Funding Is Not an “Issue”

GoldTitle got your attention, didn’t it?

Recently Doug McLennan wrote about ArtsJournal’s survey of readers about issues in the field: We Asked: What’s the Biggest Challenge Facing the Arts? By far the most cited was funding, beating out relevance, diversity, and leadership by a wide margin. In one way this is surprising in that the most talked about issues in the field of late have been diversity, equity, relevance, and leadership. On the other hand, in any gathering of leaders in the nonprofit field, funding is cited as the most important concern. It’s what’s on everyone’s mind. We never have enough money to do what needs to be done.

But that is not an issue; it’s the reason 501(c)(3)’s exist. There are things that society deems important that can’t “pass” the market test–can’t generate sufficient income on a fee-for-service basis–and that don’t have sufficient political support to be funded by the government. For this work, not-for-profit corporations were created. When I ask boards to identify challenges as part of a planning process, I say:

“Funding” by itself is not a challenge. It is a symptom. The exception may be when a long-time revenue source is suddenly drying up or becoming less available.

Of course there are situations in which funding does become an issue in itself, as highlighted above. (It also can be a symptom of inequity in funding patterns, but that’s a structural issue over which individual organizations have little control.) More often, though, lack of funding may be an opportunity for strategic review of programming priorities,  revenue raising efforts, and relationships with the community. Insufficiency of funds will never go away. It’s a state of being in the nonprofit sector. Overfocus on this as an issue can get in the way of addressing the causes that might be contributing to it.



Photo: Some rights reserved by digitalmoneyworld

  1. Pingback: Top Posts From AJBlogs 02.16.16 – ArtsJournal

  2. Doug: So right. I might add that funding isn’t just an issue in non-profits, but in for-profits as well. Everyone wants the funding they think they need to do what they think they want, no matter whether their goal is to do some charitable good work or to make a profit. Artists with big ambitions are always going to be trying to get more funding. All the more important then to focus on making the case for why those ambitions should be supported, whether for- or non-profit.

  3. Lately, I have been curious to know more about financial issues is the arts and I think everyone who is involved in the arts, whether as an artist, administrator or audience member, asks the question at some point: when will we be able to stop worrying about funding the arts?

    I agree with Mr. McLennan’s response that funding is an issue not only for non-profits but for-profits as well: Everyone who is in the arts is struggling to receive funding for a project or organization.. But instead of thinking about it only from the perspective of the artist, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the person or foundation ‘with the money’. Look around, you’ll find dozens of new projects, innovative ideas and shocking production popping out of any city with a major arts scene. And, let’s face the fact: NO ONE wants to lose money however rich they are. So how on Earth is the funder supposed to choose the right organization or project and support it, being sure that the funding will be used accordingly?

    I agree with Mr. Borwick: lack of funding doesn’t ONLY mean that money is not available. in my opinion, although it sounds harsh, the project in question just might not be interesting enough to the funder, no matter how dynamic and revolutionary it may be. I like to think of funders as investors. When I put down a ‘suggested donation’ of $10, I expect to get a performance of my money’s worth. If I REALLY enjoyed the performance, I will leave another $10 because I want the concert series to sustain so that is how I invested (okay, $10 isn’t a huge contribution but I did give more than the ‘suggested amount’). 🙂

    In general, I think the problem these days is that the funders need to freshen up their opinion on the arts. The arts scene looks completely different than it did 50 years ago, heck it looks different than it did last week! This is not to say that they are the only ones who need to change their point of view: artists as well need to wake up and realize that when creating a project, it is important to consider not only yourself (artist) and the audience but the investors as well.

  4. Hi Mr. Borwick,

    Thank you for this insight. I’m the founder of a small arts non-profit and I’ve been in the trenches of grant writing the past year. And I agree that funding should not be an “issue.” Perspective. Even with the minimal amount of funds, we’ve been able to accomplish our mission through creative programming strategies. Yes, we can always use more. And yes, I’m aggressively working to expand our “impact.” But your insight is just a reminder that that effort should not outweigh the our need to serve our community.

    In your February 3rd post, “We Asked: What’s the Biggest Challenge Facing the Arts?” you left us with the questions: “So funding? Diversity? Relevance?” And although the majority responded that “funding” was the largest challenge, I agree with you.- leadership is the answer. I’m currently in the Graduate Arts Leadership program at USC, and we’re tackling topics surrounding the state of arts organizations. How can a new generation of arts leaders evolve the field with innovative strategies? How can we re-invest in our communities so that our work is direct reflection of community ethos? Not just focus on the lack of arts funding, an “issue” that will never go away.