“Wow. I’d love it if we asked patrons for contact information, but if I asked our volunteers to do that, they would revolt.”
This was the end of a conversation about audience-data collection that I had in Santa …
When it comes to picking the people who are going to run your audience development initiatives (be it the producer of the show, the person writing your email newsletters, or the person sending out your press releases, etc.) organizations generally have two choices: barter for cheap or free using an existing relationship with a volunteer who knows how to do the stuff, or hire someone to do the work (either staff or freelancer). Many organizations go for the former, thinking that a volunteer or “social relationship” is excited and capable to do the job, maybe even at no cost. And many an organization suffers a lack of fuel in their engines because of that choice.
It’s attractive, I totally agree to that. Let’s say you’re the artistic director at a small theatre company, and you need a new website. You lament about this with your theatre friends (as you should, because it’s fun) and one of them says “Oh, I set up websites, I’d be happy to knock something out for you, free of charge.” And you think to yourself “Yes! New website for no money!” And indeed, a few weeks or months later (probably longer that you had hoped) he/she launches a pretty good looking site for you. You’re thrilled to announce it. People tell you it looks great. And for awhile, everything goes smashingly, until one day you send an email to your friend, asking he/she to update a section of the site for you, and you don’t get a response. A few days go by. You need to get this updated. You call, and finally get them and they say they have “just being swamped.” But they do the update for you, and things are good again… for a little while.
Reading time: 10 minutes
Every day is a holiday to somebody. What’s one more to add to the list? Let me give you a little background.
Often, I work with clients who have previously had a volunteer run some important part of their arts marketing arsenal — usually their website, or their email marketing. In many cases, the volunteer is a friend or family member connected to a board member, and the organization is drawn to the promise of free technical help. “My brother is a web developer; let me see if I can talk him into running our website for us!”
The concept of free service because of a good connection is incredibly attractive to some arts groups where money is especially tight. And sometimes it works out really well for a long time. But it can also easily lead to disaster.
When the board member leaves the board, often the strength of the volunteer connection leaves too. Oh, that free web developer can stick around for awhile, but in many cases the response time to get something updated gets longer and longer. Finally it starts to damage the organization’s ability to manipulate their own marketing information, such as being able to update the website, send out the email, etc. And in the worst cases, your volunteer website updater just disappears into thin air, taking your logins and passwords with them. That’s bad. But it is not as rare as you might think — I’ve now worked with four clients who have had it happen to them. The most recent two needed to register totally new domain names and set up brand new websites at considerable expense, because they couldn’t get access from their previous web developer.