When your theatre company relies heavily on fundraising as a revenue stream, forming and growing a reliable donor base is essential. The key to a reliable donor base lies in the quality of the relationships you have with your donors. Here are seven tips for building ongoing donor relationships.

Tip 1 – Get a Donor Database

Donor relations begins and ends with the information in your donor database or CRM (customer relationship management). Every interaction, email, donation, message to and from your donors should be tracked in this database, including the last time they came to see one of your shows. There are many donor CRM options out there, including this one, which, of course, is our favorite. And don’t forget that a company can be a donor, and their contributions should be noted as well! A donor database will help you track and engage with donors on a regular basis, and it’s the most important tool you can invest in to ensure your future fundraising success, so that’s why it’s listed first.

Tip 2 – Gather Your Tools & Resources

Is your theatre eligible to be (or already) a 501c3? Having that non-profit designation opens a lot of doors for donors.

There are plenty of low-cost to no-cost resources available in your area and online. Take advantage of memberships to your local arts coalition or chamber of commerce and their services, networking opportunities, professional development and training, and lists of funding sources. Seek out blogs and podcasts related to fundraising and achieving your theatre’s goals.

Tip 3 – Begin From Within

Start with the people closest to your organization and work outward from there. This is usually the Board, whose main function in a non-profit is to bring in money to keep the company running. Do the Board members have an annual amount they commit to giving and raising as individuals? When was the last time this was reevaluated, and is everyone following through on their commitments? Make sure Board contributions and commitments are also well-documented, so you can show future community and corporate sponsors that your organization is utilizing its internal resources.

Next, have your Board and staff or ensemble spread the word about the company and its fundraising efforts, starting with people they already know like friends and colleagues. Give them an outline of what to say, including the mission and values of your company, the current needs, and ways people can help.

Bonus Pro Tip: Get a fundraising or philanthropy expert to sit on the Board, and learn everything you can from them during their term.

Tip 4 – Build Bridges to Local Businesses 

Brainstorm ways to leverage the Board, staff, cast and crew’s connections in the community. What businesses can you engage for donations or sponsorship? Think about how can you build partnerships with businesses whose work aligns with your needs. Is there a local construction company or hardware store who can donate money that goes toward your set? Is there an event or entertainment company that can help with lighting? Show them how their business niche connects to your company or the next production when you go in for the ask.

Building relationships first with community stakeholders and investors lays the groundwork for soliciting sponsorships from larger corporations or foundations that award grants because it shows that your company has community buy-in and value.

Tip 5 – Make It Easy to Give

Put your donation buttons in prominent places on your website and in your company emails. Have your Board, cast & crew add a note with a link to donate in their email signatures for the duration of your fundraiser.

Having a Donations Wish List with line items such as $100 for costumes or a couch for the set helps people understand exactly how their donation will help and may even encourage them to give more.

Stuff your playbills with donation envelopes. Investing in physical envelopes may seem expensive at first, but it’s an easy way to ask patrons for a donation, and you’ve put it directly into their hands. And be sure to remind them in the curtain speech that they have an opportunity to donate right then and there. 

Tip 6 – Add a Personal Touch

Because you’re tracking patrons in your donor database, you’ll know who recently attended a performance but has not yet donated. Give them some personal attention by calling to thank them for attending, collect a testimonial by asking what they liked about the show, and see if they’re able to make a donation. Making it individual and personal takes a lot of time and effort, but it yields higher results. Can you divide up these calls by delegating some to Board members or cast members? Who wouldn’t love a call from an actor they just saw on stage?

If you’re not able to reach your patrons over the phone, send them a personalized email with a donation request. Most email services have a way to personalize emails, but you may consider individual emails with personalized notes for the more VIP donors on your list.

Tip 7 – Send Thank-You Notes

Because who doesn’t love real mail? Write a true thank-you message that centers the donor and the impact they’ve made with their donation. Print on company letterhead that’s also signed by various members of your Board, staff, or cast. Include the donation receipt and send it off. These finishing touches are worth the extra work when it comes to building real relationships with your donors.   

If you’re ready to build your donor base and maximize your fundraising efforts, On the Stage is here to help. Watch our on-demand webinar and learn how the tools, templates, and best practices in our Fundraising Suite can set your theatre up for success.


Empower Your Theater

With an all-in-one technology platform

Learn How