Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Arts/Culture and Fundraising and Philanthropy

Strategy key as arts groups launch simultaneous campaigns

August 21, 2010

A wave of fundraising pitches is about to wash over Indianapolis arts supporters.

Five organizations either have announced or are working toward the launch of major campaigns. Targets rolled out so far range from $12.5 million for Heartland Truly Moving Pictures to $100 million for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Civic Theatre, the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art are all working toward launches in 2011.

A sixth player is The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel. The city is paying for construction of the concert hall and theater complex, but Executive Director Steven Libman still must raise money for the 2011 opening season and, eventually, a supporting endowment. The center, which is in the midst of recruiting a large board of directors, hasn’t announced fundraising goals.

Arts fundraisers don’t think the simultaneous efforts will hurt their individual chances of success. At the same time, they don’t want to be left behind.

“I guess it keeps everybody on their toes a little more,” said Megan McKinney, development director at Civic Theatre. “There is no room for slacking. Every dime you leave on the table is going to somebody else.”

Will the onslaught of requests turn off potential donors?

Tim Seiler, director of the fundraising school at IUPUI’s Center on Philanthropy, thinks competition is beneficial.

“It could raise the general profile of the arts,” he said. “It could even alert others to think more seriously about the arts. They may decide to become a donor for the first time.”

Arts organizations are ratcheting up fundraising efforts as the economy continues to sputter. Indiana’s June unemployment rate mirrored the nation’s at 9.5 percent. And while the stock market has rebounded since plummeting two years ago, the S&P 500 remains 30 percent off its October 2007 peak.

“I’m not saying it won’t be hard work,” Seiler added.

Civic Theatre, which recently dropped “Indianapolis” from its name, is planning a campaign around its move next fall from the campus of Marian University to the Carmel performing arts center. McKinney said the theater won’t make an official announcement or unveil a dollar target until it has a polished strategy. But she’s eager to enter the mix.

“Part of me is afraid I’m going to knock on a door only to see someone leave the office right ahead of me,” McKinney said. “I don’t want to miss an opportunity.”

Eiteljorg CEO John Vanausdall echoed that sentiment.

The museum’s campaign committee is still working on a strategy for an endowment-building drive, but he said fundraisers likely will hit the circuit as soon as possible.

“If you need to have a campaign, and you’re waiting, others are jumping in ahead of you,” he said.

New strategy

The symphony departed from its usual fundraising strategy of quietly gathering major gifts before making a public pronouncement. Instead, the ISO announced its campaign in June with the news that Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay had agreed to serve as co-chairmen.

“Two figureheads like Herb Simon and Jim Irsay is something to celebrate,” spokeswoman Jessica DiSanto said.

The symphony might just gain some traction with that move. Seiler of the Center on Philanthropy wouldn’t comment on specific campaigns, but said, “One of the things we do know from experience is that top-quality volunteer leadership is the single-most-important factor for the success of campaigns.”

Those volunteers are always in limited supply.

“You could end up in a competitive situation in that respect,” Seiler said.

The symphony is seeking to rebuild its endowment, which fell during the recession from $128 million to $90 million. The campaign will position the full-time orchestra as essential to the city’s cultural offerings—on par with professional sports.

Although economic conditions aren’t ideal, donors aren’t as downright frightened as they were when the stock market was plunging, said Frank Basile, a retired Glick Co. executive who holds active or honorary posts on eight boards, including the ISO and Eiteljorg Museum.

Besides, he said, arts leaders feel they can’t afford to wait any longer to restore their balance sheets.

“That’s why you have more people now that are beginning to launch campaigns,” he said.

More than other types of not-for-profits, arts groups rely heavily on the wealthiest donors. Center on Philanthropy studies show that about 8 percent of the general population gives to the arts, compared with about 68 percent of wealthy households.

That also means that multiple organizations rely on major gifts from a sliver of the population. Seiler thinks the wealthy donor base is an advantage now because those households are not as deeply affected by the recession as the average American.

Basile, a prominent philanthropist, expects affluent donors still will require some serious coaxing.

“It isn’t as easy for people to make the decision to give. In the end,” he predicted, “they’ll recognize that they’re not going to go broke if they give.”

Arts under pressure

During the recession, donors made helping people in need a higher priority than the arts.

If that trend in giving continues, competition among local arts groups will be the least of fundraisers’ worries.

“We’ve got nonprofits that are reaching out to the unemployed, and that’s a priority,” Heartland Truly Moving Pictures President Jeffrey Sparks said. “How do you argue with that?”

Heartland, which hosts a film festival in October, is trying to raise $12.5 million by the end of 2012 to support and expand its programs. Sparks said the announcement, which came early this month, was delayed by about a year because of the recession.

“We were in the silent phase when everything started to fall apart,” he said.

Donors nationwide shifted their giving to “vital needs” during the recession, according to the annual Giving USA study, conducted by the Center on Philanthropy.

Total giving, as reported through the Internal Revenue Service, shrank 3.6 percent in 2009 to $303.8 billion. But certain sectors—including human services, health, international aid and the environment—saw their shares of that pie increase.

Giving to the arts, culture and humanities, meanwhile, dropped 2.4 percent to $12.3 billion. That represented 4 percent of all giving.

Last year was not the first time the arts landed a smaller piece of the pie, said Kathleen Kavanagh, senior executive vice president at Grenzebach Glier and Associates in Chicago, which is consulting with the Indianapolis Museum of Art on its strategy.

The arts’ share of total giving fell from 5 percent to 4.6 percent in 2005 through 2009, Kavanagh said. As a result, she said, “You’ll see most cultural organizations having felt the real sting of membership revenue dropping, as well as a drop in the very largest gifts.”

Even with its enviable endowment—$301 million at the end of July—the IMA has undergone a series of budget cuts that began in early 2008. The strategy in the works now will back an endowment-building campaign to be announced in 2011.

Kavanagh said her firm’s cultural clients aren’t scaling back their goals, but they recognize it may take longer to achieve them.

“It’s been a time of very careful planning,” she said. “We’ve moved away from the ‘let’s just raise as much as we can’ culture of the early part of this decade.”•

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