New Cultural Sector Research Finds 'Invisible Opportunity' In Those People Who Already Support You

Deanna Varga and Dr Lynda Kelly are proud to release the findings of new research on the cultural sector, Members and Subscribers – Is it working for everyone? Is everyone working for them?, which has explored the link between an individual’s membership/support or subscription with an organisation/the performing arts and their propensity to contribute philanthropically.

The pair aimed to answer three strategically important questions for The Arts:

Is there evidence / a business case for focusing on members/subscribers vs other sources of funding and support?

  • Does the cultural sector need to know the interlinkages between membership/subscriptions and other funding sources?

  • Can cultural institutions/performing arts organisations leverage the opportunity within current resourcing? How?

The research shows that those people who already support an organisation – members, donors and volunteers – are a valuable source of funding opportunity, beyond their annual fee and time.

The research revealed that there were lots of existing inhibitors within cultural institutions/performing arts organisations that seem to increase the ‘invisibility’ of their members/subscribers as potential donors or potential philanthropists.


We designed a three-step approach to progressively establish data and detail to answer questions/need, which we could validate for confidence.

  1. October – November 2018: Research/data gathering round 1

  2. November 2018: Workshop five themes evident in data

  3. December – Feb 2019: Research data augmentation round 2


Finding 1: Taking voluntary financial support as one measure, the engagement and fundraising value among members is greater than the industry assumes

Finding 2: Organisations targeting only one or two segments may not capture the total audience support available to them

Finding 3: Simple changes to program mechanics and fundraising practices could increase money donated from members

Finding 4: A lack of benchmarking data is a challenge for organisations and an obstacle to making a business case and confident, informed decision making

Finding 5: organisational structures are a threat, and an opportunity if addressed


Our research generated the following umbrella findings about the arts and culture sector, in respect of the latent value of member, subscriber, donor and volunteer supporter segments. In the context of limited available funds outside an organisation, these are valuable findings for the sector.

  1. Members, subscribers, donors and volunteers represent significant potential financial benefit to an organisation beyond their annual fee and time.

  2. The sector’s prevailing belief that there is limited revenue value hampers financial opportunity. However, the data provides helpful insight, as these beliefs. may be reinforced by factors originating inside organisations rather than from outside the organisation (i.e. the members/subscribers).

  3. We found that organisations’ perceptions of their value to members/subscribers were less positive than the likely reality. Dilenschneider’s research (outlined in the full report) reminds us that ‘value’ for members is likely to be emotional rather than rational or features based. This reinforces the need for organisations to develop their own stories and feel conviction about these. The importance of ‘being part of something’ that matters, matters.

  4. Lack of industry-specific reference data makes it difficult for organisations to make a reliable business case to start, retain, grow or event close member programs with confidence.


Would you like to contribute to future research on the link between members/subscribers and philanthropy (see below)? Do you have a different view on these findings?

Let us know your thoughts:

Deanna Varga (MBA):

Dr Lynda Kelly:

Ms Varga and Dr Kelly thank Agenda,Creative Partnerships AustraliaKirsty Simmonds, and everyone who completed the survey and participated in the Culture Business 2018 workshop for their support and contributions to the research.


If you work for a cultural institution or performing arts organisation, you can access the full report by contributing to the next phase of our research. All you need to do is complete a short 10-minute online survey and we’ll give you free access to the 2019 report. We’ll also send you a copy of the 2020 report when it’s released next year.

Provide your details here

NB: Respondents to the 2019 research have been sent a copy of the final report. Please email if you have not received your copy.

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