How Would You Like to Win a Free Cookie?

The job of every nonprofit development professional is to build solid relationships.

That’s what distinguishes fundraising from begging. The more engaged prospective donors are, the far more likely they will be to become supporters. The stronger the relationship with donors, the more likely they will be to give again and give more.

In the performing arts world, effective engagement is also important because, in addition to the performance product, it can lead to ticket sales.

The development and marketing people at A Noise Within Theater Company in Pasadena, California understand the importance of solid engagement and strong relationships. They also understand the power of a tasty cookie.

Let me just make two points perfectly clear:


  1. I’m not talking about just any cookie. I’m talking about a delicious cookie from Wildflour Bakery in Sierra Madre.
  2. I’m not the one awarding the free cookie. The creative minds at A Noise Within Theater Company are making the offer.


Antony and Cleopatra, 2012

The Company’s “mission is to produce world-class performances of the great works of drama in rotating repertory with a resident company; to educate and inspire the public through programs that foster an understanding and appreciation of history’s great plays and playwrights; and to train the next generation of classical theatre artists.”

You might think that a theater company that performs the classics would be dull and stuffy. But, you’d be wrong if you thought that about this Company. While the Company’s performances are rooted in the classics, its marketing is 21st century. You’ll find the Company on:

The Company’s new website has recently launched. On September 6, the Company made this announcement on its Facebook wall:

The WEBSITE is LIVE! While we are still in ‘Preview Mode’ we encourage you to go exploring! In fact, each [Facebook] fan who finds a new TYPO gets a certificate for a FREE COOKIE the next time they’re at the theater! Email marketing[at] to submit your typos and enjoy the new Website!”

This isn’t stuffy at all.

Rather than hiding from potential mistakes, the Company has boldly announced there may indeed be typos on its website. They revealed their interest in hunting down those typos. They engaged the public in a fun, and possibly rewarding, copyediting exercise. They encouraged the public to not just visit the website; they invited folks to spend time there actually reading.

Now, if someone reports a typo, it won’t be a complaint or gotcha moment. Instead, it will be a fun contact for everyone concerned. If you don’t believe me, here’s what two brief comments on Facebook had to say:

What a delightful way to engage people with your website!” (Monica Hubbard)

This is smart for various reasons. :-)” (Inside Out Community Arts)

So, how did the Company turn a potential problem into a fun engagement exercise? Niki Blumberg, the Company’s Marketing and Development Associate, explains:

At A Noise Within, we have a very collaborative working environment. I believe this idea came about when Deborah Strang (Subscriptions Manager) mentioned that patrons call her all the time to mention small typos in emails or printed material. She then suggested telling the patrons that we purposefully inserted that typo, just to make sure they were paying attention. After a giggle or two, Deborah, Wendy Gragg (Development Director), and I thought we should put these typo-hunters to work for us. And, with the launch of our new website, it seemed like the perfect idea. Besides, we have great cookies from Wildflour Bakery, a local joint in Sierra Madre, and thought ‘Who wouldn’t want a free, tasty cookie?’”

The promotion has generated a great deal of positive fan response. Blumberg says that fans have emailed, Tweeted, and posted to the Company’s Facebook about the special offer.

With the cookie offer, the Company tells the public it is creative, accessible, interested in improvement, and the home of tasty treats in addition to fine theatrical productions.

Furthermore, if someone earns a free cookie certificate, they need to visit the theater to collect. That means these folks will have one additional, albeit small, reminder and inducement for attending a performance.

Based on the positive response to the cookie offer, the Company had another creative engagement idea that Blumberg explains:

When we officially launched the website, after the initial cookie idea, we implemented a ‘Scavenger Hunt,’ wherein patrons had to email us the URLs on our new website that corresponded with different items (i.e.: find where you can download A Noise Within’s Shakespeare Supplement, or the benefits of giving at the Artist Circle Level). To that, we had a huge response! … We thought it would be a fun way to get our patrons excited about exploring our new website.”

Many organizations prefer to hide their errors or, worse yet, pretend they never make any. When confronted, they are often defensive (e.g.: “No one else has complained about this.”). By being open and fun, A Noise Within Theater Company has shown itself to be a different sort of nonprofit organization. And, it’s proven to be an organization that knows something about how to positively engage the public and drive traffic to its new website. According to Blumberg, the Company’s website has averaged a 500 percent increase in traffic since the new website was launched.

“We love to listen to our patrons and implement new and fun ideas. Our patrons always become a source of inspiration for us, and this was another instance of that,” Blumberg told me.

What a terrific donor/customer centered attitude! Bravo!

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

2 Comments to “How Would You Like to Win a Free Cookie?”

  1. Michael, thanks for sharing this wonderful example of how an organization can be more fun, less serious and more engaging with it’s supporters.

    Non profit groups should use this as a case study and brainstorm how they could replicate this creativity for greater engagement in their missions.

    Fabulous marketing!

    • Richard, thank you for your kind comment. When a friend first told me about what this theater company was doing, I was immediately interested in learning more. I particularly liked the significant marketing impact the theater was able to have while spending virtually no money. It just goes to show that great marketing is not always about large budgets; a great deal of creativity can go a very long way.

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