Talk about timely: the new Fundraising for the Arts explores how changes in today’s world are impacting fundraising and philanthropy for the arts. Co-edited by Mark Volpe, former president and CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with Francesca Pecoraro and Alex Turrini, Fundraising for the Arts is more than a textbook or compendium of handy development tips. The book examines the standard, business-as-usual practices and theories behind fundraising, discusses the sweeping shifts that are happening across society, and proposes new thinking, new directions, new approaches to engaging donors, audiences, and communities.
In addition to Volpe, Pecoraro, and Turrini, contributors include experts and scholars in nonprofit fundraising in the U.S. and abroad, as well as leaders of a variety of arts organizations, among them Kim Noltemy, president and chief executive officer of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Brief interstitial chapters explore topics including the historical roots of cultural philanthropy, and the book also includes items such as the job description for a chief advancement and revenue officer at the Dallas Symphony, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s statement of the aims of its organization-wide philosophy of giving, broader context, and more. Individual chapters delve into the specifics of what it takes to raise funds today (candor and authenticity are key; social media is great but don’t forget to send thank-you notes) and move into heady big-picture discussions of how arts groups can remain relevant and sustainable long into the future.
Here are excerpts from Chapter 2, “Introducing a Culture of Philanthropy in Arts Organizations,” by Francesca Pecoraro, Alex Turrini, and Mark Volpe with Lanfranco Li Cauli.
Traditionally, individuals within an arts organization had very distinct roles. The second oboist played the second oboe parts. The actor playing Hamlet just played Hamlet. The curator for Ancient Egyptian, Nubian and Near Eastern Art only focused on art from those regions. And the development director solely raised money. While this approach worked in the past, the digital revolution, the proliferation of not-for-profits arts institutions competing for funds and the evolving sensibilities of younger generations have led to rethinking about who is responsible for fundraising. As Cynthia Gibson noted in her article “Beyond Fundraising,” when considering who was responsible for fundraising in arts organizations, it might have seemed weird for a development director to state that fundraising was “everyone’s job.”
Similarly, a request by fundraisers to be involved in key organizational planning meetings, including those focused on artistic and mission topics, would not have been welcomed. In other words, development professionals were just expected to raise money and not to be involved in decision-making regarding the core activities of the arts institution.
Today, the modern arts organization is best served if all employees and volunteers have “ownership” of fundraising success. Now, the second oboist may serve on an annual fund committee and occasionally might be asked to write thank-you notes to donors. The actor playing Hamlet might speak to a group of donors at a post-performance reception. The curator of Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art might lead a group of donors on an excavation in Egypt. And the lead development officer should expect to be included in meetings in which strategic decisions are made.
This is not to say that artists are being asked to replace the arts organization’s development team or that the development director will be allowed to make programming decisions. Rather, such involvement has more to do with cultural attitudes and approaches than with functional responsibility and a team approach to management. In essence, everyone in the organization has “fundraising” as an element of their job description, whether directly or indirectly, as arts institutions realize that developing a culture of philanthropy is very important to achieve sustainability. This culture can unify the entire organization around a shared purpose.
In order to understand how a shared culture of philanthropy has become a key factor for the success of an arts organization, we have to distinguish philanthropy from fundraising and fundraising from development. Fundraising is the technique, the plan, the programs, and the tactics that are implemented to persuade individuals and organizations to make gifts to an arts or other type of not-for-profit institution. Typically, there is a reciprocal dimension to fundraising, as both the donor and the not-for-profit derive benefit from the transaction. Philanthropy is the cultural attitude that shapes and gives consistency to fundraising: its purpose is to build better and stable social infrastructure and relationships. Broadly speaking, philanthropy is an investment made by private entities (e.g., citizens, foundations, companies) to support the production of goods and services of public interest—such as the arts—to facilitate the improvement of communities. Philanthropy, as an attitude, is long-term oriented.
The modern arts organization is best served if all employees and volunteers have “ownership” of fundraising success.
Organizations that have embraced the notion of building a culture of philanthropy regard fundraising as a way in which new community relationships can be established and existing ones can be nurtured. A strong culture of philanthropy benefits organizational cohesion at all levels, strengthening trust, cooperation and engagement among internal groups and external stakeholders. It favors a greater alignment between the cultural institution’s mission and its programs and goals, with a positive effect on revenue.
