Data and Community Theatre - A Six-Part Series (Part 1)
Part 1: Why Data Matters in Community Theatre
Your instincts (and certainly most current research in online searches) might tell you the data that matters most is ticket sales, revenue, and social media patterns- the traditional stats and metrics we've been studying for a long time, as well as the data revolving around ticket buying behavior. But, there's more to this new trend that proves the significance of data (and a diverse array of data) in your arts organizations.
What about the human impact of your theatre practice?
Justifying your existence. Showing hard numbers to funders and donors who are more interested in an ROI (Return on Investment). The trend has shifted for all organizations especially the arts; grantmaking requires strong evidence of your impact with numbers rather than - or in addition to - soft stories. You may have noticed or experienced a large focus on youth and underserved communities and the impact of the arts. There is also attention toward elderly and mature generations and the impact of a variety of activities to enhance their social, emotional, and physical well-being.
We spend a lot of time speaking on matters of the heart in arts organizations. It's our bread and butter, and if there's anyone that knows how to tell stories, it's us. We tell stories onstage, and if we're really good (or on the administrative side, especially in fundraising and marketing), we tell stories of the impact of our onstage stories. We are artists in our narrating how important theatre is: it changes lives, it brings people together, it broadens a narrow point of view of the world. We know this, and feel it every time we do it. Even if we can't articulate it as beautifully as a master grant writer, we know the feeling; we had it the first time we were bitten by the theatre bug.
It's 2021 now, and the world is changing. It HAS changed. Funding is decreasing or completely dried up, depending on the source. We are competing more than ever for our patron's time, money and loyalty. It's not a pretty picture, but we find ourselves justifying OUR existence: both the existence and importance of theatre as a practice, AND why someone should pick OUR theatre over someone else's (and that might be contingent upon whether or not you are lucky enough to have a devoted theatre-going community).
What does that mean? It means that no longer do our beautiful stories of the joys of theatre stand up to the hard numbers and facts that law makers, funders and loyal donors are now coming to expect from those they support.
Where to Start
Here are some examples in which you might be asked for hard numbers in your community theatre (and why it's important to share the results with the people who are involved):
Your grant application asks for the community you serve. Are you aware of your audience, youth and volunteer demographics (from the geography to age range and on and on) to answer this question?
A potential supporter asks you casually how many tickets your theatre sells each year.
You may have this info if you are a very involved board member or are the box office or executive director of your theatre, but can anyone and everyone who speaks for your theatre answer this quickly and accurately?
A new Board member asks in the first meeting they attend how much money you spend on screws and paper clips and how those items are paid for by ticket sales.*
*Yes, this is actually a plausible question you may be asked.
You may see or have already experienced a new trend in the public sector for non-profits and governments to be aware of, if not to adapt to private sector practices, including a focus on 'return on investment' concepts and the embracement of more business-type models.
You may have board members or funders with this mindset; will you be prepared when those questions come up?