Major Giving for Arts & Culture

Cultural enrichment is important for every community. Larger cities have many nonprofits that serve to grow the interest in arts and culture: art museums, botanical gardens, community parks, chorales, symphonies, operas, historical museums, zoos and other cultural enrichment organizations.

The question then becomes, what financial support do these organizations have, since many could be competing for the cultural dollar. A solution may be in looking inward to current subscribers, members, board members, volunteers, staff, single-entry purchasers, sponsors – really, all who participate in the life of the organization.  But you need to explain why someone should be a benefactor.

Make a Strong Case for Support

The process starts with intense introspection, asking, “What value do we bring to the community?” What is the ultimate vision of the organization? Beyond the “what” of your mission, “why” are you seeking to perform it? If you are not reaching the goals of the mission, what is the gap and how do you intend to close the gap?

For example, the vision of Habitat for Humanity is to eliminate poverty housing. With more than 1.4 billion people living in substandard housing, that is a “big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG).” Yet it drives the organization. What is your BHAG?

You may need to conduct focus groups or create a “thought group” to consider questions such as those above. When you take the results and revise your current mission or vision statement you’ll be on track to make impact.

Impact Is the Byword

What are major donors looking for today? They want their dollars to create change in their community and they want tangible evidence that it’s occurring. It’s an opportunity to suggest transformational giving to current major donors, perhaps a three-to-five year five-figure commitment to fund a Big Idea coming out of your visioneering process: a new wing to a current facility, a satellite performance venue, or other opportunity that will make a difference in providing an uplifting cultural experience to more members of the community.

You will find that major donors crave transparency and want to be considered insiders. You should involve your prospects (long before asking) in your “thought group:” discuss what their dreams are for your organization’s outcomes, provide creative and innovative ways to engage your donors and prospects with the organization, show the spreadsheet that explains impact, spend the time it will take to create a high-touch, long-term relationship. At one organization, the top tier of donors had interactions biweekly or monthly on a variety of topics, as advisors and in events, helping them to be a part of the leadership, informally, of the organization.

On the flip side, you’ll want to collect as much information as you can about your donors and prospects. What kind of behavioral data can you mine from your database? Frequency of gifts, size of gifts, attendance at events, participation in governance or advisory councils, longevity of membership, spouse, children, business, network links, birthdays and more. All of these are internal data points. Also take advantage of external data points, such as stock holdings, bank balance and real estate owned, by contracting with a firm that does wealth screening so you end up with a comprehensive donor profile.

Creating a Funding Pipeline

We noted at the outset that you can look inward to grow your major donor portfolio – through current subscribers, members, board members, volunteers, staff, single-entry purchasers, sponsors and others involved.

Here’s the challenge: Many attendees of plays, concerts, museums and other cultural events don’t have the facility to capture contact information for future use. Some organizations have worked diligently to capture email addresses, and that is good, but open rates are low; whereas, with mobile messaging, open rates skyrocket by more than 300 percent to 90+ percent. Using social media rather than email may be a way to engage attendees.

An up-to-date website and managed social media interaction can keep prospects educated and informed about the successes of your organization. Digital communications can create a “personal connection” that would otherwise be non-existent. And with intelligent communications, some will also become donors.

Once you have captured the contact information, you can then grow your collection of internal data and decide whether it would be valuable to seek external data about your prospects.

We’ve focused on individuals because that’s where 72 percent of donations come from (80 percent if you include bequests), but corporations are often sponsors of events or involved in capital campaigns. Corporate giving is more strategic than ever. For example, a bank would be willing to support financial/business literacy training. Many corporations are also keen to tie giving to organizations that can provide employee volunteer experiences.

The Face of Performing Arts

The Colour of Music Festival in Charleston, S.C. (October 21-25), is a budding festival in its third year that highlights the impact and historical significance of black classical composers and performers on American and world culture.

Assembling acclaimed black chamber ensemble players and artists to form the Colour of Music Orchestra, the four-day festival showcases some of the top black classical musicians in the United States, trained at some of the most prestigious music schools, conservatories and universities in the world.

The Face of the Donor

As you look into your database or contract for wealth screening, it’s valuable for you to realize that Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are the most philanthropic group, according to a recent study. About 35 percent of them give about 45 percent of philanthropic dollars. It’s also important to note that women are responsible for about 64 percent of gifts.

Some new statistics also reveal that 51 percent of people visiting websites do so from a mobile device and 65 percent of people access social media from a smartphone. This should challenge you to optimize your Internet and social media for the small screen.

The Bottom Line

Knowing that 88 percent of contributions come from 12 percent of donors, every organization should redouble efforts to capture the top prospects in the pool. Secondly, the fact that total donor retention is hovering around 43 percent should scare every executive director and development officer; redoubling efforts to engage donors in a variety of ways and through a variety of media is a must.

A visionary case for support, building a knowledge base about our primary major donor prospects and getting external input to grow “big data,” and focusing on prospects who are statistically more inclined to give, can help to overcome some of the fundraising challenges that arts and culture organizations face.

For more data on donor interaction and social media, see “20 Must-Know Fundraising and Social Media Stats.

D.C. Dreger, ACFRE, is a guest writer at Custom Development Solutions (CDS).  He has more than 30 years of experience as a fundraising and organizational development professional. 

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