The shift from a culture of fundraising to a culture of philanthropy necessitates broader structural changes that make possible the alignment of fundraising with other activities. This means the arts organization’s structure has to be redesigned, moving from hierarchical structures that are characterized by rigid department boundaries to flatter, more streamlined and ecosystemic structures that facilitate collaboration, openness, and horizontal decision-making. Organizations that understand the need for widespread awareness of the relevance of a philanthropic attitude tend to operate differently because they meld fundraising, communication, marketing, and programs department functions into a collaborative whole.
When constructing a culture of philanthropy, arts institutions must also reconsider and recalibrate their communications style, shifting from something that is simply functional or informative, to something more engaging and personal. Communications should make donors feel that they are part of the organization. In a world where, in spite (or because) of the digital revolution, more and more people feel isolated and disconnected, arts institutions can create a community and a sense of belonging through effective communication and engagement.
This philosophy of communication is rooted in the co-creation of valuable experiences (common to people and the organization) and in strong community management activity. While this revamped messaging strategy should be employed in the traditional communication methods that relate to the current demographics of the arts audience, such institutions are remiss if this recalibration is not fully deployed in relation to its multiple social media platforms as well. Social media users might be younger on the whole, but they are also seeking connections and a sense of being part of something. In addition, digital communication is much more cost effective, and exponentially increases an arts organization’s ability to connect and interact with an audience the size of which was unthinkable prior to the advent of such technology.
Finally, the cultivation of a culture of philanthropy includes a commitment to transparency. As they are engaged to share the arts organization’s general purpose and their activities, donors should know how their contributions are used and what impact their donations have had. Philanthropists and donors want to change people’s lives, and an arts organization needs to reassure them that their contribution is doing exactly that. This awareness and transparency should also characterize internal communication, increasing the engagement of “internal constituencies” in fundraising activities.
The Role of the Board
Successfully creating and fortifying a culture of philanthropy requires that all internal constituencies understand that they have a role to play in supporting the philanthropic efforts that sustain their arts institution. However, this will not happen unless executive and board leadership provides the necessary inspiration and guidance. As fiduciaries, the CEO and board members have the legal responsibility for ensuring the future of an arts organization and thus must take the lead in developing and shaping a culture of philanthropy. In most jurisdictions, the duties and legal obligations of board members are embedded in the law. Fiduciaries approve and amend institutional bylaws, they hire the CEO and possibly the artistic director, they approve annual and capital budgets, they review and approve major strategic and mission-related plans, and they nominate other fiduciaries. However, in the not-for-profit arts world, perhaps the most important role they play is providing philanthropic leadership, so the support necessary for arts institutions to fulfil their purposes can be secured. Leadership plays a key role in developing and shaping a culture of philanthropy.
Board leaders should be willing to share their own philanthropic stories and to make fundraising a central topic in their meetings. To further encourage board members to participate in advancing a culture of philanthropy, CEOs and development directors should provide opportunities for board members, artistic leadership, and artists to connect. Most board members value this kind of interaction. Board chairs and the institution’s CEOs are well advised to foster an environment in which staff, members of the board, musicians, and artists get to know and respect each other. If this is done well, each group will gain a better understanding of their respective roles in supporting fundraising activities. Over time, influential artists, staff, and donors can provide each other with support and inspiration.
Arts institutions should recruit board members who can help address equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility issues, not only with respect to governance, but throughout the organization.
When recruiting new board members, nominating committees and board chairs should consider several factors beyond the financial capacity and suitability of prospective candidates. A well-selected board of directors contributes to the unity of purpose. Investment in time and resources related to board recruitment and training, as well as the strengthening of overall governance, should improve medium- and long-term returns in thoughtful arts organizations. Secondly, boards should mirror the community they serve. Thirdly, arts institutions should recruit individuals who can help address equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility issues, not only with respect to governance, but also throughout the entire organization.
Challenges and Opportunities
One of the main challenges that arts organizations should be prepared to address is the increasing competitiveness in the fundraising market. First, there has been a proliferation of not-for-profit institutions during the past several decades, all of which are seeking philanthropic support. Second, there has been an expansion of professional sports teams and commercial music concerns that compete with not-for-profit arts institutions for corporate sponsorship, media attention, and, in some instances, paid attendance. Third, the arts are competing with not-for-profits in sectors such as social services, healthcare, environmental, and education. These sectors have proven to be especially attractive to individuals who have generated enormous wealth through investments in technology, life sciences, venture capital, private equity, and hedge funds. Finding approaches that link cultural institutions with educational and social services or even healthcare institutions can open access to donors who are not inclined to support institutions that are perceived to focus on arts for their own sake.
