The following is a conversation between Aubrey Bergauer, author of  Run It Like a Business: Strategies for Arts Organizations to Increase Audiences, Remain Relevant, and Multiply Money Without Losing the Art, and Denver Frederick, the Host of The Business of Giving.

Denver: Aubrey Bergauer is a trailblazer in the classical music world, known for her innovative approaches to arts administration. As a former Executive Director of the California Symphony, Aubrey achieved remarkable success in growing audiences and fundraising.

She’s the author of the new book, Run It Like a Business: Strategies for Arts Organizations to Increase Audiences, Remain Relevant, and Multiply Money Without Losing the Art. She is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Changing the Narrative where she continues to be a leading voice in transforming the arts industry. Welcome to The Business of Giving, Aubrey.

Aubrey Bergauer, author of Run It Like a Business: Strategies for Arts Organizations to Increase Audiences, Remain Relevant, and Multiply Money Without Losing the Art

Aubrey: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Denver: So, you started as a tuba player, but then said, Okay, time to move over here to arts administration. How has that diverse experience shaped your approach to the arts industry and challenged some of its stereotypes?

Aubrey: Yeah, I mean, nobody can see me if you’re listening to the podcast, but talking about challenging stereotypes, I don’t look like a tuba player, says everybody who’s ever met me.

So, I think this idea of breaking stereotypes really tracks for me. But to get into it, it was in high school, playing in my hometown youth orchestra, and they went through an executive director change, and it was enough to be on the periphery as, you know, a sophomore in high school saying, “Oh my gosh, there’s a job that manages this.”

And for me, that was the light bulb moment of “That’s the job I want.” And so, on and on, as you know, throughout college and then eventually starting the career…I  have a degree in music performance, but a degree in business as well, knowing that I wanted to do the business side of arts and culture. And my first job was in fundraising at the Seattle Symphony.

Went on to marketing at Seattle Opera and just through there, the career progressed. And anytime I’ve had success, I think it has been by challenging the stereotypes of the industry or challenging the tropes of: This is how it’s been done, and really thinking like, “Why is that?”  And sometimes, there’s great reasons why.

And then sometimes, it’s thinking, “Okay, is there a better way? Is there a way to optimize?” And really taking inspiration often from outside of nonprofit and definitely outside the arts to figure out, “Well, what if we try this? What if we do that?” And I think that form of experimentation and iteration, in conjunction with challenging the way it’s been done, is a real throughway for my work to this day.

Denver: Yeah, that’s great. Just questioning those assumptions, which we never do. And as you just said, sometimes they make sense, but more times  than not…nobody can figure out why it’s that way. Do you miss carrying the tuba around?

Aubrey: Not at all.

“It’s a false dichotomy to think we have to choose one or the other. And in fact, I would say: it’s just the opposite. One begets the other. When we do better serve our community, our audience, and really center the customer and community we serve, that then brings in the money we need to fund the art.”

Denver: I didn’t think so. Let me ask you a little bit about balance. You know, I talk to a lot of people, and they’re always talking about trying to balance the short term, you know, immediately helping people with systemic change. In this particular case, let’s really talk about trying to balance artistic integrity with the business needs. How do you think about that? How do you advise your clients?

Aubrey: I love this question because so many people think that these things are mutually exclusive. “Do we serve the art, or do we serve the community?” As a version of that question, I get a lot, “Do we serve the art, or do we run a business?” And kind of the thesis for my whole book is that this is not a mutually-exclusive choice.

It’s a false dichotomy to think we have to choose one or the other. And in fact, I would say it’s just the opposite. One begets the other. When we do better serve our community, our audience, and really center the customer and community we serve, that then brings in the money we need to fund the art.

And that’s where we really start to get into this idea of: it’s a business. Like, yes, we do have a mission as every nonprofit, of course. And serving that community, serving that audience is the pipeline then for earned income through ticket sales, eventually contributed income through donations.

And, again, that’s what serves funding for the art we produce itself. So, one begets the other, not a mutually exclusive question.

Denver: Absolutely. So, you walk into the California Symphony, and it has had some notable challenges. You know, one of the things that we all are challenged with is: Where do you begin? How do you prioritize? I mean, you’re overwhelmed, but one needs to take a step back, I’m sure, and then say, Okay, this is what we’re going to do. What did you do?

