Your Programming Is More Inclusive, But What About Giving Opportunities?

Hat tip to Artsjournal.com which featured an article that seems to indicate it is better to diversify the donor base rather than continue to ask the same pool of donors to give more.  The article discusses giving to public radio stations which have a slightly different appeal process than most non-profits and more closely tie donating to membership than many performing arts organizations.

The piece uses the example of WABE, located in Atlanta, GA which upon noting that the average donation amount made by all listeners was $14/month decided to ask their existing monthly donors to increase their giving to $15/month.  This ended up backfiring on the station.

But the $15 ask turned out to be “too high,” Barasoain said. Though the team was happy with the total revenue the drive brought in, the bigger gifts came at the expense of suppressing the number of donors by an estimated 12%–16%, he said.

During WABE’s previous two fall drives, on-air pitches requested gifts in any amount. The total number of pledges for the fall 2019 drive dropped 34% compared to fall 2017 and 20% versus fall 2018.

In the 2019 drive, “we were tapping the same group of donors to give more and more money to the station,” Hyman said. “And it’s just not sustainable long-term.”

The station immediately pivoted and lowered its pledge-drive asks.

In fall 2020, the team pitched gifts of $10 per month. The number of pledges increased 11%, and revenue decreased less than 2% from fall 2019.

The station has since expanded the ways in which they solicit support to include telemarketing and direct mail as a way to supplement their on-air fund drives.

The article discusses the efforts of WFAE in Charlotte, NC and KEXP in Seattle, WA which have removed minimum monthly giving levels for the sustaining member category to create a sense of participation. There is evidence that the monthly giving helps keep people feeling engaged on an ongoing basis and improves retention.

KEXP in Seattle prioritizes “participation first,” said Erin Lightfoot, director of annual and digital philanthropy. “We’ve always really highlighted … ways that everyone can participate in supporting the station no matter what their financial capacity is, and also being extremely grateful for that.” During on-air drives, pitch announcers vary the requested giving levels.

“We do try to vary it a lot in order to make sure that we’re really inviting everyone in no matter what their capacity or their comfort level is with gift-giving,” Lightfoot said.

Something to think about in terms of making giving feel more inclusive as a complement to programming feeling more inclusive.

Advocacy Gameshow Is Now Documentary, But Will People Still Think Of Fundraising As A Competition?

You may have seen last week that CBS quickly shifted directions when their planned show to pit activists against each other in a game show like competition drew extremely negative responses from the general public.  Now the intent is to create a documentary around the work the six contestants do.

According to reporting by Salon, part of what would determine the winner was the social media responses each contestant engendered among viewers:

A press release written up by Deadline includes the details:
[…]

Activists go head-to-head in challenges to promote their causes, with their success measured via online engagement, social metrics and hosts’ input. The three teams have one ultimate goal: to create impactful movements that amplify their message, drive action, and advance them to the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy. There, they will meet with world leaders in the hope of securing funding and awareness for their causes. The team that receives the largest commitment is celebrated as the overall winner at the finale, which will also feature musical performances by some of the world’s most passionate artists.

There is so much about this process and how much the creators of the show actually know, or think they know about how non-profit fundraising works. Not to mention what sort of impression people will get about what organizations should be doing in order to garner support from them. The articles I linked about each have examples of things people tweeted in response to the planned show, comparing it to the Hunger Games. Others mentioned that in many places, activists are jailed or tortured in response to their advocacy.

According to Salon:

…more than 70 progressive groups and activists signed an open letter to CBS and Global Citizen critiqueing the premise.

“Pitting activists against one another upholds the ‘oppression Olympics’ and perpetuates the belief that justice issues must fight over ‘breadcrumbs’ supplied by those with power, resources and large platforms,” the letter states. “Ultimately, this results from the very oppressive systems which we are trying to dismantle. Our lived realities, struggles and traumas are not games, nor competitions for the consumerist gaze.”

If you are thinking you may have read about something similar not long ago, I did indeed cover a similar, though untelevised, funding opportunity the Morgan Stanley announced in May which similarly has applicants working with experts to hone their pitches to funders.

Considering Appropriateness of Funding Set-Aside Practices

Washington Post reported an interesting development in the Washington, D.C. arts and cultural environment last week. The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities asked the D.C. Council to end the practice of setting aside approximately $7 million in guaranteed funding to a group of established city arts organizations.

That money, which averaged a bit more than $7 million a year, now goes into a general fund of more than $33 million — and anyone can compete for a piece of it. The more money there is at a community level, the more likely some of the city’s grass-roots talent will be discovered.

To their credit, the big-time beneficiaries of the old set-aside did not fight the change. Rather, they explained the economic rationale for bypassing the arts commission and lobbying the D.C. Council to give them special dispensation. They acknowledged that the funding program may have unintentionally added to arts funding disparities — with residents living east of the Anacostia River getting far less than Whites in more-affluent areas.

The article mentions this was a particularly productive development for the Commission on the Arts and Humanities which had been viewed as so dysfunctional over the past year, members of the DC Council overseeing the commission were considering whether it should be dissolved.

The article raises a good issue in raising awareness of set aside programs where many of the most affluent and prestigious arts organizations in a municipality or state are guaranteed a certain level of funding while all other arts organizations are forced to compete for the remaining funds. This isn’t on the case in the US, back in March I cited a work that discussed how powerful arts organizations were making an end run around the Australian Council for the Arts to secure their funding directly from the government.

I’d be interested to know what economic rationale the D.C. arts organizations cited to justify circumventing the arts commission and lobbying the DC Council directly. In any case, I suspect we may see more of these set aside arrangements come under scrutiny as possibly perpetuating  funding disparities within the greater community.

Keep Your Eyes Open For NEA American Rescue Plan Grant Webinars

While everyone is waiting for their Shuttered Venue Operating Grant (SVOG) application to be processed, you should be taking a look at the National Endowment for the Arts American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding. The NEA just held a webinar today about it, but most states and regional arts organizations are having one for their members. Americans for the Arts is having one on July 6.

In a nutshell, the reason why you want to apply for this is because there are far fewer restrictions than usual on the program. The only broad categories that they won’t fund are capital improvements and project grants. Usually all they fund are projects. They still don’t provide funding to individual artists.

They will pay for operational costs like salaries and non-capital equipment.  You can apply even if you have an SVOG grant pending or have received funding from other programs like PPP or EIDL.  You just can’t apply for reimbursement of the same expenses covered by another program. So if other funding covers salaries until December 31, you would need to apply salaries from January 1 onward to the ARP grant. The funding can be applied across two years which allows some time to regain momentum lost during Covid.

They have a PDF prepared with all the information you will be expected to provide. Note that everyone has the deadline of August 12, 2021 to submit a short form application on Grants.gov, but then organizations whose legal identity begins with A-L will apply through the separate NEA applicant portal August 19-25 and those with names beginning M-Z will apply August 27-September 2.

My guess is that they are trying to avoid a lot of the snafus which plagued the SVOG program.

Take a look at the information and find a webinar to attend. As you might imagine there is a ton of interest in these programs. I received an email about 2-3 hours before the webinar started that they had reached capacity with registrations and keep trying to get in if you are initially blocked so I queued up 20 minutes early in the hopes of being admitted.

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