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Fundraising in the Katherine Brown era


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#1 ivanov

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Posted 17 June 2012 - 07:39 PM

Some time ago I received an appeal for funds from the company which promised to match every dollar donated (up to a set amount) with a gift from a named individual. (The UNHCR also recently sent me a letter along these lines--a little like double coupons at the supermarket, only in reverse.) The letter included a note from Megan Fairchild, saying in part:

"Everyone here at NYCB understands the critical role individual philanthropy plays in the Company's success. We simply would not survive without the generosity of the [named individuals]...and without your help."


The amount of the named individual’s gift? A hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Can it really be true that a hundred and fifty thousand dollars (or even twice that sum) is all that stands between the company and the figure in black from La Valse? The same letter, or one very similar, arrived again this week, which does seem to suggest a certain urgency, but is hinting that the company is entering a death spiral really an effective marketing strategy? (see: Dance Theater of Harlem) Does the philanthropy of individuals really play such a very crucial role in the company, or is that just a meme rich people like to have reiterated as often as possible? (see: the University of Virginia)

I am sure I have given the wording of this letter more scrutiny than it will really bear (the one from Jenifer Ringer about toe shoes was much more effective, or at least, better-written). The note of desperation (“we simply would not survive”) may be inadvertent. Artists have always depended on the patronage of rich individuals--if there is any change, it is that the rich individuals seem more hungry for publicity (and possibly not as rich as they used to be). But there have been so many changes to the company since Katherine Brown took charge of this side of things, I am curious to know if her net impact is nudging the company towards the red or the black.

#2 abatt

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Posted 18 June 2012 - 11:28 AM

http://www.nytimes.c....html?ref=dance

This article relates (linked) indirectly to your question. NYCB recently named a new chairman (Jay Fishman) from outside the Board. The article refers to this as "unusual". The suggestion is that Fishman might be able to reach new potential donors for NYCB.

#3 Helene

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Posted 18 June 2012 - 11:56 AM

The difference of $150,000 to small- to-midsize companies can mean the difference between being able to present certain rep, to promote dancers, or to increase/maintain the size of the company. I can see why there's a question about the urgency of such a gift for a company of the size and budget of NYCB.

#4 ivanov

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 02:06 PM

Thanks for the link abatt! The figures the NY Times provides are illuminating:

City Ballet board members are expected to contribute or raise at least $100,000, and generally more for chairmen.

City Ballet is trying to pare down deficits that reached $8 million in 2008 and have dipped to a projected $1.4 million on a budget of $62.4 million this year.

I also looked at the annual report on the NYCB website:
http://www.nycballet...ny/reports.html

For the year ending June 30, 2010 (the most recent available), the company received about 25 million from ticket sales, and (among other sources) about 3.6 million from special events, 2.3 million from Guild memberships, 2.7 million from foundations, 1.2 million from corporations and 7.5 million from individuals.

Yesterday I received an email saying in part:

"The end of our fiscal year is June 30 and we have yet to hit our goal. We need your help… We have been closing in on that target [$150,000], but are not there yet. This is the bottom line: your gift today, matched by the [named] Family on a dollar-for-dollar basis, will help the Company end the year in its strongest fiscal position in years."



#5 bart

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 02:28 PM

Challenge grants are becoming more and more common. They appeal to the desire to be a "smart" donor (the other side of the coin of the "smart consumer."), since very dollar one gives is worth two dollars to the company. They do raise money and expand the mailing list of donors to be hit for future gifts.

I suspect that a more important function is that they assure the really big donors that the regular audience also cares enough to contribute to this cause, even if the amounts they (we) give are relatively small. Rich people like to give to winning causes, as do most of the rest of us.

#6 Helene

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:13 PM

This is an excellent point, bart. Rather than just give money away, Bill Gates has Microsoft use corporate matches for the annual fund and charitable (501-c-3) giving throughout the year, and the last time I checked, it was up to $12K per person/year. His parents were philanthropists, and because of his approach, Microsoft created tens of thousands of new donors over the decades, many of whom had no family history of charity apart from church donations. The figure that's usually thrown around is that it takes three generations of wealth for philanthropy to kick in, and his initiative went straight to the source.

At PNB a few times a year they have cash boxes in the lobby to raise money for Second Stage, the program that helps dancer with education, business creation, and training so that they are ready for jobs outside ballet, and for PNB. At first I thought it was odd, but it covers people who want to drop in $3 as well as people who want to donate, but don't want their name on a list to be solicited for years and years.

#7 California

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 06:14 AM

Challenge grants and matching grants of various kinds were used from the earliest days in the late 60s of the National Endowments (Arts and Humanities). Big private foundations often use them and it seems many big individual donors are following the precedent. Nobody wants to think they are the only source of funds. They want to encourage other donors, even very small donors, to join in support for the group. For the family offering $150,000 in matching funds at NYCB, I don't see evidence that this was make-or-break for the company overall. But for that family, it probably meant a great deal to stimulate more giving.