Aubrey: Oh, Denver. You’re bringing me back. Okay, so this actually gets right at your last question, too, like short term versus long term. How do we start prioritizing both of these things because we obviously have immediate needs for any nonprofit institution.

So, I remember, I knew there were financial challenges. The board was transparent about that, but I didn’t know quite how bad, and I think this is a story that a lot of executive directors can resonate with.

Denver: Oh, absolutely.

Aubrey: I’ve heard versions of it so many times. Once you get in there, you really understand, “Okay. Yeah. It’s even worse than maybe even than they knew. I’m not sure.” So, I remember getting there, and it was so bad. It was like how-are-we-going-to-make-payroll-at-the-end-of-the-month-type bad.

So, I’m doing, you know, these first couple weeks on the job, what every new ED probably does. I’m meeting with our biggest donors, trying to get face time with as many board members as I can. And I remember the biggest donor of the organization… you know, she’s talking about,” I don’t want to be the piggy bank. I don’t want to be the one that’s saving you guys with checks all the time.” Like that kind of conversation.

And in passing, she had mentioned, “You know, I really meant for that last gift to be a matching challenge.” And I was like, my ears totally perked up. I was like, “You want a matching challenge? We can do a matching challenge.” And she goes, “Really? Let’s start all over again. You raise a hundred thousand dollars, I’ll match it.”

And so, that was just a real example of maybe some luck, but also I think in the moment, with a donor who clearly cared about the organization, was honest, that she didn’t want to be treated like a piggy bank, and also just being sensitive to hearing what she wanted. She wanted to inspire others to give. And I said, Okay.

So, I remember, like I said, it was my first or second week, and I’m writing the appeal letter to get it out the door by Friday because we need cash, and we need it now. So, you know, it’s that kind of thing. And there’s all kinds of research about the effectiveness of matching challenges.

I’m sure this audience knows well, like they really are effective. And so, for us, that was a short-term win of like, Okay, great! Raise a hundred grand, got the match. So, suddenly we had some cash in the bank to really start taking care of some of the immediate needs of the organization.

And then from there, that gave us, I mean, not this longest runway in the universe, but at least you know, wasn’t losing sleep over how to make payroll at the end of the month. And so then, that allowed me to start thinking like, Okay, now we need the audience retention plan.

And, it was just after that, I think my first month or two at the organization, where I was really putting pen to paper on what I’ve become known for, which is what I call the long-haul model of: Okay, what do we do when somebody’s a first-time attendee at the orchestra?

How do we get them to come back again? How do we get them to then subscribe? How do we then get them to become low-level annual fund donor, and then on and on and on, up this engagement and loyalty ladder? So, anyways, like I said, you’re taking me back because all of these things, short term and long term, were happening within my first 30 days as executive director.

Denver: Yeah. Yeah. You know, it’s just so important to listen the way you did because very often, these parenthetical expressions, like, “I want that to be a matching gift,” which are game changers. And it wasn’t really essential for the conversation, but we sometimes just forget them, you know, and then say, ” Whoa, whoa, whoa. Stop for a moment. What do you mean?” And it just changes the trajectory of where you’re going and what you did.

Aubrey: Yeah. I think there’s such a lesson in there of just, you know, anytime any of us are meeting with a major donor to be listening for these one-offs because not always is a major donor so clear …and like sometimes they are very clear and candid on what they want to support.

But, yeah, in this case, it was totally like a one-off sidebar kind of comment. And I was like, Wait a second! Pause, pause, pause. You know, like, let’s go back to that.

Denver: Yeah. Well, take us through a little bit more about audience engagement, again, with the organizations you’re working with, what you did at California Symphony, but what are your strategies to do that? I mean, you really gave us a nice little moves management roadmap there, but talk more about it because it is so important.

Aubrey: Yeah. So, I think, I mean, hopefully anybody listening has heard a version of this, whether you work in arts and culture or another corner of the nonprofit sector. We say often, you know: We need new audiences… We need younger audiences. And what I realized is it’s not that that’s not true, but it’s that we are actually very good at getting people to come once.

