The pursuit of grants, sponsorships, and donations is a central focus of all nonprofits–the arts no less than any other type of tax exempt entity. It keeps us up at night, permeates our dreams (and nightmares), and occupies many, if not most, of our working hours.
Over the years I’ve come to observe that this work is often rooted in an assumption so deep we don’t even realize we assume it. That is, the universe of funds from which we may legitimately pursue arts support is limited to a relatively small portion of the whole: wealthy individuals with an appreciation of the arts (or the status that the arts can provide), foundations with an arts mandate, corporations that for public image reasons give to the arts, and government entities with an arts support line item. Our funding efforts necessarily involve promoting one organization’s interests over another’s. This is the “cut the pie into smaller pieces” approach.
The notion of significantly expanding the funding horizon is seldom realistically entertained, although a precedent occurred years ago when it was discovered that corporate marketing departments had much more money at their disposal than their charitable contributions divisions. Today sponsorships have almost totally eclipsed “mere” contributions as a significant revenue source for arts organizations.
I would argue that the future of arts funding lies in the “baking more pies” approach. Crowdfunding, though not yet widely pursued by arts organizations holds promise. One of my early blog posts was titled 40,000 x $25 = $1Million. It is technically doable with advances in database management and maintenance. However, to be successful, it must be built on being valuable to many, many people. More on that in a moment.
But the real potential lies in the power of the arts to support interests beyond the traditional arts purview. In Engaged Fundraising I: More Pies, I highlighted Rocco Landesman’s work at the NEA. He found common ground with numerous federal agencies on how the arts could support their mission. The result was funding for the arts that had never been available before. The same principle holds true on the local level. Funding to support the arts can come from sources that are not directly interested in the arts but are willing to fund arts projects that further their own goals in social change, educational reform, health outcomes, etc. Pursuing such funding is the “bake more pies” approach.
The trick, with both crowdsourced and “not usual suspect” fundraising is the need for arts organizations to be deeply connected to their communities. It is community engagement that provides the mindset to imagine the possibilities and the tools to be successful in the attempt.
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