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Near West Theatre 1

Executive Summary
Since its inception, Near West Theatre has been transforming lives through the performing arts.
They are a theatre company that since 1978 has sought to make theatre arts accessible for
everyone. Through our mainstage season, technical theatre training, and after school programs,
we reach thousands of people from across Northeast Ohio every year. They are helping people
young and old learn how to practice love, inclusion, integrity, creativity, and activism.
Collaborations with other local arts organizations further aid their ability to live out their mission.

This is an important time in the organization’s history. With hundreds of arts and cultural
organizations in Cuyahoga County, competition for funding is fierce. Furthermore, in 2015, Near
West moved to a new facility that is better able to house all of their programs and that provides
the program participants and audience members with a better performance experience. The
organization is also in the process of transitioning from an executive director at their helm to a
managing director, a switch that could further improve programming and stimulate collaboration
among staff.

Near West Theatre is facing a variety of issues surrounding development. In short, the
organization lacks the funds needed to cover its recently increased operating expenses, as well
as a formal development structure or plan to generate those funds. The following document
includes several strategies Near West can implement to prevent further financial difficulties.

Near West Theater’s primary goal is the balancing of the budget. Currently, there is a net loss of
$315,615, and this number has been consistent for the past few years. The plan will aid in
lowering the current deficit and create access to a healthier donor pool which will in turn provide
the funding necessary to expand the organization’s accessibility and to operate effectively.
Various tactics are discussed to bring about these financial changes. First, Near West will need
to develop an environment that promotes the cultivation and sustainability of donor support
which will encourage a rise in donor retention. The next step is to become more transparent to
both staff and audiences about the present financial status of the organization. Making the
donors and potential donors aware of the funding needs could bring about more generous
contributions. Next, Near West will analyze the current budget and cut expenses wherever
possible to help lower the net loss. Implementing a holiday gala will further solicit wealthy
donors and raise much needed funds. Lastly with the creation of a functioning development
team by utilizing volunteers, expenses will be kept to a minimum and the team can be trained to
continue to have a positive impact on Near West Theatre for many years to come.
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Near West Theatre has been an integral part of Northeastern Ohio’s arts and culture sector
since 1978, when two clergymen began a summer youth theatre program in a local church.
Father Robert Scullin and Rev. George Hrbek developed the idea early in 1978 for a program
that would allow youth to invest in their communities through theatre performances and would
encourage adults to recognize the contributions of area youth. To meet this goal, the two men,
along with Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek, created the Near West Side Shared Ministry Youth
Theatre, which held its first performance in August of 1978.

Over the next few years, the program attracted additional staff and many more participants.
Then, in 1982 and into 1983, the program obtained funding from the George Gund Foundation
to create programs for adults as well as youth. As a result of its expanded offerings, the
founders changed the program’s name to Near West Side Community Theatre.

The following decade saw many important changes for the Near West Side Community Theatre.
In 1986, the organization presented its first intergenerational production, providing opportunities
for area youth to create theater alongside adult community members and to see them as
colleagues. In 1988, the organization changed its name to Near West Theatre. The theater
continued to build an incredible team of artists and educators, and in February of 1999 Near
West Theatre officially became a 501(c)(3) organization and formed its board of trustees.

Community support for Near West Theatre is still strong and consistently growing. The
organization received the first ever Governor’s Award for the Arts in Community Development
and Participation in 2003, and was again recognized in January 2006, this time by Charter One
Bank & Fox 8 TV as a “Champion in Action”. Just as support grows, so too do the theater’s
ambitions. In 2014, Near West Theatre began construction on a new building that would better
meet the needs of a growing arts organization. The building opened in 2015 and has been
serving the theater well ever since.


Near West Theatre builds loving relationships and engages diverse people in strengthening
their sense of identity, passion, and purpose, individually and in community, through
transformational theatre arts experiences.


Contributions, gifts, and grants from private foundations comprise 40% of their revenue. Of the
remaining revenue, 22% comes from fundraising events, 13% comes from government grants,
and 1% from sales. 86.5% of every dollar that comes into the organization goes directly to

Over the coming years, Near West Theatre intends to increase their revenue in a variety of
ways with the goal of maintaining or expanding all of its current programs. The organization’s
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primary programs are their theatrical season, their Technical Theater Work Sessions, and their
recently-launched after school youth program, called “Rise”.

