One of the great things about fundraising for cultural organizations is that there really is no defined group of possible prospects. With healthcare and higher-education institutions, your primary group of prospects is alumni and patients. The primary group for cultural organizations is simply anyone who loves the arts.
The first place I would start is looking at docents and other key volunteers for your organization. In most cases they may not be those with money but they may know those that do and can assist in helping you get that meeting. Setting peer screening as one of the components or expectations is key. This way these highly connected individuals know this is a part of their duty. Be sure not to let them know they are not responsible for fundraising, but simply being a “door opener”.
There has been a long debate as to whether arts organizations should look at membership and/or ticket sales as philanthropic dollars. I think one of the parameters could be around years of consecutive membership/ticket sales. While passion is one of the key variables in a major gift prospect there is also wealth. You can even take into consideration the level of membership or ticket prices. Both are indicators of discretionary income.
While events are costly, they are a necessity for most cultural organizations. It is important then to make these events extremely appealing and unique. Find ways that may differentiate you from other like organizations in our area. For theatres, you can create highly popular events around the actors/stars in the show. This is a time to develop close bonds with marketing and other areas within the organization. Publicity is important for not only the theatre, but the performer is also looking to promote themselves as well. To ensure you get the right individuals to attend, use your predictive modeling data and/or wealth screening data to create not only invitations to be sent, but also a phone calling list.
I was recently at a museum and the people in charge of taking tickets were obviously well versed in helping identify prospects. I was greatly impressed by not only their interaction but the way they interacted with me. While they are not gift officers, they can assist in data mining or prospecting the attendees.
If you are creating ways for people outside of the fundraising department to help prospect for you, be sure to find ways of including them in the success and reaching out in creative ways to thank them for their assistance. Let them know that not only the exhibit or performance can help assist in finding future donors but the experience the public has with anyone at the institution can be a vital in determining who will be their next major gift donor!