How do you transform a volunteer-run community arts center founded in the Great Recession into a destination for visual and performing arts? That question is what the Windsor Art Center has been grappling with since its 2007 beginnings. The Windsor Art Center is the second of four organizations that completed the first cohort of the Arts Catalyst program in 2017, and it took very little time to reap the benefits.
Their small but mighty marketing committee, including founding board member Holly Pelton, and current Vice President Neill Sachdev, entered the program with two main goals: Increase membership and increase revenue. Being all too aware that those goals are inherently connected, they knew that they needed a marketing plan in place to turn these goals into action. After their eye-opening experience at the innovation goal workshop, where they met with other program participants to take part in a S.C.O.T (Strengths, Challenges, Opportunities, Threats) analysis and brainstorm actionable goals, they were assigned a Business Volunteer for the Arts who helped them develop this marketing plan. Business Volunteer for the Arts is a national skills-based management consulting program that pairs business professionals with non-profit arts organizations to help with high-level projects. They quickly realized that this plan would become a pivotal moment in the development of the organization. The creation of the marketing plan led them to institute the center’s first Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.
“I’m confident, because of this grant, we’re going to make a difference that will be felt in the art center for at least a decade.”
“The thought was if anyone, from a volunteer to a board member, has the ability to add [information to] a centralized location where we can now understand who’s attending events, what they’re attending, what they’re spending money on, and keeping track of when their membership expires in a better way, we have the ability to remind them and share events they might be interested in,” said Sachdev. “It’s a completely new nucleus for the organization…I’m confident, because of this grant, we’re going to make a difference that will be felt in the art center for at least a decade.”
According to Pelton and Sachdev, the organization’s first decade saw endless events – exhibit openings, artist talks, lectures, and film nights – and they wanted to do even more, but fitting everything in while still making sure their volunteers had a healthy work/life balance was proving to be difficult. Ray Lamoureux, Marketing & Sponsorship Director for Taubman Properties, worked with the Windsor Art Center on sorting everything out. “There was a lot of good energy…but Ray did was help us take a step back, organize our thoughts, and put them in a way that made the most sense for what our organization was and where it was going,” added Sachdev. “Having a lot of great ideas is one thing, but being able to distill those ideas, being able to understand what you’re capable of doing and in what timeline – that’s what Ray helped us do.”
It was working with Ray that began a significant chain of events. Sachdev commented on the fact that they are now instituting Quickbooks and the new CRM. “The ripple effect that will happen by having a more optimized website and a more efficient strategy with keeping track of members and funds, will enable us to grow both things.” Pelton added, “the fact that we were able to start the database is going to be the underlying fabric that will allow us to do these marketing ventures to continue to build awareness, as well as start to bring in more funding.” Since the art center is completely volunteer-run, Pelton and Sachdev believe, that with the right training, the volunteers will be able to use the database with ease, therefore freeing up time for leadership and Board committees to step away from the nitty-gritty and make more strategic moves. “It really will empower volunteers to feel like they’re making a bigger difference in the art center.”
In addition to planning more and varied events, the art center has been actively engaging in their local community. They had not had many space rentals, but since receiving funding as part of the Arts Catalyst program, they have been able to offer the space for free to any nonprofit organization in Windsor. In addition, they’ve been collaborating with other organizations to put on events. “We just recently had a trivia night with the Windsor Library Association, and worked with a couple local businesses to get food and beer…everyone had a wonderful time, and now we’ve developed a relationship with another organization in town,” Sachdev recalls. “I think synergy between civic organizations is absolutely key right now.”
The Windsor Art Center may only be starting its second decade, but it is at the center of local (and some national) history. Within just a few minutes radius you can visit several historical landmarks, parks, and restaurants. Given that this former freight house sits right next to the local Amtrak stop, the Windsor Art Center is well on its way to becoming a true destination.