yet they matter most of all because, in a time of cutbacks, they will donate money, maybe quite large amounts as you nurture them. They may well appreciate discounts and advance information but, more than that, they want to be part of your tribe.
In her new book The Psychology of Fear in Organisations, Sheila Keegan says, “Humans have a basic fear of being ostracised. Tribes give you a sense of security, in the way that a family gives you support and affords you protection,” she says.
“It could be any sort of tribe: a football club, or a political party… We like to delude ourselves that we’re unique, but we like to be unique in a group. Very few people can exist without connections to other people.”
The desire to be part of something you love is powerful. You want to feel you have helped make it happen. You want some of the magic to rub off on you. Being part of an elite arts group has the dual effect Keegan describes, making you feel special because you’re an insider while at the same time connected to a tribe.
So how do you make someone feel part of your tribe? Possibilities are a special hospitality area to sit in, reserved premium seating, even greater priority booking than the standard membership, access to rehearsals or previews, priority booking of hospitality so they can show off to their friends, meet the cast/director sessions, their name on a board, a newsletter with exclusive news.
Crucially, talk to them like they are ‘one of us’. The key message here is: make them feel they’re an insider, part of the organisation, a valued friend.
For this, people will pay handsomely and identify themselves as someone who can be nurtured into fundraisers and benefactors.
How do you identify them if they don’t want to join the club? A supporter is more likely to take part in social media conversations. Someone may follow your organisation on Facebook or Twitter simply to find out more but they may the person who wants to have inside information and have the opportunity to talk to you. So examine posts carefully and target personal offers to them using a Facebook message or a starting a tweet with their @Twitter name.
Note anybody who goes out of their way to communicate with you, by letter or email, even if they are critical. They are telling you they care about your organisation. Put them on your list of people whom you will tell about how the can become more involved. The same applies to group bookers.
And, of course, even though it doesn’t follow automatically that a frequent attender wants to become a member of the tribe, they might. So contact people who have joined your mailing lists and check your sales database for those who are frequent attenders.