Get Legit Data About Covid-19’s Influence On Your Audience

N.B. I just noticed the deadline to apply to participate in end of day, Thursday, April 23 so if you have an interest, send an email to Matthew Jenetopulos listed at the bottom of the Culture Track page.

Long time readers of the blog know that I am a big fan of the results of the Culture Track survey conducted every three years to gauge shifting attitudes and perceptions about cultural activities. The people behind the survey, LaPlaca Cohen are teaming up with Slover Linett Audience Research to conduct a special Covid-19 version of their research project and are looking for arts and cultural organizations to help distribute a survey to their audiences.

While you may be reluctant to ask your audiences to complete a survey during challenging times, it can be quite worth your while to participate because Culture Track will provide you with the results for your mailing list in the context of national trends.

You’re probably interested in this study because you want to understand your audience’s and community’s needs at this crucial time, and because you want to be able to earn their continued engagement and support. We’re working to develop an online interface that will let you log in to view your audience-members’ survey responses and download that data for your own use (with no visibility into the data of other organizations’ survey respondents). We’re hoping that this tool will also let you compare your data to the U.S. population averages and to the aggregate of other cultural audiences nationally. Of course, we’ll also be creating a series of special-edition Culture Track reports and web materials based on our analysis of all the data, which will be freely available online.

I had gotten an email about the study a week ago but it slipped my mind amid all daily challenges we face so I have to credit Nina Simon for reminding me and getting me moving on it. (And also for providing a title for this post)

The Wallace Foundation is funding the effort so there will be no cost to you. They will provide you with a unique link to send to a segment of your mailing list. Segment is the operative word. They ask that you send the survey link to people who have both high engagement as subscribers/donors/multi-year ticket buyers, as well as those who have only attended once or twice across a couple years or may be on your email list but haven’t attended yet.

They want participation from the entire range of cultural entities,

of every size and focus — including community-serving, culturally specific, and socially engaged organizations — from art museums, history museums & historic sites, science centers & natural history museums, and botanic gardens to theaters, orchestras, dance companies, opera companies, film festivals, folk festivals, libraries, and the like.

In another part of the webpage, they reference people who provide writing classes or use art in healthcare environments so they definitely want everyone.

They would like the first wave of survey links to go out on Wednesday, April 29 so if any of this sounds appealing to you at all, check out the informational webpage and figure out what you need to do to make it happen.

Might Be About Time To Get Back In The Fundraising Saddle

If there has been any benefit from the Covid-19 shut down it is the sheer number of webinars being offered to help businesses and other non-profit organizations connect with resources. I am sure we would all have been happier if life hummed along as before rather than necessitating the need to agonize over what loan or grant programs our organizations might qualify for and trying to get applications processed.  However, it also feels like networks of information and resources are being constructed and strengthened through this all. Hopefully they will persist beyond this period of time and become an asset.

By my last estimate, I have participated in 10-12 sessions in the last two weeks. One I found particularly interesting that is generally applicable was the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s session on “Communicating and Fundraising for Preservation in a Time of Uncertainty.”  (slide deck) Since I run an historic theater, I thought there might be information on resources available for our facilities.

What I found helpful was their advice on fundraising during these difficult times. Basically, they opened by saying just like the many stages of grief, there is going to come a point in the way you are processing your current situation where you will start to focus on the future. Part of that will be getting back to fundraising.

They said you can approach donors now, but just for the purposes a check-in with them.  The conversation should focus on how they are doing and what they are hearing about how other non-profits are doing. This will give you a sense of their priorities at the moment. You are also maintaining relationships and laying the groundwork for the future.

In terms of when you can make an ask, you need basically be sensitive enough gauge when the time will be right. But when you do make the ask, the webinar presenters emphasize being worthy, not needy. You should make the case in terms of your worth rather than in terms of your desperation for funding. They also strongly advise against shifting your focus to chase the direction dollars are flowing at the moment.

Here is the relevant slides from the presentation.

The point about being accommodating is in respect to acknowledging priorities might not be focused on your causes at the moment. In terms of hosting events, they point out that this might be a good time to host a virtual meeting or information session. Those that are invested in your success want to hear how you are doing.

I should mention, today my staff and I had a consultation with Michael Kaiser from the DeVos Institute of Arts Management. You may remember he is the former president of the Kennedy Center who was hailed as a “turn around king.” He is offering free one hour consultations to arts organizations about how to cope in these times. (~380 and counting). He provided the same advice about focusing conversations with donors and funders on how they are doing.

