"A billionaire's ode to charity: $100 million to poetry journal" shouted the Chicago Tribune. "Lilly heir gives $100M to Poetry magazine" said the Journal of Philanthropy last year. They're headlines which would send any self-respecting arts manager green with envy. While a donation such as this is not exactly run of the mill, bequests, donations, fundraising and memberships are all part and parcel of a cultural organisations' quest to offset their income from other sources, whether it be government subsidy or earnt through the box office or other sales. So what might be the successful formula for a cultural organisation seeking the public's support, based on experiences around the world?
The full story of the Poetry Magazine's most remarkable donation was even more intriguing. Mrs Guernsey Van Riper Jr. of Indianapolis was a regularly rejected contributor to the Chicago-based publication. Imagine their surprise when Mrs Van Riper turned out to be Ruth Lilly, 87, heir to the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical fortune, who left the money in a bequest to the magazine and its parent, the Modern Poetry Association.
In a challenging article in the Philanthropy Journal earlier this year, Harriet Sanford warns cultural organisations that life is different. Gone are the boom days of the internet bubble, when newly minted millionaires were ready givers to all manner of causes, including the arts. With the American economy in the doldrums, and internet CEOs fighting to avoid having their porsches repossessed, US cultural organisations are finding the going tough – and Sanford says it's only going to get worse.
Sanford advocates a return to basics, and offers a timely reminder of the tried and true strategies of developing a support base: "A truly successful cultural organization is not about overnight success or unlimited funds or even unsurpassed creativity. It's about defining a clear mission and vision, crafting an effective organizational structure, building a strong donor and audience base, and doing it day after day, year after year."
In addition, she extends that premise: "Today's cultural organizations must be willing to make a long-term commitment to reach out to new and diverse audiences."
$100 million donations notwithstanding, Australian cultural organisations are the poor cousins to the Americans when it comes to fundraising and donations. According to Philanthropy Australia donations to cultural organisations account for less than one percent of money donated to the non-profit sector. A Philanthropy Australia Fact Sheet says Australians gave, on average, $445 per year per household in total philanthropic support in 1997. In 1998, 70.1% of US households gave an average contribution of $1,075 per household – more than twice that of Australian households.
Private sector support for Australian arts and culture is growing, according to the Australia Business Arts Foundation. Figures show that the arts received $118.5m from various non-government sources in 1999-2000.
Writing in American magazine Business Week, Thane Peterson picks up Harriet Sanford's theme and says cultural organisations are feeling the pinch, but that "Museums that stay in contact with [potential donors] through good times and bad are going to come out of this slump in good shape". Calling the current downturn trend 'distressing', Peterson however urges people to think twice before pulling back their support for arts and culture, pointing out that with the tourism and travel industry in a slump, the effects of 9/11, and reduced government funding, cultural organisations are under considerable financial pressure. The Business Week article says gifts to cultural organizations are expected to fall by one-third, to $US8 billion this year, down from $US12 billion in 2002.
In Australia names like Myer, Smorgon and Fairfax are a familiar refrain, with announcements such as the $1 million each paid by James Fairfax and Lottie Smorgon for naming rights to exhibition halls in the newly refurbished National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. Melbourne Museum officials were 'stunned' when more than 1,100 people responded to an invitation to their new fundraising launch, according to a report in The Australian Financial Review in April last year. Despite this, the Museum still needed a substantial government funding increase in this year's State budget.
The seemingly constantly embattled National Museum of Australia caught the flack in August last year, with Director Dawn Casey forced to defend her institution's fundraising record in an Arts Hub article NMA responds to sponsorship criticism after newspaper reports which said the NMA was 'struggling to attract sponsors a year after opening in a blaze of publicity.' Comparisons with major art galleries in Canberra showed that the NMA had raised just $470,000 in 2000/2001, compared with the National Gallery of Australia's $2.4 million, the War Memorial's $1.9 million, the National Portrait Gallery's $2.8 million and Questacon's $918,000.