And where we struggle is getting them to come back again. And you can’t have a moves management journey unless you get people to come back again to move. And so, that’s called retention, would be another word to put to it.

Denver: Yeah.

Aubrey: And so, the statistic for classical music at least is that up to 90% of first-time attendees never come back. 90%. And I’ll give two other big sort of big drop-off inflection points for first-year subscribers– season ticket holders, that data point is 50% don’t renew.

Okay. Well, we know in arts and culture, if you are a season subscriber, that is the biggest indicator of future donor potential. And so, to have 50% of first-year subscribers then drop off, that’s a real red flag.

And then the third data point I want to offer comes from AFP, Association of Fundraising Professionals, and of course, I’m sure so many listeners know this stat, but  of first-time donors, it’s up to 81% do not renew.

And these are just, you know, 90% don’t return, 50% don’t renew their season tickets, 81% aren’t renewing their gift. And it’s like, these are just such alarming drop-off points. And that was all very clear to me long before I was even executive director thinking, “No, if we start addressing those three stats alone, if we move the needle toward more retention, I’m like, that is major, major money to our bottom line.

So, that became a real focus of my work and all kinds of jobs leading up to the executive director role. And so, that’s when I said I’d put pen to paper on a retention plan and journey… you called it moves management, of course. And what I found were a couple things.

One is, we upsell too much, too soon. This tends to be true across all of nonprofit, not just arts and culture, but it’s often: You came once, you’re a first-time buyer, and suddenly, we’re inviting them to buy a season ticket package, come to the gala, make a gift, and it’s like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. They just came once.”

Denver: And put us in your will.

Aubrey: And put us in your will. Yeah. And so, they just came once, and it’s like, Okay, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. And, that we learned was a big turnoff to a lot of those people. And in addition to some elements of the experience and trying to develop, this now gets into some user experience research where it turns out they were very intimidated, felt unwelcome.

All these things that are really negative emotions associated with the experience we’re trying to provide. So, between those two things of addressing the experience piece, both online and on-site at our venues, and then also working on a more disciplined approach. I mean, I am all for making money.I want everybody to know that about me. It’s the subtitle of the whole book, but this has now got back to the short term versus long term question. 

I realized if we focus on one next step and one next step only: You came once… this is called behavioral repetition. You came once; we just want you to repeat the same behavior, which is: come back again.

If we can get people to just come back a second time, or if the first behavior is made a gift, we can just get you to renew that gift, not buy the season ticket package, not buy the gala table, or you know. Whatever that first step is: repeat the same behavior.

And that then sets that person up on a track of so much more engagement, lifetime value, loyalty, renewals, all these words we love to hear. And so, to wrap this up, it takes some discipline. It takes knowing your data and your CRM to be able to say: these are the different segments we have.

These are those next steps… we’re going to offer them the communications we’re going to offer them, and we’re not going to offer them anything outside of what that next step is for that person. And getting really savvy with our data and being able to have that targeted communication plan made tons of difference.

And I call it the long-haul model. But the reality is, in that first year at the California Symphony, we increased ticket sales by 14%. Over five years, it doubled. So, 14% in year one was already towards our bottom line, big, big dollars. And then, on the donation side, over the five years, we ended up nearly quadrupling the donor base.

Denver: Wow.

Aubrey: So, I’d say it’s long-term, long-haul, but it really, really starts with gains in year one, which is hopefully music to everybody’s ears, because we need the short-term revenue, too. Of course, we do.

Denver: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, a lot of what you said there too, and it’s such great advice, is focusing on retention. Now, I don’t know whether I should be blaming direct-mail organizations or whatever, but there just seems to be so much more excitement in acquiring new donors than retaining the donors we have, and it is absolutely perverse, but it is almost ubiquitous.

Aubrey: That is such an astute observation and comment because you’re right. It is sort of ubiquitous, and it’s really bizarre because when I talk about this, I talk about, you know: What metrics are we using? And what are the right metrics versus the “wrong metrics” or just not serving-us-well metrics?

