Becoming Great at Fundraising

Despite the tremendous amount of diversity of art forms within the performing arts industry, basic challenges facing each sector are similar. Of these challenges, the most important is the need to build relationships with patrons in order to raise money. This is crucial to the long term stability of most organizations and I’ve found that some sectors focus on this more than others.

Recently I was at the Art House Convergence conference. The keynote was given by Russ Collins, Art House Convergence Director, and Executive Director and CEO of the historic Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.

His talk was so compelling that I asked him for a transcript, which I’ve excerpted below. I have a suspicion that if you replace “arthouse cinema” with your sector of the performing arts industry (theatre, dance, music, museum, orchestra), these words will resonate with you.

Today, if you are a non-profit cinema and have not yet done so, set a goal of becoming great at fundraising.

Do you know the number one reason people provide philanthropic support to the things they love? That reason is — because someone asks them to give. That’s it! “Ask and ye shall receiveth!” Are you relentlessly and effectively asking your customers – the customers that tell us in surveys that they love us dearly – to support your Art House with donations? If you are a non-profit Art House and you are not raising between 30%-50% of your revenue budget from philanthropic support, there is a high likelihood that you are operating and managing ineffectively.

I know that is a harsh statement, but my dear Art House and Film Festival brothers and sisters, as a field, as an aspect of the North American cultural economy, Art Houses are not good at fundraising.

Our survey said this loud and clear. We know that our community will support us. And, believe it or not, all we have to do is ask! So, ask! Use the new technologies, use your creativity, use your passion, use the great karma you have established in your community and ask persistently, systematically and pleasantly. If you do this, your Art House will flourish in ways that will truly astound you. But you have to ask and ask well.

So, back to the Golden Age question: are we ramping up to a new Art House Golden Age? Who knows? But as a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, a B-HAG, it is intriguing to contemplate. Think about it:

  • New technologies provide us new tools, new access to cinema programming and new ways to reach and expand audiences.
  • If you become great at fundraising you will tap into the passion of our audiences, who will most assuredly support your Art House generously.
  • And lastly, the growth of the Art House Convergence provides us with a community of colleagues and friends who daily demonstrate a willingness to help when asked and to spread innovations and opportunities through our open and collegial network.

In conclusion, know that YOU are part of an important community of movie mavens and, most importantly, community advocates. Please think about all the potential out there, especially the potential in your community, and do as you always do – work hard, and aspire to make a difference.

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