Lack of Perks Don’t Make Or Break Donor Relations

Advisory Board for the Arts just sent out a summary of four takeaways about what motivates arts donors based on interviews conducted this past November and December.. While this post is going to be quote heavy, it isn’t going to include all their observations so I encourage you to take 2-3 minutes to read the whole thing.

The first takeaway was basically  “first impressions set the tone for the whole relationship.” Once someone makes a donation, future donations will generally fall in the same area. The amount donated is fairly dependent on their perception of what a person like themselves has a duty to donate.

“…which is a combination of what they can afford to give and what they believe is their duty to give, based on factors like marital status, whether they have children, and how much they get out of the arts. When prompted to discuss whether he would consider increasing his giving to arts organizations, for example, one interviewee said that increasing “would probably be appropriate for a couple or a family. Just being single, $1,000 is already a high tier.”

The second takeaway probably holds no big surprises. Donors like to support different organizations, but they have a core group of entities (~2-5) with whom they concentrate their support and perhaps up to 20 others which they vary their support.

The third takeaway is very promising for organizations during and after Covid. While people may donate at a certain level to gain perks, taking away those perks won’t cause them to reduce their giving, by and large.

A handful of donors we spoke to pointed to benefits like free parking and access to donor lounges as reasons for their giving — but across the board, donors indicated that they would not change their giving habits if those perks were significantly reduced or removed entirely (as has been the case for many during the COVID-19 pandemic)… Many donors expressed a desire to help their communities, including by attracting business and building a vibrant local economy, through a demonstrated commitment to the arts. They stated their views clearly: the arts are not a luxury. They belong — they are needed — as part of the social fabric of every community…

The last takeaway is also probably not a surprise. Relationships and connections matter–both with the organization and other participants.

…the opportunity to meet and to know other people is what brings them back each year. Interviews revealed they have an acute awareness of what would be lost without those relationships.

Importantly, donors emphasized the difference between arts organizations’ (often costly) initiatives to foster community-building and the community itself. One interviewee summed this up succinctly when she told us that “perks like donor parties and receptions create community, and that is one of the satisfactions people get from donating. It is something people get besides the altruism of giving to the arts. But there are a lot of ways to create community without parties.”

We spoke to some donors who had met lifelong friends through the opera or symphony; we spoke to other donors who jumped at every opportunity to speak with artistic directors and performers and curators. They weren’t planning on discontinuing those relationships anytime soon. To do so would be to leave the community that had brought them those friends in the first place.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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