Ask Me Anything: Retention Goals

October 01, 2018

“Our returning patron numbers have been pretty low for the past few years. What’s the best—and quickest—way to bring those numbers up?


I’m sorry to hear that your retention rates aren’t where you’d like them to be. It’s easy to dismiss lost patrons as having moved, died, or become generally disinterested in the work your organization does now. While those might be the reasons for a portion of the missing, it’s probably not the case for everyone.

Our overall advice would be to break retention down into more manageable goals than something like “to achieve a 30% return rate.” Once you have those laid out; it’s much easier to come up with the strategy. We’d suggest splitting your retention goals into something similar to the grid below:

STB – One Time 20% 30%
Multi-STB 40% 60%
Subscriber 80% 90%


The percentages are just examples, but can help guide which groups of behaviors need more or less effort. If we use the table above as our guide we have a lot of work to do to make sure people who subscribed for the first time this year return next year. What messages and incentives would be effective? Similarly, the new STBs who only attended one performance this year, our efforts might not need to be so complicated.

These benchmarks can also help you decide where the best place to put effort is throughout the year. If I have a great subscriber retention rate, but only 10% of my Multi-STBs from the previous year have shown up, I know I really need to reach out to them to make up the difference in the overall retention.

To sum up, the best way to increase retention is to segment your audience into distinct behaviors so that your messaging to influence year on year return rates can be tailored and specific.


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.