And this idea of: How big is the mailing list? is like the number one wrong metric in my opinion. I think also, it’s expensive. Everybody’s trying to figure out: How do we save money?  And like, how do we manage our expenses? And I will be the first to say there’s not a lot of places we can cut at a nonprofit. We’re already so, so lean, but direct mail is one area where often we can cut.

I’m a fan of direct mail. I’m a fan of multi-channel communication. So, I believe in its power, especially again when part of a multi-channel campaign. But this idea we’ve got to like: spray and pray to everybody is so not effective.

And so, what happens is when we do get more focused on who are we mailing to and feel very purposeful about that, intentional about that, not only are we saving money because we’re not mailing to 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, however big the list is, right?

We’re saving money by doing that, but the response rate’s higher. So, when we talk about metrics, that’s the better metric, I believe. What was the response rate on that last mailing? And, you know, when it’s a fraction of a percent, that’s a red flag that that mailing went to too wide of an audience probably.

So, yeah, I love talking about this because I think it is an area where we can save a little bit of money.

Denver: Yeah, yeah. And make a little bit of money as well.

Aubrey: And make a little bit of money. Yeah.

Denver: Yeah, we like that. Are there any new economic models out there? You’re a great innovator. You know, we know about some of the meat and potatoes, but as we take a look at ticket sales and philanthropy and just some of the new models that arts organizations may be considering for sustainability and growth, what’s going on?

Aubrey: I have been really nerdy, deep-diving into the membership economy.

Denver: I love that.

Aubrey: This applies definitely to tickets. It applies also to donations for sure. So, the membership economy, subscription economy, definitely in arts and culture, well, I’ll start with the facts. We know subscriptions are on the decline across any artistic discipline, and that’s been the case for years; that precedes COVID, and COVID accelerated that.

And so, now, arts and culture is at this real kind of dramatic place where subscriptions are down so much. It is really fundamentally hurting the business model. And some people even say the subscription model is dead.

And, I just thought, “Why is the subscription model thriving everywhere else?” Netflix, Amazon, you name it. I have a whole chapter about this where I’m introducing the idea of membership economy– that I order my dog’s dog food on subscription, right? Like we can get literally anything delivered to our door on subscription, and services, same way. Any product they buy online seems to be a subscription these days, or a membership.

And so, I just thought these two things to me don’t make sense. How can we be saying it’s dead in one industry, and in every other industry, it’s thriving? So, I went on a super nerdy deep-dive trying to learn about this and kind of figure out why is this happening. And I learned there are a couple big things that we do differently in nonprofit land than some of our for-profit counterparts.

And so just to share one, and then we can unpack more if you want, but one that hopefully will be helpful to everybody listening is talking about the business model, the way we solicit. This is both season tickets, subscriptions, and gifts… so the way we solicit is: what do we do? Annual gift, you make your gift, and then we opt out everybody for them and say, “Would you like to renew?”

Every other brand, it’s not like that. Netflix does not ask me if I want to be charged again next month, right? They do it automatically. And so, really to me, that one change, I thought, right. We opt out everybody for them. So, that was kind of percolating in my brain. I started looking at more into: how do these companies get somebody in.

Does that mean we have to change everything to monthly giving? No, but I do think there’s a real case and the data’s there for monthly giving. So, that’s kind of a new one for me where I used to think it was an option or a channel or an approach we could use. And, now, I think, “Ooh, for new donors, I’m pretty into it.”

But even for everybody who wants to stay on annual renewal, that’s okay too. But I thought, what if we did move to some version of they have to opt out, not we opt out for them. So, that for me, I don’t know, maybe it sounds so unsexy to talk about this, like, really, we’re just going to charge their card again?And that’s your recommendation, Aubrey?  But, yeah, it actually is, and there’s ways to message that and all, of course.

Denver: I’m definitely going to ask you for one more, but I think that makes an awful lot of sense. I mean, one great example of that, although I can’t remember the stats, are organ donations.

So, when you look at organ donations, you need to opt in. And we have, again, I don’t remember the stats, but let’s say, it’s single digits of people who opt in for an organ donation. In Australia, they changed it on your license, and you had to opt out, and they have exactly the same results, but the opposite… 90%, you know, do it, and very few people opt out.

So, when you basically just have a default, people either just don’t want to change it or are too lazy or don’t think about it, but you change the default, and you change the game.

