Building a relevant case for support is, of course, a fundraising fundamental. The most necessary elements to fundraising are 1. A need, 2. A solution, and 3. A Case for Support connecting the two. That’s Fundraising 101 and half the battle. Give me a compelling case that is relatable, repeatable, and inspiring and we can probably attract philanthropic support. Add a kitten and some artisanal kale and we are headed for victory.
For whatever reason we very often struggle with Our Case in the Arts, particularly when participation (performances or museum admission, etc.) is dependent on a ticket purchase.
Here is a typical Case for Support in the Arts:
Some version of this message (Your Purchase is Inadequate) is an almost universal rationale for support in Arts and Culture. Why in the world?
The thinking goes something like, “Friend, the cost of your ticket (that you paid for with your hard earned money at the price we proposed) ACTUALLY ONLY REPRESENTS a fraction of the true cost of producing the performance for which you’ve joined us this Evening. And so you, as a Decent Person, should be wracked with Regret for not paying your fair share. And so Give Us Your Money. You misanthrope. You fiend. You Cheapie.”
And I don’t buy it. This is a terrible way to inspire Giving.
Why don’t you simply raise ticket prices?
That’s my natural question. You said it was $25 to see this funny play with good lighting and I paid for my ticket. Would I have paid $55, representing the true cost of attendance? Probably. For most of us, the cost of an entertainment is generally not the barrier to attendance versus other opportunities: having dinner at the new Kale place, going to that party at Renee’s, watching HBO at home, and so forth.
The performing arts tend to have a wealthier than average audience base compared with other forms of entertainment. Most of the crowd could pay more. Look around at the next play, opera or orchestra performance you attend. So, is your Case for Support, is to subsidize ticket prices for old, rich folks? I didn’t think so.
The “Your Seat Costs” rationale is based on Guilt, first and foremost. Does Guilt work to get people to act? Of course it does. But is it the best way to inspire joyful giving? I don’t think so. Guilt doesn’t lead to long-term affinity nor loyalty. You made me feel bad. Good for you. Here is $25. Take me off your solicitation list.
Finally, making your philanthropic case about the “true cost” of production suggests entertainment is all your organization is about. I love theatre and see everything I can. But if I, as a patron, only see value in your organization as entertainment, you’ve missed a real opportunity to connect with me in a more meaningful way. If a ticket to me is simply a transaction, a fee paid for a service of entertaining me for the evening, I will be no more connected to your arts organization than I am to the IMAX theatre where I am going to go see Star Wars next month.
So what instead? Tickets to performances are for my personal enjoyment and joyful consumption. Invite my philanthropy by telling me about your work beyond the stage. Those education programs that introduce youngsters to their first Shakespeare and the acting classes that teach self confidence and self reliance to teenagers. Share with me the value of having professional working artists in my community. Tell me about creating new works that showcase the faces and stories of our increasingly diverse city.
This is what inspires loyal philanthropy. Asking patrons to pony up cash because their tickets should have cost more is beneath all of us in Arts and Culture. It is lazy, manipulative and dreary.
Can we agree to stop?