About Arena Stage

Arena Stage is a Washington, D.C. based Theater Company that produces, presents, develops and studies American Theater.


Arena Stage is a Washington, D.C. based Theater Company that produces, presents, develops and studies American Theater. Now in its 62nd season, they host more than ¼ million audience members each year. Arena’s Chief Development Officer, Danielle St. Germain-Gordon, has been with Arena for 18 months, and has a rich background in arts development, including eight years as Associate Director of Development at The Shakespeare Theater and a three year stint as Vice President of Institutional Advancement at the American Association of Museums. She works with a staff of seven who specialize in individual giving, membership, corporate support, operations, prospect research, grants and donor relations. They raise approximately $5.2MM annually for operations.

The Challenge

When St. Germain-Gordon arrived at the Arena Stage in August of 2011, she inherited a stagnant yet eager donor base. With approximately 3,000 donors on record, she quickly recognized there was untapped potential and began taking steps to develop that potential.

“One of the things I recognized was that we needed a culture adjustment,” shares St. Germain-Gordon. “I wanted to stress to my very talented staff that we should feel good about asking our constituents and patrons for increased support. We have a terrific, critically-acclaimed product which, when coupled with our capacity rating, will prompt more generous support. When I arrived, getting a renewal was considered fine. Moving donors up the ladder was not top of mind.”

Arena had no systematic or scientific way of determining the “right” amount to ask for, whether for annual giving or for major gifts to the theater. St. Germain-Gordon knew it was time to bring in WealthEngine and conduct some re-training. “I’ve been a WealthEngine user for over ten years,” she shares. “I’ve had great success with it elsewhere, so I knew it would work at Arena.”

The Solution

St, Germain-Gordon started with a WealthEngine database screening, appending asset, financial, business, demographic and lifestyle data along with ratings and scores to the 3,000 constituent records in Arena’s Tessitura database. “By giving them access to this tool, it was easy to re-educate my staff and get them to realize that if someone has the capacity to make a gift of $5MM, asking for $15,000 instead of $1,500 in their gift amount is not offensive – it’s expected and welcome. It was like we had been driving down the freeway with the lights out, and when we got the WealthEngine screening, suddenly the lights went on.”

With the lights on, the strategy for direct mail and individual asks at the major gift level ($1,500 and above) changed, and Arena staff began to tailor asks to individuals ability to give. They were also able to combine insight from their screening with a modeling project conducted for the marketing side of the house in which patrons were assigned to affinity clusters including Super Advocates, Advocates, Buyers or Tryers. These clusters were determined by analyzing subscriptions, ticket buying habits, giving and volunteer activity, and proved to be very helpful for marketing segmentations. When development invested in the baseline wealth screening, and was able to overlay the capacity ratings with the affinity modeling “it was like dynamite!” says St. Germain-Gordon. “We identified some advocates who had been giving $100 a year for 20 years, but who have never been approached for the size of gift they are capable of giving.”

The Result

Arena saw immediate and measurable results from the screening. Just by changing the ask amount on direct mail appeals to align more closely with their donors’ capacity to give, they saw a 20% increase in individual giving in 2011 and a 15% jump in 2012. “We may have been successful without doing the wealth screening, but it would have been more like hunting and praying. WealthEngine is as close to a sure thing as you can get,” says St. Germain-Gordon.

At the time of the initial WealthEngine baseline screening, Arena also instituted a monthly screening program.

Each month, Arena captures the information related to new donors, patrons and subscribers to the theater, and sends the file to WealthEngine for screening. WealthEngine returns each file with wealth, biographic and demographic information appended. Each constituent is rated for estimated giving capacity, propensity to give (P2G), net worth, cash on hand, total assets, estimated annual donations and more. Based on the ratings for Estimated Giving Capacity and P2G, E.J. Lee, Arena’s prospect manager, segments the prospects into appropriate groups for assignment or appeals. She selects the top prospects for more detailed analysis and a deeper review of the data.

St. Germain-Gordon is currently working with a prospect who was identified in the fall of 2011 with capacity of $5MM or above. At that time, she had recently become a subscriber. Because she lives in another state for most of the winter, St. Germain-Gordon was not able to meet face-to-face with her until July 2012. She has already made a $100K ask and is expecting a positive response soon. “This is someone we would never have known about had it not been for WealthEngine,” she explains.

St. Germain-Gordon estimates her return on investment at ten-fold, or 1,000%. And if the $100,000 ask matures, it will shoot the ROI through the roof. “Our high ROI is due to our using the data consistently,” she explains. “You have to ask, ask, ask. This will not work for a timid development team, you have to be, like my team, fearless. The WealthEngine ratings are what give us confidence when we go in for the ask.”

Next Steps

While St. Germain-Gordon and the Arena are just finishing a substantial $110MM campaign, they are, like so many organizations, already making plans for the next one. They will definitely turn an analytic eye toward their prospect base, with screening and modeling likely. “I have a good sense of what I think we can raise,” says St. Germain-Gordon, “but we need to proceed analytically. It gives us confidence and assurance and that’s what we want to demonstrate to our board and leadership.”

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