Share What You Have

This is part of a series, introduced in Baby Steps, about arts organizations’ initial efforts in community engagement. For details about the premises upon which these posts are based, see below. The essence is that simple, inexpensive initial steps offer the best way to embark upon community engagement.

Share What You Have: Connecting as Community Citizens
Beyond what was discussed in Be What You Are, a means of connecting with communities that does not have an impact upon programming is the of sharing organizational resources–physical, human, and infrastructural. In the context of community engagement, the point is to provide benefit to communities as a means of developing trust and supporting relationship building. Think of it as lending a neighbor a cup of sugar. And to be clear, this does not suggest anything that would have a significant impact on the budget or staff.

Awareness of community needs and interests can help inform how this might look. Some organizations that have their own facilities provide community groups with meeting space. After Hurricane Sandy, a theatre company in Manhattan put a generator on the street outside their offices so people could charge their cell phones. It took awareness of the need and the company’s self-identification as a member of the community to inspire that action.

An interesting idea  proposed by museum director, community engagement advocate, and writer Nina Simon is the use of an arts organization’s presenting platforms to build relationships. In The Future of Authority: Platform Power she suggested “that museums could give up control of the visitor experience while still maintaining (a new kind of) power. Museums could make the platforms for those experiences. There is power IN the platform–power to shape the way people participate.” In other words, presenting forums could be made available to communities. Whether community organized pop-up exhibitions in the museum or performances of community cultural resources, the organization’s platform could be a significant tool for substantive engagement. 

Another type of resource sharing is the joint fundraiser or cause-related marketing of tickets. I have always had trouble with people describing fundraisers or ticket sales where a portion goes to a charitable organization (cause-related marketing) as community engagement. True engagement requires more mutuality and more of a two-way relationship than such practices usually involve. However, fundraisers and ticket sales are an infrastructural platform that arts organizations possess and sharing revenue from either is a valid way to provide something of benefit to a community organization. To be clear, these things cannot be looked on as the culmination of any community engagement effort. However, they can be an element of a larger process of relationship building.

These are just a few of the possibilities for connecting with communities that can be imagined when an organization identifies itself as a community member willing and able to contribute to the life of the community and, thereby, to develop relationships within it.



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The premises of this blog series are twofold. First, since relationship building is the core of community engagement, attempting to do too much too fast (before the relationship is established) will likely not be productive and, in fact, may be counter-productive. Second, there are many things that can be done to support engagement that do not require new personnel or new budgets. Simply re-imagining (and perhaps slightly re-tooling) things that are already being done can support engagement in very effective ways.

It should go without saying that the core of all engagement work is a strong (even if not unanimous) desire on the part of the organization to make connections with new communities. If the will to do so is lacking, the work will be at best minimally successful.

External Connections

Fundraising, sales, education, and engagement. All are concerned with making connections between an arts organization and individuals (and groups) outside the organization. The first two have long been focused most on people who have historically been supportive of arts of the European aristocratic cultural tradition. The latter two have spent somewhat more time dealing with those who have not.

Fundraising and sales are further related in that 1) they are intended to seek an immediate, direct benefit to the arts organization (donations and ticket revenue), 2) as such, they are almost entirely focused on the organization’s needs and interests, and 3) they have been pursued with little attention to learning much about the funder or purchaser. The exception to that last point, is, of course, major donors; and, as many have argued far better than I, 2) and 3) are incredibly counterproductive. This is especially true now that the pool of people eager to participate in the arts as currently presented has become so small.

Education and engagement are about the “long game.” They do not usually bear short-term financial results, although that is not always the case. (See Riverside Art Museum) They also demand a degree of mutuality that has not characterized arts fundraising and sales in the past. (Again, that needs to change but it’s a different blog post.)

It’s difficult to “educate” without understanding the learner. Good teachers have to know their subject as well as the interests and abilities of their students. It’s impossible to develop a relationship (engage) without a high degree of mutual understanding and benefit. Who wants to be in a one-sided relationship?

Fundraising, sales, education, and engagement are the vehicles through which arts organizations connect with individuals and communities. As we get further into the 21st Century, it is becoming ever more important for our fundraising and sales practices to be more deeply rooted in relationship principles than has been true in the past. And, the relatively newer disciplines of education and engagement could benefit from the rigor and resources that have been applied to fundraising and sales.

They are all important to the current and future health of our organizations. Studying them together could prove highly valuable.



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Zero Sum Funding?

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.



Photo: Some rights reserved by nfnitloop

Development Terminology

Fools rush in . . . .

