Michigan nonprofits have had it tough for years and have had to find increasingly clever ways to wring money from an increasingly destitute public. Last week, Performance Network, Ann Arbor’s professional theater, in obvious desperation, tried an approach that was refreshingly simple and basic. You might call it the ransom note strategy: on April 8, the Ann Arbor News printed as its lead story that if Performance Network didn’t get $40,000 by April 15, it was closing its doors. (The Network also sent out an email to its subscriber list saying basically the same thing.)

The fact that it was front-page-above-the-fold news was in itself a testament of the strategy’s potential. “Within minutes of sending out that email press release, we got three or four calls from the Ann Arbor News, says marketing director Janet Torno.

So, how did they do? By April 14, they had raised $60,000, says Torno–enough to give the theater a six-month reprieve. She hastens to explain that exact figures are impossible to give; that some of the money wasn’t in hand yet, and half of the money would be in matching funds, but she’s well satisfied. “We just got an email from a theatre group in Plymouth who felt so bad they gave us $250.” She says the campaign has turned a lot of the old fundraising received wisdom on its head. “We used to say it was eighty/twenty, meaning you get eighty percent of your contributions from twenty percent of your donors. In the last week, we’ve gotten fifteen times as much money from the low end as from the high end.”