Why do people go to the opera? The Mission Paradox Blog looks into the question at What if it ain't what you think it is?
Apparently some research into the reasons people attend the opera showed that opera company staff believed people go because of the reputation of the opera, the singers, and the composer. In reality, the audience said they go to the opera for two reasons:
- Because it is date night and they want to do something romantic.
- Because they want to appear classy and cultured.
That must just drive opera professionals nuts! Those reasons are cheesy, ignorant, low-brow, and, well, just wrong.
We're all entitled to our own opinions about other people's motivations. But if we actually want to be persuasive, we'd better speak to those motivations, like them or not.
Nearly all arts marketing is built around the beliefs and felt needs of professionals and insiders, not the public. So you have to wonder: How many people have never been to the opera and will never go because the marketing focuses on things they don't care about? Is it any wonder the "high arts" struggle to survive?
Same holds true for many other nonprofits. The experts know what's important. The simple-minded beliefs of non-experts are beneath them. So they produce marketing and fundraising that aims at their own understanding, perhaps in hopes that this will spur benighted would-be donors to "evolve." Or maybe they're hoping to keep out the riff-raff. They're all but saying, "If you're going to be ignorant, we don't want your money."
Organizations with that mindset have chosen to limit their fundraising effectiveness and their revenue growth. They'd rather feel good about their messaging than be successful. Their elitism and arrogance are a ball and chain.
Why not reach people where they are -- not where they "should" be? I can almost guarantee that many of the people who go to the opera for low-brow reasons grow in their understanding and sophistication as they experience opera. They may never reach the exalted level of the professionals, but they'll make a lot more progress than they would if they never entered an opera house in the first place.