What’s This Soft Landing Thing You Speak Of?

This week Vu Le at the Nonprofit AF wrote a pretty thought provoking post about the way the left-leaning non-profit sector consumes, rather than supports, its leaders as more conservative focused groups do. Le had recently left his job when someone reached out to ask if he had a “soft landing.”

I got to understand what Angie meant by “soft landing.” This is what conservatives do for their leaders. They provide them with support to ensure that their work continues….They understand that their most effective leaders are their greatest weapon, so they do everything they can to protect and invest in them and their ideas.

The progressive side, meanwhile, treats people like batteries. Batteries are only as valuable when they have any juice left to power machines. As soon as they are empty, they are worthless and you toss them and you get fresh batteries. People burn out, they leave and are sometimes never heard from again, and we are OK with it, because we just find new people/batteries to replace them with…As Pia Infante of The Whitman Institute said, “The right invests in people and ideas; the left invests in projects and programs.”

Le goes on to enumerate how this manifests. It isn’t just that arrangements might be made for a conservative to get a book deal, a job with a think tank, or a seat on a company’s board of directors where a progressive won’t. He notes that if organizational leadership transitions, funders will take a wait and see attitude before continuing to support them as if the good work the organization had done was inseparable from the leader.

Le speaks of his own experience working with foundation program officers for decades and having them tell him an innovative idea he has to expand the impact of his organization work doesn’t align with the foundation priorities. He says if funders sincerely want to make the difference they profess they do, they need to at least trust those with whom they have a long relationship to execute what is needed.

He provides a good number of other examples that are worth reading and considering. He ends his post with a bright bit of hope. The woman who had contacted him about his soft landing came through with a grant that will support Vu Le during a time when his speaking engagements were cancelling.

“What’s the catch?” I asked Angie skeptically. Funders had reached out with encouraging words, but almost none had offered financial assistance. “Are there metrics, outcomes? Do I need to pay it back?” I asked. “No,” she said, “just keep writing or working on your sketch comedy show or whatever. Your voice is important, and for everyone who wants to see the nonprofit sector and its funders change, we need you.”

Alas, Germany Didn’t Allocate $54 Billion In Relief Funding To The Arts

You may remember reading that Germany had rolled out €50 billion ($54 billion) in funding for the arts a few weeks back. The news was touted as putting arts funding in the US to shame. While it may ultimately still be the case that aid to arts will put the US to shame, the claim that all that money is going to the arts is not accurate.

I had received an email about some arts research from long time friend of the blog, Rainer Glapp, who lives in Bremen, Germany. I asked him how things were going with all that funding. He responded that there was a big misunderstanding about all the money being focused on the arts and culture.

He explained the money is intended for small businesses and freelancers. While artists can apply, the money is intended for rent of venues and other expenses and not for personal expenses. He told me that primarily, direct funding for arts comes from the 16 states rather than the federal government.

As I went back to find articles about the €50 billion I had seen, I discovered that pretty much every website references the same ArtsNet article. There is a correction to that article dated March 27 which reads:

The government has clarified a point of confusion in its press release and previous reports in the media, stating that the aid package for small businesses and freelancers in culture, art, and media will come from a larger package for solo self-employed people and small businesses that totals €50 billion.

So artists and arts organizations won’t be benefiting as well as first impressions had indicated.

Rainer graciously dug up some articles on the situation which are written in English. One on the Deutsche Welle website illuminates the problems artists are facing:

But on April 7, the Alliance of Freelance Arts, representing 18 branches, replied that freelance and solo artists and their small business teams had “hardly any” access to such federal measures.

“This is due on the one hand to the lack of federal guidelines on the recognition of work-related living expenses as business or employment expenditures and on the other hand to the fact that the [16 German] states tend to interpret administrative leeway to the disadvantage of freelance artists,” said the alliance.

[..]

Already, the German Music Council (Deutscher Musikrat/DMR) had demanded a monthly basic income grant of €1,000 ($1,088) for “all freelance creative professionals” over the next six months.

Another website Rainer shared provides a chronology of how the coronavirus impacted cultural activities in Germany. It reinforces the fact there is no federal relief funding focused on helping cultural entities and illustrates just how varied the support for artists is in each of the states.

However, there is no specific federal support programme designed to meet the specific needs of the cultural sector. This is still being demanded by the German Cultural Council (April 22), the Cultural Council of North Rhine-Westphalia (April 16) and other associations, in the form of a cultural infrastructure fund.

[…]

The possibility of claiming support services — in addition to the instruments at the federal level — is also very much dependent on the state the applicant lives in…. Baden-Württemberg have an emergency aid programme for freelancers that allow them to apply for EUR 1180 grant money for up to three months, Bavaria offers EUR 1,000 a month in basic payments, but only for members of the artists’ social fund. In Hamburg, self-employed can apply for EUR 2,500 in addition to federal funds. In Bremen, artists can apply for up to EUR 2,000 in emergency aid (in addition to a purchase programme for visual artists); in Saxony-Anhalt EUR 400; and in Mecklenburg Western Pomerania there are bridging grants for artists available in the amount of EUR 2,000. The support fund for artists supported in NRW (EUR 2,000 per month) was only equipped with a total of EUR 5 million, so that only a small proportion of the applicants could take advantage of this fund. Other federal states (e.g. Berlin and Saarland) had to discontinue their support programmes due to over expenditure. In other federal states there are — in addition to the federal programme — no state programmes, for example Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia.

