Cultural institutions are reeling. Here are four steps they must take so the show can go on.
8-Jun-20 – Millions of Americans are now caught in an awkward pandemic limbo between anxiety and apathy with a healthy dose of anger and blame mixed in.
As lonesome as many people are, if you’ve got something to sell them, they are likely to tell you to just leave them alone. And even if you do capture a moment of their attention, they’re disinclined to make purchase decisions anyway, other than buying too much toilet paper.
States may be in assorted stages of reopening but it’s pretty hard to imagine the world rushing back to business as usual when millions of people aren’t even sure about their own job and employment prospects. Our time horizons have shrunk, our vision forward is blurred at best, and the overwhelming uncertainty of so many things in our lives has had a paralyzing impact on the emotions and behavior of a huge portion of the population.
The inescapable fact is that our overall willingness to make any material commitments has been badly shaken. It’s become abundantly clear that there is a direct and exponential correlation between the expected length of any given commitment and the increasing unwillingness to enter into any such undertaking. Ask me what I’ll be doing next week, and I have a fair idea. Ask me how the next year looks at the moment and I haven’t a clue.
So many expenditures, investments, and donations that were minor and automatic just a few months ago are now material and worth a second or third look. Culture and the performing arts – theater, music, museums, and even sports – are among the first and easiest places to make cuts in our more constrained spending.
Unfortunately, the financial structures of so many of these institutions are largely front-loaded. They’re dependent on recurring annual subscriptions, year-end contributions, and/or season ticket purchases that provide the early development capital needed each year to create their programming.
Money matters more than ever today and, if these institutions plan to survive and even thrive, they’ve got to make a new and concrete plan to go for the gold. This won’t be an easy task for many of these groups because, for the past decade, the economy’s been flush, and they’ve mostly been telling rather than selling. That’s not going to work going forward.
They can certainly appeal to people’s better angels and pitch the mission and the long term. Or suggest that – sight unseen – donors pony up and buy some “virtual” tickets for the gala while reminding them that they never attended events for the food anyway.
Money, for now, is more important than mission
To succeed in this new environment, organizations have got to forget about pitching their grander mission for the moment, go where the money is, and make whatever deals are necessary to keep the funds flowing and the doors open. If you’re no longer operating in a few months, your mission won’t really matter much. Now is the time to start figuring out new strategies to tap the key folks who can make a difference in the future of your club, charity, company, or congregation.
You need to get ahead of the crowd of competitors, anticipate and create compelling and differentiated offers, identify the best prospects, and make your move before things become obvious to everyone else. I’m not talking about addressing all the folks, or even most of the folks; you need to focus on those few – and often new – folks who can make an immediate difference and who have the means, appetite, and interest in acting now.
These are not patient people or ones who are used to waiting – or not getting – exactly what they want. Give them a great deal and a compelling reason to act and act immediately. They can decide quickly and step up. Keep in mind that they may not be your usual suspects. Money doesn’t care who makes it. These newbies may be driven by different and less grand or eleemosynary motives and, frankly, you need to be fine with that.
Give them an offer they can’t refuse and let their instincts, their desires, and their selfish emotions dictate the results. When the dust settles, you’ll still be standing, well-funded and pleased with the results.
But there are no rewards without commensurate risks. Each organization will need to develop and fashion its own best solution and decide just how far to push the envelope. Here are a few critical things to consider...
Remember the bottom line: when you’re trying to sell something that no one absolutely needs, you’ve got to be selling something else that matters a great deal to them. Status, scarcity, and sex are the big three. For arts and cultural organizations, two out of three ain’t bad.
Photos by Steven Dahlman, Shirin Mozaffari, and Todd Rosenberg.
By Howard Tullman | Loop North News | email@example.com
Tuesday, June 09, 2020
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