Who fundraises in an arts organization?

 In fund-development

When the subject of fundraising comes up in some arts organizations, people are quick to point fingers at others. Is it primarily a board, a staff responsibility, or should the members of the organization bear the brunt of fundraising? When no one owns the job of raising money, board’s will often want to hire an outside fundraising company, a solution that can augment an organization’s fundraising but never serves to replace it. The answer of who should fundraise in an organization is usually a matter of common-sense and asking your organization a few simple questions.

What stage of development is our organization?

An organization that is just starting out and has no paid staff or only a parttime administrator is not in a position to download any fundraising responsibility to their scant or non-existent staffing. The founding Board, artists and any other stakeholders are going to have to continue to fundraise until they have sufficient staff.

Who benefits from this organization?

As simple as this question sounds, I have often heard people very confused about this issue even in an organization they have been involved in for some time. Let’s contrast two very different scenarios. In Organization No. 1 a board of parent volunteers is deciding who should fundraise for the youth orchestra European tour. In this case it is their children who will benefit from the experience of traveling and playing music in Europe during the summer. It is clearly the responsibility of the parents and teens to raise the funds through events, solicitations and grantwriting to fund the tour. Meanwhile, in Organization No. 2, the Board of a professional town symphony is considering the same problem. One board member says, “we are keeping this symphony going for the musicians, they should volunteer to raise the money”. But is that the nature of a professional orchestra? Absolutely not! A community who decides to have a professional orchestra as a cultural asset is hiring musicians as professional artists to enrich the cultural life of the town. It is the responsibility of the Board and their employees to seek funding support from the community. This does not mean that musicians cannot volunteer to help but no organization should expect to compel their employees, contract staff or contract artists to donate services.

What are the skills within your Board and staff?

Organization 1 has a Board member with a background in grantwriting and a staff complement of 1 staff member with a production background. That organization has a Board Member as a lead grant-writer. Organization 2 has Board Members with good corporate connections but no experience in grant-writing but they have a staff complement of 2 staff with one of their staff experienced in grant-writing. In this organization, the staff member is the lead in writing grants and corporate proposals but the Board provides the corporate connections for follow-up. Organization 3 has an Artistic Director who loves to write grants and solicit support. He is actively involved with both staff and board in seeking support. Organizations need to select staff and develop staff job descriptions to complement existing skills. I have seen arts managers hired to write grants for organizations where that was the tightly held responsibility of a Board Member or Artistic Director, a situation doomed from the outset.

“Give, get or get off”

This is the oft-cited rule of small community arts boards. Unless you are brought onto an arts board for a special skill set (lawyer or treasurer) you are likely going to be expected to contribute financially to the organization. Does this mean you have to be a millionaire yourself? Absolutely not! In organization No. 1, a plumbing contractor organizes a golf-tournament each year that brings $32,000 into the organization annually. In organization No. 2, a homemaker organizes a volunteer committee to host house party events that raises $60,000 annually. In organization 3, a volunteer organizes a Ball event that raises $50,000 annually. But in some organizations, Boards have not developed criteria and procedures to address the failure of Board members to meet their obligations. In one Board of an organization a chair of corporate fundraising has failed to meet targets. The Board asks him to explain and he confesses that his contacts in this area are not good and he asks for help or to be given another board position. A co-chair is appointed and things improve. In another organization a Board Member is recruited to organize a fundraising guild. After two years nothing comes of this plan. When the subject is raised the Board Member changes the subject, complaining about staff, management or Board processes. New Board members leave because of the negative tone of the Meetings. No one acts to get the non-participating Board Member off the Board. In yet another organization, the Executive Committee of the Board is able to send out notes to Board Members who are not meeting their targets with specific, accurate references to agreed targets and current status, asking for resignations of Board Members who continually fail to contribute to the organizational goals as agreed upon.

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