Institutions can have personalities, too.

I recently got an email from a non-profit here in the city asking me for money.  The message said, “Please give me money.  Signed, Institution.”

Then I got an email from the Scott Elliot, the Artistic Director of the outstanding New Group, asking me to subscribe.  In addition to a much more personal letter (it was signed simply, “Scott”), the email also featured a nice photo of Scott.

Obviously, you know which one I was more inclined to support.

But it goes beyond that.

In addition to this appeal being much more likely to succeed because of the personal nature of the communication, the strategy of attaching a person (with a face) to a institution has many more long term benefits.

Subscribers, donors, etc. are much more likely to support people . . . not buildings and not companies.  That’s why it’s essential for every non-profit, every building, and every company to have a face, or a personality, that represents the human component of what they do.

When I was in London recently, I went to see Deathtrap at the Noel Coward Theatre. When I opened my program, guess who greeted me with a letter?  Cameron Mackintosh! (Cameron owns the Noel Coward).  And the letter wasn’t just a “welcome to my theater” letter, but rather a letter that talked about the show, the actors, and more.

There are many companies around the country and in this city that are already using this strategy, but there is more that we can all do . . . and more rewards to reap from it.

Think you’ve got this covered?  Try my test to see if your company is successfully using personalization properly:  Ask 10 people who are casual visitors to your space what name comes to mind when you say the name of your venue. If they all don’t say the name of your Artistic Director, CEO, or whomever you want them to say within 3 seconds, you fail.  🙂

If you failed, or if you haven’t started yet, here are five things that person can do to expand his or her presence:


I think every Artistic Director should blog, and it should be available right on the home page. Describe your daily successes as well as the challenges you face.  Give insider scoop on upcoming shows (photos and more), etc.  In blog form, these entries might seem more journal-like, and less solicitation-like, and you might find yourself raising money passively throughout the year.


Every letter, ticket confirmation, and donation request should come from one voice . . . yours.  And include photos.


As often as you can, park yourself in front of the ticket takers and shake hands, get recognized, and meet as many of your customers as possible.  And don’t just talk to the Richie Riches.  Today’s single ticket buyer could be tomorrow’s subscriber.

And if you can be there at the end of the show to listen to people’s thoughts, complaints, feedback, etc., even better.


Take advice from Scott and insert your photos into your correspondence. I’d also put photos of you and your team by the box office, and other key places.  You want people to recognize you when you’re at the Duane Reade.


Your email should be plastered all over your site.  Let your subscribers, patrons, and more have direct access to you.  And respond. It’ll mean a lot to them . . . which will no doubt mean a lot to you.

Are these things that difficult to do?  No.  Do these things take time?  Yes.

But I have a feeling you think your institution or your company is worth it.

  • One of the things I truly appreciate is when shows begin with a few words from the artistic director. The Pasadena Playhouse did this in the 1990s under the previous artistic director (Lars Hansen, I believe); Sheldon Epps has never done this, and the theatre feels cold as a result. On the other hand, Barbara Beckley is a presence at the Colony, greeting people before each show and saying a few words before the production starts. I just got a letter from the Colony, and I could hear Barbara’s voice as I read it. Which one am I more likely to support? It goes at all levels: Cabrillo Music Theatre has their executive directors out at every show and saying a few words. At little REP East the artistic director is handing out tickets and drinks, and the place becomes family. You gotta give money to family :-). On other other hand, the large touring and production houses in LA – the Pantages, the Ahmanson, the Mark Taper – are cold. I buy tickets, but there is no sense of that family.
    So I agree with what you say completely. Especially if you are in the market for subscribers, make the subscribers feel like family.

  • Bert Silverberg says:

    Your points in today’s blog make a lot of sense.
    What immediately came to mind as an example of your thoughts being put into action — and for MANY years — is Michael Price at the Goodspeed Opera House, where I have been a long-time subscriber. More times than not, Michael is there at the theatre after performances, cordially greeting and chatting with many audience members. That was most recently the case when I attended “James and the Giant Peach” at the Norma Terris in Chester. Michael exemplifies what it means to have a real person, one who will shake your hand and ask you your name and whether you enjoyed the show, as the “face” of the theatre.

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