Sunday, June 14, 2015


I am writing this Missive because my wife and I have joined a number of Boards of institutions here in Santa Fe.  In need of funds, as all institutions are, it is necessary for us to understand fundraising as best we can.  As you know, it is the process by which one solicits donations from individuals, businesses, foundations or governmental agencies.  I believe that most of us find this an unpleasant task and leave it up to professionals called Development officers to bring prospective donors to the CEO of their organizations.   That individual does the final pitch particularly in the case of larger donations.

The question is who does one approach.  The best professionals have gotten out in their communities and been introduced to and met with prospective donors.  In the case of businesses it is usually easier to beat the bushes and meet the appropriate person on their own turf.  In the case of grants it is best to hire a professional grant writer because this is its own skill not only knowing which government agency or private foundation might be interested in a given project but then filling out the complicated and idiosyncratic forms in the appropriate manner.

There is an eternal question that comes up on Boards, “Why is our donor base so old?  How do we attract a younger audience”.  It is my personal belief from observation that people are wired that way.  We spend over half of our lives trying to acquire funds to reach certain goals and then one day we realize it is no longer our only or prime desire.  Witness all the yard and garage sales you find in the suburbs and country: one starts to divest oneself of one’s goods.

Museum of Spanish Colonial Art

In my opinion fundraising from private individuals, and I am sure the professionals would amplify greatly on this analysis, falls into two categories: one is the care and handling of the large donors; and the other is the stewardship of the smaller ones.  The latter are those who wish to support an institution but do not wish to or cannot contribute the big bucks.  Why is it important to cater to both?  Because once in a while the regular small donor becomes a very large donor.  I gave such an example last year.

Also, the consistent donor’s smaller contributions add up.  The smart fundraiser realizes that $1,000 a year even has an advantage over the one time $10,000 donation because there is an excellent chance that there will be an equal donation from the $1,000 donor in the 11th and 12th year.

I don’t want to give the impression that young people are uncharitable but they, of necessity, will probably be more modest donors.  Obviously I am not speaking about the young genius who has just sold his company for a zillion dollars.   Thanks to the internet there is a new phenomenon that donors, often the younger ones, donate more easily through the web.  They find it much simpler than writing out a check or filling out a form and finding a stamp and mailbox.  I never appreciated the effort involved in finding a mailbox when I lived in a city with a box every block or two but in the country one needs to drive to it!  There are also crowd sourcing websites that help raise funds for eleemosynary as well as for profit ventures and I have known a few cases where people raised funds for needed medical attention on line as well.  The web is therefore a relatively new source of revenue but again not for the major donations. The latter come through longer term relationships with the institution and probably with one or a few individuals there.

 But where to start the cultivation process?  It begins with the question of what is it worth to have an art museum, a Kunsthalle, or a performing arts center.  Many believe it is so much more important to give to medical research than to the arts.   Well, thank goodness many want to give to such research but it is up to those of us in the arts to show the value of art in society and the preservation thereof.

The Lensic Performing Arts Center
I was tempted to write, “where would the world be without art” but that is ridiculous because since man invented fire he has created art.  So the question is whether it is worth preserving.  The education best starts when we are very young.  Of course, our son Hunter was taken to art institutions from a young age but he had an additional impetus when he was in first grade and won a drawing contest and his “masterpiece” became part of a major exhibition at the teachers’ union offices on Union Square in New York City.   This gave him a sense of pride (not to mention a rare opportunity for a meal at a nearby MacDonald’s. ) It also gave him a sense of preserving an art work. 

School groups are taken to museums but far too rarely, and then all too often there is only a very dry docent giving them facts rather than getting them to use their imaginations and ingenuity.  It becomes a chore rather than a pleasure.  It does not have to be that way. The headmaster, a classicist, in our son’s middle school years took his class to the Metropolitan Museum and let them loose telling them to find an object that spoke to them.  On each of repeated visits they had be able to find their way back to that object.  After studying up on it, they had to bring the rest of the group to tell them about it.  That gave each of them a life long sense of possession.  Still today, Hunter visits his object when he is at the Met. 

Many institutions bring in groups of young financially successful professionals in the hopes that they will someday become donors and trustees.  Too often these are merely social events.  The Museum of Modern Art, however, has a long standing program for Junior Associates, those 40 and under, who come to the Museum and socialize over a glass of wine but then they are taken for a behind the scenes tour.  There is nothing more seductive than being taken to where the public does not usually go or getting access in advance of others.

Anything and everything we can do to get people involved with our art institutions and cultivate their interest as early as possible will ensure that, when they are ready, they will consider contributing in one way or the other.

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