TRG blog: Active patrons: here today… what about tomorrow? [VIDEO]
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TRG Blog: Analysis from TRG Arts

Active patrons: here today… what about tomorrow? [VIDEO]

Amelia Northrup-Simpson | September 22, 2015 6:29 AM

This is the second video in our series on the 6 metrics that arts leaders should be tracking and managing. View all the videos in this series here>>

Measure What Matters: 6 Metrics Arts Leaders Should Track

Metric #2: Active patron participation

Active patrons are the patrons an arts organization serves today. But will they still be there tomorrow? It depends on how YOU cultivate them.

In this video, Jill Robinson of TRG Arts discusses how and why to measure active patron participation at performing arts organizations and museums. She also explains the concept of an “upgrade”—the next step for every patron to grow their loyalty.

Why measure active patron participation?

Active patrons are some of the most exciting and most important patrons in your database. Why? They’re engaging with you now and could do any number of things in the future.

TRG defines an active patron as a patron who has had any transaction with your organization in the last two seasons or years. Why the last two years? When cultivating a loyal audience, recency rules. Statistically, the patrons who have attended in the last two years are much more likely to continue attending—if you cultivate them right.

That’s a big “if.” These current patrons are the ones that your mission serves today. But don’t assume that they’ll be there tomorrow. Research indicates that first-time attendees—a large portion of many organizations’ patrons—tend to come once and then never return.

How to measure active patron participation:

You should look at your active patrons two ways:

1. First, look at the percentage of active patrons in your database. You’ll need the following numbers:

  • a count of households which have had any interaction in the last two years
  • the total number of households in your database
Then divide one from the other like so:

2. Secondly, look at active patron participation over time. In your database, count the number of households with any trackable transaction, including a visit, ticket purchase, class, subscription, donation, or anything else you track in your database. Do that for your most recently completed season or year. Then go back 3 to 5 years and get a total for each of those years.

If you have the ability, break out those households into their individual patron types. By patron type, we mean single ticket buyers, subscribers, and donors for performing arts organizations or, visitors, members, and donors for museums.

This metric is often best represented in a bar chart, like the one below. Visualizing the data this way tells you a lot about patronage at your organization. The chart not only tells you where you’re losing or gaining patrons, but also how many patrons have participated each year and if your overall patron base is growing or shrinking.

What active patron participation tells you:

What can you learn from looking at active patrons and patron participation?

 Photo by Jason Eppink (CC BY 2.0)

1. First of all, it’s a snapshot of patronage and its health at your organization. Now, if patron participation is not growing, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Steady, stable patronage can be healthy. And, unchecked growth can be unhealthy. But it’s a problem if you don’t know if you’re declining, stable, or growing.

2. As mentioned before, active patrons and their participation indicate your ability to grow loyalty at your organization. Loyal, supportive patrons are not born; they are made. You need to know how many patrons at each buyer type are prospects to deepen their support of your org.

3. We’ll talk more about patron retention and acquisition later in this series, but patron participation can illuminate where you’re excelling and where you’re struggling. If a category is in decline year after year, you’ve either got a problem keeping existing patrons or finding enough new ones to replace the ones you’re losing.

What can you do if you see declining numbers, or if you simply want to grow? Plan to upgrade your audience’s loyalty. When we talk about expanding loyalty—upgrading loyalty—we’re talking about finding the right next step for every patron in your audience. And, it allows you to stop only chasing new audiences and starting to focus on existing audiences as well. The more patrons invest, the more likely they are to stay active with your organization.

Featured in this video:
Jill Robinson

Jill Robinson is President and CEO of TRG Arts, an international data-driven consulting firm dedicated to creating sustainable arts and cultural organizations. Under Jill’s leadership, TRG has translated its ongoing study of arts consumer transactions into knowledge that achieves improved revenue results for clients and that serves as a resource to the industry at-large. Jill has expanded the scope of TRG services to all arts genres throughout the United States, into Canada and abroad to Australia and the United Kingdom.

A frequent panelist and session leader at arts conferences throughout North America, Jill also helps inform the field through TRG's webinars, summits, and as a blogger on Analysis from TRG Arts. Jill serves on the board of the National Center for Arts Research. This fall she will deliver a keynote at the Annual Conference on Marketing the Arts in Madrid, and give a masterclass in London for arts leaders.

Other videos in this series:

Metric #1: Patron-generated revenue

Forget earned vs. contributed. It's all about how much revenue your patrons generate. In this video, learn why the earned vs. contributed classification can create siloes and why you should also track patron-generated revenue. More>>

Metric #3: Data capture rate

To cultivate an arts patron, you’ve got to know their history with your organization first. That starts with data. In this video, learn why capturing contact information can mean serious revenue gain—or lost opportunity. More>>


Metric #4: New audience churn rate

Churn. Attrition. Turnover. Call it what you will; the fact is, you’re losing new patrons. In this video, learn why retention matters, how to measure your risk, and a 4-step process  to reverse churn at your organization. More>>


Metric #5: % of subscriber-donors

Is renewal rate the best measurement of loyalty? In this video, learn why renewal rate can be deceptive—and the metric arts organizations should consider tracking alongside it. More>>


Metric #6: Per capita revenue

Is your arts organization generating the most revenue it can for each patron? There’s a way to measure that! In this video, learn how to figure out if your pricing strategy is causing you to lose money. More>>


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Case Study: Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma

Annual operating budget up 32% in 5 seasons

Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma 
 Photo: Joseph Mills

After a poor year for earned revenue in 2012, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma (LTO) had rebounded and was experiencing a growth spurt. In 2013, Director of Marketing Danyel Siler had turned her attention to single tickets.

Her hard work had paid off, but season tickets were still a challenge. “Season tickets were steadily declining,” she said. “The season ticket campaign had been done the same way for years, maybe even decades. And we blamed the fall on the trend that subs were declining everywhere. Our executive director, artistic director, and I all knew something needed to change, but we didn’t know what.”

Read More>>


Jill Robinson
Adam Scurto
Amelia Northrup-
J.L.Nave Vincent VanVleet Keri Mesropov

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