Near West’s season consists of five shows. These productions are open to the public and are
attended by thousands of people annually. Every single member of each cast and crew is a
volunteer and a member of the community. The theater hopes to continue providing local talent
with opportunities to perform for and engage with the community by maintaining this element of
their programming at its current level for the foreseeable future.

The organization’s Technical Theater Work Sessions provide local youth with invaluable
experience backstage as well as onstage. These sessions offer participants practical training
and experience in various areas of technical theater including construction, painting, and
lighting. In addition to gaining an understanding of the lesser-known elements of theater,
participants gain skills that will help them in any career they choose to pursue. Program
participants are required to join the production crew of one of our mainstage shows, giving them
the opportunity to practice leadership, team building, and dedication as well as put their
technical skills to work. Like its season of shows, Near West plans to maintain this program at
its current level for at least the next 3 years.

In addition to continuing to provide these programs over the next several years, Near West
plans to greatly expand its recently-launched Rise program. The Rise program helps students
and residents of Detroit Shoreway ages 9 to 15 discover hidden talents, gain confidence, work
collaboratively, and build lasting friendships through the performing arts. Students meet three
times a week after school over a period of six weeks. This program, funded by a generous grant
from the Cleveland Foundation, helps the organization to specifically target youth, keeping them
engaged in productive activities and helping them grow as performers and individuals. The
program currently only has ten registered participants, but the theater hopes to expand
participation to at least forty students by next year. This expansion will require additional grant
funding as well as financial support from theater patrons and other community members.

Major Changes

The biggest changes Near West Theatre is currently facing are its move into a new facility and
its acquisition of a new managing director.

In 2015, Near West Theatre moved into a brand new, larger, environmentally friendly and
accessible space. The new space allows the theatre to make its presence more known in the
community, expand its programming, and better serve its patrons. However, Near West is
currently struggling to pay its increased operating expenses. Consequently, one of the theater’s
fundraising goals is to simply bring in more contributed revenue in order to balance its budget.

Furthermore, the theater has recently hired a new managing director to succeed long-time
managing director Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek. By bringing in a new perspective and eliminating
the role of executive director in favor of the managing director position, Near West hopes to
enhance collaboration between the organization’s administrative and artistic teams.
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Strategic plan Compatibility

Near West Theatre currently does not have a strategic plan; their only plan has been to recruit
more wealthy donors.

– Political, Economic, Sociocultural, Technological (PEST) analysis

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Competitive Analysis

While Near West Theatre’s relationship with the other theaters of the Cleveland metropolitan
area (such as Cleveland Public Theatre and Geauga Lyric Theatre Guild) is generally
collaborative, the theater often finds itself competing with these performing arts organizations for
funding. As funding from state and federal governments decreases, Near West is forced to
compete with the hundreds of arts organization across Northeast Ohio for fewer dollars every
year. Furthermore, new competitors are frequently arriving on the scene. The Cleveland area’s
newest theater company, Theatre in the Circle, is less than twenty minutes away from Near
West and have already received grant funding from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.

Because there is so much industry competition in Northeast Ohio, one of Near West’s
fundraising goals over the next three years is to obtain funding to expand its accessibility. Near
West Theatre prides itself in being accessible to disabled patrons as well as patrons from a
variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, and this accessibility is what differentiates Near West
Theatre from its competitors. Currently, the theatre seeks to expand its accessible programming
by acquiring assistive listening devices for the hearing impaired, so one of its fundraising goals
is to obtain a $5,000 grant from the Medtronic Foundation to purchase these devices.

The competition in the arts and culture sector in Northeast Ohio is intense, but Near West
Theatre’s development goals include ways to help them stay competitive and even stand out in
the industry.

