Theatre Bay Area – Challenge Semi-Finalist

Attendees of the 2013 Theatre Bay Area conference during a breakout session.
Attendees of the 2013 Theatre Bay Area conference during a breakout session.

Our adaptive challenge

Because individual membership in our organization is down, Theatre Bay Area (TBA) will effectively communicate the value we provide to the community and build engagement in our work by focusing our messaging on the overall health of the theatre and dance ecosystem. We will also enlist individuals in our community as impassioned participants in our cause and joint owners in our work through the implementation of the public radio model of membership.

Why it is important that our organization address this challenge, and why now?

Our individual members are the lifeblood of our organization. Buy-in from our community is what gives us credibility and allows us to do the work we do. A decrease in active participation and membership is a serious blow to us in terms of stature, revenue and relevance and lends urgency to this need for change. Shifting the focus of membership from transactional to a cause-based commitment, connected to a strong sense of value and ownership is essential to our sustainability as a service and leadership organization.

What are the foundational assumptions that have reliably predicted success in the past that we are now questioning?

  1. That the best business model for service organizations like ours is based on annual memberships.
  2. That promoting and selling traditional membership, based on a transactional exchange of money for service, is the best way to engage individuals in our work and create a networked community.
  3. That performing arts practitioners here in the Bay Area understand the work we do and the value we provide to the health of the theatre and dance ecosystem as a whole.
  4. That our membership reflects our regional theatre and dance community.

What is the evidence that is causing us to question our assumptions?

  1. Across the country, arts service organizations are finding the membership model is no longer working.
  2. Here at TBA, our individual membership has been on the decline over the last several years despite increased profile and significant program achievements. Individual members consistently “graduate” out of membership when they no longer need the specific direct benefit for which they used to pay.
  3. Anecdotal evidence and attrition of members indicates that there is a lack of understanding about the value TBA provides to the community, beyond direct personal and tangible benefits.
  4. Recent studies and surveys have shown that our current members do not reflect the diversity of the overall theatre community in the Bay Area.

What are the bold new directions we are imagining for our organization?

We are interested in exploring the viability of the public radio model of support to replace our current individual membership structure, including member drives twice a year; we would do this by asking individuals to join at any level they can afford (pay-what-you-can) and offering access to customizable pay options (automatic monthly payments, etc.). We are also interested in exploring an overall change in how we communicate our value and promote association with TBA, by changing materials and language to reflect increased community value, joint ownership and higher purpose. We are interested in the idea of individual members joining and increasing engagement because they believe in the work and mission of TBA – not because they get “x” in exchange for “y.”

Our vision of success

Our vision of success involves having a strong base of active supporters and advocates for the work of Theatre Bay Area; not just customers or members, but true believers in the mission and impact of our organization.

Speakers at the 2013 Theatre Bay Area conference.
Founded in 1976, Theatre Bay Area is the largest regional theatre service organization in North America, serving theatre artists and companies with programs such as our general and regional auditions, annual conference, granting programs, and career building workshops. TBA builds consensus around the idea that the performing arts are critical to a democratic society.