Big-business Marketing for Small and Mid-sized Arts Nonprofits

by Randall Forte, LVAC executive director

ArtsCountOnMeButtonFinalThis summer the Lehigh Valley Arts Council will launch a Cultural List Exchange Co-Op (CLEC), a Lehigh Valley arts community database that will foster collaboration, improve marketing intelligence, encourage and simplify mailing list exchanges, and expands audiences.

This regional initiative was built upon arts research, the Arts Council’s leadership in uniting the nonprofit sector, and the securing of broad funding towards the first three years of the program.

Ten cultural nonprofits (Act 1, DeSales University Theatre; Allentown Symphony Association; America on Wheels; Bach Choir of Bethlehem; Baum School of Art; Historic Bethlehem Partnership; Lehigh Valley Arts Council; Muhlenberg College Theatre & Dance; Touchstone Theatre; and PA Shakespeare Festival) have signed on to participate in the first phase of this program, and by the end of the third year, the goal is to have forty-five organizations onboard.

The cultural landscape is changing. The recent economic impact study, “Arts & Economic Prosperity IV,” demonstrated that the region’s nonprofit arts industry is a major economic contributor and rose 23% from $169 million in 2005 to $208 million in 2010. However, nationally there was a 20% decrease, coupled with a serious decline in public, foundation and corporate arts funding—all of which raises serious concerns about future sustainability.

According to Arts Council Executive Randall Forte, “We cannot expect growth will continue without deliberate, collaborative marketing initiatives. Nonprofits need to innovate and increase their percentage of earned income to remain relevant and viable. CLEC offers a means to meet the challenges.”

CLEC provides cultural nonprofits the training, tools and expertise to grow customers and revenues through streamlining access to substantial, targeted arts patron data. Target Resource Group (TRG), the nation’s leading provider of data management and consulting services, will house the data for CLEC and provide training for participants.

Once an organization has uploaded their segmented patron lists, TRG’s user-friendly eMerge interface allows the user to manage and analyze those lists in powerful ways. The program is also permission-based, so organizations retain 100% control of their data. A few of the immediate benefits are:

  • Helping keep patron data current. Patron data is cleaned each quarter (for free!) through the National Change Of Address.
  • Helping to identify the best organizations for partnering. Cross-penetration reports can help create successful partnerships, such as list trades, program ads, and collaborative events.
  • Making the process of building direct mail lists easier than ever. With one-click trade requests, automatic merge/purge functionality, and nearly infinite filtering possibilities—all within the permission-based system—creating mail lists is no longer the chore it used to be.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of patrons by using the geographic, demographic, and psychographic information that is appended to households.

TRG reports that communities that organize a network benefit from greater stability and audiences for their cultural organizations.

The Lehigh Valley’s unique geographic location provides additional opportunity for access to a bigger marketplace through regional exchanges. Nationally, TRG currently manages twenty community partnerships, including the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, and ArtPride New Jersey / Discover Jersey Arts.  Once CLEC is firmly established, the marketplace opens up to our neighboring co-ops.

CLEC is an engine for economic development, and local governments, corporations, and regional entities understand the value of investing in the future growth of our cultural sector.

Discover Lehigh Valley was the first and largest supporter of CLEC because they believe in its ability to attract a broader audience. Nonresidents spend nearly 50% more per capita than residents, as demonstrated by the 2010 economic impact study.  Moreover, there was a 52% increase in attendance by nonresidents, or 1.7 million of them spent an average of $30.77 per person. Now is the time to leverage and build upon the momentum of current growth in visits by nonresidents and meet the need to fill the increasing number of hotel rooms.

Additional funders include the Century Fund, City Center,  counties of Lehigh and Northampton, Harry C. Trexler Trust, Lehigh Gas Corp, Lehigh Valley Partnership, and Sylvia Perkin Perpetual Charitable Trust,


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