The Colorado Ballet has an offer right now: for all donations that come in by June 30, a group of (unnamed) trustees will match everything dollar for dollar, up to $100,000. This isn't restricted to new donors, so it seems instead to be a technique to renew their Friends' memberships by the start of the fiscal year. It's a good technique and I'm sure we'll see more of it.

I haven't seen data on how successful any of this is, but it keeps being offered, so it must be doing something that works.

#8 abatt

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 06:27 AM

I would like to know whether their ticket revenues increased or decreased as a result of this new scheme of closing down the 3rd and 4th rings. I guess those stats are not yet available.

#9 Helene

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 08:44 AM

Ticket revenues themselves are part of the equation, but, for the bottom line, the cost savings, too, have to be taken into consideration: lower house staff labor costs being the main one, and possibly fewer programs printed.

#10 Helene

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Posted 29 June 2012 - 03:45 PM

I just received a funny fundraising letter from Town Hall in Seattle about a $10K challenge match that ends tomorrow:


Dear friends,

6/30 midnight (tomorrow!) marks the close of our fiscal year here at Town Hall—and the last day of our $10,000 match from an anonymous donor.

This shadowy, mysterious figure (OK, actually a dear, generous friend of Town Hall—but that’s not nearly as alluring) has offered to match all donations from individuals who haven’t given before; who haven’t given since July 1 2011; or who increase their gifts to at least $100.

It turns out I will be in the office tomorrow wrapping up end of year business—so if you call on 6/30 between 10am-4pm you’ll get me on the other end of the line to take your contribution. Dial [phone number removed to avoid trawler calls] if you would like to support Town Hall, and you prefer not to talk to me, you can also make a contribution any time day or night right here.

Your contribution to Town Hall will ensure we are able to continue to offer a breathtaking span of events annually, AND sustain our commitment to accessible ticket prices (remember: most events are $5 or free) in the new season. Your gift also qualifies you as a member of Town Hall, with a variety of benefits accruing at different levels. Full details on benefits can be found at the link above.
Get this straight—your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, AND you’ll have the chance to give me an earful.
I hope to hear from you!

Wier Harman
Executive Director



#11 ivanov

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Posted 01 July 2012 - 04:37 PM

Thanks for that context Helene! I guess what I saw as an odd development at NYCB (among others) was nothing but a sign of the times.

#12 4mrdncr

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Posted 01 July 2012 - 06:32 PM

Matching challenge grants have been a standard fundraising tactic at public radio and tv for many many years. No surprise that NYCB and others are doing it too.

#13 sandik

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Posted 01 July 2012 - 06:53 PM

In fundraising, money tends to follow money. In the past, before the rise of public arts agencies in the 1960s, most of the audience wasn't really aware of budgetary issues -- arts organizations would sometimes publicize details about a donation (especially if it was in support of a capital improvement or some kind of specific commission) but generally information about how much it cost to run an organization and where that money came from was held more closely than today. The synergy that donations create was pretty much limited to the private sector.

This started to shake loose, at least in dance, with the advent of the State Department tours in the 1950s -- as a part of the federal budget, that information was available to anyone who could find the details in government reports. And when the NEA was founded in the 1960s (and so many state and local agencies after that) the whole process of applying for government support meant that organizations had to create budgets that were a part of the public record.

Most government agencies don't want to think that they are the only support for an organization -- if their constituents aren't interested enough in a group to donate their own money, government agencies don't feel it's an appropriate use of public funds. So most successful applications reflect a substantial 'buy-in' from private individuals. In this case, the amounts don't have to be high -- it's the number of people involved that makes an impression. With a matching grant, many donors think it's more exciting to get a match from a large number of small donations, rather than one or two big checks.

(Interestingly, in the case of public education, donors are just as excited to see uncompensated volunteer time from families as they are to see actual cash donations -- the thinking is that if families are involved in their child's school, it's likely that outside donations will be well used.)

The dire language that was attached to the $150,000 ask for NYCB is perhaps hyperbolic, but the fundamental idea -- that without a commitment from a large part of their audience, the company will have a difficult time 'selling themselves' to big donors -- is becoming the accepted standard.

#14 Helene

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Posted 01 July 2012 - 09:40 PM

Matching challenge grants have been a standard fundraising tactic at public radio and tv for many many years. No surprise that NYCB and others are doing it too.

I don't think anyone was surprised about a match, just the desperate-sounding tone, based on the dollar amount.

#15 Helene

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Posted 02 July 2012 - 09:28 AM

Today I've received several matching grant fundraising emails extending the deadline from 30 June due to the storms and power outages on the East cost.


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