Spektrix’s Anne Wareing: Asking your customers to donate during COVID-19

Would your organisation benefit from asking your audience to donate all, or a proportion, of their ticket money? Anne Wareing, lead fundraising consultant at Spektrix, the ticketing, marketing and fundraising specialist, talks

Five years ago, I was the development manager at Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) when a fire destroyed nearly half of the historic building, including the venue’s biggest performance space. We faced an unprecedented loss of revenue, just as we were about to complete an incredibly costly capital redevelopment. With no certainty around an insurance payout in those early days, we relied solely on the generosity of our community to keep our doors open.

When speaking to customers about returning their tickets, we were floored by how many offered to turn those tickets into donations. The sentiment was clear: they valued BAC, and didn’t want to imagine their community without it.

That crisis was different from this one. Today, everyone is sharing the uncertainty. And of course, some people are feeling the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic more keenly than others – for fear of their health, or because major life events have been derailed, or because their organisations, like yours, could now be facing financial uncertainty. In the midst of all this, it might feel especially challenging to be asking your customers to donate.

But if the fire five years ago taught me anything, it’s that people are fundamentally resilient and generous in moments like these.

Now is the time to call on your audiences for support. When reaching out to customers about cancelled shows, give them the option of making a donation to your organisation instead of receiving a full refund.

The Ticket Converter Tool that Spektrix released makes it easy for customers to transform all or part of their ticket purchases into donations online. If you’re speaking to people over the phone or in person, give them the same option. You’ll know what’s best to say to your audiences, but here are some helpful tips for making the ask:

  • Explain your position. “We’re facing a huge loss of income, which makes our future in this community uncertain.”
  • Give them a choice. “If you feel able to turn some or all of your ticket purchase into a donation, we would be very grateful. And if not, that’s OK too.”
  • Know what you are prepared to do, or offer, to thank them. “We’ll make sure to give you priority booking when our next event goes on sale.”
  • Thank them in writing! Make sure you send an email thanking people who have donated, reiterating how important it is to you during all this uncertainty.
  • And of course, follow through on your promises. If you’ve offered a “thank you” benefit like priority booking, ensure you have a system in place to keep track of those people who should get it.

At a moment where so much is beyond our control, we all want to feel helpful. By opting to donate, audiences can make a big difference to organisations – and we all want to know that we can make a real difference right now.

Over the last few days, Spektrix has seen an incredible outpouring of support for the industry. Arts organisations are confidently asking their communities for donations to keep them going, and audiences are responding generously.

As we try to prepare for an uncertain future, it’s truly heartening to see how deeply valued the arts are by people all over the world. Our hope is that this crisis catalyses a step change for organisations and their audiences – that deep and lasting relationships lead to greater financial support and advocacy. In delivering their work, arts organisations provide a vital service to our communities. Personally, I don’t want to imagine a world without any of them.