An Interview With Tim Whalen, Director of External Affairs, American Conservatory Theater
FS: Any major difficulties or setbacks you’ve faced along the way? Things you would do differently with your fundraising?
TW: We continue to see our donor base shrink year after year even as we raise more in contributed income each year. The attrition has been primarily in lower-level gifts under $1,000, which are raised through direct response (mail/phone/online). While some of this trend can be attributed to a smaller overall audience, this is not the total answer. We continue to investigate new ways to acquire donors but have not yet found the “magic bullet” to replace more traditional methods of mail and phone.
FS: What advice would you give to organizations similar to yours, in size and annual operating budget?
TW: We have had great success focusing our staff and resources on creating a major-donor program, and for a performing arts organization with a loyal subscriber base, I recommend developing this capacity in your own organization. We go to great lengths to build relationships with our patrons and have seen those relationships bear fruit — not only in increased annual gifts, but in planned gifts that will benefit the theater in future years. With a relatively small staff, we have “divided and conquered” — giving each staff member on the individual gifts team a portfolio of donors who he or she is charged with building a personal relationship with. This is done by engaging the patron in the theater, inviting them to events and activities outside of the theater, and by authoring personal correspondence and communicating by phone and e-mail on a regular basis. With this approach we have been able to sustain our annual fund with a reduced donor base.