Saturday, November 16, 2013

Let’s Put our Hearts into the Future of our Cultural Life

I urge the Cultural Life Task Force to let go of a half-century old approach and get with the 21st century emphasis on direct involvement in the excitement of the arts, science and history within the Charlotte region—not only as audience members but also and most importantly as donors.

Most of us make tax-deductible contributions to causes or nonprofit organizations each year.  For example, you may give to the university you attended, to a food bank, the Red Cross or the Charlotte Symphony.  You personally make the decision about where your gift will go, because you personally believe in the value of the services of these groups.  You believe strongly in what they do and when you make your gift, you feel good about it.  It’s direct and it’s personal.

This is what true philanthropy is all about.  It comes from our passion about a cause or service.  That kind of feeling is missing with a united-fund approach (aka ‘work-place giving’) that has been operating here for over fifty years.  Gifts by workers under this approach go to the Arts and Science Council which then disperses those funds to the various arts/cultural groups according to certain criteria.  The original donor has no say in how her funds are used.  Recently, there has been some choice included in the campaigns, but the system remains at best an indirect way from the donor’s standpoint of supporting arts and culture.

The recent recession demonstrated a weakness of this system.  The ASC, the ‘middle-man’ of this approach, lost 65% of support from businesses and foundations since the recession.  If direct and personal philanthropy had been the major approach since the late 1950s, the effect of the downturn might not have been so severe.  More importantly, the various arts and cultural groups would not have developed a certain level of dependency upon the ASC.  Most of the larger organizations receive a quarter to a third of their total budgets from their annual ASC grant.  Their staffs get very used to seeing they have to raise only 66% or 75% of their total expenses, because the ASC grant will be there for them.

What should the Cultural Life Task Force do?  What should we do?  The Task Force will be in closed sessions until it issues its recommendations in early 2014. Hopefully they will be willing to hear your ideas.

I recommend that we begin to move to a direct and personal philanthropic model to support our cultural life in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.  Work-place giving does not have to totally disappear, but it should be significantly reduced.  I would suggest a ten-year transition period to the personal philanthropic model.  This would give the organizations time to ramp up their cultivation and direct solicitation programs targeted to individuals who have a direct interest in the organizations’ art, science and history missions.  The ASC can be a catalyst to this change, offering training assistance and other resources encouraging individual involvement and giving.

Let’s connect our fellow citizens and their families directly with the talented and devoted people who make art, explain history and demonstrate science.  Culture is not about selling cars or houses.  Culture is all about an experience.  You can’t buy it, take it home and put it on the shelf.  Culture is all about touching our emotions, our heart.  And personal philanthropy is all about giving from the heart.  Let’s make that happen here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Comment on Charlotte City Council Subsidy of Carowinds

Dear Editors:

I had to laugh reading the comments of City Council members who supported the subsidy for the Carowinds expansion.  Carowinds’ owner Cedar Fair Entertainment probably paid millions for the adjoining 61 acres two years before the subsidy matter came up. What was their intention?  To establish housing for the homeless?

Where are all the ‘free market’ warriors who scream to get government out of our lives? Council should not ask staff to consider revision of this excessive freebie program, but instead vote to scrap it.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I responded recently to an essay on Charlotte Viewpoint [ ] by Suzanne Fetscher, head of the McColl Center for Visual Art.  Here is her essay with my observations to follow:

Building relationships to raise funds
by Suzanne Fetscher
Charlotte Viewpoint
July 30, 2013

I am a really slow learner. I have been working in the cultural nonprofit sector for a long time. It is only now that I feel that I am comfortable in philanthropy work. What took so long?

When I consider my experiences in fundraising over the last twenty-three years, I recall how terrified I was when faced with the duty of fundraising as a newly appointed Executive Director. I felt paralyzed by the prospect and hid out in my office to avoid the task. I wanted to be successful at it for the sake of my institution but felt so intimidated by the image of asking very important wealthy individuals (who intimidated me already) for their money.

So I focused on grants. It seemed much easier. I had the same perception of many of my board members. There are foundation pots of money “out there” for the asking; one just has to write a grant. “Can’t you write a grant for that?” a well-meaning board member would suggest. They, too, didn’t like fundraising and wanted to avoid it by suggesting another route to funding a special project or need. It was a reflex response to any funding issue. “Just write a grant.”

Working with our grant writer and researching on my own, I quickly learned that being awarded grants requires a process of research, cultivation, and relationship building similar to those when fundraising from individuals. It can take years to identify potential funders, establish a relationship with them, and write a request that they may or may not fund. Crafting a compelling grant request takes time and artistry, and involves sound business planning and program evaluating methods. It must demonstrate impact. Writing a thoughtful, well-researched single grant may be a multi-year process.