Collaboration Analysis

The Gordon Square Arts District, or GSAD, is a collaboration between Near West Theatre,
Cleveland Public Theatre, and the Detroit Shoreway CDO/Capitol Theatre dedicated to
leveraging vibrant arts and culture and fostering economic growth and collaboration in the
Detroit Shoreway Neighborhood. In 2014 GSAD completed a $30 million capital campaign that
funded neighborhood beautification, added parking, reopened the long-shuttered Capitol
Theatre, and built a fully accessible, highly energy efficient theater.

The Gordon Square Arts District has become an economic cornerstone of Cleveland’s West
Side, where a powerful combination of housing, the arts, over $500 million of investment, and
neighborhood beautification are sparking the development of new jobs for residents in more
than 80 new businesses.

Though this collaboration has enhanced Near West’s earned revenue, it has presented some
fundraising challenges. Specifically, during the district’s development, some of the theater’s
funders instead directed their contributions to the Gordon Square Arts District. As the theatre
proceeds with its development plan over the next several years, it hopes to explore its
relationship with the Gordon Square Arts District and find ways to better balance this
relationship to make it more mutually beneficial.

The theatre does not currently have any additional proposed collaborations.
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Market Analysis

With the Trump administration previously proposing to eliminate four pots of federal funding for
culture, it is unknown for how long they will exist (the National Endowment for the Arts ($148
million last year), the National Endowment for the Humanities ($148 million), the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting ($445 million) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services ($230
million). If these donors are eliminated, it will decrease the amount of funds Near West Theatre
receives. Although millennials are the generation with the largest population currently, they
are spending the least on arts and culture. According to a 2017 study done by Colleen
Dilenschneider, the Chief Market Engagement Officer for IMPACTS,
millennials are not aging into arts and cultural causes.* This means new ways
to market and connect with millennials needs to be thought of because millennials are not a
reliable funding source. Another implication affecting donors is donors might choose to give to
other causes that they see as more important (healthcare, environmental, helping out in
natural disasters,etc). One more implication is the competition with other arts organizations for

Brand Strength and Issues

One of Near West Theatre’s greatest assets is its reputation in the community. The theatre has
been in existence for nearly four decades, and over that time it has reached many people and
touched many lives. Participants and patrons of all ages look back fondly on their experiences
with Near West and appreciate how the theatre’s programs helped them grow.

Beyond their rich history, Near West Theatre’s consistent efforts to make their programming
more accessible have made them a pillar of the community. Surveys indicate that individuals
with disabilities are consistently pleased with the theatre’s accessibility accommodations.
Furthermore, the theater is continuously striving to be more diverse and inclusive. Their recently
launched after-school program, called rise, specifically targets at-risk youth. Near West
Theatre’s inclusive programming and successful history make its brand name and reputation in
the community very strong.

Despite their excellent reputation, Near West Theatre has some issues relating to their brand.
Most notably, a misconception exists about Near West Theatre’s financial state. Many
community members believe that, because the theatre bought its new building outright, it is
thriving financially, which is not the case. Individual contributions to Near West have decreased
since their move even though their operating expenses have increased. In addition, the skewed
perception of the theater’s financial status has led to some frustration in the community. They
are not financially able to hire additional staff or expand their programming to the degree that
community members expect. However, the majority of people aware of Near West’s presence in
the community support what they do and have confidence in their potential for growth.
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Near West Theatre’s overall internal structure is lacking. The development team in its entirety
consists of Deanna Rankin, the development director, and one other part time employee. When
asked about the policies and procedures, Deanna noted that they have policies and procedures
but unfortunately could not elaborate any further into what those are. The fact that the
organization’s policies are not widely known among staff causes concern. Furthermore, Near
West has continually lost a significant percentage of donors each year. The organization's 990
indicates that they have had a lapse of about 45% of their donors in the past year. Considering
the fact that Near West has recently moved to a new location and that their expenses have
increased immensely, a significant drop in donors is a missed opportunity that will only further
hurt the organization. Not only has the theatre lost donors, but the contributed gift amounts have
also dropped. According to Deanna, the individual gift amount varies from person to person.
Over the past few years there have been steady increases and decreases concerning the gift
amounts, none of which significant enough to state nor are they enough of a change to worry
about. However, when reviewing the 990, Government contributions over the past few years
have dropped substantially from over $500,000 in 2014 to just $99,000 in 2015. Similar
contributions, gifts, and grants have also decreased by a hefty amount from over $556,000 in
2014 to a little over $300,000 in 2015.