I may just be a glutton for punishment. However, over the (many) years I taught arts management and the many more in which I have engaged with colleagues in discussions of marketing, sales, development, fundraising–you know, the fun part of the arts (!?)–I’ve been troubled by what has seemed to me to be a fuzziness about the way we use all the terms. While all of this is not directly related to community engagement, the impact of these fields on it and of community engagement on them is (or should be) very important. So, as I’ve been working on my training programs I’ve decided to make a stab at differentiating among them in the way I have earlier worked on audience development, audience engagement, and community engagement. (Be warned, I’ve done a bit more work on those as well so a post will be forthcoming on those.)

I know these terms are now deeply embedded in our field and that people have deep commitments to the way they use and understand the terms. And, since I am not a day to day practitioner I may be missing important aspects of each. However, for me what follows is a way of making all these important terms play nicely together. For anyone interested in sharing these via URL, this material can be found here. []

In the arts management world, much discussion of development, marketing, fundraising, and sales is complicated by conflicting or overlapping definitions. While what is presented here is decidedly “non-standard,” it represents an attempt to clarify the terminology in ways that might be helpful.

The process of soliciting and securing resources for an organization. All of the following are subsets of development.

Processes and activities that support fundraising and sales and that enhance organizational visibility which serves as the foundation for both. It is best understood as communication with external constituencies about the offerings–the receivable values–an organization presents.

The process and activity of soliciting and securing grants, contributions, and donations to an organization.

The process and activity of securing an exchange transaction with a member of the public in which they give money and/or their time in order to receive the value of the art the organization presents.

The percentage of any given population that takes advantage of an organization’s offerings.

The average number of times any given member of the public takes advantage of an organization’s offerings in a prescribed period of time.

So there you have it, for better or worse. I’m certainly interested in improving on these definitions so (constructive) comments are welcomed.



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Client, Customer, Collaborator: A Roadmap

by Amelia Northrup-Simpson

This post is part of a series in conjunction with TRG Arts on developing relationships with both new communities and existing stakeholders through artistic programming, marketing and fundraising, community engagement, and public policy. (Cross-post can be found at Analysis from TRG Arts.)

Do you treat arts patrons like customers, clients, or collaborators?

In the first post in this series, Doug Borwick laid out this important question. Let’s re-cap the definitions of each:

  • The exchange with a customer is largely arms-length. We provide something, they buy it. End of story.
  • With a client there is a relationship, but they still come to us for the “product” we create and are selling. We may tailor it to their particular interests but we are in charge of the “supply.”
  • A collaborator is a partner, suggesting mutual benefit and participation.

If our job as arts managers is to bring artists and audiences together, these definitions become very important. The spectrum from customer to collaborator indicates how deeply we allow the connection to artists to go.

It also brings up the polarity between new and existing audiences. How do we include new audiences and welcome them in as collaborators? How do we deepen relationships with existing stakeholders and move them beyond “customer” status? Is it possible to do either with our current business model? If it is possible, how do we balance the wants and needs of new and existing constituencies?

This polarity and the ways we can engage new and existing audiences has inspired this blog series, which is designed around the following questions:

How does the need to deepen relationships with current stakeholders and build relationships with new audiences and new communities affect your work in the arts? What future changes in your work might be necessary/helpful due to that need?

TRG is looking forward to promoting new voices on this blog, including our own clients and TRG Council members, as well as other movers and shakers in the field.

Among these different voices, there’s not one “right” way to address the new vs. existing polarity. We discussed the ways that organizations tackle this issue and identified 4 categories of initiatives:

  • programming
  • marketing/fundraising
  • community engagement
  • public policy

Each post in this series addresses one or more of these categories. Underlying each category is the tension between new and existing. There are things that we do in each area that serve new communities, existing patrons, or both. I’ve visualized it in the diagram below, which serves as a sort of roadmap for the series:



amelianorthrup_165x165-ccAmelia Northrup-Simpson has devoted her career to bringing audiences and artists together. As frequent writer and speaker on building sustainable arts organizations, developing and engaging arts audiences, and patron technology expectations, she helps arts managers cut through noise and distractions to focus on the most effective marketing and technology strategies for their organization.

Currently, Amelia is the Director of Strategic Communications at TRG Arts, a consulting firm which focuses on getting audience development and revenue results from loyalty, pricing, and data strategies. She serves as an editor and writer for the firm’s consulting and research analytics projects, presentations and webinars, case studies, and the TRG blog Analysis from TRG Arts. She also serves as TRG’s in-house marketing technologist and user interface advisor. She has presented conference panels, workshops, and webinars for Americans for the Arts, Theatre Communications Group, Do Good Data, Chorus America, and Colorado Creative Industries, among others. She is a member of the Advisory Committee and serves as adjunct faculty at University of Denver’s Arts Development and Program Management master’s degree program.