Might Be About Time To Get Back In The Fundraising Saddle

If there has been any benefit from the Covid-19 shut down it is the sheer number of webinars being offered to help businesses and other non-profit organizations connect with resources. I am sure we would all have been happier if life hummed along as before rather than necessitating the need to agonize over what loan or grant programs our organizations might qualify for and trying to get applications processed.  However, it also feels like networks of information and resources are being constructed and strengthened through this all. Hopefully they will persist beyond this period of time and become an asset.

By my last estimate, I have participated in 10-12 sessions in the last two weeks. One I found particularly interesting that is generally applicable was the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s session on “Communicating and Fundraising for Preservation in a Time of Uncertainty.”  (slide deck) Since I run an historic theater, I thought there might be information on resources available for our facilities.

What I found helpful was their advice on fundraising during these difficult times. Basically, they opened by saying just like the many stages of grief, there is going to come a point in the way you are processing your current situation where you will start to focus on the future. Part of that will be getting back to fundraising.

They said you can approach donors now, but just for the purposes a check-in with them.  The conversation should focus on how they are doing and what they are hearing about how other non-profits are doing. This will give you a sense of their priorities at the moment. You are also maintaining relationships and laying the groundwork for the future.

In terms of when you can make an ask, you need basically be sensitive enough gauge when the time will be right. But when you do make the ask, the webinar presenters emphasize being worthy, not needy. You should make the case in terms of your worth rather than in terms of your desperation for funding. They also strongly advise against shifting your focus to chase the direction dollars are flowing at the moment.

Here is the relevant slides from the presentation.

The point about being accommodating is in respect to acknowledging priorities might not be focused on your causes at the moment. In terms of hosting events, they point out that this might be a good time to host a virtual meeting or information session. Those that are invested in your success want to hear how you are doing.

I should mention, today my staff and I had a consultation with Michael Kaiser from the DeVos Institute of Arts Management. You may remember he is the former president of the Kennedy Center who was hailed as a “turn around king.” He is offering free one hour consultations to arts organizations about how to cope in these times. (~380 and counting). He provided the same advice about focusing conversations with donors and funders on how they are doing.

He also made a similar suggestion about hosting a virtual meeting on Zoom or other platform. In our case, it would be to discuss our process in planning our upcoming season since our contracting and scheduling process is delayed, not to mention no one really knows when we will be able to assemble in large groups again. Based on the type of calls we have been getting, this type of meeting is likely to help strengthen our relationship with our audiences and assuage their concerns. We are waiting until all the refunds for cancelled shows have been processed so that topic doesn’t dominate the conversation.

Portland, OR Art Tax Update

Back in 2012, Portland, OR approved a $35 tax to supports arts education and arts organizations around the city. In 2017 I wrote a post about how overhead was starting to cut into the amount of money available to distribute to programs. Part of that overhead was attributable to the fact people weren’t paying the tax and so funds had to be diverted toward enforcement.  Last week, via Artsjournal, is another article mentioning that the tax hasn’t proven to be the boon supporters hoped it would be. For one, people still are resistant to paying it.

The art museum, like the rest of the big five, never received the targeted 5 percent support.

That’s in part because the tax has never brought in the $12 million a year voters were told to expect. (Revenues were $9.8 million the first year and peaked at $11.46 million in 2016.)

Portlanders have been reluctant to pay it. Although the city’s population has risen nearly 12 percent since November 2012 and tax receipts should have increased proportionally, figures show revenues still never reached levels proponents forecasted.

A point I want to clarify. The article makes it sound like arts funding for schools has diverted money that was intended for non-profit arts organizations. However, from my earlier posts, it appears the law that was passed intended to fund the schools first and then the non-profits would receive funding. In fact, this recent article says when the measure was passed in 2012, funding the schools was politically more attractive to voters than funding non-profits. While the arts organizations had been pushing the art tax idea for a long time prior to the vote, when the time came, the resolution being voted upon was written to fund the school first.

The other thing the article notes is that between the collection effects and the art tax name, there are public relations and perception issues which have proven problematic.

While arts leaders all favor more Portlanders paying the tax, some worry the city’s zeal to collect is counterproductive. “You get pinged with a letter, you get pinged with a postcard, you get an email saying time to pay the arts tax,” says Portland Center Stage’s Fuhrman. “That’s where I think the bad PR comes in.”

Andrew Proctor, executive director of Literary Arts, which produces the Portland Book Festival, says the public’s ill feeling has a cost. “Even the name ‘arts tax’ sounds punitive,” he says, “and it misleads citizens that in paying the tax they have supported arts institutions. They haven’t. It can damage our fundraising efforts and can polarize the conversation.”

[…]

Hawthorne, the former RACC official, says he fears the public may believe the tax works. “Ten to 12 million is a lot of money,” Hawthorne says. “People may perceive the arts have had their influx and now it’s time to focus on more pressing needs.”

The whole article provides a lesson for those considering advocating for an arts tax of some sort. The basic idea isn’t bad, but the way it is structured and executed needs to be thought out. The example of Portland points to things people want to avoid. The name; the way in which it is collected, structured and discussed; all call negative attention to it.

It is worth reading the whole article because it also mentions the Regional Arts and Cultural Council’s (RACC) initiative to provide more equitable funding for smaller arts organizations. Back in 2012, RACC was starting to require more diversity on the boards, staff and eventually audiences of Portland’s arts organizations. In January, I had written about how the Arts Council of England was instituting similar requirements, forgetting that Portland had been working toward that goal for nearly a decade now.

Last year, RACC shifted their funding model to better align with this philosophy which includes size and economic diversity among its criteria. As a result, the larger organizations in town receive less of the art tax money than they once did.

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