Aubrey: Fundamentally, I mean, that is a great example. Yeah. And so, I think,  there’s ways to communicate this, of course. I’m not saying we’re like baiting and switching anybody, or like secretly: “Haha, you’re going to give again next year whether you want to or not.”

That is not what I’m prescribing here. I definitely am a fan of open and honest communication. But yeah, you’re right. There’s just when you change the default, it really is a game changer.

Denver: Yeah. Yeah. And I think you make a good point about nonprofits because, you know, the number of people who are giving to nonprofits has really dropped dramatically, and it’s below 50%. And part of that is the tough economy. But then, I say to myself, being the cynic that I am, the economy ain’t that tough. They’re buying enough.

Aubrey: That’s what I was going to say, yeah.

Denver: They’re applying to Netflix and 16 other streaming services. It’s not that at all. There’s something else at play.

Aubrey: Hundred percent, I agree with that. Yeah.

Denver: Talk a little bit about accessibility and community engagement. You know, when we think of classical music, you have in your mind, you know, an archetype.

Aubrey: Let’s hear it. Yeah.

Denver: You know what it is. It’s a little exclusive. What do you suggest in terms of making it more accessible and engaging more diverse audiences?

Aubrey: Yeah. I really appreciate that question because going back to stereotypes, these stereotypes exist for a reason, and the reason is that they’re largely true. I’m not here to throw shade on my industry or anything like that, but I say this because I’ve heard it in user experience research. And then I briefly mentioned UX research before, but I would say, actually going to new audiences and hearing about their experience… literally is the definition of user experience research… fundamentally changed how I think about developing audiences forevermore.

So, to share a little bit about this, I repeated this now with several different clients, but the first time I did this was 2015, I believe, so almost 10 years ago. And I was running the orchestra, and we put out the call for people who “should go to the symphony, but for whatever reason, don’t.”

We said, If you are a grown adult with expendable income, you’re culturally aware; you frequent other live entertainment options… educated, you know, all these things that really kind of fit the profile of “somebody who should attend,” but you don’t, for whatever reason.

If that’s you, we want to hear from you. And sure enough, putting out that call, we had several people respond and say, Yeah, I want to help you. So, the deal was they had to have one concert in particular that was a shared experience. They could come to as many in the season as they wanted for the price of $5 each.

This was not about making money, this was about research, but we wanted them to go through the ticket path. So, we said: We’ve got to charge something, so that’s part of your experience, choosing which concerts to attend, going through that ticket path, what was that part that’s part of the experience. What was that like?

Okay, so basement price of $5 and one concert in particular that was required just so they had a shared experience. So, we get to the discussion group, and we hear things like, “Wow, your website reads like inside baseball.” Okay, tell me more. And they said, “There is so much technical language and jargon.”

Okay. Right. And, you know, here I am in San Francisco, next door to Silicon Valley, I’m used to technical language and jargon, meaning tech industry. And they’re like, no, no, no. We’re talking about your orchestra here… so much technical language and jargon. It turns out, you know, we get into it, we dig deeper.

They’re like, “We don’t know what this program is, just by a listing of composer names. That means basically nothing to us.” And somebody put it this way, “I want to know: Is this a romantic comedy or is this a tragedy?” I’m like, “Oh, right, okay.” And so, they were like, “By composer name alone, we can’t tell that.”

And almost every orchestra website you go to, maybe you all listening have experienced this yourself: You go to a website, and what is it on the page? The program listing this piece by this composer, this piece by that composer. And here’s the soloist, and here’s the conductor. Yeah. And it is inside baseball.

And so, that was one part of it. There’s a whole bunch of other feedback we got about, Wow, there’s a lot of clicks and a lot of steps just to be able to add a seat to my cart. And that’s a whole, you know, same thing can be true for donations when we ask for so many form fields to be filled out and we make it difficult, in other words, for somebody to give us money, and it’s like, no, no, no, no, no.

Research from Yale, Zoe Chance is the professor there behind this research, she says the easier something is to do, the more people will do it. Period. More than surprise and delight, more than loyalty programs, more than any other way, more than price, more than any other way, any of these levers we try to pull to move more people through transactions, whether that’s ticket buying or donations.

