SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


Individual Donations: Is New Philanthropic Income Replacing Lost Ticket Income?

The following is an excerpt from an insight report published on July 30, 2020, "Individual Donations: Is New Philanthropic Income Replacing Lost Ticket Income?" that is part of a larger project, the COVID-19 Sector Benchmark Dashboard conducted by TRG Arts, which is helping arts organizations in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. understand how the COVID-19 virus has affected their operations.

Key Findings

  • Data from 105 CRM systems suggest there has been no aggregate growth in donations to performing arts organizations in 2020 in either the United Kingdom or North America.
  • Aggregate totals mask strong growth by some organizations, particularly those with a lower initial level of contributed income.
  • Even in an unparalleled crisis, organizations that invest in building relationships with loyal audiences are best placed to weather the storm. In 2020, as in 2019, the most loyal ticket purchasers also contributed the most in donations with further growth in the proportion of contributed revenue from ‘Super Active’ customers, particularly in the U.K.

After a strong start to the year compared to 2019, North American aggregate individual donations dropped in March before recovering in April, falling significantly in May and then performing well in June.

In the first six months of 2020 in North America:

  • Overall donations have fallen by just 2% from the same period in 2019.
  • 33% of North American organizations reported increased donations, and 11% reported growth of over 100%.
  • Overall giving has been sustained thanks to an increase in the value of very large gifts ($100K+).
  • Gifts of over $100K accounted for 46% of all contributed revenue, up from 36% for the same period in 2019.


In the first six months of 2020 in the United Kingdom:

  • The value of aggregate gifts in the U.K. has decreased by 12% compared to the same period in 2019.
  • Gifts of over £80K accounted for 69% of all contributed revenue, up slightly from 68% during the first six months of 2019.
  • 50% of U.K. organizations reported increased donations, 29% reported growth of over 100%, and 11% reported growth of over 400%.


This analysis was undertaken to answer the question, “Is new philanthropic income from individuals replacing lost ticket income?” There are two answers to this. On a macro level, no. Aggregate data across both the U.K. and North America show income from individual donations falling in the first six months of 2020 compared to 2019.

Aggregate totals and averages obscure diverse performance across different organizations. The examination of the 2019 baseline highlighted how far behind North America most U.K. organizations are in generating philanthropic income. From this very low base, 50% of the U.K. cohort increased revenue from gifts in 2020, 29% reported growth of over 100% and 11% reported growth of over 400%. In North America, it was also the organizations that started from the lowest base that were more likely to report growth in 2020.

In North America, the comparative picture for 2020 would be far worse without significant growth in donations of over $100K. For both cohorts, revenues in the year to date for smaller gifts have come largely from ‘Super Active’ customers, demonstrating that even in an unparalleled crisis, organizations that invest in building relationships with loyal audiences are best placed to weather the storm.

While it is technically impossible to track the conversion of refunded tickets to gifts, it seems likely that a proportion of the growth in gifts from ‘Super Active’ customers is from converted box office income. Without these loyal customers, it is likely that levels of giving would have been even lower.

Purple Seven and TRG Arts are still welcoming new organizations to join the free COVID-19 Sector Benchmark and would particularly like to welcome organizations in Canada and the Republic of Ireland to establish benchmarks in these nations. To sign up and receive a free dashboard to compare your organization’s performance with your peers, visit


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The COVID-19 Sector Benchmark Dashboard, developed by TRG Arts in collaboration with U.K.-based audience analytics company Purple Seven, launched in early April 2020. The dashboard, which is free, provides near real-time intelligence and advice to help arts leaders see results as they respond to the pandemic. The project is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to SMU DataArts, TRG Arts' longtime partner in advancing the arts and cultural sector. 

When an organization signs up for the dashboard, an automated data feed is set up between the organization’s box office and the dashboard’s secure server. The automated feed provides a daily update on ticket sales, refunds and donations for the organization. In addition, data from all other organizations participating in the dashboard is aggregated in an anonymous format to create a national benchmark, which shows up on the dashboard and allows an organization to see how it compares with a large group of its peers. The dashboard is entirely anonymous, so no one else’s sales figures or customer data are identifiable to an organization. The dashboard provides daily insights for individual organizations that they can share with constituents and stakeholders; reveals sector trends in almost real-time, which can assist in short- and long-term planning; allows arts leaders and policy makers to track daily sales data across entire sectors; and by data gathering and benchmarking across the U.K., Canada and the U.S., gives a clearer picture of the effects of the virus on the arts sector and the recovery in each country. Monthly Insight Reports will be posted on the SMU DataArts and TRG Arts websites. Read more in the press release.

Who is Booking Now? Changes in Ticket Buyer Demographics Post COVID-19

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