He also made a similar suggestion about hosting a virtual meeting on Zoom or other platform. In our case, it would be to discuss our process in planning our upcoming season since our contracting and scheduling process is delayed, not to mention no one really knows when we will be able to assemble in large groups again. Based on the type of calls we have been getting, this type of meeting is likely to help strengthen our relationship with our audiences and assuage their concerns. We are waiting until all the refunds for cancelled shows have been processed so that topic doesn’t dominate the conversation.

Thought Exercises About Your Revamped Future Organization

Non-Profit Quarterly recently wrote about the big impact the closure of libraries during coronavirus has had on communities. In recent years there have been people who have opined that libraries don’t serve a purpose because nobody reads, etc. and should be shutdown. Now everyone gets to see the implications of that.

In addition to being a place where people grab books and do their homework, libraries have long provided a raft of community services from available meeting spaces, use of computers, mentoring, shelter for homeless, life skill classes. When I served on a library system board of directors, I was always amazed by the amount of income came in a nickel or dime at a time during this time of year as people photocopied tax forms.

All those services are inaccessible now. My local libraries are boosting/relocating their wifi modems so that people can sit in the parking lot and use the internet. Staff is also streaming themselves reading books for kids. If you have access to the right devices, you can download ebooks. But all the historical archives and other resources are locked away.

According to the NPQ article, some libraries are using their 3D printers to make facemasks for the community and medical staff.

I bring this to your attention because as pointed out in the Wired article NPQ links to, during bad economic times the budgets of libraries get cut. So as bad as things are now, the situation may not get much better once the libraries open their doors again. Everyone knows they can’t access these services now, but once the library opens, people will be looking to use them again and they may not be there.

In some cases, budget cuts may literally create a situation where a library is literally no longer there. Certainly that may be the case for a lot of arts & cultural non-profits.

As a person in the creative field, you may be pondering how your organization or how you as an individual might have to change your business model or scope of activity to reflect the changes the current situation may create. There are indications things will change and we won’t be able to go back to doing business as we had in the past. As you are thinking about that, you may want to consider what your potential might be to fill voids left by shuttered libraries or other organizations.  Do you have large unused spaces? Relationships with service providers and educators you might be able to leverage if need be? Technology or material resources?

It certainly isn’t something we may be comfortable contemplating, but if there is another entity’s program you admire and think the community would be the worse off for its lack, you may want to perform a thought exercise about your capacity to absorb the program and what conditions might have to exist to allow you to do that.

For example, there are a lot of foundations out there that recognize the situations nonprofits are in and are deviating from their normal procedures to make it easier for non-profits to retain and report (or not report) on the use of fund. It may not be out of the realm of possibility that a conversation with the foundation about how you are assuming responsibility for an amazing after school program might allow it to retain full funding on top of the funding you already receive from that foundation. (Well, you can hope.)

I Figured This Was Highly Unlikely. What A Difference A Month Makes

Early last month I bookmarked an article by Jeremy Reynolds in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette intending to come back to address it in a blog post in some manner. In the article, Reynolds was arguing for shorter classical music concerts.  At the time, I figured it would never happen broadly due to the inertia of tradition.

Now with public events shutdown and artists and organizations streaming their performances, I strongly suspect a lot more people are going to be open to exploring the basic concepts Reynolds espouses.

If concerts were shorter, the quality of musicianship could increase significantly. I often chastise classical groups for bloated, unnecessarily long recitals. An hour of tight, balanced, in-tune playing is vastly preferable to a two- or three-hour slog of mediocrity.

While some organizations say a program should fill an evening, offering quantity over quality is a poor strategy even if funders tend to favor inventive and diverse programming.

He also accuses ever lengthening intermissions of impeding the momentum of the experience. Since his article opens with him advising friends to go home at intermission, I imagine he would be all for a short, intermissionless performance which would solve two problems at once.

He addresses the idea that you have to give people their money’s worth:

I realize that the cost of ticket prices (which I recently argued are too expensive given how little revenue tickets generate) causes some groups to feel they need to hit a minimum threshold of time, but this is arbitrary. Maybe it’s not about the length of the program, but what an organization does with it that matters most.

[…]

The New World Symphony, a forward-thinking training ensemble in Miami, rolled out a series of concerts years ago that ran for 30 minutes and 60-75 minutes.

“The trick is not to think you have to fill an evening,” orchestra President Howard Herring said. “The question isn’t just: What music do I want to bring forth? but What is the uncompromised artistic experience that only we can provide?”

Now that groups and individuals are streaming their performances, they are almost certainly getting a lot of exercise evaluating and providing a highly focused uncompromised artistic experience. If things ever move back to the former semblance of normal, I think it would be a safe bet that those who continued to employ the “muscles” they developed while focusing on delivering an uncompromised experience will be on a firmer path to success.

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