It is 7:58 p.m. in Pittsburgh. In a dressing room of the Pittsburgh Public Theater, actor James Harper removes a stray bit of spirit gum from his cheek. One flight above, in the Hazlett Theatre, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Doakes settle into seats F101 and 103 on the center aisle. These are not the Doakes’ normal seats, since for this production of K2, the seating plan of the theatre has been rearranged to accommodate the set. Nonetheless, Mr. Doakes has received the wheelchair location he requires.
Mr. Doakes’ company, Widget Manufacturing, is a major supporter of the Pittsburgh Public Theater. As the house lights dim, Mrs. Doakes turns to the contributor listing in the program and finds, to her delight, that John has made a $25,000 gift to the theatre in her name.
It is 5:58 p.m. in Phoenix. Oboist Mike Shindelman loads his instrument into his car for the 30-minute drive to Symphony Hall. His mind wanders between the forthcoming performance of Mahler’s Second and the upcoming contract negotiations which he will chair on behalf of the musicians.
Across town, attorney Mary Smith finds she will be working late at the office. She calls her boyfriend, Albert Jones, and they agree that he will go to the symphony as planned and she will join him for dinner afterwards. Jones calls the symphony ticket office and turns back one ticket—as a contribution—from the subscription they hold jointly. Minutes later the ticket is sold to a student waiting on the rush line at Symphony Hall. A computer printer on the second floor issues a receipt to Mr. Jones for his gift.
Down the hall, the symphony controller is thinking about the contract negotiations that concern Mike Shindelman as well. She is reviewing a range of model projections on earned and contributed income which will help her to determine the number of services and rate of pay the orchestra is likely to be able to support.
It is 4:58 p.m. in Costa Mesa, Calif. David Emmes, artistic director of the South Coast Repertory, leaves his office for a board meeting. He grins as he walks past the open door to Rehearsal Studio B. While the actors inside—hard at work on a new production of Chekhov’s The Seagull—don’t know it, the money for the set has already been raised. Moments later, Emmes hands his board a report on earned and contributed income.
Board president Maurice DeWald turns quickly to the summary of gifts solicited by each member of the fund drive committee. He sees that three $25,000 pledges he has asked for have now been made, and one of them has been paid in full—the money for The Seagull set. Communications committee chairwoman Olivia Johnson turns to the sales report. First she checks tonight’s performance. Only 26 seats are available. Then she turns to the subscription campaign for next year. Renewals are 2,000 seats ahead of the same point last year.
What is happening in Pittsburgh, Phoenix and Costa Mesa will soon be happening in arts centers, dance companies, opera companies, theatres and orchestras across North America. For these three test sites are using Theatre Communications Group’s long-awaited computer software package for the performing arts, AIMS—the Arts Income Management System.
Developed at a cost of more than a third of a million dollars, AIMS is the most comprehensive package of marketing and fundraising software ever developed for the performing arts. Its strength lies in its integrated approach to generating income through ticket sales, contributions and other sources; in its recognition that fast, agile customer service is crucial to audience growth; and in its commitment to the concept that computers should serve, not constrain, artistic visions.
The development of AIMS began while I was serving as marketing specialist in the Office of the Arts at the Ford Foundation. Ford, like many other major American foundations, was receiving a steady stream of requests to support computer system development in the arts. Ford’s grant-makers soon discovered they were being asked to fund project after project, all designed to perform similar functions. Predictions that many of these systems, developed for one user, could easily be transferred to others, were often proving to be ill-founded.
In 1979, Ford authorized a comprehensive study of existing systems in the arts in order to produce design specifications for what was later to be named the Arts Income Management System. More than a year was spent studying dozens of computerized marketing and fund-raising systems in the United States and Canada, talking with management and operating personnel about what each system did well, what it did poorly and what it failed to do at all. We learned that the principles necessary to design a system flexible enough for varied users would be quite different from those employed to develop a system for just one. A multi-user package would need to support a range of artistic and management styles: reliance on sales of subscriptions or single tickets; on individual or institutional fund-raising; on mail, telephone or media-based campaigns.
