How does a small organization with limited resources (human, financial) attract and sustain enough individual investment to support operations and aspirations?

DanceWorks Chicago

Always Moving


Use the organization’s 10th anniversary to make new friends, reaching beyond dance-centric supporters.


Survey current and potential supporters to deepen knowledge and understanding of the former and explore opportunities in the latter; develop a strategy to implement data-informed messaging and materials to target growth markets.


A marketing playbook and one-pager as a basis for externally-facing efforts (i.e., events, website content, elevator speech). Board and staff grew closer through first-time use of a task force, survey creation, data analysis, and discussion of next steps.


  • People are the most important ingredients to a project.
  • The chemistry between the organization and the consultant took the project from good to great.
  • Discipline in the form of respect for deadlines was critical to achieving goals and keeping momentum going.
  • Mutual excitement in the process (not just in the result), rigor in the approach, and openness from each side to contribute experience and expertise contributed to a collaborative spirit which helped everyone grow.

AWF Support:

$16,500 to explore hypotheses about who new supporters might be and develop messages and strategies to reach them.

The Details:

DanceWorks Chicago has been successful in telling its story in a way that has organically attracted a board populated with people, in one way or another, connect with dance, and supportive of the values of the organization (paying young artists, mentorship, welcoming and inclusive). Could DanceWorks cultivate audiences/supporters who, in addition to, or in some cases instead of, being passionate about dance, are excited about the values of the organization or its other aspects? With significant changes and challenges within Chicago’s dance ecosystem, it felt important to DanceWorks to think and reach outside of the usual dance community suspects to develop and inspire an expanding supporter base.

DanceWorks received an Arts Work Fund grant of $16,500 to work with CB White, a market research firm, to explore hypotheses about who new supporters might be and develop messages and strategies to reach them. A board and staff team worked in partnership with the consultant to interpret data to extract meaningful messages for DanceWorks in terms of how to talk about the organization to attract new supporters, while remaining relevant to current supporters. The group crafted a position statement and developed an array of possible actions, scoring them on estimated impact, cost, and effort, to select near-term and long-term strategies and actions.

The Takeaways:

According to Parke Ballantine, a board member that served as a task force member on the project, “Working with CB White allowed the Team DanceWorks to allocate time and resources to move through hypothesis, research, and evaluation. By having an external consultant, we were able to utilize market research to glimpse attitudes and motivators for support outside of the usual dance suspects and get an insightful report on wider audience engagement.” DanceWorks is now applying the research and messaging that resulted from this project to tell its more powerful way.

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