Some Reasons Acquiring New Customers Can Be Expensive

As so often is the case, Seth Godin recently made a post many elements of which are often cited as mistakes arts organizations make.

It should be noted that the things Godin lists are not meant to apply specifically to arts organizations. As often as we talk about how it is not appropriate for non-profits to be run like businesses, it is important to remember that since we are both trying to appeal to human beings to use a product or service, there are still a whole lot of problems we have in common.  The over arching philosophy and motivation which guide the responses to these challenges is what often differentiates non-profits from for-profit entities.

The fact the post is titled, When your project isn’t making money,” doesn’t mean it is aligned to businesses with a profit motive. Non-profits need to make money to pay their expenses, after all.

Of the 16 or so issues he identifies under the “It might be that your costs of acquiring a new customer are more than that customer is worth” subheading, only about 4-5 aren’t directly applicable to non-profit operations, and it only takes the slightest bit of imagination to see parallels.

Here are some of the more significant issues he lists. You have probably seen many of them mentioned before.

Because there’s a mismatch between your story and the worldview of those you seek to serve.

Because the people you seek to serve don’t think they need you.

Because it costs too much to tell these people you exist.

Because the people you seek to serve don’t trust you.


Because you’re focusing on the wrong channels to tell your story.
(just because social media is fun to talk about doesn’t mean it works)


Because the people you seek to serve don’t talk about you, thus, you’re not remarkable.

Or the people you seek to serve don’t like to talk about anyone, and your efforts to be remarkable are wasted.

Because your product doesn’t earn traction with your customers, they wouldn’t miss you if you were gone–the substitutes are easy.

Because even though you’re trying hard, you’re being selfish, focusing on your needs instead of having empathy for those you seek to serve.

Issues of lack of awareness, lack of trust, selfishness, competing substitutes are all topics of discussion in the non-profit arts community.

In fact, you may not associate some of Godin’s points with for-profit businesses. Do you immediately associate empathy with those whom you seek to serve as a characteristic of a for-profit business?

If you think about it, when call a customer or tech support number with a sense of dread and get your problems solved within five minutes, you may have been dealing with a company employing empathy for those they seek to serve. (Or at least one making an effort to retain your loyalty)

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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