An Interview With Tim Whalen, Director of External Affairs, American Conservatory Theater
We have invested heavily in donor cultivation and stewardship for our major-gifts program, offering donors greater access to the artistic process and developing personal relationships with staff and trustees through events and “meeting and greeting” donors in the theater. In addition, there have been two major strategies employed in our major gifts program:
a. We expanded the scope of our $31 million endowment campaign which closed on Dec. 31, 2009, to include current operating gifts and approached some of our most loyal patrons to make new multiyear commitments to the campaign that were directed to annual operating. These gifts have been vital to meeting our annual fundraising goals with fewer donors.
b. We created a donor giving circle for our most recent new work (The Tosca Project) that ACT commissioned and developed over several years, and solicited multiyear gifts to support both the development of the new work and the production. We were able to engage a number of new major donors in the project as well as secure increased gifts from current donors who were motivated to be part of the “Tosca Circle,” which gave them access to the development process and the artists involved in the project.
We have also experienced a decline in foundation funding as a result of the economic downturn. This has proven much more difficult to address in the short term, but we have devoted more resources to researching new prospective foundation partners and to keeping visible and engaged with former funders so that we are well-positioned to partner in the future when more robust grantmaking resumes.
FS: Do you foresee any big changes in the way your reach potential donors and other supporters in the near future?
TW: While we continue to see good performance with our direct-mail campaigns — especially those incorporated into our subscription renewal and acquisition efforts — we are currently evaluating our telefunding program and anticipate folding this effort into our telemarketing campaign; essentially contacting a patron to subscribe and give in the same phone call. We also anticipate increasing our online fundraising campaigns, which have had modest returns historically, but which grow each year. We see online fundraising perform best as an added gift tactic, with a modest goal for a very specific purpose, and of course time-sensitive.