Category Archives: Management

4 Ticketing Strategies Arts Orgs Can Learn From Sports Teams

Austin Wranglers Fans

Austin Wranglers Fans

During a discussion at a recent Austin 501 Tech Club event a new friend reminded me that the challenges faced by small, producing arts organizations are in fact very similar to those faced by regional “for-profit” sports teams.

Connected with a Shakespeare theatre company in Texas Hill country, my friend’s litany of difficulties in creating both appealing and profitable pricing scenarios for all patrons, from first-time attendees to deeply engaged sponsors is a familiar story to nonprofit managers everywhere. Reconciling rising costs from vendors, such as ticketing systems, with the producing organization’s own need to increase margins to continue operations is a challenge universal to performing arts and sports events alike.

Small to mid-sized sports teams are more successful at marketing and reaching new audiences than their nonprofit counterparts because they treat the entire fan experience as a revenue opportunity, not just the sale of tickets. In fact, there are four key strategies performing arts organizations can learn from the way sports teams produce events and create exceptional experiences for fans while maximizing revenue.

Packaged to Sell
Sure you have single tickets and season tickets. Now get creative! Most ticketing services charge fees based on ticket price, so create packages that include more than just tickets. For example, the Austin Wranglers, an arena football team, included drinks, food, and table service with prime-front row seating. The setup required the sacrifice of an entire section of regular seats from the normal seating map, but the total revenue for the premium packages, which were often included as part of a sponsorship deal, exceeded the maximum revenue that could have generated from that section (if it sold out) by 10 times! In fact the revenue from the premium seating section was almost equal to the entire rest of the house!

Create smaller group packages. Groups don’t have to be ten or more. Include smaller group packages that net the same gross revenue to your organization by providing other “extras” such as coupons to be exchanged for food or drink at the concession stand, t-shirt, or collector’s program book, etc. For example, a family 4-pack including 4 sodas and 4 hot dogs might be priced similarly to a group of 10, and reaches a previously potentially under-served market segment. This kind of creative packaging has the added benefit of maximizing ticket revenue margin–since you sell fewer seats, you pay less ticket fees, and make up the revenue in additional services.

Reward early orders with special printed commemorative tickets. Even if your venue entrance system requires barcode scanning, most ticketing databases allow blocks of seats to be batch printed so you can create custom printed tickets which include barcodes. Companies such as National Ticket Co and Worldwide Ticket Craft are a good place to start getting quotes. If you don’t need barcodes, printing custom tickets is as easy as getting the seat numbers right. The effort you put into to designing and creating collectible tickets season after season, not only creates an urgency in your customer base to order early, but also also creates a deeper engagement with your best, long-term fans.

Something Special
Have a special promotion for every event. Rotate special deals, so it spreads the revenue “hit” across different operating budgets. The Round Rock Express use this technique for almost every home game. Examples of their promotions include: dollar hot dogs and sodas (concessions budget), get in free with a donation to local food bank (tickets budget), fireworks (game operations budget), special program (eg, kids club).

Creating special promotions is limited only by your imagination. Don’t let your ticketing or database system limit you. Think outside the box to create promotions that motivate ticket buyers. Listen to your sales staff, and be open to test new ideas. Don’t be afraid to fail. The promotions that fail never need be repeated, and ones that are successful can become traditions!

Include the Kids
Want to make sure the adults have a good time? Include children’s activities at every event to keep the kids distracted and out of mom and dad’s hair. For sports teams, this often means games or activities that happen during the game, off to the side. If your event allows it, consider creating a safe “kid’s zone” with low cost supplemental activities for families. Parents who want to attend the arts usually budget for childcare. Price the cost of your planned activities less than a night’s babysitter.

Don’t be dissuaded from this tactic if your organization produces art that isn’t necessarily considered “kid-friendly.” Get creative and find ways to include activities for the younger set. For example, most 11-year olds wouldn’t sit through Macbeth, but they would attend a fun Shakespeare “quick camp” while mom and dad see the show. Your organization can potentially supplement revenue and create life-long fans, all while providing a convenient service to parents!

Turn Fans into Cheerleaders
The Austin Wranglers had a very vocal set of fans, nicknamed the “Rowdy Wranglers.” These year-after-year season ticket holders made their presence known at every home and away game, traveling many miles, at their own cost, to support the team. The team recognized these raving fans by officially sanctioning the group, providing “uniforms” (in the form of custom printed official jerseys, which the fans paid for themselves) and allowing the group onto the field to perform pre-game. They literally paid to become cheerleaders for the team!

