Insights

Fresno Arts Council: A Case Study

Written by Victor Ramayrat on Jun 16, 2010


I am writing today to share with you some of the thought process and implementation that went through during the development of the Fresno Arts Council's (FAC) technology and marketing infrastructure, in the hope that if you are an organization of the same size (or a local arts council), you'd learn and potentially implement some of the successes we've had so far.

I got involved with the Fresno Arts Council 3 years ago (2007) when they needed a volunteer webmaster.   The Fresno Arts Council was at that time directed by Joyce Aiken (volunteer ED) and assisted by Maria Franco (still with the FAC).  Like many arts organizations, FAC has budget challenges when it comes to technology and marketing. With no financial support from both City and County (although the City provides the office space), FAC's annual budget is very tight and does not have much room to allocate additional money to technology and marketing buildout.   My goal then was to put in place solutions that will work long term and is somewhat reasonably affordable.

To get to the point, I'll just mention that from 2007-2009, we'd taken a stab on open source software such as Plone, Drupal, Wordpress, and Joomla to use as the content management system for the FAC website.  During that time, Maria was also using Outlook in sending out mass e-mail to promote events and to communicate what's happening in the arts community and using Paypal to take donations and membership payments online.

Online Marketing and Membership Fulfillment
(plus Arts Database)

Last year, Socient became a technology partner to Adobe Business Catalyst, an integrated platform that powers online communications.  We created our own brand Controlcamp, to give clients access to the Adobe BC platform.  Controlcamp provides many tools that allows membership-based organizations to manage online communications in an easy, integrated format.  For FAC, this would mean a web-based, hosted platform that has:

  • e-Commerce for membership, donations, and ticket sales
  • E-mail marketing for mass mailing of e-Newsletters
  • Search engine friendly URLs, including ability to host multiple domain names, for search engine marketing
  • Unlimited web forms with easy to create custom fields, for online submission of queries
  • Secure zone or extranet, an area for board members to login and access board minutes/agendas and other documents
  • Easy to use photo galleries, FAQs, announcement of news and events, and literature management
  • Workflow creation, a system to have e-mail notifications to specific staff members when forms are submitted online
  • Ad rotation, to track the display of sponsor logos on the website
  • Unlimited Blogging and Forum
  • Web-based online database through the Web Apps module, to create a self-service, customizable online arts registry

Wow, having an integrated platform such as Controlcamp was like the best thing since sliced bread.  After implementing all the features mentioned above, we then gave the Fresno Arts Council a special pricing of $39 per month for 1 user account (FYI, that alone is the cost of e-mail marketing systems out there such as Mail Chimp or iContact).

In addition, with a technical assistance grant from the California Arts Council (~$3,800), we created a self-service, online arts registry (ARTS DATABASE) using the built-in web application creator in Controlcamp, to provide artists and arts organizations a way to list themselves on the arts registry.  This feature frees the staff from having to manage and enter the information themselves. The FAC released the Arts Database for FREE to the public.

The beauty of this web application was that it is integrated with the FAC website and any information that's captured into the arts database is also available to use somewhere else.   As an example, if the marketing person of a museum registers under Museum, but they would also host ArtHop, then they would show up on both categories.  The data is entered only once, but could be re-purposed multiple times.  Sweet.

Multiple domain names for search marketing

FAC also has an active program called ArtHop.  Since ArtHop has been growing in size, we thought of giving them a vanity URL called fresnoarthop.org.  This would create a website asset for the Fresno Arts Council and also help them gain high search engine rankings for keywords "fresno arthop".   Using Controlcamp's domain management feature, we are able to point fresnoarthop.org into a special landing page that's hosted on the current FAC website.

For membership fulfillment, Controlcamp has it's own mini-CRM (customer relationship management) and seamlessly ties into Paypal and Authorize.net eCommerce payment systems.  For FAC, we used the Paypal Website Payment Pro, so that the website visitor has a seamless experience during the membership sign up (or for donation and ticket sales process).

For e-mail, we highly recommend Google Apps as it provides the stability of Google's servers as far as e-mail services are concerned.  They also have one of the best spam filtering feature as well as IMAP and POP for desktop and mobile clients like Outlook or iPhone/iPad Mail.

