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Michael Kaiser Headshot

Start Spreading the News

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Many arts organizations will have just ended their fiscal years or will do so later this summer. Most of us who run arts organizations are happy our fiscal years have ended, are tired (if not exhausted) from the challenges of the past twelve months, and thinking about the year ahead with a mixture of excitement and dread. We cannot wait to see the new work our organizations will create but we also cannot believe we have to reset the odometer back to zero and find all the resources we need to make the art happen.

Unfortunately, both the lethargy we experience after the season is over and the vacations that inevitably are taken in the summer months conspire to reduce the amount of institutional marketing we can easily mount when the season has just ended.

Before most of our donors and board members leave for their summer holidays, we should be communicating all the many achievements of the previous season. Which new works were produced? Where did the company tour? How many children were affected by educational programs? What were highlights of press coverage and critical response from the past season? What institutional advancement was achieved: Was a new facility opened? Were new board members added? Was new senior staff hired? Was a strategic plan completed?

While some arts organizations produce a slick annual report, these are typically only completed six months after the end of the fiscal year. By the time they are distributed, they feel like history books since so much has happened since the events that are included in the document. And annual reports can be expensive to write, design and produce.

I suggest an alternative: Send a clear, concise well-formatted email that focuses on highlights from the season, including some photographs, to donors (and key prospects), volunteers, board members, subscribers and key press. This is a very inexpensive and easy way to celebrate the year just finished.

Make sure to also announce fiscal results if they are positive; good financial results suggest to donors that the organization is managed and governed responsibly and that contributions will be well spent. One organization I know well just finished a second year in a row with a surplus. Yet when a major publication wrote a large story about the recent challenges facing this institution, these positive fiscal results were not mentioned. This was a huge opportunity lost to convince donors that the institution had truly turned a corner.

One last suggestion: if one does produce a season-ending ending email, make sure that it ends with a look ahead. What will be the big productions of the coming year? What special events are going to be staged? What new educational initiatives are about to be implemented?

While a review of the past year will create an image of excellence and accomplishment, donors and audience members are far more interested in what is coming next. We need to send them off for the summer eagerly anticipating their engagement with us in the months ahead.