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Britt Fest doubles the price of membership

The minimum cost of a Britt Festivals membership will rise from $50 to $100 for the 2011 concert season, Britt has announced. The price hike will affect a little less than half of Britt's membership of about 2,000.

In addition, Britt will discontinue the practice of giving higher-level members vouchers for free admission to shows.

"It's trying to be sure we get a realistic return on those dollars people give us," Britt Executive Director Jim Fredericks said. "The value of the memberships had probably outpaced the cost. Fifty dollars is really not sustainable."

The increase, which Fredericks said is needed to make up an operating shortfall, is the first in nine years at the popular summer music festivals and comes as part of a package of changes following losses of about $1 million over the past three years.

Fredericks said he's talked with members who have complained and explained where the changes came from.

"I can understand folks for whom $50 is a good chunk of their annual charitable contributions," he said. "But it's about trying to sustain an organization that's of value to the community."

He said Britt wants to increase membership this year and raise the percentage of revenue provided by memberships from 10 percent to 15 percent.

Like most nonprofit arts groups, Britt uses the proceeds of memberships to augment admission income, which does not cover its costs and must be supplemented by grants, gifts, corporate sponsorships and other sources of income. Fredericks said the changes were made after Britt formed study groups, consulted experts, looked at other arts nonprofits and talked with members.

If there's been some grousing about the increased membership cost and the dropping of the voucher program, there's also been support.

"I don't think it's a bad idea," says Martha Kelly of Jacksonville.

Kelly and her husband, William, are members at the benefactor level of $1,000. She says they'll probably keep their membership at that level. A bookkeeper, she has even recommended benefactor memberships as cost-effective to friends and clients, pointing out that she gets a write-off plus as much as $600 worth of vouchers depending on which shows she chooses.

"It's certainly been an attraction," she says of the voucher system. "But it's probably too generous."

Fredericks said the value of vouchers given away for the past three years is about $1 million, which is approximately the amount of red ink Britt has posted in that time. Instead of using vouchers as an incentive, Britt will begin offering discounted tickets at higher membership levels. For example, at the $600 level, members will get a 20 percent discount on tickets.

"Our tickets are a pretty precious commodity," Fredericks said. "It's what we have to sell."

At the $100 level, patrons will get the chance to buy tickets before they go on sale to the public and five $5 coupons. Donors ($250) will get seven $5 coupons. Benefactors ($1,000) will get up to 40 coupons and other perks.

Fredericks said that under the old system, Britt was giving back as much as 35 percent of members' contributions as free tickets.

"Most nonprofits, you want about 90 percent or more of your contribution to go straight to the program," he said. "We were giving back $35 out of $100."

Britt will keep its pre-sales for members, install a new early gate for members at the $250 level, offer more reserved blanket options, food and drink coupons and make changes to the food menu.

Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at varble.bill@gmail.com.