Striking While The Engagement Iron Is Hot

I was scrolling through Reddit while waiting for a show to end Friday night and happened upon a post that reflects great engagement by the St. Louis Blues hockey team.  A guy discovering hockey for the first time and bemoaning his city’s loss of the Rams football team back to Los Angeles gets an invite from the Blues to attend a game.

When the nascent fan, Tony X. says he wants to buy the jersey of the biggest underdog on the team, a team member responds suggesting his jersey and later offers to sign it. The Blues apparently captured Tony X’s picture at the game as well.

Given the hashtags on this, I assume it all transpired in 2017 and it just bubbled back up on Reddit as so many topics do. It still provides a great example of how to really grab someone and keep them engaged when their interest is piqued.  Many of the questions Tony X asks are similar to those first exposed to a new arts experiences – Why is that guy doing that? What should I wear?

Note that even though Tony X was a sports fan, his focus was on football so even though he knew some of what to expect from the experience, there were still some aspects that would be new and possibly intimidating.



Getting Away From Treating People According To Their Donor Level

Vu Le made a thought provoking post with suggestions to make fundraising events more community-centric. The subtext of his thoughts is essentially to avoid valorizing donors and literally marginalizing the presence of volunteers and clients during these sort of events.  It occurred to me that the environment at these events may be reinforcing the sentiment that non-profits need to run themselves like a business by positioning non-profits as hapless and helpless without the assistance of donors.

Many of his suggestions focus on making fundraising events more inclusive financially, physically and socially for all members of the community being served. He lists 14 in total, but here are a few highlights:

Mix up your seating arrangement: seats are usually reserved for major donors and sponsors, with the top tiers going towards those who contributed the most financially. This just reinforces the message that the more money you have, the more special and important you are. That’s silly. Mix up your attendees. Seat clients at the front. Or randomize it.

Treat volunteers thoughtfully: While donors of money are worshipped, donors of time are treated like an afterthought. “After you finish setting up all the centerpieces, feel free to scavenge through the dumpster for your dinner, since we reserve the gourmet food for guests.” OK, I exaggerate a bit, and volunteer food (usually pizza) is not bad. But if we’re going to be community-centered, then volunteers are an essential part of the community, and should be treated accordingly.


Skip the tiered sponsorship levels: Yet one more way we perpetuate the idea that people and corporations should be treated based on how much they contribute financially. The sponsors at the “higher” levels get more marketing, better seats, more recognition, etc. Let’s move away from this. Here’s a great article on this topic from our colleague Phuong Pham.


Be considerate how you use clients’ testimonies: There’s been the trope of having a client, often a person of color, go on stage and tell their painful story, often to a room of mostly white donors. Fortunately, I’ve been noticing a trend of this happening less frequently as nonprofits become more thoughtful. Ethical Storytelling is a good resource, along with articles like this one by Nel Taylor on the CCF website.

Not all his thoughts are applicable to events that arts and cultural organizations may host, but many are. Some of what he says dovetails closely with the sort of changes arts and cultural entities have been encouraged to make as part of their regular business activities such as pricing, dress code, engagement of diverse participants and suppliers of goods and services.

Near the end of his list, he encourages people to clearly and specifically discuss the intentional changes you have made.

Be transparent and direct about the changes you’re making: Before, during, and after the event, talk about why you’re doing some things differently. It’ll help guests think about things they may not have considered before. “Last year, while it was nice to see everyone dressed up in waist coats and monocles, we realized that it excluded many people from our community. This year, please dress in whatever makes you feel comfortable, within reason.”

The Folks Who Saved Our Stages Are Fighting For A Better Ticketing Experience

It appears the folks that spearheaded the Save Our Stages effort during Covid which became the Shuttled Venue Operators Grant program are turning their energies toward tackling all the problematic event ticketing issues we have been hearing about recently, (but suffering for decades).

The National Independent Venue Association has been joined by 18 other national and regional organizations in the Fix The Tix coalition.  The announcement of the coalition popped up last week. They haven’t listed and specific measures for which they are advocating, but the website says:

….this coalition represents stakeholders who take on all the risk to create once-in-a-lifetime experiences and bring joy, employment, and economic impact to communities across America.

We are coming together to protect fans from price gouging and deceptive and predatory ticketing practices.

You’re Doing A Great Job, But Standards For Dissatisfaction Have Changed

Colleen Dilenschneider made a post comparing what factors created dissatisfaction for attendees of cultural events in 2019 vs. 2022. She posted charts for both exhibit and performance based organizations. An important thing to keep in mind is that these are factors that dissatisfied people when they actually attended an event. These aren’t things that non-attendees reported were keeping people away.

Basically on both charts, everything bugs people more. Focusing on performance events, rude patrons and rude staff top the list. Parking issues and access issues (e.g. traffic) also saw a big increase. Cost of admission saw a small increase 2019 to 2022, but cost of everything else related to the experience (presumably food, gas, parking) exploded over 2022.

Phone policy (allowing patrons to use) saw an increase where phone policy (not being able to use) saw a slight decrease. Given slightly more openness to not being able to use your phone, it might be worth making the request since allowing people to use their phones is increasingly annoying people.

Restroom availability, crowding, Hours of Operation (big increase), Cleanliness (also big increase) were all higher in 2022 than 2019. Interestingly, performance quality issues were less of a dissatisfying factor. Length of intermission, which I would have thought was relatively neutral was also created less dissatisfaction in 2022. I assume venues haven’t really tweaked the standard intermission interval so either shows are doing better starting on time, intermissions are more fun, or audiences have made their peace with the 15-20 time period.

Dilenschneider notes that standards have shifted so that even if conditions are much better than before, the perception still might be that the problem is worse. She uses the example of crowding. There may be fewer people in venues and galleries, but the criteria about what constitutes crowded may have shifted where people feel more constricted even if they have much more elbow room.

Similarly, the standard about what constitutes rudeness from patrons and staff may have likewise shifted. Attendees may find your staff to be rude even if you have done a lot of work to be kinder and more considerate after you re-opened from pandemic closures.