While pre-show public performances with pom-poms may not be appropriate for all producing organizations, arts groups can leverage their most loyal supporters by engaging them in peer-to-peer fundraising and advocacy campaigns, as well as volunteer opportunities. Have an engagement ladder that lays out the path from first-time ticket buyer to donor to board member. Always consider that butt in that seat gave his/her time and money to be at your event. What else might they be willing to do, if you ask them?

Nonprofit Doesn’t Mean “Doesn’t Make Money”
Being a nonprofit organization doesn’t mean you don’t make money; you just do something else with your profits. Instead of paying shareholders, you provide programs or serve the community. The same as all businesses, nonprofits must maximize revenue while minimizing costs. By following the example of successful events produced by local sports teams, regional producing arts organizations can garner that extra winning edge for themselves!

Volunteers: Herding Cats into a Pack of Lions

Cat wearing tieAnyone who manages volunteers can identify with the analogy of herding cats.  Volunteers want to  be more engaged than ever, but often nonprofits fail to capitalize on their skills and passions. Organizations need actionable ways to change the way they engage with volunteers.  Whether you’re developing interns, young professionals, or working with retirees, learn how to turn your herd of cats into a pack of lions!

Watch this presentation to learn:

  1. Why volunteer programs fail
  2. Strategies for evaluating and identifying gaps in current volunteer system
  3. 6 tips to improve volunteer engagement

What ever happened to full service gas stations?

Octane options in west TX

First, let me say that as an open-road loving, completely car-dependent American, I have been pumping my own gas since I was 16. I’m not the squeamish type or afraid to get my hands dirty.

But whatever happened to full service gas stations? While popping my own hood and adding a quart of 10W-30 is a great learning experience for my daughter to watch me do, it’s not quite how I’d like to spend my morning when I’m already dressed for work. What I wouldn’t have given for just one full-service gas station anywhere on my commute!

Mornings like these make me think of the “old” ways when service wasn’t a four-letter at the gas station. But is it really an “old” idea to crave a deeper interaction with the company with which you do business?

In an age where exceptional customer service, rather than the product itself, is the key differentiator for so many companies, why are sellers expecting consumers to be more and more self-service?

While it may have started in the highly price-sensitive, highly commoditized market of filling stations, my missing gas jockey isn’t the only disappearing dinosaur. Consumers are being completely self-provisioned even in traditional, brick-and-mortar stores. I have often used the expeditious self-checkout at the grocery store and innovative retailers, such as Apple, are working hard to ensure I don’t even need to wait in that line. With a smartphone and the right app, customers can scan and pay and walk out without speaking to an employee or touching a single piece of store equipment.

Somehow, in the race to “cloud-ify” the purchase/transaction experience, companies have lost sight of how to authentically connect with customers. The benefits of this strategy, particularly during busy, holiday shopping times, are obvious. But how does it affect customers?

I rely on the expertise of knowledgeable staff to help me choose the right product and help me use it the right way. At the gas station, that’s someone to check my oil and tire pressure as well as pump my gas, if I want it. At the grocery store, a balloon for my toddler and a few free samples would do the trick. Savvy consumers are willing to pay premium prices for premium experiences.

Rather than an anonymous, self-serve self-checkout where consumers are completely disconnected from the brand, companies who want to succeed should focus on creating added value around their services, connecting with their customers, and providing an experience that exceeds their customers’ expectations. Seriously, if there’s a pretty girl in a skirt and heels on her way to work – show some southern hospitality and have staff to pump her gas for her!

What do Social Entrepeneurs and Sesame Street have in common?

Blake Mycoskie of TOMS recently had appearances to both SXSW in Austin, TX and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International Conference in Chicago.  I learned about his inspiration and motivation around his now famous TOMS brand and one-for-one movement.

Combining social good and the power of consumers is nothing new.

I came across a great article by Allen R. Bromberger, A New Type of Hybrid.  In it, he discusses how social entrepreneurs are using a hybrid model to combine the for-profit and nonprofit models.

Museums and performing arts organizations create for-profit retailers to sell merchandise, such as posters, jewerly, and books. And the hybrid model is nothing new to public broadcasting. The Children’s Television Workshop, owners of the Sesame Street characters, use separate nonprofit and for-profit organizations to both achieve business objectives and further a social mission.

Dan Pallotta, in his book, Uncivilized, points out why this arm’s length model is used for supporting social good with commercial activities. Rather than being politically or economically motivated, it was a religious view held by the Puritans who came to America in the 17th century. They believed that any commercial activity was sin. However they also understood it necessity, so to atone you could perform charitable activities and – never the twain shall meet.

In his article, A New Type of Hybrid, Bromberger discusses how modern social entrepreneurs are using separate, but contractual linked entities to accomplish their goals.

