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In a time of monetary discomfort, it’s hard for Michigan citizens to sacrifice hard-earned funds to outside organizations. For non-profits, the prospects can be discouraging. Non-profits struggle to assure supporters and donors that they are not futilely casting money into a bottomless pit.

Further examination of certain non-profit organizations, however, reveals that a well-structured non-profit can thrive in the present economic climate, and, consequently benefit the surrounding community.

To gain better insight on how to strategically run a nonprofit, we looked at Youth Dance Theatre of Michigan (YDT), a successful non-profit dance company based in Chelsea, Michigan. According to the YDT mission statement, YDT not only “[nurtures] strong minds and healthy bodies in an artistic environment,” but “has a larger goal of entertaining and educating an audience comprised of the communities that support their work.” YDT trains company members who, in turn, reach out to the greater community, such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and audience members.

We interviewed Jane Thompson, president of Youth Dance Theatre of Michigan, to see what her outlook is for YDT and non-profits. While she presents  a realistic view of the current economic struggle, she also notes key measures for success.

Thompson first states, “Many non-profits including YDT have cut their expenses to the bone and cannot cut them any more without reducing the quality of the service provided.” Thompson says that the cut expenses usually come in the form of “reduced salaries.” As an organization with further reduced salaries, “[YDT] members would get less training, less guidance, less development. This would result in lower quality productions.”

It is essential, therefore, to take a proactive stance to uphold the organization…but how? Thompson says, “For performing non-profits such as YDT, we have to survive by growing the audience while not increasing ticket prices. We have to get our name out to a larger audience through savvy marketing.”

Thompson notes how the progression of technology and culture has affected how we market to the younger generation: “Marketing in 2011 is very different from 3 or 5 years ago. Young people don’t read newspapers and find out about events through electronic media or word of mouth. The older audience members still rely on ‘old fashioned’ marketing means such as advertising in newspapers/ posters/ mail outs.” Even though “it is both time consuming and costly to have to work with different marketing media” it is a necessary step. In order to best present the organization, YDT has to best know their “customers” and cater to a wide range of people.

Thompson also presented the idea of cooperation with other non-profits through sharing of “facilities/skills etc.” Consolidation of resources is efficient and helps to cut costs. YDT has collaborated with other organizations such as Chelsea Chamber Orchestra for a Valentine’s Day dance fundraiser where the space was donated by Aberdeen Bike & Outdoors and instructional services lent by the U of M ballroom. Events such as these not only help to raise funds and increase marketing presence, but emphasize the partnership with the community.

YDT is only one example of the powerful bond between a community and non-profits. Understanding the individuals in the community will show organizations how to reach them through marketing approaches and provide opportunities for fundraising partnerships. This will enable the non-profit to better serve the public and form the symbiotic relationship between the two.

For more information about Youth Dance Theatre go to http://www.youthdancetheatre.org

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