There is probably no element of the nonprofit arts management structure that better understands the importance of relationships than the development department. Fundraisers spend their life initiating, fostering, and maintaining relationships with individual donors, corporate sponsors, and foundations. Especially with respect to individual donors, they have great clarity about the fact that effective relationship building takes time, often lots of time.
(NB: As yet another reminder, in these mainstreaming engagement posts I am addressing only those individuals or organizations that want broader and deeper relationships with their communities but are uncertain how to begin or even whether it is possible to do so without completely reinventing the organization.)
No, donor solicitation is not community engagement. It is too focused on specific individuals and, in outcomes, it is too self-focused. However, it is one of my (many) continuing fantasies to have an arts organization’s individual donor experts train the rest of the staff (all of them–board members, artistic director, box office personnel, and on–in the basics of relationship building). Then, everyone would be set loose upon the public to create, over time, meaningful relationships with individuals and segments of the community. The individual donor specialists are the ones with the chops to make this work.
With that off my chest, let me return to considering the benefits to fundraising of a community engagement agenda. As I highlighted in my Farewell Rocco post, Rocco Landesman demonstrated that when engaging with community (or national) issues, the arts gain access to far more “pots o’ money” than those (few) normally devoted to arts projects. Addressing social, educational, economic (though let’s not beat that horse to death), even spiritual issues that we identify by being “in dialogue” (my ’60’s roots are showing with that phrase) with the community opens up potential funding sources that are simply untouchable otherwise. This is about “baking more pies,” not cutting the existing one into smaller and smaller pieces.
What’s not to like about this? (Other than the work relationship building takes. But then, fundraising is all about relationship building. This approach would simply build relationships with different people or groups.)
Next time, we’ll revisit some thoughts on crowdsourced fundraising.
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