The Melbourne Museum's annual report for last financial year is not yet available, but the 2001/2002 report shows $172,000 in donations.
Despite the bad press, it's still instructive that the fundraising we hear about is almost always linked to the very largest of the cultural organisations. Yet a great many others are engaged in fundraising of their own, and most often with the most popular strategy of them all, memberships and other 'friends' type programs. Whether the organisations are 'professional' or 'amateur', memberships are the bread and butter programs adopted by cultural organisations to create networks of advocates, fundraising opportunities, and to cement long term relationships with individuals who have potential to give of their time and money over the long term.
In an article on idealist.org, Beth Kanter from the New York Foundation of the Arts provides a practical and thoughtful exploration of the opportunities for fundraising using the Internet. Kanter notes that the most popular online fundraising activity is publishing a membership brochure, and goes on to suggest that "Many non-profit fundraisers agree that the Internet will eventually become an important part of the development office's toolbox for raising money and building relationships with donors. The key is to begin experimenting with these tools."
What makes this talk of online fundraising interesting is survey work by the American Network for Good. Their President, Ken Weber, is quoted in the Philanthropy Journal: "There's a huge connection between online information gathering and offline philanthropic activity". The survey, of 10,000 people, found that three quarters said they took "additional action, either online or offline, after visiting a non-profit web site and six in 10 said they either would not have taken additional action, or were not sure if they would have, had they not visited the Web site."
All of which backs up what has become a generally accepted feature of the internet – many people use it for research, even if they don't then subsequently open their wallets online but conduct the transaction 'over the counter'.
Figures released in the United Kingdom by UK charity Oxfam suggest the internet is overtaking the telephone as the preferred donation method. Quoted in the Guardian, Oxfam's internet manager, Rachael Clay, says: "The levels of online donations for appeals are growing all the time, we believe that more and more people are getting their news during the day from the internet and then clicking through to our site to make a donation."
The Guardian article highlights The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which raised £160,000 ($393,000) after a banner advertisement soliciting a donation was displayed on its home page. Each time the graphic was clicked corporate sponsors donated two pence – about five cents Australian.
International editor of the US publication 'Giving Magazine' Nick Cater, also writing in the Guardian, explores the global power of the Internet, saying "The internet offers a perfect medium for cross-border philanthropy; needs and resources can be instantly connected through frictionless global giving." He goes on to to call for reform to international tax and financial arrangements, arguing that 'global giving' is being severely impeded by what he terms the "offline grit in the machine: laws, taxes, governments and existing charity inertia."
US Democratic party presidential hopeful Howard Dean made the pages of The Australian newspaper on 5 July, not for any political relevance to the antipodean audience, but because he's 'stunned his presidential rivals' by raising more than $US7 million ($10.8 million) in three months – mostly online. Quoted in The Australian, political analyst Jeff Greenfield says the politician is not in the news because of the dollar amount, rather "The story here is the power of the internet".
A report by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu for Arts Victoria in 2001 found that 88% of cultural organisations rated the internet as important for marketing and promotion – but that only 21% track the effectiveness of their online marketing. The survey also encompassed visitors to cultural organisations' web sites, and found they "do not use the Internet frequently to access Victorian arts information" - in contrast to the audiences' general use of the internet. The report concludes: "Audiences are not using arts web sites similarly to their general Internet activity, suggesting the information is not available." And posits the most probable reason for the disparity between audiences accessing general information on the internet compared with arts information is that "the arts Internet sites do not provide these services to the same standard and therefore are used less. This implies that arts audiences would use these services if they were available, and of a quality standard."
The first stage in seeking someone's support for a cultural organisation, through a program such as memberships, must be to make the relevant information readily accessible, and then to make the ensuing 'transaction' as painless and easy as possible. It's an inescapable conclusion that this explains why the internet is proving so popular with online donors. It's an action of a second, based on an impulse decision, to click a button on the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children web site – and when a million people click, the Society picks up a nice cheque.
A quick survey of some major arts institutions around the Australian state capitals is not encouraging:
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