It is good audience development to build honest relationships

If I had a dime for all the economic crunch time articles about the arts, maybe I’d be able to make a sizable donation to several artists and arts organizations.  I’ve been wondering why raising funds is so challenging.  I’ve been behind the scenes and in front of the scenes in regard to donations.  One of the reasons I feel it is a major challenge to many arts organizations is the fact that they are not transparent enough when in comes to letting the public know exactly what they need.

One of the common themes that is floating around is the fact that arts organizations are afraid to ask for money.  The fact that some income is being made via ticket sales or through grants seems to make them shy away from asking individuals for money.   Are we afraid of appearing greedy?

As you may know, I have worked behind the scenes for an orchestra.  The budget was around 1 million.  Many people in my community do not know that we had this big of a budget to cover.   Some people didn’t understand the concept of a non-profit budget.  They thought it meant we had 1 million to spend instead of realizing that we had 1 million to raise each year to have a full season.

The tickets only covered about 38% and grants only covered about 10%.  We still had over half the budget to raise plus money needed to fund an endowment.   That’s more than $500,000 needed to be raised each year!  And, if ticket sales do not go well, it’s more money to raise or cuts are going to have to be made.

I was speaking to one of the staff of our local arts alliance and her eyes got real big after I gave her this piece of information.  “You have to raise 1 million dollars?”   she exclaimed.  “Every year, ” I commented.

I do not think people understand what it takes to run a nonprofit arts organization.   I don’t think they understand the costs of each performance or gallery exhibit.  However, it may not be their fault that they don’t understand.  We need to let them know what it costs.  Being transparent and honest is the only way to form a more meaningful relationship with our patrons and potential patrons.  If we keep trying to act like everything is hunky dory when it really isn’t, no one is going to know that we need donor support for real.

The motivation for this blog was an article I fell upon this morning:

‘Give people a creative, personal experience’
The Abington Art Center, turning 70, deals with recession.

The article actual broke down the arts organization’s budget making it very clear what funds this organization needs to raise to keep it going.  I hope this organization uses this article wisely.  They can continue the transparency in all of their relationships.  This way people will know exactly why they are asking for money, how much they really need.

You see, people will finally know the costs of having art in their lives, and if they want art to continue being in their lives, it’s time to make whatever contribution they can.

Until next time, may your audiences be happy and loyal ones, and if they are not, feel free to contact me!


Shoshana Fanizza is the founder of Audience Development Specialists. Her mission is to introduce artists and arts organizations to their existing and potential audiences and to help them to form more rewarding relationships.

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Filed under arts marketing, Audience Development

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