Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Is the Arts and Culture Community on Your List of Potential Collaborators?

Few would argue the value of arts and culture. The vibrancy of arts and culture within a community has long been a key indicator of its livability. Individuals and companies looking to move into an area frequently evaluate the number and diversity of offerings as part of their decision-making process. Art therapy has proven helpful in treating a wide variety of conditions, from Alzheimer’s to physical and emotional trauma. And, a great deal of attention has recently been paid to the substantial economic impact of arts and culture. According to the 2010 National Arts Index, a report issued by Americans for the Arts, economic activity in the U.S., while losing ground during the recession, is still a $150‐$160 billion a year business that puts more than 2 million people to work and increasingly attracts cultural tourists (the number of foreign visitors who attend cultural events or venues has increased 23% since 2003).

However, today we have another reason to value arts and culture. It’s being used “in increasingly diverse ways to engage and build communities and address the root causes of persistent societal problems, including issues of economic, educational and environmental injustice as well as inequities in civil and human rights.” (“Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy” by Holly Sidford for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, 2011) Artist-activists are pulling us in, forcing us to examine our assumptions and the way we do business.

To-date, most of this work has emerged from and been centered in the art world. Just one example from my community is the Center for Folk and Community Art, which involves the community’s residents in story-telling, using a combination of written work, murals and public presentation. In the past it has focused attention on societal issues such as gang culture and violence, bullying, abuse and violence in teen dating relationships, the environment and homelessness.

But, arts and culture could be so much more. It could be totally integrated into the fabric of social change, where artists sit at the same table as nonprofits, private businesses and governmental agencies committed to creating a healthier place for each of us to live. This is particularly important as the artistic voices of those who have previously often been disenfranchised – i.e., those making art outside of the better supported and recognized Western European, “classical” art forms – break through, since there is much to be learned from these voices.

According to the Animating Democracy’s 2010 report, “Trend or Tipping Point: Arts and Social Change Grantmaking” there are currently more than 150 funders nationwide that have recognized the value of supporting coalitions that are dedicated to social change and are inclusive of artists. I am proud that our own local community foundation is one of them. But what of the many nonprofits currently putting together coalitions to more successfully tackle community issues that are at the heart of their mission?

If your organization is contemplating collaboration, I would like to know if your board is considering the contribution artists, arts and culture could make in your success? How intentional is your board about including artists, especially those outside “mainstream arts and culture”? How are you going about finding the appropriate partners? Please write in and share your experiences and learnings.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hunting for Nonprofit Funding Ideas?

I’ve been told that I have more ideas about how non-profits can earn funding than anyone in the world. While no competition has been held to officially award the title, I do love and collect ideas that grow non-profit organization’s funding and resources. More funding for you translates into better communities for all of us.

If you're curious about where I get some of my ideas or you want to find more ideas for your non-profit organization, read The Idea Hunter by Andy Boynton & Bill Fischer.

The Idea Hunter, a quick read, reminds us that:
1) To find ideas, actively hunt for them.
2) Productive hunting requires that you move beyond your regular environment.
3) We need to write ideas down or loose them.
4) While many ideas provide small improvements that don’t solve the Euro crisis or global warming, they are still important. Many improve our lives everyday in small, but satisfying ways. Translated into non-profit funding, idea hunter ideas provide solid, sustainable growth rather than the unexpected and unpredictable million-dollar check.
5) In terms of donors and other funding sources, do not just collect ideas and data, train yourself to notice “incidents and customer service preferences that connect clearly…” (P. 80) with your mission and organization.

For more ideas on how to increase your non-profit income also read this article, Don’t Set Resolutions to Increase Your Funding.

How do you collect ideas to help your non-profit organization obtain funding?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Barrier to Earned Revenue: Cultural Change

Help the Resistance to Join the Cause
One of the biggest barriers non-profit organizations face in increasing their funding from earned income, is staff and volunteer resistance. In some cases, cultural resistance about asking for money or more money from customers, clients, or donors at non-profit organizations is so huge it curtails all discussion and results in significant income loss. In almost all cases, in every non-profit organization, you will encounter those who like the way things are now. This holds true even when it means you lack enough funding for your mission or even to pay them properly.

At Bok Towers Gardens, (read about their success with earned revenue in my new column, Your Profitable Non-profit) the support of the docents, who provided the house tours of Pinewood Estate, was the biggest hurdle they faced as they increased their income and attendance by 300 percent. In the new setup, instead of leading tours through the mansion, docents were assigned to various sites in the building. The docents preferred the old way of leading tours even as Bok Tower Gardens enjoyed wild success with the new approach. As a compromise that worked wonderfully, staff encouraged the docents to help visitors enjoy the mansion as they saw fit. If a group or individual were happy self-touring, they did not step in. If the visitors wanted more information, the docent created an on-the-spot experience.

After you identify great ideas to increase your income, expect resistance. When you encounter it, love people for their loyalty. Help them to understand how the change has the potential to impact your mission and funding. Explore compromises, like Bok Tower Gardens. Develop a plan to help the resistance join the cause.

What examples of cultural resistance, especially around earned revenue have you encountered? How have you overcome them?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Drinking The Kool-Aid: Balance Your Funding Messages With Reality

Face it. As a nonprofits leaders you are in the sales and marketing business. As a leader raising funds, you constantly share with others that your nonprofit organization’s work is important, meaningful and valuable. Indeed your work is important, valuable, and meaningful.

Obtaining funding requires that you present your work and services in the most favorable, hopeful manner. Yet, important, valuable, and meaningful does not equal perfect. Even the most exemplary nonprofits face daily challenge to step-up to the next level, to fine-tune their work, to provide more mission, and to prepare for the future. (Follow this link for the traits of exemplary non-profit organizations.) Non-profit organizations who do not meet these challenges will shortly become un-exemplary.

The danger comes when leaders get caught up in the positive message and believe they are important, valuable and meaningful –and that they have arrived. When leaders get caught up in the external message and forget imperfections and growth needs they can be poisoned by drinking the own Kool-Aid.

The solution is balance. Smart nonprofits leader balance their “we are worthy of your funding message,” while simultaneously sharing areas under construction. They tell us how they are working to improve and are positively honest about mistakes. This balance reflects reality. It also creates a community of support, including donors, staff and volunteers, who understand that being a successful nonprofit is an ongoing movement that result is falling into potholes from time-to-time. When these bumps come, and they will, most of the community who has been hearing your balanced message will remain loyal. They love you. They love your work. They believe you will meet the challenges you face.

How do you communicate worthiness of support to your external audience and acknowledge your need to improve daily? How do you help people who have joined your organization, but are disappointed when they learn it is not perfect?