A key part of the Oxford Playhouse overall fundraising strategy is to seek support and involvement from the broad base of audience members, says Julia Dry.
Talking to people on a one-to-one basis is by far the most effective means of fundraising ? and telephone fundraising for us has been a very successful means of finding those members of the audience who want to become more involved.
When David Dixon, then our Development Manager, initiated the first telephone fundraising campaign in 1993 it was a very new idea, especially for an arts organisation, and there were understandable concerns. Telephone contacts were associated with unwelcome approaches from double-glazing sales representatives. Using an outside agency to do the calling was also a concern ? would they be able to represent us accurately?
A clearly expressed need, good data, and well-briefed, intelligent callers are key elements in a successful appeal. However, your ability to respond quickly and personally to complaint, as well as to generosity, demonstrates the value you place on the audience and consequently the inclination they will have to continue or increase their involvement with you. We always monitor the calling closely so we can respond to any unexpected issues that arise. One campaign revealed that people using the wheelchair spaces were uncomfortable due to the slight camber of the floor. No one had mentioned the problem before ? obvious when pointed out and immediately remedied! Another campaign to refurbish the auditorium had focused on the need to replace old seating. Callers were met with the response ?Oh! but we like the seats, they?re nice and comfy.? We then needed to change the appeal script to include all the planned improvements and the response became very positive.
Although the cost of using an agency can appear high, there are advantages. The results are directly measurable and we are free to deal with any special issues and opportunities that arise (such as following up potential sponsorship leads). Asking for regular standing order donations makes the return on investment (ROI) higher and increases supporters? involvement. We often use the opportunity of the call to test response to current and future plans such as changes to our membership scheme.
After each campaign we invite donors to a pre-show reception to meet staff and fellow supporters. All current supporters receive a regular newsletter and our season brochure. Last year we handwrote 1,500 Christmas cards! We are always looking for ways to develop our relationship with supporters. Talking to people in our other departments often reveals unexpected resources, such as notice of impromptu talks, invitations to gallery previews, wine tastings and discounted offers from other organisations keen to meet our audience.
Some facts and figures
? Over a period of ten years approximately £450,000 net has been raised.
? Annual net income from campaigns currently £53,000 (7% of non-trading income).
? ROI varies between 3.5 and 6.5, although this figure is based on a four year projected value for regular donors and some donors have now been donating for ten years.
? Contacts are initially selected by number of attendances in a determined period.
? Average value of a on-off donation is £25.
? Regular donors? (currently approx. 1,000) average donation is £340 (4 year value).
? Standing orders still being paid since commencement year (some cancelled orders will have been upgraded or replaced with a more recent order).
1993 35% 1994 55%
1995 53% 1996 62%
1997 65% 1998 72%
1999 81% 2000 91%
Julia Dry is Development Administrator at The Oxford Playhouse. t: 01865 305315;