She’s like,” Just make it easy,” and that’s what we were hearing in our UX research feedback. So, all of this was even before the concert ever occurred. We have a whole other body of feedback about the performance itself, but it was just so eye-opening to realize grown, educated adults, and these stereotypes that you mentioned, Denver, are true for a reason.

And that is what we were hearing from people. So, I realized, to wrap this up, I was at a crossroads. I could put my head in the sand and say, “No, we’re going to continue to do it the way we do it” or say, “Okay, no, we’ve heard the feedback before us. What can we do to address this feedback?”

And we went on really a copywriting mission, eventually a whole website redesign, but at the beginning there was no money because we didn’t have the budget. It was like, “Okay, what can we do just to change the copy?” Which is now one of my favorite things to recommend because copy changes cost $0 to make.

Denver: Yes, that’s right.

Aubrey: And so, we just went through the website and said, “Okay, what can we do? Let’s talk about what’s interesting about this concert. What makes a concert special? What is the story behind why we programmed this? What was the artistic director thinking?” And we didn’t write long paragraphs. That was another thing. They were like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. We’re millennials. We don’t read.”

Denver: Right, right. “Where are the bullets?”

Aubrey: Exactly. And so, we literally just went to the website. And instead of program listing, we said, bullet, bullet, bullet. Here’s what’s interesting about this concert. And those changes alone, we started seeing such higher click-through rates to the purchase path.

And so, we continued to optimize that over time and as more money allowed, and like I said, eventually a whole website redesign. But anyways, to wrap up and more directly, succinctly answer your question, I now say marketing is education because this idea of accessibility is critical for not just the first timers who come, but it’s a big part of getting those first timers to come back.

Because if they feel intimidated, unwelcome, confused, all these things that are kind of in the bucket of inaccessible, of course, they’re not going to come back. I don’t go back to places I don’t feel welcome either, right, and confused and all that.

Denver: Oh yeah, absolutely. I generally do. I’m unwelcome everywhere, but I say I just have to keep on coming. You know, but it reminds me of a great piece of advice I got from my mother. And I was doing the radio show, and we were talking about social impact bonds.

And, my mother calls me up after the show and she said how good it was and stuff like that, but she says, “You know, you got into social impact bonds a little too quickly.” And she says, “You never want to make your audience feel stupid.”

And that I thought was brilliant, you know, and I think when you look at that site and you feel stupid, you know, you’re just basically saying, “This doesn’t make me feel good about myself. I don’t know who these composers are. I don’t know what this is. I’m getting out of here.”

And I think the other thing is removing the friction in terms of just making it simpler. What happens is that these guys who want the data want this, they want that. They sit around the boardroom: “Oh, it’d be great to have this, it’d be great to have that.” And people begin to say, “Hey, that’s too hard, takes too much time.”

And I have found, particularly with younger people, they don’t want to give that information away because they’re very suspicious that this is a lot of information just to get a ticket, and I don’t feel comfortable in letting go of that.

Aubrey: Yeah, a hundred percent. I think if we just focus on, as you said, like making it easier, and then we work on the renewal portion, the retention portion we already talked about. It’s like, Okay, there is time… like why are we capturing all this data if 81% of those donors never give again? Like, who cares, right?

And so, instead, it’s like: Let’s make this first gift easy; get them on an automatic renewal plan. And then as the engagement increases, then we can figure out what else do we need to capture from them.

“Amazon, for example, they’re not doing streaming on Amazon Prime for their health. They’re streaming on Amazon Prime because they want us to buy more things for two-day delivery. And so, it keeps them top of mind.”

Denver: Good advice. Aubrey, you know, the digital age presents some obstacles and some opportunities, and we have emerging technologies like AR and VR and AI. What’s your thinking about that in terms of the classical musical industry and how they’re adapting to it, what they need to be thinking about going forward?

Aubrey: This is a great question. I get asked a version of this question a lot because I think there is some either fear around it or just really, rightfully so, fear of the unknown. Or, what are we going to do?

And the answer I believe is that, and there’s research behind this too, so I’ll share that in a moment, but digital in any format, whether that’s AR, VR, streaming, you know, things we see on social media, digital content, is not a product substitute.

