COVID-19 survival tips for arts organizations

Many arts and culture organizations are suffering catastrophically from the COVID-19 crisis. Totally shut down, they’re getting no ticket revenue, and no interaction with buyers — who are also donors. And because they aren’t front-line servers fighting the virus, they often fall through the cracks of awareness, both from donors and from those who serve nonprofits.

Here’s a quick look at what they can do — in the short, mid and long-terms to minimize the damage and maybe even thrive:

Short term: Believe in your donors

Don’t decide for donors that they won’t give! While some may need to cut back, many won’t. Your amazing, wonderful donors believe in what you do. They love what you do. They want to help when they know the need is great. Treat then like the heroes they want to be …

  • Keep on raising funds in every way you can. You can’t do events, and other channels could shut down. This might mean a major pivot to digital channels. Do as much as you can! Keep talking to donors and letting them know they can make a difference.
  • Check in with donors by phone. Many are older, struggling with isolation and fear. A friendly call can really help. Call as many donors as you possibly can. Do you have staff who are unable to do their usual work? Have them call donors! In many cases, these check-in calls turn into donations.
  • Ask ticket-holders to donate tickets back. Some may need refunds as they face hard financial times. But many will be happy to turn their ticket into something good.
  • Be there for them digitally. We all need the arts right now, more than ever. And many people have time on their hands. Do what you can to help: Online performances live or recorded. Virtual tours. Many organizations are doing this and getting online audiences that are orders of magnitude larger than what they normally get. Okay, it isn’t driving revenue, but it may lead to whole new audiences.

Mid term: Believe in your cause

There’s a good chance you face budget cuts, even as the current crisis passes. The lost revenue probably makes that necessary. But don’t cut things that will just lead to further cuts in the future.

  • Don’t cut marketing. Cuts to marketing mean even deeper budget troubles next year. And the year after. If you want data on this, check out this post at Know Your Own Bone: The Cost of Cutting Marketing Budgets Within Cultural Organizations
  • Don’t cut fundraising. Same reasons as above. Cuts to fundraising mean guaranteed additional pain in the future. The hole you leave in your revenue by cutting fundraising now will keep hurting for 7 to 10 years.
  • Cut activities that don’t produce measurable return in the form of sales and/or donations. If you have branding activities that simply drives “awareness” or “impressions” — they can go. (There’s a good chance they should have gone long ago!)

Long term: Believe in better action

Sadly, some arts organizations will not survive this crisis. Whether it’s because of fundamental weakness in their programs, or because they failed to take action during the crisis, or the revenue loss was simply too much to overcome.

But some will survive, and even end up stronger. Those who kept their heads in the short and mid terms. Now it’s time to recover…

  • Thank your amazing donors. Big time. You just went through hell with them. Celebrate what they did.
  • Engage new audiences you may have reached digitally during the crisis. You were there when they needed you … now try to build a relationship.
  • Learn from the crisis. During the crisis, most of us are forced to work faster, more efficiently, and with no BS allowed. It’s necessary to survive in such times. You may have worked with faster production cycles, skinnied-down approval processes, stronger and more urgent fundraising calls-to-action, donor-focused messaging … Guess what: You can keep doing these are things. You’ll raise more money year ’round. And without a crisis breathing down your neck, you’ll have a lot more fun and do much better work.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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