A second challenge is related to audiences that are looking for authenticity in their cultural experience. Given the extremely competitive marketplace for culture and entertainment and the sensibilities and values of younger generations, audiences are more and more interested in authentic and relevant experiences. While prior generations were more inclined to think of participating in culture as a way of enhancing status, contemporary audiences want art that is relatable and pertinent to their life experience. Both in the United States and in Europe, this shift is becoming more and more prevalent. This trend forces boards and managers to focus on authenticity and accountability when developing and executing their strategies: as a direct consequence, this becomes relevant in terms of securing philanthropic support.
A third consideration relates to the increasing reliance of arts institutions on contributed income. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated a trend that has been developing for years in the sector in which earned income (especially subscription revenue) and public funding subsidies are decreasing or are flat. Accordingly, arts institutions are becoming increasingly reliant on contributed income. Especially in the United States, the continuing concentration of wealth among a relatively small number of people can result in such individuals exerting an outsized influence in artistic and other institutional matters because they are able to make very large tax-deductible contributions.
Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
The advent of the social justice and #MeToo movements in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world has greatly accelerated the process by which cultural institutions are evolving to address equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in all areas of operation including governance, staff, artists, and programming. Cultural institutions are now expected to be a truer reflection of the communities in which they exist.
Until recently, most cultural institutions gave scant attention to EDI when considering fundraising. Of course, museums focused on the African American experience have depended on philanthropy for decades. The Dance Theatre of Harlem has existed since 1969 and has had an active fundraising program. However, the large “establishment” art, science, and natural history museums as well as orchestras, opera, and ballet companies have been slow to address social justice matters in all areas of their operation, including fundraising. Certainly, the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 has resulted in a realization that most of the large cultural institutions in United States and throughout much of the world have not done enough to address EDI issues. In Europe, EDI is now becoming more of a focus as demographic shifts and immigration have precipitated rethinking of the role of cultural institutions.
EDI must start with the board, as it sets an example for the entire institution. The fiduciary dimension of board membership includes five key areas of organizational oversight (strategy, governance, talent, integrity and performance), all of which are relevant with respect to EDI. While these areas do not all lend themselves to metric evaluations, the board should certainly be aware of its demographics (e.g., age, race, gender) and the nominating process through which it is replenished. Metrics should also be used to evaluate the composition of all standing committees and agenda development. Boards that address EDI in meetings and mandate training are much more likely to be sensitive to how EDI influences all aspects of the institution, including strategy, programming, and management.
In spite—or because—of the digital revolution, people feel isolated and disconnected. Arts institutions can create a sense of community and belonging through communication and engagement.
Many cultural institutions are now mandating training for all staff, including development personnel, on EDI topics such as unconscious bias. Beyond this training, many larger and mid-sized cultural institutions have taken a significant additional step by creating a senior management position (titled the Chief Diversity Officer or something similar) to oversee EDI efforts across the entire institution.
It would be arduous and probably impossible for a development department to embrace the notions of EDI if the programming/content of the arts organization did not reflect some awareness of and attentiveness to its importance. For more than a century, the programming of most major American performing arts companies has been informed by European traditions. As the demographics of the United States becomes less European and male-centric, programming generated by American cultural institutions has been incrementally shifting to be a little more inclusive. The previously mentioned murder of George Floyd greatly accelerated the progression towards programming in the United States that better reflects communities in which the cultural institutions are situated.
Assimilating EDI principles in the fundraising department will only be successful if such principles are embraced at the macro-organizational level. It will require an audit of sorts, involving data collection and assessment of the current environment so that areas that need attention can be identified. Policies and practices that influence EDI will have to be revisited. Objectives will have to be identified, and buy-in and endorsement will be needed at every level and every stage of the process. Implementation will have to be rigorous, with responsibility clearly delineated and timeframes established that are not too lax but also not too forced. Communication throughout the process across all internal and external groups will have to be carefully considered, recognizing that there has to be a public accounting of sorts. And, of course, what matters is results that will be measured when tangible (e.g., the demographics of the board) and understood when intangible (e.g., trust). This is all a formidable challenge, but a necessary one if arts institutions are to be relevant now and for generations to come.