An Interview With Tim Whalen, Director of External Affairs, American Conservatory Theater
We plan to continue our emphasis on major gifts through building personal relationships with our best major-gift prospects and will devote a great deal of staff and trustee time to engaging donors before, during and after their theater experiences. We are also exploring ways to make the in-theater experiences more impactful for our patrons through messaging and signage that articulates the case for support and through giving patrons more opportunities to participate in programming that deepens their theater experiences.
FS: How do you reach out to supporters and potential supports in ways other than purely fundraising? Are you engaged with social media and social networking?
TW: Our marketing and public relations programs make extensive use of social media and social-networking tactics, which have become a major way we engage our patrons in our season programming. We have begun to incorporate fundraising messaging in some of these communications and this past year tested an opt-in option for patrons to receive insights and information about the creation of The Tosca Project, and eventually solicited this group for contributions just before the world premiere. While the fundraising results were modest, we were able to fine-tune this strategy for the future and believe it has the potential to generate deeper interest in our work and contributions from a group that is nonresponsive to mail or phone.
FS: Can you describe a recent successful fundraising effort?
TW: In the fall of 2008 when the recession hit in full force, ACT was beginning the final year of The Next Generation Campaign, a $30 million campaign to establish the theater’s first-ever endowment. As annual contributions began to erode, we reconceived the endowment campaign and expanded the scope to include current operating support. We then went to some of our most loyal and long-time patrons — some had already made commitments to the endowment campaign, and some who had not yet been approached — and asked them to consider six- and seven-figure campaign commitments that would be directed to support current programming over a three- to four-year period. Asking these donors to make exceptional operating gifts that were recognized as part of The Next Generation Campaign proved very effective, and we have been able to sustain our season programming with only minor cuts over the past several years — and exceed our campaign goal, raising over $31 million at the close of the campaign on Dec. 31, 2009.