Watermill delivers cutting-edge theatre in an idyllic and picturesque rural setting, explains Susan Foster. This is a striking combination which, over the years, has generated a sense of pride, gratitude and appreciation in the local community.
How then to capture this loyalty and convert the emotional support into substantial long-term financial support? The approach has to be individual, so it has to be direct, like a phone call. But a phone call cannot come out of the blue. It has to have a context or background, and the Watermill?s success provided that perfect background. People give to success, and like to align themselves with endeavour that leads to achievement. Visitors know that the Watermill is not flush with funds and they marvel all the more at the volume of achievement that flows from the theatre. Three Barclays Stage Awards this year, national and international tours, fabulous national press coverage, local tours to community venues and extensive education programme. The perfect backdrop.
So now to select the prospects: the Friends, past donors and frequent attenders (twice or more ? we tested some one-time bookers but their response was poor). Against this background of success, we asked for a small regular donation to be paid by standing order with Gift Aid. In 1999 we telephoned 1,500 prospects and raised £50,000 (four year value, net of costs). In 2001 we again telephoned 1,500 prospects, some who already give regularly to ask for an increase, plus some new prospects, and raised a further £45,000 (four year value, net of costs). These results were phenomenal with almost 100% conversion rate from pledge to actual donation.
Where to go next? Donors are individual people, so it is absolutely crucial to plan the next part of the relationship. Get to know the individuals, or at least create the impression that you know them. Keep them informed through targeted newsletters. Invite them to the theatre. It is not necessary to offer them complimentary tickets but invite them to something special like meeting the cast, the theatre director or the board of directors. Invest time in keeping your database up to date; then you can ask them again for more ? and often they will feel happy to give more. Give them plenty of options and let them find where they are comfortable. Some donors will also want to join a Friends scheme. Others may like to increase their regular donation or consider leaving a legacy to the theatre. Remember they are individuals with their own ideas about how they want to support.
Do not just think of your audience as individual giving prospects. They will also be local councillors, business people and trustees. A regular attender may also be a Friend, hold an influential position in a local company and serve on a local trust, so it is helpful to take every local networking opportunity. Make sure that staff and colleagues are aware who your target prospects are, as they may know them. I recently telephoned a managing director and got through to his PA. She proceeded to tell me that a good friend of her daughter?s worked in our box office. I knew then that my message would get through and sit on the top of the pile.
And finally, never be afraid to ask. My feeling is that I am extending an invitation ? an invitation to support a much-loved theatre.
Susan Foster is Development Manager of the Watermill. t: 01635 45834;