And I think that often gets confused in the arts, particularly probably because during COVID, we had to do everything digitally. And so, for a while, it was a product substitute because it was the only thing we had. But now, it’s not a product substitute.

And so, to put some of the research behind it, the correct way I believe to think about it, because the research bears it out, is that digital drives the analog. So, meaning, if you experience content digitally, you want the in-person experience.

So, to give some examples, Amazon, for example, they’re not doing streaming on Amazon Prime for their health. They’re streaming on Amazon Prime because they want us to buy more things for two-day delivery. And so, it keeps them top of mind.

Apple does the same thing. They didn’t make Apple TV Plus because they felt like they would make tons of money from it. They made Apple TV Plus because they want us in their ecosystem. They want us buying more computers and phones and Air Pods and all this kind of stuff… and watches. They want us in their ecosystem.

So, digital drives the analog purchase. To give one more, Disney does the same thing. Disney has the parks; Disney has the box office. Disney’s been very public that their streaming and digital content is not a moneymaker for them.

And so, that’s another bit of a nuance, I would say, is a lot of people in the arts are like, “Aubrey, how do we monetize our digital content and our streaming? And I’m like, “Even Disney can’t figure that out.” The strategy isn’t: this is a revenue line for us.

The strategy is: this is the gateway for so many people to come into our wheelhouse and ecosystem, feel more connected to us. Yeah. We are top of mind or more top of mind than we were before and, therefore, it drives the analog experience, the analog purchase.

Denver: Yeah. I can even go back for another example, if I can: that would be baseball. You know, I remember, I’m old enough to remember, you wouldn’t put baseball games on TV because if you put the San Francisco Giants on TV, who would come out to the ballpark?

But if you don’t see the San Francisco Giants on TV, you’re not coming out to the ballpark. You don’t even know what the team is doing. And, that has been the driver to get people in the stands.

Aubrey: Absolutely. Yeah. Sports is a perfect analogy, and sports figured it out a long time before arts and culture. Yeah.

“Because the rigor it takes to become a professional musician is so incredible. The training’s so intense, the hours in the practice room, all those things.”

Denver: Yeah. Yeah. What about the future leaders in terms of a generation of artists and administrators? Boy, that is so vital. What programs or initiatives are trying to get them to make this a career?

Aubrey: I think this is an area that is already changing for the better. So, this is great to touch on this topic because I remember when I was in school, I mentioned at the top, I did a double degree because I didn’t really know of another option to pursue that would meld these interests that I had.

Now, we have all kinds of arts management programs, in particular, masters of arts management programs. There’s more nonprofit management programs out there, some through university, some through other providers of that education. And I say all the time now, we need our offstage talent to match our onstage talent.

So, like I said, this is already changing for the better with some of the programs I just mentioned. But, for example, to become a full-time classical musician in a major symphony orchestra, it’s harder to win one of those jobs than it is to get drafted into the NBA statistically. The supply is so great of exceptional musicians. That’s one reason why the product is so good.

Denver: Probably one reason you became a tuba player.

Aubrey: Oh, that’s another story for another day but yeah.

Denver: The oboe.

Aubrey: Yeah, I know. Everybody says I should’ve played oboe. Anyways, the product is so high. And so, I say all the time, we need our offstage talent to match that artistic talent.

Why is the talent so high? Because the rigor it takes to become a professional musician is so incredible. The training’s so intense, the hours in the practice room, all those things. We, and I’m painting with a very broad brush, don’t have that same kind of rigor and training to become a fundraiser, to become an executive director.

And so, I think, like I said, this is changing because there are more programs out there teaching some of this in the classroom with academic rigor. But to me, I think, this is a big area for just improvement field-wide, for bringing up the new generations of talent.

As you mentioned, I think our work is harder and getting harder. And so, therefore, the training necessary, the need is only increased, is how I feel about that.

Denver: And, to your point, it seems like it’s important to have an alignment between the onstage talent and the offstage talent because when they’re not in an alignment, there’s an imbalance, and that isn’t good for an organization.

