Another Giving Tuesday, another day spent deleting emails unread and maybe unsubscribing from the places that send more than two in a day. And I work in the arts.

But every year, it’s the same thing. An avalanche of emails, often from theatres and organizations I haven’t heard from most of the rest of the year, each one asking for money, think of the arts at this most special time of the year. At the same time, I watch people on the various social media complaining about all the email, and not just the people who work in the arts.

Here’s a crazy idea. When you’re planning for next year’s mailing, stop. Back up a few months. Use a time machine to go back, or set an alarm now, I don’t care which. Your first step should be to look at your relationships with patrons and email subscribers. Do you email them regularly? Do they hear from you once a week? Every other week? Then you don’t have to lay it on so thick on Giving Tuesday—-they know who you are and what you do. (For a good example of how to do this, look at Know Theatre of Cincinnati-—their weekly digest is one of the best out there, informative but personable, extending the organization’s personality.) If you don’t already do this, think about it. Don’t just sell, sell, sell. Build a connection.

A glimpse at Know Theatre’s most recent Monday email. Specific info for the week, the month, what’s coming up, and more.

Now, look at your season, look at the themes of the plays. Think about a charity that would be a natural fit. Reach out to them, see if they’d be interested in a partnership. Mention them in that weekly email, make them a part of your patrons’ world. Maybe pick two or three, depending on your season.

When Giving Tuesday rolls around, make the pitch about the charities. “You know what we do, let’s talk to you about this organization.” Maybe structure it so that whatever you bring in on that date is split between your theatre and the partner charity—you might find your patrons are even more generous as a result. Because they do want to support you, but when most think about giving like this, they want to support organizations that help people more directly. Introduce them to charities they might not already know, maybe volunteer with the charities during the year and share how that work goes with your patrons. Let them into your world.

Like I said, I work in the arts, I know what it costs to do what we do, and my first reaction every year is, “yes, but how does it help people?” I mean practical help. Food, shelter, health care, rehabilitation, what have you. That ought to be the focus of Giving Tuesday. We fill spaces with shadows and light–and yes, that does cost money–but this is a time of year to help people in the real world.

Invite your patrons to give to you and your partner charities through the whole calendar year—-and stay in touch with them all year. But maybe consider sharing the focus on Giving Tuesday.

(In case you’re wondering, this year, I’m donating to the Redeeming Time Project. It’s the arts, but it’s so much more than that.)

  • November 28, 2017