Inspiration

From audience absence to more audience focus!

What did respondents to my 2 poll questions think?

I’m happy to see that there seems to be an increased focus on audiences and an appetite for change how to understand and develop audiences after this time of absence of a (physical) audience. Not a big surprise as arts organisations have to re-build their audiences. And I should add that the sample size was fairly small. But still good to see. Thanks to those who took part in my poll.

New research: Human needs in the ‘new normal’

How do these changes impact expectations on brands?

New research shows how the pandemic impacts core human needs – and what this means for brands.

The study has been conducted by Firefish, an insight agency I know from my time at Tate in the past. The research gives some relevant and interesting insights into what people across different generations are looking for in this time and how brands can help meet some of those needs. While done in the US, I think a lot of this is relevant here and applicable to cultural organisations.

Unsurprisingly the research reflects how dramatically life has changed across most aspects and for all generations. The basic human need of safety dominates currently, followed by Wellbeing.

The re-priorisation of needs leads to expectations people have from brands and these might influence a company’s reputation in the longterm. People see through marketing and how organisations act in a crisis can reveal how much they actually live up to their values.

People have expectations of brands, the research shows that in the main, people expect brands to:

  • step up and do something – this can be either helping directly or, if that’s not possible, providing a platform for help
  • show compassion, starting with staff
  • contribute to lightening the conversation
Source: Firefish report

The report finishes with a more detailed and practical summary of ‘where brands can help to meet evolving needs’. It seems to me that most of these findings can easily be interpreted for arts organisations (and many organisations have already provided activities in some of these areas).

What do you think? Does your experience in recent weeks correspond with these findings?

Read the report here: Firefish Human Needs in the New Normal

Why? The question to ask a first-time donor

Building lasting relationships with donors through shared purpose


Many arts organisations are getting first-time donors now (for example from people who had booked for events that had to be canceled due to the virus and are not asking for their money back). With donations and philanthropy needed more than ever in the arts, how can we develop these relationships to last? 

In a highly relevant podcast with CI-to-Eye, American consultant on philanthropy James Langley emphasises the importance to understand and listen to these new donors and to carefully consider how to build a longterm relationship with them.

“The first time someone gives a gift to any organisation, the most astute thing you can do is ask that donor, ‘why?’”

James Langley

Understanding the donor’s motivation allows to discover where there is a shared purpose that can be the basis for building a longterm relationship. 
Langley emphasises the importance of human-to-human connection, generated through human stories and real conversations, to build an authentic relationship that can last.

Image by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

He sees small organisations at an advantage here and has observed that as organisations are getting bigger, they tend to move away from human connections – a trend that is counterproductive when at the same time authenticity is of increasing concern for new generations of arts attenders and donors. 

In the Covid-19 crisis we have all deleted emails from organisations we happened to interact with a long time ago and have no relationship with, or desperate messages that dramatise the situation of the organisation while ignoring what the recipients might be in a tough situation themselves. Langley calls this focus on the organisation’s needs and desperation “pleading fundraising”.

What is the alternative? He suggests “pastoral fundraising” as a more effective and authentic approach. An approach that focuses on advancing the purpose or cause and is hopeful, not desperate or demanding. It includes being open to collaborating with anyone who is also serving that cause rather than being fearful of competition.

This leads to his final piece of advice for the current time: Get back to the cause/purpose and strip away institution. I think that’s not only good advice for fundraising but for any audience development or, generally for many of the decisions we are faced with in challenging times.

There are more insights in the full podcast, which you can listen to through this link

What top 3 things should arts organisations do now to prepare for the future?

The PumpHouse Theatre interviewed me for their Creative Talk series (which has moved online due to Covid-19). We spoke about how I got into the arts, the PumpHouse Board* and other things, and I was asked what I thought the top 3 things were that arts organisations should be doing now to prepare for the future.

By then organisations will have looked after their staff and immediate needs, so, unsurprisingly, I suggested to focus on audiences ;).