Unfortunately, the lack of developmental planning does not end. Deanna appeared to be quite
proud and confident with Near West Theatre’s corporate sponsors, many of which are very
reputable companies such as Key Bank, PNC, Huntington National Bank, Medical Mutual, and
AT&T. That being stated, they only tend to retain about 55% of their individual donors each
year. While the outlook here may not be too positive, Deanna did say that they are currently in
the process of compiling a large list of potential new acquisitions, however she was unable to
recall any specifically. It would also appear as though the staff within the organization holds a
similar feeling of confidence concerning the future of the theatre, however this could be a
misconception due to lack of internal awareness and communication. Many people within the
community may share this skewed perception as well due to the fact that their new location was
able to be purchased outright. This would lead people to believe they are more financially stable
than they truly are. As you can see from the charts below, their total revenue of $790,632 is not
able to cover their expenses of $1,106,247 which definitely puts the organization in the red.
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Although Near West Theatre faces financial difficulties, they also have a variety of development
opportunities. Utilizing donor databases and better cultivation of donors will help bring in and
sustain more consistent donor pools. More diligent grant writing will also be helpful.

SWOT Analysis


Easily accessible (audience surveys indicate that individuals with disabilities are consistently
pleased with the accessibility accommodations,) all inclusive, diverse, theatre offers experience
backstage as well as onstage, offers a free after-school youth program


Not financially able to expand programming to meet the needs that still exist in the community,
are unable to hire the staff necessary to achieve goals and engage in additional accessibility
measures (such as increased accessible parking or accommodations for individuals with
hearing impairment,) because they own a building, many of their supporters underestimated the
need for major financial contributions, and as a result the theatre gets a small amount of large


Opportunities still exist to make the theatre more accessible such as more accessible parking,
hearing impairment accommodations, and inclusive programs. These initiatives will expand the
theater’s reach and presence in the community and create even more opportunities for
partnerships with area school and other organizations


Because Cuyahoga County is home to several hundred nonprofit arts and culture organizations,
there is competition for state and federal government funding. The many nonprofit art
organizations in Cuyahoga county also means we are always in competition for patrons

Fundraising Goals

Near West Theatre is hopeful when it comes to their overall goals; however some of their
projected goals will be difficult. The organization needs to increase their gifted contributions.
They want to increase their Governmental contributions to $100,000. Although this number has
been dropping yearly, in 2015 they were able to receive $99,000 in government aid, so this goal
is within reach. On the other hand, Near West wants to improve their funding by raising
$200,000 in individual Giving, $250,000 through Foundations, and $40,000 Corporate Aid.
While this is necessary for their organization to survive, their desired numbers are significantly
higher than what they are currently raising in similar support. Taking into consideration that
these similar contributions from the previous years are slightly over $300,000, jumping to a total
of $490,000 could be quite difficult. The last major goal of Near West Theatre would be to
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balance the budget. This would require them to bring in at least $315,615 extra in order to break
even. The would like to accomplish all of these goals within the next year.

The organization does have a few key strategic initiatives to help them achieve these goals.
One tactic is focusing on grant writing. While Near West’s development director feels they are
and allocating time to write higher quality proposals would give them a much better opportunity
to receive the assistance. For example, they hope to earn a grant from Medtronics in order to
purchase assistive listening devices. Another tactic is soliciting wealthy individuals. Having a
healthy donor pool is critical for sustained funding and bringing in wealthy donors can help
balance out the large expenses the organization has taken on. There are various key
benchmarks metrics that Near West has laid out in order to achieve their goals. For Individual
Giving, the theatre would like to have half of the total amount, $100,000, halfway through the
year. Another benchmark would be to receive grants and support from 3 new foundations in
addition to the 6 that are currently supporting them. Near West also would like to have retained
an additional 10% of donors, totaling 65% retention, within 8 months.

