SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


Image courtesy of SMU Meadows School of the Arts. Photo by Kim Leeson Photography. Image courtesy of SMU Meadows School of the Arts. Photo by Kim Leeson Photography.

Organizations Who Raised Less Funding from Individuals in 2019 Were More Likely to Increase Their Philanthropic Income in 2020

The following is an excerpt from an insight report published on February 2, 2021, "COVID-19 and Philanthropy - Giving in 2020." This report is part of a larger project called the COVID-19 Sector Benchmark Dashboard conducted by TRG Arts and Purple Seven to help arts organizations in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. understand how the COVID-19 virus has affected operations.

A new study of performing arts organizations in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. released by international arts management consultants TRG Arts and U.K. arts data specialists Purple Seven shows a decline in philanthropic revenue in 2020 on both sides of the Atlantic. However, despite a 13% decrease in revenue in North America and a 32% decrease in the U.K., there is a more diverse picture behind the aggregate figures. The study, COVID-19 and Philanthropy – Giving in 2020, reveals that in the North American cohort almost half of organizations (49%) increased their gift revenue in 2020 and almost three-quarters (74%) received more gifts than they had in 2019. Organizations who raised less funding from individuals in 2019 were more likely to increase their philanthropic income in 2020, and there was a growth in the number of smaller gifts in both markets, correlating with reports of revenue for cancelled shows being converted to gifts rather than refunds.


The data from 141 non-profit performing arts organizations (73 in the U.S., 12 in Canada and 56 in the U.K.) come from the COVID-19 Sector Benchmark, an initiative led by TRG Arts and Purple Seven, which has grown into the largest global arts and cultural consumer dataset in the industry. It captures near real-time data from box office feeds of all scales in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. The majority of the sample are theaters, but there is also a representation of arts centers and orchestras.

In North America:

  • While aggregate gift revenue was down 13%, the number of gifts received rose by 15% compared to 2019.
  • There was a fall in aggregate revenue coming from the biggest gifts in 2020. Most of the overall 13% fall in aggregate revenue was due to a reduction of almost $43 million in gifts of over $1 million.
  • The number of gifts given per month was higher than 2019 in every month until August 2020. Gift numbers fell in September, October and November, but increased in December.


“Arts fundraisers have never faced a year like 2020,” said TRG Chief Executive Officer Jill Robinson. “Many organizations have risen to the challenges and successfully engaged current and past patrons to continue to provide support, even when they have nothing on their stages. As the sector recovers from the impact of the pandemic, organizations need to show their appreciation both to long-time supporters and to the many thousands who made a philanthropic contribution for the first time in 2020. Smart cultural organizations are thinking about the journey over the next ten years for those who showed their support by making a contribution rather than taking a refund for a cancelled performance. If in 2030 we have a new cohort of major donors who began their philanthropic relationship thanks to COVID-19, we will be able to draw something positive from this dreadful time for the arts and society as a whole.”


The study shows that some organizations in both North America and the U.K. have used the pandemic as a catalyst for major growth in philanthropic income from a low base in 2019. Two organizations in North America and 11 in the U.K. increased gift revenue by over 400%.


“It’s not just the scale of giving that’s different in North America compared to the U.K.,” said Purple Seven Managing Director David Brownlee. “Most U.K. organizations rely on a mixture of small gift top-ups when purchasing tickets or one-off support for particular appeals. In 2020, many organizations mounted ‘crisis’ campaigns, and some were relatively successful. A strategy of repeatedly proclaiming a crisis to drive fundraising will inevitably lead to diminishing returns. The best U.K. arts fundraisers take the same approach as their North American colleagues in focusing on long-term relationships where supporters understand and value what the organization is delivering for its community.”


Download the Full Report


The COVID-19 Sector Benchmark Dashboard, developed by TRG Arts in collaboration with U.K.-based audience analytics company Purple Seven, launched in early April 2020. The dashboard, which is free, provides near real-time intelligence and advice to help arts leaders see results as they respond to the pandemic. The project is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to SMU DataArts, TRG Arts' longtime partner in advancing the arts and cultural sector. 

When an organization signs up for the dashboard, an automated data feed is set up between the organization’s box office and the dashboard’s secure server. The automated feed provides a daily update on ticket sales, refunds, and donations for the organization. In addition, data from all other organizations participating in the dashboard is aggregated in an anonymous format to create a national benchmark, which shows up on the dashboard and allows an organization to see how it compares with a large group of its peers. The dashboard is entirely anonymous, so no one else’s sales figures or customer data are identifiable to an organization. The dashboard provides daily insights for individual organizations that they can share with constituents and stakeholders; reveals sector trends in almost real-time, which can assist in short- and long-term planning; allows arts leaders and policymakers to track daily sales data across entire sectors; and by data gathering and benchmarking across the U.K., Canada, and the U.S., gives a clearer picture of the effects of the virus on the arts sector and the recovery in each country. Monthly Insight Reports will be posted on the SMU DataArts and TRG Arts websites. Read more in the press release.

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