I came to realize that the common denominator between asking institutions for money and asking individuals for money is relationship. And that takes time.

The best part of the grant-writing experience was meeting with the program officers of the Knight Foundation, PEW Charitable Trusts, Lila Wallace Fund, and Creative Capital. It started to give me confidence in my ability to make a strong case for our institution’s mission, history, and future plans. It also taught me the importance of building relationships over years.

However, perhaps the most important lesson for me was the importance of learning that fundraising isn’t about me (was I a good fundraiser?) or my institution. It’s about the goals of the foundation or the individual or corporate philanthropy department and learning if there is goal-alignment between their institution and mine. It’s about making a good match of core values, goals, and impact, Not about whether the funder is supporting the “right” cause or whether my institution is that “good cause.” This has helped me care more deeply about the conversations that I get to have with donors and funders. I get to learn about their institution’s passions and motivations and, if it’s an individual donor, what they would like their legacy to be. I get to create a deep and meaningful relationship between them and my institution. What a gift it is to me to act as the facilitator of that relationship.

Recently, I was fortunate to participate in Charlotte’s Leadership Gift School. Leadership Gift School is presented by a consortium of funders: the Foundation for the Carolinas, Charlotte Mecklenburg Arts & Science Council, Carolinas HealthCare, Blumenthal Foundation and others. The brilliant program is designed and led by Chris McLeod, an independent fundraising consultant in Charlotte, and Karla Williams, author and national fundraising consultant. Through that remarkable program, I have come to love philanthropy and see it as a unique and noble calling. I owe the consortium of funders and Chris McLeod and Karla Williams my greatest thanks.

I am a slow learner. My life lessons and those lessons learned from program officers at foundations taught me much about authentic relationships built upon shared values and goals. Leadership Gift School taught me that those lessons are instrumental in philanthropy and creating vibrant and meaningful impact for individuals and community.

My Comment
August 6, 2013
Charlotte Substituted Efficiency in Place of Passion for the Arts
John Clark

In her admirable self-effacing essay, Suzanne Fetscher offers a positive and accurate portrayal of what philanthropy is all about.  Many of us working to sustain organizations and missions would agree with her admission:  “I have come to love philanthropy and see it as a unique and noble calling.”

Ms. Fetscher’s essay indirectly illuminates the costs to this community when it adopted 50 years ago a united fund model (UFM) to raise money for the arts.  In short, the model takes a top-down, centralized approach through an annual campaign conducted primarily through corporations, businesses and the professions.  In fact, a major reason city leaders created this type of model was to minimize the number of requests to the business community for support. Charlotte organized its approach through the Arts and Science Council (ASC).

The various arts and science organizations, which became annual grant recipients with funds through the campaign, had over the years 25 to 33% of their budgets covered by this revenue source.  This encouraged a degree of dependence by these organizations on the ASC.  For example, an organization would garner about 30-35% of its budget from ticket/admission sales, 20-30% from its annual fundraising efforts, and the balance from project grants, advertising and other miscellaneous sources.

As a result of the UFM, the emphasis at these organizations tended to be project/campaign oriented fundraising:  brochures mailed to season ticket sales, letters going out soliciting annual support donations.  Donors tended to be viewed as ticket-buyers, or annual donors not as individuals with a potential passion for the art form.  In other words, there were very little resources—time, energy, knowledge—placed upon cultivation.

In short, there was very little of what Ms. Fetscher describes as exciting to her about philanthropy:  “I get to create a deep and meaningful relationship between them and my institution.”

Had Charlotte not adopted the UFM  a half-century ago and instead had allowed an open environment for arts, cultural and science organizations to develop and nourish passionate donors, a number with deep pockets, our arts scene would be a lot different. Our organizations would have experienced many decades to seriously cultivate individuals who initially show an interest in their plays, their concerts, their dance performances and their art collections.

At the beginning of the last decade, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra embarked on an aggressive endowment campaign.  Nashville has no UFM and is smaller than Charlotte. Because it had to cultivate individuals over the years, the campaign was very successful. The endowment was increased from $23M to $123M with 35 individuals giving $1M and one donor giving much more.

I am not saying that a city without a UFM approach will be able to attract huge numbers of wealthy donors.  I am suggesting only that Charlotte tied its hands by keeping a UFM approach in place for a half a century.  No one knows what would have happened with an environment friendlier to philanthropy.  I would bet, however, our groups would be more effectively endowed than they are now and, consequently, much better off today. And, maybe more importantly, there would be more knowledge and appreciation for the arts generally.