Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A modest proposal, an interesting challenge, a great opportunity

One issue has come up regularly for me and other colleagues who work with performing arts organizations: how can technology help their development department - in particular, community / audience building, which feeds directly into development....

Conventional thinking is that every audience member is a potential volunteer / donor, and the more they are invested emotionally into the org, the more they will invest financially - either by seeing more shows, or through donations.

We're trying to get away from the idea that the only time someone "invests" in their favorite nonprofit is the once-a-year donation letter approach. This idea has led to a lot of client database development projects, which cost a lot of money up-front, and require significant ongoing costs.

It seems this idea of "investing" the audience / community into the process - which is happening with performing arts orgs already with open rehearsals, special benefit events, etc - can happen with online tools too.

That is clearly the thinking behind Doug Varone's blog for his Deconstructing English project.

Soooooo - you see where this is going.....

So some brainstorm ideas:
Use a blog purely as an internal tool
To capture rehearsal ideas that are otherwise difficult to capture - which can be particularly relevant for performing arts orgs. For example, this is my (other) blog, for members of my performance group. Since we're in between projects, I'm just capturing ideas - but you can see some actual "charts" and recorded congas in January and earlier.

Use a blog as a community building tool
- Post regular updates of what's happening in rehearsal, design and production of the piece (without giving away the surprises, etc).
- Remind people about upcoming special events (benefit appearances; special talk-back events; reviews of the show, etc)
- Regular intervals of "bios" of the performers and background on the production (original author of a play, for example)
- Use a free picture-hosting site like to post rehearsal pictures
- Use a free audio-posting tool like Audioblogger to post original music, or snippets of dialogue
- Don't worry about giving the show away (within reason). People who see snippets of beautiful sets, rehearsals, or hear parts of songs are going to be *more* interested in seeing the full show, rather than feel like they've "already seen it all".... (in my opinion)

Use a blog for audience feedback / reviews!
- Possibly start with some friends who agree to seed the discussion for you
- Get some (friendly) scholars on board to comment
- Ask some of your organization's closer community (long time volunteers, significant donors, etc) to review you.....

What are the costs?
Sure, you can pay for more advanced blogging, audio and photo hosting sites, but you can start for free....
- Setting up an initial blog: 30 minutes
- Customizing it from standard templates, with org logo, etc (for someone with HTML skills): 1 hour of talking/ planning, 30 minutes implementation
(And you don't have to do that right away...)
- Setting up accounts for picture and audio hosting: 15-30 minutes
- Ongoing posting:
- Daily rehearsal progress posts - 5-15 minutes a day (per post)
Can be done by any performers and/ or stage manager and/or director
- Photos: upload to Flikr - 10 min, link to blog post -10 min
Done by authorized picture taker; commentary by staff/ performers
- Special events updates - 10-15 minutes
Done by org staff
- Organizing audience reviews: this would take some more serious time and planning; probably require a separate blog, and relationship mgmt time (scholars, donors, other review contributers)

Final caveats:
There is little overhead, but this is a time investment. And you'll want to spend time marketing the marketing tool - i.e. getting the word out about the blog. And you can't go half-bore with this. It's worse to have an old blog site with a few stagnant posts than have nothing at all.

Finally, there is the argument that people seeing the process, photos, blog, etc could be turned off (as opposed to knowing nothing about the show). Well.... if you believe in your show, you don't want to "trick" people into seeing something they would have avoided otherwise, right?

[Follow this spot, and I will start a thread for performing arts blogs that are used for development / promotional purposes (as opposed to a personal blog that follows the trials and tribulations of an individual's experience). That means - comment / send me links!]


Anonymous Beth Kanter said...


Thanks for the post! Nice framework - has been percolating in my head too. I've been collecting artsblogs in a more general way. I have them in my deliciou account with tag artsblog

1:55 PM  

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