State Opera South Australia establishes a robust annual giving program
State Opera South Australia - running your annual appeal campaign when it's derailed by COVID-19
At State Opera South Australia our 2020 annual appeal target goal was lowered to $55K as COVID-19 took hold and our live productions were cancelled limiting, amongst other things, our ability to have direct audience engagement with our company and our productions. This was the third year of a formal annual appeal program. Each prior campaign had been a simple single-pronged approach (either letter or email) to each prospect.
Planning the campaign began in early March 2020 and was immediately put hold as COVID-19 turned our focus from donations to canceling performances and managing relationships. We were then concerned that our donors may be reluctant to support the State Opera due to the uncertainty of their own finances (which is many instances was proved to be true). We had no idea how donors would respond to an ask and whether an ask would even be welcome or appropriate.
SHIFITING OUR COMMUNICATIONS TO WHAT DONORS HAVE EXPERIENCED AND LOVED
At this point the future was so uncertain and we didn’t want to lose credibility with our donors as we couldn’t guarantee what programs and shows would be going ahead due to COVID-19. We decided the campaign should raise funds for an unspecified purpose; a general campaign focused on the State Opera’s future with the message “State Opera of SA has an extraordinary history of artistic excellence and landmark performances which donors have known, loved and experienced.” We employed a three-pronged approach – mail, online and direct asks. The online / digital aspect of the campaign was detailed and data-driven. The communication we used was aimed to prompt donors to remember their favourite times at State Opera.
In addition, on the mail forms we also added a tick box to gather information about bequests. This allowed the Continuo Circle to begin bequest stewardship.
- A fully integrated design approach which considered letters, electronic direct mail, video and music so that there was consistency and recognition.
- The bequest and specific questions on giving gathered terrific data which we could use to enhance our stewardship and future strategies.
- The campaign was supported by the whole team; development and directors made calls to donors, marketing ran data, design and contact lists, and finance managed receipting and reporting.
COVID-19 made the campaign difficult because most of the conversations were focused on what we weren’t doing, i.e. performances! It took a lot of energy and effort to sell the ideas around an opera company with no product in market.
- The Annual Appeal reflected the success of a year of wide-ranging artistic programming and community engagement along with consistent reputation and brand building.
- The artistically and commercially successful 2019 season gave the campaign credibility, strengthened by consistent stewardship and a planned fundraising calendar built over the previous two years.
- A total of $150,674 was raised in the annual appeal; an increase of 174% on the initial target and 100% increase on the previous year’s campaign. 382 people donated; an increase of 118 individuals from 2019.
- Compared to previous years the campaign was planned, focused and project-managed with clear messaging and a coherent design that was sympathetic with State Opera’s branding.
- We encouraged our donors to share their own stories and personal meaning of the State Opera and suggest that COVID-19 may have inclined donors to give more generously by converting ticket purchases to donations.
- The campaign stood alone and was not competing against other fundraising campaigns like the High Note Dinner and Winter School campaign.