The Bay Area Children’s Theatre (BACT) in Oakland, California was founded in 2004 by five arts educators who wanted to help children and adults cultivate a lifelong appreciation for live theatre. As is the case for most nonprofits, keeping overhead costs low while using every available resource efficiently was one of BACT’s top concerns. At the same time, effectively handling the needs of 54,000 constituents, including theatre patrons, volunteers, donors and students, was necessary to ensure the organization also achieved its primary goal: delivering the highest-quality educational classes and theatre performances.
It was difficult to achieve this under the management system BACT was using prior to implementing new software; to succeed, it needed to centralize its records and automate common administrative tasks.
Consolidated constituent data using a single, accessible database
Reduced overhead costs by bringing ticketing in-house
Eliminated manual data entry through self-service registration process
Jim Meehan has volunteered with BACT since its inception, fulfilling the IT manager role alongside his day job as a manager for a computer and network security company. Meehan’s wife, Nina Meehan, is one of BACT’s founding members and its executive director, so he was especially willing to lend his professional knowledge to help BACT locate and configure a software system to handle its operational requirements.
In BACT’s early days, staff tracked constituent data manually, using spreadsheets. Meehan says that this was a suitable method while the organization established itself, but that data was sometimes dropped or improperly recorded. Perhaps more importantly, this method wouldn’t scale easily as the number of constituent records and operational demands grew.
“[Another] problem with spreadsheets is that they’re created by one person and it’s their system. If that person leaves the organization, there’s a chance other employees won’t be able to understand it,” says Meehan. Moreover, the information was only accessible for the person maintaining the spreadsheet, as shared spreadsheets didn’t exist at the time.
Aware of the limitations of handling data in this manner, BACT staff knew it was a short-term solution. To meet their goal of producing high-quality programs and performances, a better system was needed to accurately track constituent data.
In 2007, Meehan went to work searching for a dependable system all staff members could use. First, he created a shortlist of criteria for evaluating constituent relationship management (CRM) systems, which included:
Meehan evaluated three CRM solutions and felt that CiviCRM was the most complete; unlike the other two systems, it had a large and active development community, and new updates were released regularly. Furthermore, all of the basic functionality BACT needed was available “out-of-the-box,” though it could also be configured to support more processes as operations expanded.
Two of CiviCRM’s many benefits—affordability and easy deployment—were recognized during implementation. Meehan completed the initial implementation himself in about a day, meaning BACT didn’t have to increase its overhead by paying an outside developer to do the job. And since the software was fully rolled out, BACT has continued to realize additional advantages.
Another of these benefits is improved constituent engagement. BACT staff has found that CiviCRM’s advanced search and filtering features makes it easy to compile contact lists based on very specific criteria, which then enables them to achieve high response rates on targeted email messages to patrons and donors.
For example, BACT offers an annual subscription called the Flex Pass. The Flex Pass allows patrons to purchase tickets for season performances in advance, then choose the dates on which they would like to attend performances at a later time.
As a given season progresses, CiviCRM’s reporting and analytics capabilities allow staff to generate a report to find all patrons who purchased the Flex Pass subscription, then filter it further to find whom amongst those patrons have not attended any performances. Staff members then contact those patrons to remind them to select which performances they want to attend, so that patrons receive the full value of their purchase—thus making them more satisfied constituents.
Report showing a patron’s performance attendance and other activities
Similarly, BACT’s marketing staff can use CiviCRM’s database search and filtering capabilities for prospecting. For instance, they can search for contacts who attended every performance in the last year. As those patrons are highly engaged and probably willing to make a donation, staff could expect a high response rate for such a campaign.
Until adopting CiviCRM, BACT relied on a third-party service to handle ticket sales for its audience base of 50,000, which charged a fee of about $1 per ticket sold. Furthermore, the ticketing service didn’t collect attendance history for individual patrons or any other in-depth information, so BACT had critical gaps in its data.
By using the software to move the management of ticket sales in-house, BACT reduced a significant chunk of its annual overhead costs and was able to gather more complete constituent data.
“Summary data helps us to understand where to target marketing efforts and ... which programs to develop to serve our audience better,” says Meehan.
