Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why NOT to fundraise like Lord Grantham

The new season of Downton Abby has presented Lord Grantham with a problem that arts organizations can easily face.  Lord Grantham invested nearly all of his money in a Canadian railroad, which he was told would be a sure thing.  Of course we all know by now that it wasn't a sure thing, and Lord Grantham lost his fortune, including his beloved Downton Abby.  Fortunately, Matthew Crawley came into some money through a distant dead acquaintance and decided to invest in Downton, thereby saving it for the family.

First of all, I want to put forth how excited I am to relate Downton to arts admin! Okay, now that I got that out of my system...

I have seen and read about a common problem, whereby an arts organization will rely on one or two major donors (usually board members) for a large portion of their financial support.  It's great to have a supportive patron, who is committed to your mission and willing to fund your work!  However, it is NOT okay to rely solely on one person, or a small group, for your programs.  What happens when there is a change in that person's life that affects their ability to give to your organization?  There are various life events that could come up which might suddenly stop the money flow.  When that happens, you will have to cut things out of your budget, possibly reduce payroll, and at worst pause operations.  If you put all your eggs in one basket, you're doing a horrible disservice to the programs and artists you present.  It's hard to say no to a giant check, and I'm not advocating that.  Perhaps take the check and use some of it to cultivate more patrons to become friends and supporters of your programs.  Create a broad consensus for the importance of your work and invite a variety of people/personalities to your table.  This will keep your programming interesting and your budget safe.  After all, no one wants to live in Downton Place.

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