Art of Creating a Fundraising Culture on Arts & Culture Boards
Fundraising is often described as both an art and a science. And who better to understand the techniques and skills required to do fundraising than those who are involved in raising money for the arts and cultural institutions?
One of the biggest challenges faced by most arts and cultural organizations is that they are dealing with the more esoteric side of the nonprofit sector. As Kurt Mische, at KLVX Public Television says, “Since we do not help homeless people, fight terrible diseases, ease suffering or find homes for stray animals, the arts don’t always tug at the heartstrings the way other charities do.”
This drawback, coupled with the fact that many smaller arts and cultural organizations have not been successful at enlisting key community leaders to serve on their board, has made fundraising a challenge for these organizations. While the major metropolitan museums have no trouble attracting top CEOs in their communities, the small community library, the rural museum and the struggling dance company may not be the “place to be” in the eyes of community movers and shakers.
Creating ownership on the part of board members is tough for all nonprofits, but perhaps even more so for the arts groups, because board members sometimes do not have the “fire in the belly” of a board member of a hospital that saved their life, a drug and alcohol rehab center that treated a family member, or a school at which they received their education. However there are ways to instill that passion into board members.
Another common misperception for arts groups is that the general public, and sometimes even board members, think that fee income can provide the bulk of the funding to meet the group’s budget. Art Wolf, a consultant to the museum profession, cites examples of both private and government organizations that built new museums, thinking that “if we build it, they will come,” and the institution will be self sufficient on fee income. This is rarely, if ever, the case. A good case for private and public support must be made for funding of the arts and humanities.
Often in arts organizations, there are two kinds of board members, one being those with a real love for the arts, a passion for music, dance, visual art, etc, but perhaps little understanding of the responsibilities of a board member. The other is a more corporate board, which results when the organization realizes it needs to be more business like in its thinking. While both these types of board members may have a place on the board, the organizations often tend to get caught up in one style or the other. Having people with the passion for mission is important, but these board members also need the skills to responsibly govern the organization. On the other hand, the fact that a person is successful in business does not necessarily mean they will be able to transfer that skill into governing a nonprofit organization. For example, the successful business owner may be accustomed to making decisions on their own and lack the ability to deal with a situation in which the board makes decisions, or they may lack the knowledge of specific issues related to nonprofit governance. Some business people tend to focus on “short term gain” and may not be adept at long range thinking. Fundraising, for example, often takes years of patient cultivation, and is all about building relationships. Boards often pressure the staff into thinking in terms of short term fundraising results—“what have you done for me today?” As a result, many opportunities for building a long term relationship with a potential major donor are put aside in an effort to see instant bottom line results.
Other professionals have found their boards to be unreliable and unaccountable. Most of these issues can be resolved by three key steps—recruit board members the right way; inspire board members to do great things for the organization, and make board members accountable to the institution.
Recruiting Board Members
Board recruitment is one of the most important aspects of any nonprofit organization's success, and yet is the one activity on which most organizations spend the least amount of time. Recruiting board members who have the passion for the organization is critical. Some organizations get so caught up in making sure their board has a diversity of skills and talents as well as geographic, ethnic and gender diversity, that they overlook the most basic requirement of a board member—that he or she really cares about the mission of the organization. On the other hand, some organizations get too caught up in worrying about whether every board member is a “roaring advocate” for the organization that they ignore the skills needed by board members. So, the first step in board recruitment is to do an honest assessment of the current board on each of these levels—is the board made up of people who are passionate about the mission, possess the required skills, and have an understanding of the responsibilities of a board member?
Once the assessment is done, then the Governance or Board Resource Committee, assess the Board needs: In what areas is the board lacking? What types of people should be recruited for the board? Does the board need more people with marketing skills, fundraising ability, program expertise, etc? Board members should never be recruited simply because they are a friend, relative or co-worker of another board member.
Next, a position description must be in place before recruiting board members. This description must clearly outline the responsibilities of the board, including a commitment to financially support the organization. This position description, along with other pertinent organizational information such as bylaws, a list of current board members, program information, and a list of board meeting dates etc., should be put into a board recruitment packet.
Board recruitment, like major donor fundraising, must be given proper attention. A team of people, usually someone from the Board Resource Committee and the Executive Director, meet with potential board members in person and begin the process of involving them in the organization’s mission right from the beginning. Nonprofits in general, and specifically arts groups, often do not make expectations of board members clear up front, resulting in an inactive and/or ineffective board.
Inspiring Board Members
Most board members really do want to help their organization, but when it comes to fundraising, often feel they just don’t know how. Staff needs to be able to inspire and motivate board members to get involved. One good way to do this, according to Kurt Mische, is to convince them that there is a compelling case for the arts. Mische suggests a brainstorming exercise at a board meeting whereby board members are asked to list all the advantages of the arts, and then more specifically the things their organization provides to the community. Mische further suggests that once these advantages are listed, in addition to being included in the case for support for the organization, be printed on a card that easily fits into the wallet of board members for future reference. Another method some organizations have tried is including their board members in a half day workshop to develop the case for support.
Having a staff member, volunteer or program recipient speak at every board meeting about an aspect of the organization’s program can be another good method of reminding the board of the organization's mission.
Board members also can be involved in brainstorming for fundraising prospects. Some organizations make the mistake of asking all board members to “bring in fifteen names,” and then wonder why no one completes their “assignment.” Most people work better in a group setting; spend twenty minutes at a board meeting, brainstorming for potential donors. This list can then be refined and evaluated for potential support. Becoming a part of the organization’s fundraising efforts will make board members feel a part of the mission. Provide training for board members on how to make an ask, and get board members involved in team solicitations. There is nothing more inspiring to board members than knowing they can be successful at fundraising. Just watch and see the response when one reports at a board meeting on a successful fundraising call they’ve made.
Ken Beaton, of the Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada, brought in a consultant to lead a board workshop on strategic planning and fundraising. Ken says, after the workshop, he “felt the board was performing more as a team as opposed to 13 separate individuals.” Strategic Planning sessions like this can go a long way towards inspiring both new and long time board members to work together for the good of the organization.
Making Board Members Accountable
Once the board is recruited, educated and inspired, remember that they need to be accountable. In establishing an annual budget and fundraising goals, the board must know that it is responsible for meeting those goals, not the staff. While the staff will plan and coordinate all fundraising activities, the board who has taken an active role in establishing goals for itself will be more accountable for reaching those goals.
One way to help assure accountability on the part of board members is to ask them to sign a pledge at the beginning of each year, stating how much they will personally give, how much they will help raise, and how many events they will attend. Marilyn Gillespie, of the Las Vegas Natural History Museum has found a good way to make her board members more accountable. Marilyn posts a large sign at all board meetings, listing which board members have bought and/or sold tables to their annual gala. Tracking their progress toward this commitment has helped board members take ownership of the fundraising program and the event, resulting in a far more successful event.
Remember that fundraising is an art and a science, and board members who have the passion for the arts organization and the skills to help with fundraising can help build a fundraising culture in any organization.
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