Without data to analyze, BACT had few good insights about its patrons as a group. So the organization deployed CiviCRM for ticket sales—which made it possible for patrons to purchase tickets online and offline directly from BACT. And all that valuable data patrons enter during the purchasing process is now recorded in the central database, where it’s easily accessible and ready to analyze.
Ticket purchasing interface in the administrative dashboard
In 2012, BACT realized that its growth demanded an upgrade to its seating model—which meant its software needed to be upgraded accordingly. Staff had been using CiviCRM's built-in event registration module to provide general-admission seating, but decided a reserved seating model would give their most engaged patrons better value.
In order to transition to the reserved seating model, the event registration module had to support custom seat maps—but because CiviCRM is open-source software, it was relatively simple for BACT to build this functionality and integrate it within the system, contracting the work to a skilled development team. (This is something that would likely not have been possible, had BACT chosen a proprietary software solution instead of an open-source program.)
This was a substantial upfront cost, but in the long run, Meehan decided “it was best to put revenue back into [CiviCRM]—the system that supported the organization.”
The reservation seating model, custom-developed for integration with CiviCRM, which allows patrons to choose from available seats
Besides the substantial long-term cost savings, CiviCRM integrated seamlessly with BACT’s Drupal-powered website, which meant patrons could select seats and purchase tickets right on BACT’s website.
“The website and ticket purchasing interfaces now have a consistent look and feel, which was difficult to achieve with the external ticketing service,” says Meehan.
BACT’s Youth Education Program (YEP), which delivers performance-based classes to children and culminates in a live production, has also benefited from the improvements spurred by CiviCRM: Many hours of related data entry were eliminated.
“CiviCRM took much of the administrative work out of the hands of YEP staff so they could focus on the content and delivery of the program itself, rather than the paperwork,” says Meehan.
For example, BACT's first classes were offered through park districts. Registration information was collected over the phone, and class rosters were given to instructors as printouts or spreadsheets. Student emergency contact information was then collected separately using paper forms. The process took time, and it wasn’t always easy for instructors to track down necessary information from disparate binders and folders.
CiviCRM completely transformed the registration process. It can now be done entirely online: Students’ guardians supply their personal data and contact information themselves by completing a form on BACT’s website, where they can also pay registration fees.
Class roster used by YEP instructors
“We started using CiviCRM for class registration about five years ago, when YEP grew beyond the original park district offering. Now, we can collect all student data online during registration, and instructors have instant access to it,” says Meehan.
Having student data on hand has released instructors from having to physically search for information—such as emergency contact data—when they need it. And because BACT staff doesn’t have to manually enter the data themselves after collecting it over the phone, they’ve freed up many hours to focus on improving the quality of the YEP program itself.
CiviCRM does not distribute or manage advertising campaigns on online or social platforms, but the software’s extensive filtering capabilities have been largely responsible for a dramatic increase in click-through rates (CTRs) in BACT’s Facebook and Google ads.
Meehan explains that BACT can extract constituent data to find the most engaged patrons, then analyze it to uncover demographic trends. That knowledge is then used to target ads to users with similar demographics.
One of BACT’s successful Facebook ads
“The average CTR on Facebook is around .1 percent.* For BACT campaigns that advertise upcoming performances, ads are targeted to an audience similar to those we’ve identified as ‘highly engaged.’ CTR for those ads average 1.5 percent, which is well above the average,” says Meehan.
Meehan is confident that if the BACT’s needs change down the road, he’ll be able to build new functionality into CiviCRM so that it can continue to support the organization’s processes.
“CiviCRM is BACT’s dashboard for reviewing the health of performances, programs and marketing,” he explains.
Thanks to the software’s reporting features, it’s now possible for BACT staff to review sales numbers across performances at a glance, so that marketing can be dialed up or down as needed when numbers fall below or exceed goals. In BACT’s educational programs, staff used the data to determine when to add or drop classes.
“CiviCRM has served BACT’s needs very well and will continue to do so. As BACT’s programs evolve, I know we can also customize the system to adapt to those changes,” says Meehan.
Software Advice has no financial relationship with CiviCRM.