The Cracks in the Arts Patron Foundation
Ten years into our ongoing patron behavior research and analysis, data is showing us an alarming fact: There’s a huge set of cracks in the foundation of patronage that arts organizations are built upon.
In patron behavior terms, the “cracks” are caused by Tryers. These are households that have infrequent, one-time, or long-ago transactions with arts and entertainment organizations and they are the most prevalent type of patron behavior.
Right now the databases of most arts organizations are likely comprised of 90 percent Tryers. And most of them are patrons you’ve allowed to lapse.
Tryers—TRG Arts research has found—are the least loyal, most expensive to acquire, and most difficult to retain patrons. That most audience or visitor bases are built on Tryers is a real threat to the sustainable future of arts and entertainment organizations. It doesn’t have to be that way.
- The focus on finding new single ticket buyers is part of the problem. Research tells us that new ticket buyers churn out an alarmingly high rate after their first attendance. Often, organizations lose more patrons than they bring in annually, and that trend triggers institutional decline.
- Specific patronage programs–subscription, annual fund giving, membership–are escalators toward lifetime loyalty. Patrons who stick with a company over time and through continuing investment—loyalists—do so through these programs.
- Loyal patrons are made, not found. An organization’s most loyal, most engaged, largest invested patrons rarely if ever arrive in an organization’s pool of supporters fully formed. Research shows that new patrons who do stick with an organization do so by adding specific transactions in an escalating pattern of increased, frequent, current investments of time and money.
- Household-by-household patron cultivation is the key. Cultivation—the ability to mine an organization’s database to move patrons from newbies to lifelong loyalists is the path to sustaining patronage and revenue. Organizations must identify—at the household level—patrons and their next best loyalty-instilling action.
- Achieving loyalty means offering patrons their right next step. The goal is to get more Tryers to move up—not out—of active patronage. Once they do they become part of the group of active “Buyers” who subscribe, become members and generally add transactions to their experience with the organization. Patrons at the top of the loyalty pyramid, we call them Advocates, get there through philanthropy—and most often with an annual gift in the $1,000—$2,500 level.
Today, 10 percent or less of all patrons are moving up the loyalty escalator toward the type of support that can sustain arts organizations.
The focus needs to shift from finding new patrons to putting in place smart loyalty programs that can increase the number and proportion of Buyers and Advocates.
Read Jill Robinson’s full blog post, Too Many Tryers to Sustain the Arts, on the TRG Arts blog.