Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I am Patron. Hear Me Roar. (Or Watch Me Leave.)

A great dialogue on patron loyalty took place at the League of American Orchestras conference in Dallas last week. TRG’s Jill Robinson and Keri Mesropov were part of it and reported sensing a slow but encouraging shift from talking about loyalty to doing something about it

Any steps that move our industry from thought to loyalty action leadership are most welcome.  And, come not a moment too soon. The era of nurturing individual patrons is long overdue. 

For more than a decade, our firm’s study and that of other arts researchers has shown the need for integrated patron management. We know that individual patrons follow their passion for an art form to the organizations that produce the art they love. Data shows that patrons invest time and money where it matters to them – in performances and events they want to enjoy, in campaigns they want to support, and at times when they are moved (or encouraged) to act. 

When we map loyalty in TRG analyses, two findings are clear.  The first is that there are distinct behavioral patterns that groups of patrons share. These patterns describe depth of loyalty. TRG calls this Advocate, Buyer and Tryer behavior, as we’ve discussed in this space. The second finding is: no two patrons behave exactly alike, even within loyalty groupings. Our study concludes that in loyalty-building, individual patron household behavior matters most.

Patrons Speak Through Transactions…
Organizations must address patrons the way patrons want to be viewed – holistically, inclusive of every way each patron engages and invests. Dive into the data for any loyalty analysis and you’ll see why.  Any handful of patrons with relatively equal lifetime investments and longevity with an organization can present very different spending profiles. 

Take for example these recently-seen profiles of patron loyalty on the rise.  Each is a one-person household and each has spent $5,000 or more annually for three or more consecutive, recent seasons.  They are:
  • A donor with no ticket buying history in each of five years.
  • A four-figure single ticket buyer who also gave about $150 each year for five years.
  • A four-figure subscriber who also spent $1,000 or more in single tickets for three of five years and gave $1,000 twice in three years as well.

Each of these patrons is describing in very specific transactional terms who they are and what they want.  Each is important and beg questions about which campaign category they best fit into. 

…And roar when we get it wrong.
What if the organization they support isn’t looking at total patron history?  Most aren’t –and are looking instead at what these patrons have done – or didn’t do – lately in specific campaigns.  What happens if the wrong message or offers goes out to one of these evolving loyal patrons? 

I’ll answer that question with a true story that I bet will resonate. 

Donations got away from me during 2011.  In December, I was pressing hard to get in my family’s charitable gifts before year’s end, including one to a beloved arts organization (that shall remain nameless).  This one had had our support in various ways every year since 1995.  In haste, I grabbed one of the several ask letters from this institution, went online and charged an amount equal to what we’d have normally spent during the whole year.  It felt good to show our loyal support – even belatedly – for another year. 

No sooner had our gift been acknowledged than another piece of mail came.  This one sounded like a dunning notice.  Our membership had lapsed!  And, our benefits were hereby withdrawn unless we responded immediately.  Wait. Lapsed?  Because I probably clicked a donation on the online form rather than some other box, I’m sent into a persona non grata file?   

I almost wrote an angry letter, but instead chose to roar by closing my wallet. 

Imagine this alternative ending
It’s early December 2011.  I get a call from my beloved arts organization saying they haven’t heard from us this year
Them:  “We’ve missed you and would love to have you back.”
Me:  “It’s been a rough year and we’ve missed you too.”  
Them:  “Shall we arrange your come-back?  I can take care of that now.” 
Me:  “Sure. You’ll save me the time of digging through the stack of asks.”
Them:  “And might you want to add on a year-end gift?”
Me:   “Of course I would.” 
This is my beloved arts organization talking to me like a loyal patron…as if I matter.

Action Leadership: Right, Not Easy
It’s really difficult for an organization to hone in on the right set of messages, offers, recognition, and perks for each individual patron household.  But, complexity is not new or out of the grasp of this industry’s professionals.

We routinely navigate complex contract services against performance schedules and hall availability.  We handle the innumerable details of a production with myriad variations of performers, costumes, props, lights and sound.  We make sure every exhibit is hung, lit, insured and when necessary, transported with artful precision that’s mindful of visitor accommodation.  Our work is complex.  We accomplish it day-in, day-out despite limited resources and with results that are often called magical.

Who better than arts practitioners, then, to take on the challenge of real, true patron relationship management at the individual household level?

Arts patrons thrive and grow more loyal with individual treatment.  Arts organizations can no longer afford the status quo.  It’s time to do – as only we can do – the challenging, complex, data-driven, turf-busting work that good patron relationships require.

Learn more about TRG’s loyalty action leadership dialog. Comment here or contact us at

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