Artists Marketing and Promotion of the Arts

Are you in a community where the Arts are constantly struggling to be heard in the midst of the many "more important issues" that your local government keeps on bringing up each time you ask for funding?  I do not want to sound political, but that seems to be the case for the City and County of Fresno when it's time to ask for funding the Fresno Arts Council (by the way, these are my views alone, and not representative of the FAC, their staff and board members).

Anyway, my point is that there's not much resources to lean on (read: budget) when it comes to arts promotion.  So, we turned to social media (read: user generated content - UGC) to empower artists and arts organizations to promote themselves.  In the words of Jerry McGuire:  help me help you.  We looked at available platforms and we fell in love with Ning.  Since FAC did not have the resource to build a social network from scratch, we created a public-private partnership where Socient builds and manage the platform, while FAC provides the monthly cost for the network.  The result of the collaboration:  Fresno Arts (my.fresnoarts.net).

FresnoArts.net was created on June 2008, during the advent of social media (pre-Twitter and before Facebook was popular).  We thought that if we gave artists and arts organizations the ability to promote themselves (through a profile system, photos, videos, music, and events --- with the ability to invite friends via e-mail built into the system), they will take the opportunity.  And so they did.

Today, FresnoArts.net has over 8,000 unique visitors and over 30,000 page views per month, and an active community of artists, arts organizations, promoters, and arts enthusiasts.  The feedback on FresnoArts.net has been overwhelmingly positive right from the start. 

So why did we choose Ning as our social network platform?  At that time, we looked at some of the open source software that is available to power a social network.  While Drupal and Wordpress MU came close, we did not want to deal with the headache of maintaining the software (security patches, modules, etc...).  Plus, Ning provided the core of the functionality we needed and it's a hosted solution, which means that Ning engineers will fix anything that's broken with the system.

One of the feature that was "mission critical" was an event calendar.  Previously, artists and Arthop venues would send their event information to FAC to post on their website.  Well, resources are very scarce when it comes to web marketing.  So we thought that having a self-service marketing platform was the best way to go.  Ning had a robust event calendar system.  While far from being perfect, it served the core purpose of self-service marketing.  Obviously, there are other solutions out there, but with the calendar being integrated on the social network, members do not have to deal with another platform and they are accountable for their own promotion:  the more they use social media, the more exposure and publicity they get.

Document management

With only a couple of workstations used on-site, FAC was maintaining a Windows-based file server using File Sharing Services.  We thought that it was an overkill and that they don't really need to deal with server maintenance especially if the staff do not have any IT background.  So we implemented Dropbox, a cloud-based file storage service that syncs all workstations to allow seamless collaboration between staff members.  With this service, FAC eliminated the need for file server, and the staff have access to their files on their workstations, over the web, and on any desktop where Dropbox is installed.  And since the accountant and ED are mostly off-site, they are able to access files at home through a folder sharing mechanism on Dropbox.

Take aways

So this has been long and if you skipped to this section, that's ok.  Here's a summary of what we have implemented at the Fresno Arts Council so far (with links for your perusal).

Marketing
  • Controlcamp ($39 per month):  Online Communications (eNewsletter, Blog, FAC webpages, multiple domains, CRM, document management, arts database, secure zone for members)
  • Paypal Website Payment Pro ($30 per month + 1-3% transaction fees):  eCommerce fulfillment that works with Controlcamp (membership payments, donations, ticket sales)
  • Ning for FresnoArts.net ($49.95 per month): social network and self-service events calendar for artists and arts organizations.

Technology
  • AT&T: Internet services (DSL + wifi on premises)
  • Dropbox ($99 per year):  Document syncing across workstations
  • Google Apps (free to nonprofits):  E-mail services

So I hope this has been a bit helpful. You might not agree with me or might not follow the same path that we took, and that's ok. You might say that FAC could save about $100 per month if they go with open source... we would counter that argument that open source does not necessarily mean FREE as there are cost involved with maintaining software and hosting as well.

But if you do agree and would like to start a conversation with us, PLEASE contact us because we love working with non-profits, especially arts-based organizations.

Until then...