Why I'm Obsessed with this Nonprofit
In early December 2022, I saw a video in my feed that captured my attention like no other. In fact, this video encapsulates, in about 2-1/2 minutes, almost everything about the new era of fundraising that I preach daily. I recommend taking a moment now to view it.
First, a bit of history.
The organization is the English National Opera (ENO for short). With origins in the 1880s and its official start over 90 years ago, the ENO’s vision, as per their website, is “Lives changed through opera”. Their mission statement states that “English National Opera exists for everyone, creating new experiences with opera that inspires, nurtures creativity and makes a difference”.
Like many other nonprofits, ENO’s funding comes from a variety of sources, including government grants, foundations/trusts, individuals, and `companies, as well as from earned income. In early November 2022, Arts Council England (ACE) announced that they would cut off 100% of their funding to ENO unless the organization relocates to northern England — hours from London. The ACE funding was about $15MM, which reflects about 1/3 of ENO’s annual budget.
ENO, one of only two principal opera companies in London, decided to mount an integrated, multi-channel, creative yet fierce opposition to the cuts. By November 29th, ENO had generated a very strong response. By the end of November, ENO had created a Change.org petition and secured over 60K signatures. (As of the writing of this article in late December, they have over 80K signatures.)
They mounted a professional, passionate, and motivating performance/protest outside of the ACE offices, which you can see here.
But that wasn’t all. This became an “all hands on deck” effort, and some say that it’s making headway.
They created this compelling video from one of their recent opera performances, and it was circulated by opera singers, staff, so-called “competitors” such as Opera Europa and the Royal Opera House, and well-known leaders and influencers (I found mine via a post by former First Lady Cherie Blair.)
They had staff and supporters wear t-shirts and buttons saying "#LoveENO”.
They garnered support and tweets/postings from government officials, international opera stars, and fans worldwide.
Since I’m not an “opera person”, I can’t tell you anything about the quality of ENO’s programming — but I can tell you that this organization is spot on with many of its marketing/communications efforts. Take note of these, as they offer a bit of a blueprint for other NPOs to follow.
For example, the ENO website is terrific, with a style that’s clean and simple, easy to navigate and digest, and at the same time very informative. For example, the categories/sections on their website include — with equal footprints — schedules for their season, ticket sales, giving, other means of support, special offers for diverse and/or underserved communities, etc. Since they manage the theatre they use, they even give equal real estate to non-ENO productions!
On the front page, they have a section called “Your first opera” for those new to opera performances. In that section, there is an informative, non-judgmental, and non-condescending explanation of “What to expect”, information on the history and highlights of their theatre, dress code, opera etiquette, and links to overviews of each opera that is being presented. Somehow the ENO managed to present all of this — and more — in a manner that is very concise, uncrowded, and graphically easy to read (larger font, anyone?) Everything about it says “we welcome you — come check us out!”
The “About” section is clear, well organized, and all about inclusivity. Content-wise it includes, in one simple section (with compelling and appropriate color images for each) everything from the obvious mission, vision and history, but also professional development, funding sources, sustainability, diversity, facility rental, and even financial reports (i.e. the answer to “what’s the impact of my donation?”, and again, a block about supporting the organization.
In their “Discover Opera” section, they have sections on their kids’ television show (yet another channel), their past programs (including residencies, school programs, and special events), and their diversity programs, including those supporting the deaf, neurodiverse, physically challenged, cognitively impaired, etc. They even have a program called ENO Breathe, for people recovering from the effects of COVID.
I’ve rarely seen this much information presented in one super-clear website. They did one more thing that I’ve rarely — if ever — seen on a nonprofit’s website. There’s a style guide where you can easily access logos and understand how to use them.
On their fundraising page they offer text donations, an answer to “Why donate now?” and an answer to “How will we use your donation?”
Finally, there’s the video shown at the top of this newsletter.
As many of you know, I’m a big proponent of video messaging being used for fundraising — especially when they’re personalized to the recipient. In the case of ENO, their video included messaging — both explicit and implicit — that I think everyone should learn from.
On the explicit side, the song specifically tells you what you get with ENO. In the lyrics the singer sings about “…art that’s radical and popular”, “younger kids get in free”, what your experience will be, and what will happen to the opera “with no consistent funding”, and it does so with humor and music. It’s easy to understand every word. It talks about inclusiveness, and it shows what their performers might look like (i.e. diverse).
As to the piece’s implicit messaging, it conveys serious art but art with levity, a professional performance (the singer is quite impressive), and a need for support. However, it doesn’t ask for a donation or a gift anywhere in the song. Instead, it conveys that ENO is something warm and welcoming, with interesting performances (in English) that are of high quality and compelling.
They do not say that they need your money now because of a budget deadline. They don’t assume that you’re a regular donor. They don’t assume that you know anything about opera or about ENO, yet they don’t exclusively speak to the newcomer audience (as opposed to the opera aficionados.) They reach out to you by doing what good art does — it makes you feel and think.
This video made me go to their website and news articles, learn about what they do, and consider giving to them (even though I’m not an opera fan per se). Why? Because of everything I just wrote about. I love the video and its persuasive storytelling (and creativity, of course.) I love that the website understands that I might be a “newbie” as relates to opera, and all of their messaging makes it clear that a big part of ENO’s reason for being is to embrace and welcome newbies like me. In that way, I felt as if the video and website were speaking to me personally.
I also love the crystal clear messaging in the video (and throughout the website) that explains the financial pickle they’re in right now. Both the video and the website convey a sense of urgency, but not panic. Their communication overall never sounds desperate, and the website makes it clear that despite the financial issues, they’re moving full steam ahead with producing programming for this coming year. In other words, there is an emotional, compelling message — never pushy — that feels 100% authentic.
Finally, ENO’s overall messaging shows that they are interested in having a relationship with me as a person — not just as someone with means. I don’t think that anyone could look at that video and not be personally moved.
Take emotion and authenticity, mix them with professionalism, quality and listening skills, and you have the beginning of a beautiful relationship that’s mutually rewarding as well as financially productive.
Just like with friends and family, a real relationship means that you care. With a nonprofit, a real relationship also means that you are invested — emotionally and otherwise — in that relationship’s long-term success. ENO’s messaging conveys that the relationship with them is ready when you are, and I hope that we can all learn from them. Join me in wishing them success!