How to drive your non-profit into the ground.

I got into a discussion with a board member of a fiscally challenged non-profit theater over the weekend. (Is there any other kind lately?) I asked her what she thought were the biggest traps that non-profs could fall into, and what were the most important elements to a successful non-commercial theater.

After talking about donor bases and subscription models and audience developement, she and I pretty much came to the same conclusion that the most important asset a non-profit could have was an Artistic Director with the right attitude.

She and I have both seen quite a few theaters led by Artistic Directors who chose to use the theater as their own personal “play”-ground.  Rather than blending the mission statement with what the audience wanted, the ADs chose selfish seasons, satsifying their own desires rather than their audiences.

And that’s a quick way to drive away a consituency . . . and in today’s world of high ticket prices and oodles of other forms of entertainment, it’s five times as hard to get them back if they bolt.

It’s a challenge for ADs, because their job is to serve a mission, challenge an audience, stretch, push, educate, etc . . . but they must remember that if the audience doesn’t enjoy what they are seeing, they’ll go somewhere else.  Period.

In fact, I’d say ADs are like politicians.  We hire them to be smarter than we are . . . to take us into a new day . . . to have our best interests at heart (even when we might not realize it’s in our best interests).

But disappoint us?  And we’ll try the new guy faster than you can say “bankruptcy.”

My two tips to ADs out there?

– Find out exactly what your audience wants using surveys, focus groups, or even an online contest to pick your season.

– Find a way to give them what they want while stretching them at the same time. (Just because they want a musical, doesn’t mean you have to give them No, No, Nanette.)

(Got a comment?  I love ’em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)

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– Take the Broadway Investing 101 Seminar in NYC and in Minneapolis!  Click here!

– Take the Get Your Show Off the Ground Seminar in Minneapolis on May 15th.  Click here!

– Come to the Social in Minneapolis.  Click here!

– Win 2 tickets to see Chicago on Broadway.  Click here!


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.

The Reading Series begins.

Back in January, I announced the Davenport Developmental Reading Series, designed to showcase some of the many scripts we receive here at DTE.

The first play we’ll be seeing, as chosen by the Artistic Director of the series, Jane Caplow, is Alex Webb’s Amelia. 

And as promised, Producer’s Perspective readers are invited first!

Here are the details:

Monday, March 15th at 8 PM
The Producer’s Club
Grand Theater (The name is just a wee bit misleading)
358 West 44th St. (between 8th and 9th Aves).

After the reading, there will be a brief talk-back.

About the play:

Amelia is a romantic drama chronicling one woman’s desperate search for her husband through the battlefields of Civil War America, transforming her from farm girl to Union soldier.


Send an email to  Only one RSVP per email.  You will get a confirmation.
Seating is extremely limited.

Which play was chosen for the next reading on June 14th?

To be announced here on Tuesday, March 16th.

For information on how to submit your script for consideration, click here.