Monday, 8 June 2009

Who's filling whose gap?

The back page ad in Arts Professional recently has been for Blackbaud, who provide ‘innovative ticketing, fundraising, marketing and CRM solutions’. That’s the second half of their pitch – the first half was what caught my eye. Blackbaud, it says, has ‘helped hundreds of arts and cultural organisations to fill the gap in government funding through innovative ticketing...’ (My italics.)

It’s interesting because it seems to be underpinned by a model of 100% government funding for a supplier-led arts world with the customers filling the gap, rather than a ‘market failure’ model which see government funding as making possible valuable things which cost more than the market (ie paying customers of one sort or another) can afford, or a demand-led model with funding encouraging consumption. And it’s a commercial organisation putting it forward.

I may be reading this too closely, of course. It could just be smart marketing people playing to their audience. And the quote from Su Matthewman at West Yorkshire Playhouse is much more positive in its view of customers. But if the CRM specialists make this kind of Freudian slip, what does it say about how audiences – people who put their hands in their pockets to pay for art they want – are seen by arts organisations? Or about how those organisations see their business models?


Christopher Goodhart said...

Hi Mark
I thought I should reply to your latest post as I work for the Arts & Cultural Division at Blackbaud.
The issue that Blackbaud are trying to address is that there is a gap between government funding and overall budgeted revenues, and that all arts organisations need to fill that gap. They do this by selling tickets, by undertaking other commercial activities such as hires and by raising money through their development departments from individuals, trust and foundations and corporate. It is in these areas that Blackbaud continue to help hundreds of arts and cultural organisations.
We are all very aware that as time goes by there will be ever more pressure on both central and local government funding for the arts (through no fault of organisations like ACE), and what we seek to do is to help arts and cultural organisations to improve their business processes and keep their costs down, to increase audiences and sell more tickets, and to raise more money for both core and project funding through their development departments.
We are not suggesting that government funding does not work, but aim to emphasise that it needs to be augmented, particularly at this time of pressure on budgets all round.
Christopher Goodhart

Mark Robinson said...

Thanks Christopher. Just to be clear: I meant no criticism or disrespect to Blackbaud in my comments, nor did I think you were suggesting government funding didn't work. My point was that which way round one sees the gap implies something about how one sees the world, and that's interesting to reflect on.

Obviously it's really important organisations such as yourself help organisations be great at reaching people - since that's the actual point of their activity. If there was 100% government funding they'd still need to be great at that, I think, using expertise from companies such as yours, unless we want arts activity without audiences or customers. (There are times I think some artists might be quite content with that, mind.)Obviously the increasing pressure on public funding means it's also commercial and business sense, I absolutely agree.