This resource is part of our ‘Increasing your income’ guidance, which looks at ways to find and grow sustainable and diverse income for your group. It will focus on how a Friends scheme can boost audience engagement and help put your group on a secure, long term financial footing.
Friends schemes have some things in common with corporate sponsorships, and some of the themes and ideas in this guidance are similar to those in our Increasing your income: sponsorship guidance. However, whilst there is cross over, there are important differences too, and should be viewed and approached separately.
Why should you have a Friends scheme?
A friend’s scheme is a way to recognise, reward, and build support for your group. Many organisations of all shapes and sizes have a friends or supporters scheme and done well they can:
- Provide a place where audience members and others can formally support you and feel part of your community.
- Earn income: a Friends scheme is a new income source that can help make your finances more stable and less dependent on income from concerts and membership subscriptions. This will enable you to think much more creatively and develop the musical life of your group in new and exciting directions.
- Build up a database of people who have voluntarily supported what you do and therefore may be interested to hear from you in the future and offer further support.
- Friends are demonstrable and measurable support for your group which could come in handy should you ever need to show the impact of and support for what you do.
There are many ways of structuring a Friends scheme so have a look around at how other organisations or groups are doing it and then consider how your scheme will work.
Why do people join Friends schemes?
People are different and there is therefore a huge variety of reasons that could be behind a person being interested in supporting your group. It is important to consider who you think will join your Friends scheme – who is within your reach, and who do you hope to attract?
For those people, what might be their potenial reasons for supporting your group and how they fit in with the structure of your scheme? Here are some examples of what might drive someone to join a Friends scheme:
- Wanting to see the group thrive and being willing and able to provide financial support
- Supporting the activities of a family member or friend
- Access to discounted tickets or season tickets/subscriptions
- Access to special treatment at concerts and priority booking
- To become part of a sociable community of likeminded supporters
- To feel a part of your group’s community without being one of your musicians
Philanthropic or transactional?
The reasons for joining a scheme outlined above can be split into two broad categories:
- Philanthropic where the motivations are about supporting your group and feeling part of the community.
- Transactional where the motivations are focussed on the value to the individual such as financial benefits and special treatment.
Of course one person’s reasons may fall into both categories or somewhere in between and you certainly can cater for both in your scheme.
Benefits of being a friend
We have listed a few ideas of the sorts of things you could offer in your scheme to make it attractive to join. It is not an exhaustive list and different ideas will work for different groups. Remember to think about who your potential friends are and what you want to achieve with your Friends scheme (loyalty, public support, more audience members, or income).
With this in mind, work out what you want to, and what you can, offer friends of your group and communicate the benefits clearly. You could include:
- Free or discounted tickets
- Free programmes or drink on arrival/interval drinks (be aware if the drink is alcoholic it constitutes selling alcohol and so has licensing issues. See our event planning guidance for more information).
- A priority booking period
- A priority queue for tickets at the box office
- Priority/reserved parking
- First entry into the concert hall i.e. first pick of seats
- Reservation of their favourite seat at each concert
- Recognition as a supporter in the programme or on the website
- Invitations to special friends events such as receptions or trips
- You could link up with local restaurant and offer money off a pre-concert meal.
- Opportunity to have some input into the activity of the group
- Sponsor a performer – the friend matches the membership fee of a player and their name is in the programme (and website) in return
Friends scheme structures
Due to the range of people that may be willing to support your organisation and the range of reasons they might have for doing so, it is a good idea to consider having different levels of support they can commit to in your friends scheme.
You could have a low level of friend for a low price that simply gives access to the priority booking period and slightly discounted tickets, then a higher level of friend for a higher price that could come with larger discounts, more experience based benefits such as a free interval drink, and access to exclusive events.
Remember that a Friends scheme is not the same thing as a subscription and that it does not have to include free or discounted tickets. If you are a group that runs a series of concerts and they are planned far enough in advance to sell tickets for the full seasons’ programme then you could also consider offering a subscription ticket that may or may not be advertised as part of your Friends scheme.
When you start designing your Friends scheme the key things to think about are:
- Why are you starting the scheme?
- Who are you hoping will become a friend, and why?
- What can you offer them?
- How much time can you commit to maintaining the scheme?
Some good examples
Here are a few great examples of effective Friends schemes we’ve found in the professional arts world. Good places to start if you are looking for some inspiration!
- Home, Manchester
- National Children’s Orchestra
- Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
- Young Vic Theatre, London
- Increasing your Income overview
- Increasing your income, part 1: Membership subscriptions
- Increasing your income, part 2: Ticket sales and events income
- Increasing your income, part 3: Sponsorship
- Increasing your income, part 5: Donations, fundraising events and sponsored challenges
We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.