Jonathan Mace was Arts Fundraising Fellow for the Royal Shakespeare Company until September 2016, and now works as Development Manager at Hampstead Theatre.
You may find it odd that we’re in February and the title of this blog contains the words “Christmas Cards”, but I think that by the end of reading this you’ll understand why.
At the end of October 2015 I was assigned to coordinate the design, creation, signing and posting of the RSC Development Department’s Christmas Cards. One of the first challenges was deciding which level of supporters we would send a personalised card to. With a set budget and time constraints, we decided to send a card to any individual, business or trust and foundation that had donated over £1,000 to the company over the past year. With Board Members, Governors and a few additional stakeholders added to this list, we amassed a total of over 500 cards to be sent!
Though we pride ourselves in doing things in a bespoke way at the RSC, this is often underpinned by giant spreadsheets and processes ensuring that we’ve thought of every individual. Consequently, we compiled the names of all those who should receive a card and asked each individual team member which of the cards they felt they should sign. This extended to working out which cards should be signed by our Artistic Director, Deputy Artistic Director, Executive Director and other senior company leaders. Ultimately, each supporter would receive a card personalised to them and from only the members of the department and organisation who they deal with. No mean feat!
Royal Shakespeare Company production of Henry IV Part I by William Shakespeare directed by Gregory Doran. Photo by Kwame Lestrade© RSC
One important aspect yet to be thought about was the card itself. Which production should the card feature? And which image from that production? Luckily, we have an in-house graphics team here and an incredibly large image database containing thousands of images from previous productions. After discussions with various team members, we decided on using an image from Greg Doran’s current international King and Country cycle tour comprising of Richard II, Henry IV Parts I & II and Henry V. I whittled down the possibilities to a short list, which then took a few weeks to be discussed, and approved by the relevant senior team members. After a few graphic proofs being bounced back and forward, and an intense discussion about which colour envelopes to use (and whether they were “pearlescent”!), I finally ended up with a delivery of 800 Christmas Cards. Yes, 800. By this point we’d been asked to additionally supply 250 cards to our Artistic and Executive Directors.
But the task was far from finished. Concurrently to the above, address labels needed to be created for each envelope, inevitably leading to dozens of discussions around which address we should send specific cards to – whether that was due to queries about information in our database or ad-hoc information known about specific individuals by individual team members.
RSC in Winter
Getting to this stage took longer than expected and left us with only a couple of weeks to get the cards signed before the Christmas post deadlines for both the UK and US. In November, we transferred our King and Country cycle to London meaning that our Executive and Artistic Directors were spending more time than usual out of Stratford – another factor to add in to the equation!
The sense of relief I felt once the last of the cards had been put in the post was immense!
What initially seemed like a simple project actually ended with us analysing the capabilities, strengths and weaknesses of our own database as well as other learning points for myself. Here are five of my top tips of things I’ve learnt through the process:
- Keep your data clean, up to date and reliable. Know how to manipulate it to make it work for you. Each record should represent a relationship with an individual.
- Spending time to make things bespoke for individual donors is essential and worth the added effort.
- Internal relationships are of paramount importance and should be stewarded just as much as external ones.
- Tasks can often take longer than you initially planned. Be sure to build a buffer into project timelines.
- And most importantly, start thinking about your 2016 Christmas cards now!