Here are my 3 suggestions:

1 – Find out who.
Find out who your audience is now and decide who you want to deepen the relationship with. Observe who is connecting with you now – who is staying in touch, who is not asking for a refund for a booking, who is following on social media, the website or otherwise engaging now? These are your loyal supporters and you want to thank them and keep them close. But there might also be an audience that engaged with you for the first time – who are they and what you could offer them to stay engaged in the future?


2 – Listen to your audience.
Understand your community, build your plans on research. Observe, listen, read what they post, talk with your audience, run a survey… What is going on for them? What do they need? This will help you to be relevant and connect in an authentic way. If this sounds too much to do on your own, collaborate with other organisations.
As you consider your audience’s needs, be aware of different need levels. As arts organisations we are very focused on delivering to higher needs such as learning, inspiration and self-actualisation, and these are important. But in a crisis like this we have also all moved down Maslow’s pyramid of needs to basic needs such as safety. Think through all need levels. And, practically, consider: What will make people feel safe visiting? What practical safety provision are needed and what emotional re-assurances?

3 – Stick to your guns (aka purpose).
Stay true to your purpose/mission/cause (whatever your preferred terminology). I would assume that most mission or purpose statements don’t require a building to be fulfilled and there are many ways to deliver to them. Use your purpose as a filter for your planning of future activities.


These were my suggestions – do you agree ? What would you suggest? How are you preparing?

*Full disclosure: I am a Board Member of the North Shore Theare and Arts Trust, who oversee the PumpHouse Theatre.

Which types of cultural organisations will people likely visit after the pandemic?

Early indications on intention to visit

Cultural organisations are closed in most countries and will be for a while. US research agency IMPACT is looking into data that can help prepare for the time when organisations can re-open.

The key data they analyse is “intent to visit”. Colleen Dilenschneider is sharing this data weekly now in her blog Know-your-own-bone.

The data is US focused so to be taken cautiously as an indicator for other markets, and it is early days, and as we see with this crisis, things can change very quickly. Keeping this in mind, I find Colleen’s conclusion interesting that

“demand for cultural enterprise will not be (at least immediately) distributed as it was pre-coronavirus.”

The data indicates demand for visits might be redistributed away from some organisation types and towards others, which will be important to consider for re-opening. Three main trends seem to emerge and sound like common sense in the current environment:

  • Cultural experiences that allow for relative freedom of movement and in particular outside spaces (such as public parks, botanic gardens, zoos, aquariums, historic sites, museums) may get increased demand;
  • Enclosed spaces with minimal visitor movement (such as performing arts) may get less demand;
  • Tactile experiences (such as those offered at science centres) may get less demand.

The data is from the US and still very fresh, thus might change, however, it might trigger some useful discussions for the planning of the eventual reopening: What practical measures will be required to allow physical distancing? What reassurances are needed? How to best communicate this.

Read the whole article on Know-your-own-bone

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Navigating the crisis

The difficult choices ahead for funders supporting the arts out of the crisis

The pandemic is a big challenge for the cultural sector and things might not be the same again once we have overcome it.

Alan Brown of WolfBrown, a research and consulting firm serving the arts and culture sector, offers a sobering view of the decisions that will need to be taken to rebuild the arts sector after the Covid-19 crisis in this article. While written from a US perspective, it provides challenging food for thought relevant in other parts of the world.

For arts funders, the moral dimensions of the COVID-19 crisis are heartbreaking but unavoidable.

Alan Brown

In a sector where many are under financial strain even in the best of times, some of the tough questions he brings up are:

  • Should funders continue supporting the same organizations they give grants to year after year, or shift focus to other, more vulnerable organizations?
  • Should support of institutions be prioritized above support of self-employed arts workers?
  • Should funding be prioritized for keeping viable nonprofits going, or for salvaging the assets of those whose only option is bankruptcy?
  • Or, should capital be preserved for supporting the eventual ramp up of programming activity amongst those fortunate enough to survive?

His article kicks off a series of papers, blogs and announcements by WolfBrown that will examine the arts sector’s response to COVID-19. Read the article here, where you can also subscribe to the series.