Has anyone done a business model exercise for a small not for profit community theatre and arts centre? The organisation is funded 50% by grants but this is now under threat.

The organisation is governed by a voluntary board of directors who are keen to consider ways of commercialising the organisation.

Currently the grant providers determine most of the activities provided. This leads to a triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. I say profit on the basis of having to try and match costs with revenue. Most activities are not commercially viable.Without grant aid the current operation would be unsustainable. Obviously such an organisation does not have a profit driven culture and this will have to change.

If anyone has experience of such a venture and has used a business model exercise to consider alternative strategies/models, I would be grateful for you sharing any insights which deem relevant.

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Hi Lee, I am wondering about the old cinema building that you mentioned you would like to turn back into a hub of the local community. 

I am actually looking into an old little 1940's movie theater downtown in my town. It has been out of use for quite some time and is pretty run down. A friend and I have an idea to start a non-profit that focuses on bringing the community together through art. We want to create more geared towards the young community but involves anyone. Our dream is to turn the theater into an art space. Use the actual theater for movies, plays, music, but the lobby for possibly a coffee shop and space to display art. The extra rooms upstairs would  be studios for artists. Anyway, you mentioned an idea that sounded very similar to ours and I want to know if you went through with  it and how you went about it. Any advice?

I’m not very much aware of the customer segments the specific theatre and arts nfp is trying to serve, but I have recently started with advising a startup that intends to fuse consumption and charity. The idea is to provide cotton producers in India the opportunity to profile their community projects through swing tags on the apparel made from their cotton. Customers can use QR code scanning on smart phones to find out what kind of projects they can support and tip their favorite at the till when they pay for their product. (they are currently contending at the Unreasonable Institute’s social venture mentoring program so if you can help out please support J https://marketplace.unreasonableinstitute.org/project/the-tipping-p...)


Our interest was catalyzed when we learned of Panera Bread’s project called Panera Care. Basically they advise customers on what to pay for their meal, with the explanation that any surplus paid above that advice will go into supporting the meals of families that can’t pay the price. About 60% of customers pay the price, and 20% even pay more, leaving the other 20% with an option for a free meal. Because the project is community based, there is a lot of incentive with customers to keep the project afloat, and control opportunistic behavior. It seems to be working out very well. I’ve written a blog post about it here: http://wp.me/p1GXjP-4w


Would there be room at the theatre and arts center to experiment with such type of revenue mechanism? For instance do you know what part of your customers are more wealthy, and would they be willing to pay more for their tickets to sponsor less financially lucrative events or the less wealthy segment of your customers? 

Phillip, I just came across this blog post. It is an interesting thought about theater business model. I have no idea what has happened to your project but thought I would post this anyway.


Thanks Steve

That is a fascinating article on re-thinking the business model of theatre arts.


Thank you for the article. It makes for thought provoking reading.

Hi, I've used the business model canvas at our charity which manages a Zoo. We found very quickly that we had too many customer segments. Fortunately my team saw this too and we're working on focusing our energies on only one or two segments. 

There might be opportunities to think laterally about your offering - like corporate team building through trying to direct an act? One way of challenging the "being all things to everyone" model is to drop numbers against each offering - how much revenue do you derive from ticket sales / sponsorship / grants? How much effort does this cost? If you put your total effort into one channel, what would this do to the bottom line?

Sometimes asking colleagues to calculate totals really helps them understand their need to focus. Good luck!


Interesting James! 

Would you be able to share that Business Model with forum members for our enlightenment?

Thanks in advance?



Hi Srinivasan

We'll be doing a repeat exercise in about 8 weeks' time and I'd be happy to share elements of it with the forum! We might focus on just one of our offerings and I'm interested to see what the team come up with...




Thank you for the contribution, I'm sure the community would really like to see the result of those discussions.

If you haven't seen it previously, a while back I looked at an initiative of the Toronto Metro Zoo using the lens of a BM canvas. You can find it here




I am very new to the HUB and stumbled over your post. Since I'm facing a similar problem, I'd like to introduce an idea that goes in a slightly different direction than other posts: For a Berlin based gallery of contemporary African paintings, I intend to establish a foundation as proprietor. The paintings themselves are to be sold over a two-brand strategy: a gallery - recognized in the art scene - with high-priced works of art with the target group collectors and collections on the one hand and Internet sales for affordable originals for "furniture-buyers", i.e. people who are setting up their apartment or office.

If I wanted to transfer the idea to a theater, the foundation could support high-quality theater productions. In a second rail actors could teach the importance and potentials of  body language to customers like managers - an HR-subject in personnel development very "en vogue" at the moment in Germany, perhaps in Ireland as well. And the earnings go to the foundation.

My apologies for the recent traffic on this discussion. The member has been suspended.

I personally have not ventured on a business model for the theater and the arts, however, I have heard of a few studies relating to theater strategy and theater survey.

One documentation, entitled “A non-profit theater's strategy focuses on experiences” written by John Sterling, is a case study that aims to demonstrate how a non-profit organization, the Timeline Theater, has won awards for managerial excellence and artistic achievement by implementing both experience-driven strategy and co-creation of value by experience. The study approach tracks their non-profit strategy development and implementation of their managerial concepts.

Another is the audience study conducted by Christine Lai. It aims to point up the demographic characteristics and preferences of theater patrons of a small nonprofit professional theater that remains existing in a competitive market. The study was conducted in a midsize city in Upstate New York.

You might find the studies relevant.


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