After preparing a draft design, Ford conducted several day-long review sessions in New York, gathering key marketing, fund-raising and accounting executives from arts institutions across the country to find faults with the emerging profile of AIMS. And faults we found! Many of AIMS’ most exciting features can be traced to “what ifs” raised during those grueling sessions: “What if a very significant donor has more than one address?” “What if a subscription series includes performances in several different halls?” “What if a subscriber wants to return a ticket as a contribution?”
Design specifications for AIMS were completed during the summer of 1980. By that time, early cost estimates indicated a substantial financial commitment would be required to create the software. So would other funding partners.
During the next year, a consortium of funders was created, together providing more than a third of a million dollars in underwriting for the AIMS project. The group included the Ford Foundation, the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the New York Community Trust and the National Endowment for the Arts. Ford asked TCG to administer the project, and two years of programming and testing followed. On Jan. 25, 1984 AIMS was installed in its first test site—The Phoenix Symphony.
While the effect AIMS will have on income and attendance at the test sites is not yet fully known, one could see the excitement AIMS generated during the test installation visits. “We don’t have to do the yellow sheets anymore,” whispered one administrative assistant during a training session, discovering that source code analyses of marketing expenses and revenues would emerge at the touch of a key. AIMS would provide the flexibility to sell subscriptions and single tickets concurrently and to analyze sales by price and discount rate automatically; the ability to produce subscription invoices for overlapping series of varying lengths; the ability to produce fundraising solicitation letters; to vary signatures and salutations automatically; to project pledges receivable months or years into the future; to project sales and fundraising goals based upon patrons buying and giving activities. In short, to handle a host of time-consuming tasks easily and efficiently. At the test sites, the power and flexibility of AIMS was self-evident. Its potential for arts institutions across the continent now waits to be tapped.
Charles Ziff is president of Ziff Marketing, and has served as the princi pal project consultant for the development of the Arts Income Management System.
The Arts Income Management System is programmed in BASIC language and is designed to run on computers which utilize the PICK operating system. The key to offering such multi-computer capability is the operating system, a set of special programs supplied with every computer, which enables the computer to execute “application programs” such as those in AIMS. The use of an operating system compatible with several brands of hardware gives organizations planning to employ AIMS the freedom to comparison shop among vendors.
When obtaining AIMS, nonprofit arts organizations will not face the substantial purchase price usually attached to the development or acquisition of customized computer software. Thanks to the generosity of the funding sources which have underwritten the development of the $350,000 system, the AIMS software programs are free to nonprofit arts organizations. The only cost to users for posting to an outside manual or is a nominal one-time materials and handling charge which includes non-transferrable use of the software, a copy of the program tape, full documentation and instructions.
AIMS is structured with six principal component modules:
A Patron Account Module maintains mailing lists and integrates record-keeping on all aspects of each patron’s account.
A Marketing/Sales Module maintains purchase histories and seating inventories, records subscription seat locations, produces subscription invoices and customized sales letters, creates sales reports and patron directories, and allows for model sales projections and analyses.
A Contributions Module maintains donor histories; records pledges; generates contribution requests; pledge advices and contribution reports; and allows for model contribution projections and analyses.
An Other Income Module maintains records on income from merchandise sales, facilities rental, school tuitions and the like, and produces reports on such income.
An Income Accounting Module handles income received in the form of cash, checks, credit card charges or in-kind donations. An Integrated Income Processing Program permits entry of remittances, sales orders, seat assignments, contributions, pledges and other income items. An Income Accounting Program produces detailed audit trails, comprehensive cash receipts and income reporting computerized general ledger system.
A General Systems Functions Module includes system table files, operator security, bulk file maintenance and allows for day-to-day operation without programmer assistance.
General release of the AIMS software is scheduled to begin next month. For further information, contact Robert Holley, Director of Management Services, Theatre Communications Group, 355 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10017; (212) 697-5230.
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