This is the eighth in a series of Audience Building articles, where I go into depth on the sticking points, the places where I see people take short cuts but are quite vital.
This is how to find and build new audiences, not just promoting without annoying your family and friends.
Since I come from the world of Nonprofits and often consult for them, I understand their inner workings (sometimes charming dysfunctions). Often an artist will have a piece that deals with some sort of social justice and want to partner with nonprofits, but don’t get past the first email or have the proper follow through so that all involved get what they want out of partnering (good will, expanded audience and cross promotion).
Here are some ways to at least get a reply to your email, and ensure that expectations are met on both sides.
Remember they are as overworked and understaffed as you are. They may have a nice website or fancy office. They may not have an office or an actual staff. Their office number may have a switchboard or may go to their cell. Regardless, they’re a nonprofit, which means they probably don’t have enough money for overhead or enough staff to handle even their basic mission. Be courteous, patient and understanding. I’m guessing as an indie producer, you are in the same boat.
Reach the right person. Research their staff and see who would be the most receptive to what you offer. If your first contact email or phone call goes to the wrong person, they may have no idea what you’re asking and/or how they could possibly have the time to partner with you. Depending on who they are, don’t be surprised if they have no idea what a web series is. It’s your job to find who might understand and see the potential. If their twitter account is quite active but you can’t find who runs it, just DM a micro pitch and ask for their email. (Also, be sure you know their gender. My friend Kappy was always getting professional emails and letters addressing her as “Sir.”)
Get to the point. No one has enough time to dig through the genesis and philosophy of your art before they have any idea why you emailed them. Be clear: “We both have the same mission at heart,” or “Your work inspired so much of our film,” or “I believe we have an overlapping audience and could really help each other grow.” If you can’t pitch it in one sentence, you may not have a deep enough connection to ask for partnership.
Make your pitch about them, not you. An extension of #3, if you spend too much time explaining the plot of your movie or why they should care about this up-and-coming playwright, they probably think you just want them to buy something. Trust me, I get these emails from potential partners all the time. When your to-do list fights for every spare minute of your attention, don’t make me dig for the motivation. Make it so clear and compelling that I can’t help but keep reading. You’re an artist. That part should be easy. Make the succinct pitch, then give me more details.
Give the nonprofit everything they need to get the most out of the partnership.
Send them examples of ways the partnership can manifest. Cross-promotion might be second nature to us but not to everyone:
Want the nonprofit to tweet? Write some tweets for them (including your handle).
Want them to share an event on Facebook? Send them the link and make them admins after they buy into it. Invite them to share info about their nonprofit in the event posts.
Want a newsletter exchange?* Write 150-30o words and include a thumbnail sized graphic to use (with links other options available).
Give their newsletter subscribers a discount code or perk of some sort. They’re more likely to make a big deal out of it if you’re able to add value to the sharing.
Did you share a new photo on instagram and Facebook? Tag the nonprofit and/or email your contact with the link asking to share when they’re able. For example, whenever someone partners with 24th ST’s Teen Mentor program, we post a photo of the teens interacting with whatever they donated (in this case, food):
Make signs. Create cards for their office. Know how I always remember to update our nonprofit information on Yelp? Because they sent us a window sticker that I see when I’m on site. Create posters, postcards just for the nonprofit to share that highlight the partnership and why you’re working together at a glance. If they are a location that gets a lot of in person traffic, you can also connect directly with their audience.
Schedule a follow up – in person. People feel more committed if they’ve agreed to something in person. They get a chance to ask questions that might not occur to them via email or phone and truly make a connection with you and your work. You will also understand their situation better and more ideas may occur to you as to how you can help. All partnerships work better if they can put a face to the name, even via video chat.
Give them more than you offer. If you promise two tweets/week, Retweet and Share two extras from their account. Comment on their Facebook posts, even (especially) when it has nothing to do with your project.
Be a partner. Be supportive.
Add their logo to your website. Write a blog about their work. Donate a portion of proceeds to them. You think every penny counts in your budget? Now add a Board of Directors who will light up at hearing that a local artist donated even a couple hundred dollars from an event. I’ve personally made more trips to Theatre Unleashed in North Hollywood because they always partner with a nonprofit for their shows.
You didn’t get a partnership after contacting them? Invite them to future events as your comped guest anyhow. Send them a copy of your work gratis in case they want to partner in the future.This is called good will for future potential partnerships. Maybe they really didn’t understand the connection between your work and their organization. Maybe they honestly didn’t have the time to click your links, or thought they would have time later. You know how that goes.
As with everything involved in audience building, this is a long term proposition. So start researching and connecting with these nonprofits well before you ask them for something. I’m talking months before you need them to do anything. Show up to their fundraisers and events when you can, well before and after the partnership. Long term, genuine good will creates relationships that will outlast the initial ask.
*Just a cautionary tale here: There is a mid sized theater in Pasadena who emails me about every show, asking for cross promotion. That would be fine except that (a) we’ve never done it and he always emails as if we have (which is just lazy), and (b) I told him I would review their season and tell him if any of our target audiences overlapped, as we have a very niche supporter base. After a few of these infuriating emails that went well beyond my boundaries of exclamation point abuse, I blocked his email.
– Cindy Marie Jenkins