Blue13 Dance Company

Interview between Cecelia Poplin and Matthew Cook, Executive Director, Blue13 Dance Company

M: “My name is Matthew Cook and I am the Executive Director of Blue13 Dance Company. I’m new to this role – been here a couple of months coming from several years as the Executive Director of Pacific Opera Project here is Los Angeles. And at both organizations I was the principle fundraiser. At Pacific Opera Project, we had a team of 12 and various people had different pieces of the fundraising equation, but I was the one mainly running point in terms of donor cultivation and research and that kind of thing.”

C: “Wonderful. Thanks for sharing that. We’d love for you to share a little bit – or as much as you want – about the successes that you’ve had with using DonorSearch at these two organizations, and then also if you can share anything about what led you to bring DonorSearch on to Blue13. So, maybe a starting point could about how you used the screening and that MLR score to help impact your end of year initiative.”

M: “I first brought on DonorSearch to my old organization, Pacific Opera Project, after an underwhelming experience with a competitor software. I noticed DonorSearch immediately impacting our fundraising levels based on how it viewed philanthropy against wealth, against most likely to give. We were instantly able to uncover gems in our patron base of people that wanted to support us but perhaps hadn’t been asked the right question or made the right connection to our work after I could see their history of philanthropy with other organizations. So I met many new friends in our base because of the organization and identifying what else they are interested in. And also, I had a small staff at the old organization and DonorSearch really helped streamline my efforts. Being the principle fundraiser at a very small team, I had to prioritize who I had lunch with, who I could write handwritten letters to and things like that. So, it helped me segment my audience. It helped me segment my patron base to prioritize my next steps throughout the cultivation process. Towards the end of last year, an opportunity kind of fell into our lap to move into our first building. We had been a remote company – an opera company – but we had an opportunity to sign on a ten-year lease for a rehearsal space, five offices, a board room. It was a huge undertaking. And we couldn’t really afford it cashflow-wise or confidence for the future. So, I turned to DonorSearch to see who in our base was most likely to give with the MLR score and I just made huge asks. But I knew that those asks were appropriate because I had proof and confidence that they had given at these levels to other organizations and I made a case that their gift would go much farther with our organization and that by giving to this effort to fund the new building, they would be impacting the arts community in Los Angeles in a much more significant position than how they supported the larger institutions in town. So it gave us a lot of confidence, a lot of direction. And we were able to raise $100 thousand very quickly with this software.”

C: “Thanks so much for sharing that! It’s so great to hear our clients taking advantage of that machine learning experience. That’s what the MLR is all about. So, you had some great successes there which is fantastic. As you’re bringing DonorSearch to Blue13, can you share your thoughts about the strength of DonorSearch solution in the industry?”

M: “Sure. So, I’m just embarking on a new journey to lead a dance company in Los Angeles. This has been around 20 years. It’s a unique performing arts organization because most of their revenue is contributed. They get paid to create art around the country and at theme parks and, you know, various events. So, their philanthropic efforts were not very strong. They didn’t know their base. They don’t have this, you know, expansive email list. So I immediately turned to DonorSearch. My goal with using DonorSearch in this organization is to have a two to three year plan to learn our base, make targeted asks, and also use prospecting tools and the mailing lists. Part of the strength of DonorSearch is that I can ask the software to give me a list of names of people that have shown to support dance in my county. So, right now, DonorSearch can’t search by zip code, but DonorSearch searches by county. And when I tell it, you know, ‘Give me art supporters in this county, this county, and this county, and prioritize 500 names…’ I’ll get a list of 500 names, I will create a postcard with a QR code on it that introduces that household to our company and perhaps giving them a discount ticket to the show. So, you know, I’m really starting from scratch in terms of building the philanthropic base for the company and I think DonorSearch is essential in this process because there is no other way to get the word out in such a streamlined use of financial resources. And this is far less expensive than ads in the Los Angeles Times and big newspapers. It’s about the cost of boosting social media posts. So, this is the most streamlined way I can think of to have two-year plan to find our audience.”

C: “That’s fantastic. We are here to be with you the whole time – that 2-3 years and beyond. So, thank you for sharing that and some of the ways that you are going to be using some of the different components of the DonorSearch solutions…”

M: “Yeah, much different than the old organization. The old organization had a base that I could track. This has no base, you know? It’s hard.”

C: “Yeah. You are building it and cultivating it from there so that’s fantastic. So, shifting gears just a little bit, one of the things that DonorSearch really prides itself on is our commitment to every single one of our client’s success. Can you talk about your overall experience with our DonorSearch success and support team?”

M: “My experience with the DonorSearch support team has been nothing but positive. This has been the most personal relationship I can imagine with a software company. If there is anything I have a question about, or even to strategize, my support representative knows the performing arts field very well and when I moved into this new role, I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to this company that doesn’t have a base, can you help me strategize how to get one?’ And he has far exceeded expectations in terms of just, you know, how to click buttons on a software – he is really a partner in fundraising. And he has taught me so much. I am very grateful for the relationship.”

C: “Wonderful. We love to hear that. That’s what we are here for. Definitely more than clicking buttons but how to make an impact. Thank you for sharing that. If you had one or two top points or top things you might want to share with other organizations considering DonorSearch, what would those be?”

M: “If there is one thing I could say to convince someone to use DonorSearch, it’s the return on investment. I think there is no better resource out there to invest in to, kind of, get the philanthropic trends… hold on… let me think how to say that… hold on…

If I could say one thing to a prospective client looking at DonorSearch, it will be that you will make your money back. It will easily give you a return on investment in the first year depending on how much time you want to invest in learning the product. It’s the first product that I’ve used, this kind of screening software, that I have felt was intuitive, that had the support I needed, and that was accurate. There are so many resources out there that will estimate who in our base will support you, but this has, by far, been the most accurate with many people that I’ve compared with. And we’ve made our money back within the first couple months.”

C: “That is so great to hear. Thank you so much for sharing that. So, before we end our time together today, is there anything else that I haven’t maybe asked or that you’d like to share about your overall experience with DonorSearch, the solution, or its team members?”

M: “Sure. I did forget to mention grants. So, I’ll share that. 

The other thing that I’m excited to use DonorSearch for with my new company is grant prospecting and looking at which foundations in town or across the country support dance and what was the amount that they gave the companies. When I am writing grant requests, I can make sure that I am really in line with the funding priorities and their funding levels. Already, in just a month, DonorSearch  has proved effective with my new company looking at grants and we’ve been offered a full application to a major foundation in town that I didn’t know supported dance before I found out about it through DonorSearch.”

C: “Well, we couldn’t be more pleased to hear all the great things. Thank you so much!”

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