Aubrey: Yeah. Absolutely. I think anytime I meet an artist in any discipline who really is thinking beyond just “show up and do the job,” a lot of time, kind of the old school way of musical training would be: you’re trying to do one thing, that’s play your instrument very well, win a job in an orchestra, and then you show up and you play the concerts and the rehearsals, and that’s the job. 

And now, this is another thing that is shifting for the better. But now, more and more, even music programs who are that rigorous professional training, are at least introducing entrepreneurship classes or some sort of business arts, marketing classes or things like that.

That didn’t exist when I was in school. So, I’m really glad to see that change. But anytime I meet an artist who is thinking like, you know, lifting their eyes above just a little bit, that creates that alignment that you’re talking about, of Okay, they see that there’s a whole business happening off stage, and want to be a part of that in some way.

And so, that is always just so gratifying, when I see forward-thinking artists like that.

Denver: I bet. Throughout your career, Aubrey, who have been the greatest inspirations or mentors that have influenced you, both in your leadership and innovation in classical music?

Aubrey: I think I’ve got two answers to this. One has been just a total education through reading. I read a lot. I do an annual book review every year, and I think that really tracks with how I think about the business of nonprofits and the business of arts organizations, just really this whole education. So, so many authors and business authors have been just so formative for me.

But within the industry, I would say Deborah Borda. She recently retired as CEO from the New York Philharmonic. She was at LA Philharmonic for many years before that. And she, in so many ways, broke the glass ceiling for women CEO leaders in arts and culture, and her track record is phenomenal.

She raises so much money. She’s done capital campaigns. So, she’s always somebody that I just look at with so much just respect, admiration.

Denver: Yeah, yeah. I would agree with that. She’s been on the show a couple times, and I remember when she came back to New York, I said, “Hey, you were here, let’s say, 17 years ago or whatever it was. How have things changed?” And she says, “They haven’t changed that much.” She says, “I’ve changed.”

And then she talked about, you know, her evolution and how it’s changed the way she’s leading the New York Philharmonic the second time around, which was a great answer.

Finally, Aubrey, looking ahead to the next decade, what do you see? Classical, where is it headed? And what is your grand vision for the future of classical music and arts organizations?

Aubrey: This is a big question. Well, to start with the current, I think, the industry is at a real inflection point. We talked about how COVID really accelerated some of the challenges in the industry and, I say a lot:  the silver lining of crisis is that there is more of an appetite for change.

And so, I think, we’re at this critical moment, but I have hope because we talked just a moment ago about how strong the product is. And so, fundamentally, I think we’ve got what’s needed to carry the industry forward. Like I said, an exceptional product, exceptional talent.

And so, then to marry this with the longer-term view, I think the opportunity before us is to solve some of these challenges that have been already solved by a lot of other sectors. We talked about subscriptions, memberships, retention, digital content, you know, so many things that other sectors, other industries have already figured out that have been vetted, tested, authenticated.

And those are things that I think when we adapt to what we do in terms of our own business model, there’s so much we can learn from that and apply those strategies. That’s what my whole book is about. And so, I wrote that because I do see a future where arts and culture is accessible, is inviting, is welcoming.

It’s part of the entertainment industry, which is a shift from many decades ago where it was like its own kind of thing. It was part of being like a well-rounded human. Now, it’s part of entertainment, and it’s a choice that consumers make.

And when we adapt to that shift and employ all these strategies we’ve talked about, I see that future because fundamentally, the art is really, really wonderful.

Denver: Yeah, it sure is. I mean, a lot of it is just: get out of your lane because essentially what we do is we just stay in our lane and we learn nothing because we just get the same information over and over. But when you turn on that peripheral vision and get in other people’s lanes and see what they’re doing and then bring it back, it can really be a game changer.

Aubrey: I love that. Yeah. Get out of our lane a little bit or a lot, like I love it. Yeah.

Denver: The book is Run It Like a Business: Strategies for Arts Organizations to Increase Audiences, Remain Relevant, and Multiply Money Without Losing the Art. It is an indispensable guide for cultural leaders. I want to thank you so much for being here today, Aubrey. It was a great delight to have you on the program.

Aubrey: Oh, likewise. The pleasure’s mine. Thank you.

Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Uncertain World, is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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