Ask Me Anything: Mission-Guided Profitable Producing

March 05, 2018

“We’re finding that our attendance and engagement is lagging lately. I know that our hearts are in the right place and the work that we’re presenting on our stages is within the scope of our mission, but what can we do to increase attendance or revenue that won’t be in conflict with what we mean to the community?”


Last week was the annual TEDxBroadway in New York City. This independently organized TED event is a treat for anyone in the arts—especially on the business side—as we get to hear from people from all walks of life within the business as well as those usually onstage or in the audience.

One of my favorite sessions from a past year was Meredith (Max) Hodges, the executive director of The Boston Ballet, who spoke about Making Ambitious Art That’s Profitable (click that link for the 9 minute video of her session). She broke down Dr. Allen Grossman’s “Opportunity Selection Framework” with a simple X/Y axis of mission fulfillment and financial success.

Obviously, the best case scenario is fulfilling your mission while making money and keeping everyone happy. That’s not always going to be the case, no matter what arts organization you represent. What struck me as the most valuable takeaway from this arts-meets-commerce axis is that to begin to analyze what is going on with your organization, you need to have “a clear, consensus understanding of [your] mission.” Yes, you need to have an honest accounting for the finances of whatever you have going on onstage…but if you don’t have a clear goal that everyone is working toward, you’re going to be falling short of either mission fulfillment or full houses…or both.

Max states how this mission consensus helps us do three things:

  1. It helps us know what to do with new opportunities in each of the four quadrants of the mission fulfillment/grosses axis.
  2. This helps us know what to do about existing projects in these four quadrants.
  3. It suggests a portfolio strategy that we can use to build a collection of projects that combine to create a successful arts organization.

So, you need to take an honest assessment of where your organization is right now. Be as agnostic as possible and start with the data, looking at your finances and artistic programming. If you have something that’s working for you, invest in it. Keep those projects that are within your profit/mission goals. Stop doing money-losing/mission-failing work that could be draining your resources and your audience. If you have a project with high gross-potential but it’s not 100% within your mission, consider it (but don’t use a considerable amount of staff time or energy to try and generate it from within), maybe co-producing or presenting a concert or special seminar. And finally: take a risk! If you’ve got projects that are financially successful and on either end of the mission fulfillment spectrum, take a risk with new work. The more you invest in financial success with a clear understanding of your mission, the more room you have to “create sustainable arts organizations that maximize [your] mission fulfillment and succeed financially.”


JCA Arts Marketing collaborates with cultural organizations to increase revenue, boost attendance and membership, and grow patron loyalty. We provide consulting and software services to hundreds of cultural institutions across multiple genres, including dance, museums, opera, performing arts centers, symphony, and theatre. We can help you achieve your marketing goals.