The Three Year Plan

The first year will be spent identifying the target audience/donors while creating a culture of
donor cultivation and sustainability. Tackling this issue first create a healthier prospect base.
This will include the creation of a new donor database that will more efficiently monitor each
donor’s relationship with Near West. This database should be in use within the two months of
the plan’s launch. Also within the first year, becoming more transparent to the current audiences
and donors about their need of funds is necessary. Both the staff and audiences need to be
aware that although they were able to buy the new building outright, they are still in a definite
need of donations. This should be done through opening speeches at performances,
notifications through social media, playbill inserts, flyers and newsletters, direct mailing, etc.

Year two will be spent maintaining the recent changes while shifting focus to the budget and
programming. The board currently meets once a month for about one-two hours. Expanding the
time of the board meetings to involve everyone on the current financial status as well as
discussing where expenses can be cut is necessary. A sub-committee of the board will check in
monthly during this time to ensure that the development team is meeting its goals. Another key
factor for year two would involve precise choice in grants as well as developing a grant writing
process. The next step would be recruiting outside volunteers to aid the development team.

Year three will focus on soliciting a wealthier donor base. A holiday gala could be pivotal in
bringing in the necessary funds to aid in balancing the budget while allowing Near West to
identify and solicit a much wealthier pool of potential donors. Having already created a culture of
cultivation, the ability to bring in new prospects and sustain them for the future will be more
manageable and critical for the financial status of the organization. Being a holiday gala, the
event will take place at the end of the year. Invitations should be sent out about 8 weeks prior to
the event and planning should start at the beginning of the year. A culture of donor cultivation
and sustainability will make it easier to train new team members. Recruiting early in the year
would benefit the management of the gala as well as being able to reach out to new prospects.
By March, bringing on 2 volunteer team members would be valuable and the potential for a third
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to be recruited by September would be advised if needed. At the close of year three, we will
need to analyze the impact that the last three years has had on the financial status of the
organization. This will tell us if we are on the right track to achieving the goals for Near West
Theatre as well as direct us on where to focus for the future.

The Budget

The current expenses for the theatre is $1.1 Million, and the organization needs to budget for
that amount. Their current revenue however is only $790,632. which results in a net loss of
$316,615. The longer Near West stays in the red, the more difficult it will be to continue
operating and the harder it will be to fix their debt.

Income anticipated from initiatives

Even if the our efforts were to increase retention by just 15%, there would be a revenue
increase by $76,917.10. This wouldn’t include the donations brought in by the gala which could
bring in roughly $50,000.00 through donations. The Medtronic grant would raise $5,000.00 as
well. Total this could bring in $131,917.00. With this additional revenue Near West Theatre’s
total revenue, including this past years total revenue, would total $922,549.00. With the right
expense cuts, balancing the budget would be within reasonable grasp.

Allocation of Current Expenses

*Percentages from their $1,106,247 of total expenses.

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The monitoring the developmental plan, or lack thereof, is left solely to Deanna Rankin, the new
development director. The Board of Directors at Near West Theatre meets for a monthly
meeting which usually lasts anywhere from 1 -2 hours total. When asked specifically about the
year end analysis, or past analyses, Deanna had little to nothing to say which perfectly
represents the many problems the theater is facing.

Near West Theatre would benefit immensely from being a bit more communicative as a board.
The fact that the staff seems to be unaware of some of their financial issues is cause for
concern. Deanna also should reach out for more assistance or expand her development team to
more than just herself and a part time employee. Granted, it would appear as though Deanna
stepped into the mess and that she has had little help to manage it.


Although Near West Theatre is easily accessible, sensory friendly, inclusive, diverse, and
provides after school programs for youth, they are in serious need of developing their own
thorough development and strategic plan (that is currently nonexistent). Near West theatre's
expenses have exceeded their income for the past few years, looking forward they need to start
balancing their budget and be more frugal about expenses. Another important plan of action that
needs to be taken is diversifying their funding stream, and retaining and sustaining high level
donors. Applying for more grants to receive additional funding will help to balance out the
budget, and expand the theatre's accessibility to make it completely accessible and help to
develop higher quality programming. These assessment strategies will allow Near West theatre
to continue to provide transformational theatre arts experiences for the future.