Traditionally we have assumed that audiences who are most engaged with us as arts and cultural organisations are the most active and knowledgeable and therefore are also more likely to donate - recent research conducted by The Audience Agency suggests this is the case but that some donors do behave differently. This article, by Dr Alix Slater, and its companion piece on Membership and Giving shares insights from that research which forms part of Donor Finder. It draws on the following three data sets:

  • A quarter of a million unique customer records across four organisations in the Ticketing Network East Midlands as part of the Spirit Nottingham Cluster (SNC). We refer to this as the ‘SNC Box Office analysis’.
  • A bespoke ‘Donor Survey’ of circa 500 donors and members from six organisations in the Spirt Nottingham Cluster.
  • A ‘National Panel Survey’ of circa 2,500 individuals who have attended the arts, culture and heritage in the last 3 years.

Who donates?

In the SNC Box Office analysis only 1.5% of customers donated giving a total sum of £31,639 in 2013. Since
2011, the number of bookers and amount donated across the network has tripled, but the average amount per booker has dropped from £8.51 per donor to £7.11. The SNC Donor Survey asked questions about respondents’ characteristics which reveal that donors are very likely to be White British (92%), female (64%), 50 years +, with the largest proportion aged 50 to 69 years, working either full or part time (58%) but not professionally involved in arts or culture. A third (32%) were retired and 62% have lived in their home for 11 or more years. They have typically been engaged with the organisation for a long time with over two thirds (70%) having visited during the last 5 years while only 4% had never visited. Just under half (43%) said supporting the arts was very important to them.

The SNC Box Office analysis also segmented bookers and donors using Audience Spectrum. At first glance there appears to be similar proportions of each audience segment within the donor and non-donor groups but when indexed against all bookers, the two most engaged segments in Audience Spectrum, Metroculturals and Commuterland Culturebuffs are over-represented within the donor group. In contrast, the dominant segments in the SNC Donor Survey are Commuterland Culturebuffs and Dormitory Dependables. Dormitory Dependables are regular, but not as frequent attenders, (ranked fourth in terms of engagement) but this is more due to lack of time and availability of arts; whilst Metroculturals engage with the arts regularly and across a range of art forms. Findings, therefore, suggest those that engage more are more likely to donate and the findings that follow about donor behaviour appear to support this.

Donor behaviour: attendance and loyalty

The SNC Box Office analysis and Donor Survey research suggests that donors are much more likely to be members or retained frequent bookers who have visited over a period of time and who still visit frequently, consistent with the behaviour of Metroculturals and Dormitory Dependables. 91% of respondents in the Donor Survey were currently a member of the organisation and 38% had been for at least 4 years, while 85% had booked during the last year and 31% six or more times.

The SNC Box Office analysis also reveals that donors are more likely to book for plays and music events across the range of art forms, in particular for classical and other music concerts and galas and for adult and family/children’s workshops. Donors often book more expensive tickets or tickets to more expensive events but they receive more discounts such as concessions and member discounts, so whilst their total yield as a booker is higher than non-donors, the yield per ticket is lower. This is important given that for one theatre in Nottingham they were booking the most popular performances, thus potentially limiting ticketing income for the venue.

Whilst the majority of arts audiences are venue loyal, as we have already indicated, this research suggests donors exhibit different behaviours. They are more likely to book tickets at other venues in Nottingham than non-donors and to cross over venues during a single year. For example, at one theatre 42% of non-donors only booked once between 2011 and 2013, 10% made repeat bookings and 48% crossed over venues but only 18% of donors booked once, 11% made repeat bookings and 71% crossed over. There is a similar pattern at other venues in the cluster with donors consistently booking across venues over the 3 year period and to cross over in a single year, for example at the largest venue in the cluster 43% of donors, compared to 10% of non-donors.

This behaviour can also impact on donations as individuals who only book tickets at one venue generally donate to that venue, what varies within each venue is the proportion of audience who are venue loyal. For example, 47% of donors at a theatre had only booked tickets at that venue whilst 74% of donors at another had only booked there which potentially gives this organisation more chance of their audience donating. The data also suggests that some donors do not book tickets at all with, 10% of donors at one theatre and 17% at another venue not booking.

Who do donors support and why?

In the National Panel Survey, respondents see themselves as charitable. More than half (52%) strongly agreed or agreed ‘I would consider myself to be someone who gives to charity often’ but they are much more likely to have given to charities outside of the cultural sector and even within it they are more likely to have given, in virtually every way, from a one off donation to legacy to ‘museum, heritage, outdoor or nature-related causes’ than ‘arts related’ causes.