For any nonprofit concerned with the legal implications of UBIT (Unrelated Business Income Tax), or for-profit entities concerned that the pursuit which want to pursue a social mission, a single hybrid structure that contractual binds the nonprofit and for-profit entities may be a solution.

But Bromberger points out, it isn’t simple.

In the article, Bromberger describes various types of legal entities typically used in social entrepreneurship including, B corporations and benefit corporations and how they differ as well as the low-profit limited liability company (L3C) option.

He describes legal options to enter into activities together to achieve social good.

  • Parent-subsidiary model – where a nonprofit creates for-profit subsidiary
  • Commercial transactions and collaborations between nonprofit and for-profit companies (arm’s length model)
  • Corporate sponsorships and commercial co-ventures
  • Contractual hybrids

There is also a great discussion of legal ramifications of some of the various options and Bromberger spells out the particular IRS rules to consider.

  • Joint Ventures
  • Private Benefit
  • Unrelated Business Income Tax
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Related Party Transactions
  • Form 990

The lively comments are also a must read.  One commentor notes a new option being considered in California which would allow the formation of a Flexible Purpose Corporation (Flex Corp.) You can read more about it in California to Allow Corporations to Blend Mission and Profit at

I also loved Milton Friesen’s comment about using the open source model – create a platform upon which individual organizations can built new models – like allowing developers to create apps for an app store.

So what does all this very geeky, public policy mumbo jumbo mean?

Through open collaboration, we can essentially crowdsource innovation in social good and social entrepreneurial models! How cool would that be!

What being a mother has taught me about being a (nonprofit) manager

As a new mother of a beautiful baby girl, I have learned a lot in these past few months about myself and my management style. Maybe it sounds callous that I think in terms of “managing” my baby – and some parents would probably disagree and say my baby is managing me – but it’s true!

Here is what I have learned.

Perfection is not necessary – Instead, strive for continuous improvement.

I may not know everything about mothering, but neither does my baby!Both of us have started with a blank slate, and we both have to learn as we go. You can’t be a victim of decision paralysis. Accept that you will make mistakes and choose to fail informatively, so you can improve the process next time.

Your audience (be it a baby, an employee, or a donor) doesn’t necessarily know things didn’t go the way you planned, so just pretend you planned that way! And then plan on doing better next time.

Poop Happens – …on the outfit, the blanket, the wall…. (yes, the wall.)Don’t panic! Clean it up.

In business and in babies, sometimes circumstances beyond your control interfere with your ideal state (like clean walls.) Freaking out only adds to the stress level. And trust me, a stressed out baby is much more difficult to handle than a calm baby. Instead, deal with the situation one step at time.Change the diaper, change the outfit, and then hand baby to Poppa so you can go scrub the wall.

Anticipate needs – Babies don’t always know what they want; you have to know for them!

Be ready with what you think they’ll need, before they even ask for it. A happy baby is easier to feed than a fussy baby. Instead of waiting for hunger to arrive, proactively have the milk ready.You won’t have to scramble and baby won’t have to wait.

A nonprofit’s patrons are the same. If you know your patrons are going to wait until December 31st to think about their annual gift, have an online donation form ready for them to make that 11th hour donation painlessly.

Go with the flow – The best laid plans [of mice and men] don’t always work out the way you want.

Be agile enough to change directions when necessary. You may have planned a walk at 2pm, but if baby is napping, you may decide to wait and walk later.If it’s raining later, when baby wakes up from her nap, rather than being disappointed that the walk must be cancelled, consider it a chance to teach baby about what rain smells like!

In the professional world, new opportunities often present themselves with little introduction. Don’t rigorously follow your planned strategy with no consideration.Wise managers will even be flexible enough to turn a possible threat into a new opportunity.

Prioritize – Deal with the most urgent need first.

Sometimes it seems all your problems come to a head at the same time.Baby is hungry, baby is wet, baby is fussy!You may be super-mom (or super-dad), but can’t do everything at once.It’s important to prioritize needs and deal with the most pressing issues first, before proceeding to the next.

Feed first, then diaper. Don’t forget the cuddles!

Face time is crucial – Non-verbal communication is key, especially when you haven’t learned to talk yet. And sometimes just knowing that you are there is enough to head off a major incident. Be present and engaged. If you are working from home while the sitter watches the “lil bits,” poke your head in the play pen to get a good smile.

At work, tour the cubicles every once in a while, just to say hey to your employees and colleagues.

The bottom line – Similar to babies, customers, colleagues, and patrons don’t always know what they need.They may know they need something, but without a clear understanding of the solutions available, they don’t know exactly what that “something” is. By being present, listening, and anticipating needs, you can make happy babies and happy customers!