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Boosting revenue through new audiences

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John Klein

John Klein

John Klein

Attendance and participation in the arts have consistently decreased over the past twenty years, and particularly within the last eight years, says the recent “Participation in the Arts” report by the National Endowment for the Arts.

When the financial impact of the recession is factored in, nonprofit arts organizations are faced with an unprecedented challenge – growing revenue and patrons in the face of decline.

While this challenge is easy to understand, the solutions are less so.

Philanthropic and development activities can redouble their efforts against existing and new revenue sources, but the bigger task is more fundamental:  How do you identify your best new prospects and cultivate those relationships?

One approach to this challenge is to take a different look at the typical definition of a “new audience.”

The Arts Council England has offered a unique view on this topic. Its recent report, in conjunction with Oxford University, looks at the demographic and psychological variables that best predict support of the arts. Some of the results are surprising:

  • Education – the higher the education level, the more likely an individual is to be an active arts participant.
  • Social status – In the research, this trait is equated to a combination of an individual’s professional life and peer group. As one acquires a bigger job (or a richer title), they have a greater perceived social status. As such, the higher the social status, the greater likelihood of arts involvement.
  • Age – while arts enthusiasts were mostly in their 50’s and 60’s, those in their 20’s and 30’s who were well educated and a strong social status had a high level of sampling or occasional participation in the arts.
  • Income – interestingly, income level did not have a significant impact on predicting higher levels of arts involvement.

In fact, the combination of education and social status was the best predictor of higher participation.

This offers an encouraging view for developing new audiences.  Find people with a higher education and a higher social status – whether they are young or old, whether they are affluent or not – and you have the foundation for long-term growth.

While the definition of social status could be debated, it is an intrinsic factor that can be identified and used in audience segmentation profiles, and it can help build new and long-term audiences and patrons.

The North Carolina Museum of Art has exploited these insights by creating an affiliate group known as the Contemporaries.

This is a group of enthusiasts in their 20’s and 30’s who have joined together to share their passion for the arts, a desire to get together with like-minded people and to form a philanthropic group to purchase works of arts for the Museum and for themselves.

Over 300 people have joined this group and are linked through their own museum social events, web site and social-media support with Facebook and Flickr.

The cost to join this group is $15 per year. Its most recent acquisition will be displayed when the museum moves into its new building in April 2010.

Nonprofit arts organizations can create an opportunity and environment for people to fulfill their social and cultural interests.

But this requires more than simply opening the doors for a new exhibit, or performing classical music works or opera. It requires making themselves relevant to the right prospects.

And it is possible this challenging environment can help erode the perceived barrier of high-brow elitism so often associated with the arts.


John Klein is president of Trilithon Partners, a marketing consulting agency based in Cary, N.C.

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