It is also highly unlikely someone will just give to the arts or museums. By far the largest groups are individuals who give to other charities only, arts, museums and other causes or to museums and other causes only.

Gave to Arts

Have you ever supported an organisation or charitable cause?



Gave to Arts only



Gave to Museums only



Gave to other only



Gave to all three



Gave to arts and museums only



Gave to arts and other only



Gave to museums and other only



Gave to none



In the SNC Donor Survey 28% of respondents report they donate to other arts organisations, other than the one they were surveyed about and 32% to heritage organisations locally or nationally supporting this trend of giving across causes. This is further demonstrated in the National Panel Survey as 87% of those who gave to the arts have given to museums and 95% of respondents who have given to the arts or museums have given to another cause. Not surprisingly it is those individuals who think it is very important that individuals support the arts or museums who give to these causes.

National Panel survey respondents were also asked if they had supported arts organisations in different ways. The table suggests that most donors give to one or two organisations especially when it is a legacy or on-going donation although the number who have supported 5 or more organisations with an on-going arts donation suggests that there might have been some switching in the past.






Currently support an arts organisation with an on-going donation






Ever supported with an on-going arts donation






No. of arts organisations supported with fundraising events






No. of arts organisations supported with a legacy






There is clearly potential for more people to give to arts and museums but it would seem that awareness of the charitable status of cultural organisations is low. SNC Donor Survey respondents were much more aware of whether the organisation received ACE funding or was funded in other ways, for example Local Council but only 33% knew the organisation was a charity or not for profit with 51% unsure, however for 40% knowing this, was very or somewhat important in their decision to support the organisation.

These findings illustrate the need to raise awareness of the charitable status of cultural organisations and not to presume that if an individual gives to one cause they will not be interested in supporting other organisations.

How do donors give?

The majority of donations are transaction-related with the highest yielding campaigns being seat and capital related. Research finding reveal that:

  • Seat-related campaigns appeal almost exclusively to members and retained bookers, and so share members’ characteristics - high yield/booker and frequency but lowest yield/ticket (due to discounts). Somewhat surprisingly in the SNC Donor Survey 88% of respondents had supported a seat campaign and from SNC Box Office analysis bookers’ these were more likely to be categorised as Commuterland Culturebuffs and Dormitory Dependable segments.
  • Not all donors also book tickets - in the SNC Box Office analysis 81% of donors to the seat campaigns book tickets, 68% of donors to the capital appeal and 50% for those who gave unrestricted funds.
  • Three quarters of donors had given to capital campaigns but they do not give as frequently due to these campaigns occurring less often.
  • Bookers also donate through donation boxes. Three quarters had done so and 24% had done so at least 4 times at the organisation with comments revealing that some donors like the flexibility of this type of giving over monthly planned giving (for example).
  • The SNC Box Office analysis of new bookers suggests they are more likely to make transactional donations and to have the highest yield/ ticket but the lowest frequency of booking, so they might book and donate on their first visit but then not return.
  • In contrast at least 75% of respondents to the SNC Donor Survey have also donated when purchasing tickets online, 86% when booking in person or by telephone with around 15% doing so at least four times and a quarter strongly agree they would do so again in the future, irrespective of booking method.

What we have learnt about donors

  1. Donors appear to be more engaged with the arts and more eclectic in their tastes - with more booking across two or more venues in a single year, or over a three year period.
  2. Many donors also support a range of different non-arts charitable causes, limiting therefore the number of people who are likely to give. Shifting the balance of their giving towards arts organisations could be helped by highlighting arts organisations’ charitable status.
  3. Current awareness of how to support either the organisation they were surveyed about or other organisations they attend is low. Less than two thirds of respondents feel well or somewhat informed about how to give to arts organisations.
  4. Organisations need to consider the return on investment (ROI) of different fundraising campaigns and methods of giving and the make-up of their audiences. Within an organisation’s audience base there is likely to be a proportion of Metroculturals, Commuterland Culturebuffs and Dormitory Dependables.
  5. Transactional donations at the point of purchase might yield less per booker but are not resource intensive, capture gift aid data and appeal to both new and longer term bookers.
  6. Seat/capital campaigns yield more but are resource intensive, time limited and are probably best targeted at members.