This has been a challenging beginning to the New Year. Wayside Theatre the, small not-for-profit theatre company I work for is still struggling to come out from under some heavy duty financial pressure that we’ve been dealing with since the economy went bottom up in 2008. The good news is we’re still here. Quite a few of our sister NFP theatres and arts organizations are no more. The bad news is that we’re only here because of the sometimes heroic efforts of our artists, our administrators, and the small circle of folks in our community and elsewhere who continue to come to our rescue. GBM Readers have noticed and commented over the last few years that my presence here has really slacked off. That’s primarily due to my efforts in keeping Wayside Theatre alive.
This post isn’t really about the challenges we’re facing at Wayside Theatre. If you’re interested and want to read more (or possibly help), check out our webisite or our Facebook page. All that info is there. What isn’t there are some of the stories about the mobile tech (and other tech) we’re using to push this latest campaign, and what we do in general. That’s what this post is about.
Online Augmenting the Traditional
First things first. Our main goal is getting the message out to as many folks as possible. In this connected age, the fundamentals of that are no different than they were twenty or so years ago. You touch as many people as possible with your story in as many different ways as you can. Our immediate region is slowly but surely waking to the Internet age as more and more folks are using technology that we geeks have been using for a few years now. So we do have to rely on some tried and true techniques given that our area technology adoption is slower than many other areas, and equally important, the average age of most of our supporters is in the senior citizen range. Here locally those are the slowest tech adopters.
We do direct mail and that still works. We do newspapers and local TV and radio and that still works. Although our local papers are perfect examples of the problems besetting the news publishing biz. They both are hanging on for dear life in print land as their circulation declines, and they both keep reducing local coverage in the wake of declining revenues. One of them, The Northern Va Daily is actively trying to make the Internet work for them, publishing stories more frequently on the web that will appear in the next day’s paper. The other, The Winchester Star is behind a paywall and that makes sharing stories and info a more difficult challenge. Our local TV station is all over the Internet and Twitter, as are our radio stations.
But what the Internet has given us are things like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and certainly websites. Our Facebook page is full of content about our efforts, and the theatre’s Twitter account (and mine) are also pushing info out there frequently. I also publish on my personal blog. This week we’ll be rolling out a series of video testimonials about the many programs we offer on YouTube. We use these sources for content and also to drive info to our website, where we keep track of donations and donors, as well as offers of help and assistance. Again, this is now old hat stuff for those these days. But you’d be amazed at how many folks are discovering these kinds of things through our campaign.
A Smartphone World
As for the mobile tech, when it comes to hardware it’s a smartphone world. Many of us on staff have smartphones and receive updates, notifications, and emails continually. At times our office sounds like an aviary with all the chirps and cheeps going off. When a donor shows up with a check, we try to take a picture or a quick video using a smartphone. When the kids in our Young Ambassadors’ Guild put together a project or a video testimonial, we do the same thing. It’s relatively easy, though not entirely tension free to get a post to our Facebook or Twitter account via mobile if something important catches our attention or we fell deserves attention. The mobile experience can always be improved.
Using a smartphone to capture and quickly share important info or data with as many folks as possible helps change the currency of that information. I’m old enough to remember how getting a story out required several days of preparation on the content, the mailing, and the distribution. Creating a sense of breaking news is easier, and in a human response context, it helps keeps folks interest beyond that one conversation that they may have about the situation at hand.
When it comes to phone calls there’s no question that being mobile with a smartphone is a huge improvement over the days of being desk bound and answering and returning voice mails in bunches. For those, like me, who have AT&T as their iPhone carrier, the ability to be on a call with someone discussing information and while on the call sending them a data sheet or contact info is a real bonus in this situation. I’ve done that double duty about 100 times this past week alone.
We’ve also got a small contingent of folks with Tablets (iPads mostly) among our staff and our volunteers. We’re rolling out a Keynote presentation this week that these folks can take on calls to donors and supporters calls. This will include video, text, and charts. No referencing back to the previous paragraph, we are discovering that when you share information this way, the info not only has to be compelling, but the presentation has to be beyond so. There’s something about the semiotics of presenting “your story” on an iPad that requires and even more diligent approach to the production than when we used to ready things for printing and mailing.
Apps and Quick Responses
Mobile financial Apps also come into play. We receive a lot of donations via PayPal and I’m able to track them just about anywhere, or as in this cash strapped instance, transfer funds to our bank in a heartbeat.
We’ve also got a quick thank you template set up that we can send at any time, that let’s our supporters know we’ve received their donation and that an official thank you will be coming later. This is one way that we are saving quite a bit of money. We’ve discovered that those who donate online are more than comfortable receiving an official thank you via email. Obviously if they request a hard copy, they get one. But we’re able to save a considerable amount of time and money when it comes to printing and mailing thank you letters this way. We also quickly respond on our social media with a thanks to those who make a donation.
We don’t claim to be the best at this and are discovering new methods of getting the word out all the time. If you have suggestions on how we can use technology better to move our case along, let me know. We can use all the advice and support we can get these days.