Ideas for an Arts Advocacy Organization Looking to Diversity Funding Sources

Dear Kim,

I work for a small statewide arts advocacy organization, and by small I mean in staff size rather than geographic size. We receive funding from our state agency and membership but realize the need to diversify our funding sources. We are finding it difficult to approach foundations and corporations for funding because we are statewide and we do advocacy. Any advice on how to solve this problem?
—Perplexed

Dear Perplexed,

The solution is fairly easy: don’t look to foundations and corporations for funding. In the private sector, foundations account for a little over 10% of money given and corporations about 5%. Individuals account for the remaining 85%. I think many people who love arts and culture, and who recognize the importance of community-based arts and culture groups, will be interested in donating to your organization to do advocacy work.

Although the solution is easy, the work is hard, and I don’t want to trivialize what lies ahead for you. Let me just suggest two things to get you started:

1) Create an “associate” membership that is for individuals. For that membership, a person will get a newsletter and the knowledge that you are helping the arts on a statewide basis. Give this category of membership a name, but no voting rights. Create a simple brochure with a tear-off form and ask your organizational members to display it in their theaters, museums, galleries, libraries, and so on. Post this information on your website also, and make it possible for people to join from your site.

2) Seek out opportunities to talk about arts advocacy to service clubs, professional associations, and even faith-based groups. Tell people if they want to help, they can join your organization.

In other words, start building a broad base of individual donors, donors who give you any amount of money. From there, you can start to identify, from your list of supporters and from people in the community, those who believe in what you do and who can afford to give larger gifts. Developing a major gifts program — which requires a long-term commitment to building relationships with your donors — is something that will allow your income to grow year after year.

In addition, I suggest exploring some earned income ventures. Charge fees for workshops, create materials to sell, and, generally, look around for things that you know how to do, that you can offer your members for free or cheap, and that other non-arts organizations or people might be willing to pay for.

Finally, look for opportunities to do any joint fundraising with your members or with other advocacy groups. Linking the issues of arts and culture to civil liberties, environment, education, and so on is important politically because it helps build a stronger base, and it also will help you raise money.

Creativity is the name of the game here, and your work is built on the creative impulse. I have total confidence in you.
—Kim