How An Art House Fundraiser Turned Members and Ticket Buyers into Donors
The Belcourt Theatre, which opened in 1925 as a silent movie house called the Hillsboro Theatre and later became the Nashville Community Playhouse, is now Nashville’s home for the best of independent, documentary, world and repertory film 365 days/year. After multiple owners and a period of steady losses which resulted in the theatre’s closure, a grassroots group called Belcourt YES! formed and reopened the theatre as a nonprofit in 1999. The group later purchased the building in 2007 formalizing the name as Belcourt Theatre Inc. It is the only nonprofit theatre of its kind in Nashville.
The organization’s attendance and cultural and educational programs were growing as the facility was crumbling. With no major work done for over 50 years, the building lacked critical safety and accessibility features, and could no longer accommodate the growing needs of its patrons. Though attendance and membership had increased steadily, the organization had done little to pursue major gifts.
Previously, the organization never had a full-time fundraiser and only generated 25% of its income from small donations, relying on program fees for most of its revenue. That revenue covered operational expenses but didn’t support major renovations. A feasibility study by consulting firm Marts & Lundy led to an ambitious goal of $4.5 million for the campaign.
The Formula: DonorPerfect + Agile Ticketing + DonorSearch
The theatre screened its list of 9,000 members, donors and patrons which it had collected in Agile Ticketing with DonorSearch, and discovered more than half were potential major donors. The screening uncovered a number of connections between Belcourt board members, supports and staff and potential major donors, as well as projected ask amounts. That data was loaded into DonorPerfect to manage. The theatre also rebranded itself to raise awareness of their status as a nonprofit.
Over $2.2 million alone was raised from 50 donors. The theatre began the renovations when it raised 80% of its original goal; the goal was later increased to $5 million. Reconstruction was completed in 2016. The theatre also reinvigorated its sustaining annual giving society, the Hillsboro Society, as a way to recruit and further cultivate new major donors as discovered through extensive research from the capital campaign.
This case study was written by Brooke Bernard, Development Director at Belcourt Theatre.