by Sandra K. Kidd,
Younger patrons seem permanently attached to their smartphones, they are tech-savvy, they follow the interests of their friends (both real life ones and of the Facebook variety), and you have a lot of competition out there for their attention and their attendance.
But whether they find their way to you through a Groupon deal or because their employer gave away some free tickets, you have a chance to “hook” them if you can give them some extras that help to create a memorable experience.
First, work to vary your volunteer mix. If you have a young patrons group, ask some of these volunteers to be in the lobby pre-performance to say hello, help find seats, and hand out programs. Your older patrons will enjoy seeing the younger demographic, too, and your stalwart volunteers will appreciate a night off. (If you don’t have a young patrons group, then it’s past time to start one.)
Second, engage your audience’s attention from start to finish. Ask your director or conductor to spend 3-4 minutes before the curtain sharing some lively facts about the performance. Use multi-media to project visuals during intermission. Rotate among the actors or musicians, asking one to step forward at performance end (just as the applause begins to fade-timing is everything) and say a few words of simple thanks to the house.
Third, let your patrons know right away that you noticed they were there, and that you appreciated it. I recently attended a performance at Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit. The next morning, I received an email from T.O. saying “thank you for coming” and offering $5 discount coupons that I could share with fellow arts lovers toward the cost of tickets during the play’s remaining run. Nice touch.
And fourth, please don’t let your next communication with a first-time attendee be a fundraising solicitation. Give them a chance to engage with you in other ways at the start. You may gain some new donors who will make “encore” gifts for years to come.