If you’re part of a small, nonprofit arts organization, chances are you have a lot on your plate (with limited time, resources and money to get it done). Besides managing staff and volunteers and dealing with the routine day-to-day things that pop up, figuring out how to keep the funding flowing is also likely top of mind. Enter Business & Arts NL’s ArtSupport NL program.
ArtSupport NL strives to help arts organizations improve their fundraising practices and diversify their revenue so they can make their best work. The program kicked off in March 2018 and has helped 10 local organizations increase their collective fundraising revenue by 55 per cent. This month, Phase 2 begins.
The next chapter will be broken up into two streams, with the second geared towards smaller organizations. It will be led by Cindy Wagman, President and CEO of The Good Partnership – a small, Canadian firm that helps small nonprofits do more with less.
We recently caught up with Cindy for a preview of what participants can expect.
Business & Arts NL: From your experience, what is one of the biggest issues small nonprofits face?
CW: So when it comes to fundraising specifically, I think that there’s the two big issues. One is most small nonprofits are very misguided. What happens is they look at big organizations and they think, “How do I copy that?” and the reality is that’s not the best task for a small nonprofit. There are things that are more effective and easier when it comes to fundraising that are not huge time sucks or anything like that. A lot of fundraising is relationships and consistency. And so, instead of trying to just copy the big organizations, take the time to learn some of the basics and find the fundraising strategy that’s aligned with your organization. So really looking at what makes sense for you; What’s, strategically, the best fit?; What’s aligned with your mission? What can you be successful at and what does it take to be successful at those things?
How we work is also a big underlying issue. So how we manage our time, the technology and systems that we use to do the work is usually, what we’ve seen for small organizations, not done effectively. And so they spend a lot of time doing things that they just shouldn’t be spending time doing.
Business & Arts NL: Can you offer a preview of what you’ll be teaching the 20 groups at the start of the program?
CW: There’s sort of an iceberg of fundraising. And above the water, we see things like events, direct appeal, different campaigns, all the things visible to the outside world. And that’s usually what small nonprofits look at when they see other organizations and they try to copy all of that. But what they don’t see is below the surface… 75 to 80 per cent of the fundraising work is hidden and it’s actually not what we talk about a lot. So we have five areas that we focus on…if you think about traditional fundraising as the main education that everyone else is teaching, we teach the flip side, we teach what’s underneath that we think is foundational to success.
Track one is “think.” So the biggest barrier I see for small organizations is that they keep telling themselves that they don’t like fundraising, or they’re not good fundraisers. And we are wired to be self-fulfilling prophecies to our beliefs. The way our brains work is that we constantly seek out reaffirming information. And so if we keep saying “I’m not a good fundraiser,” “I don’t know how to fundraise,” – all these things that we tell ourselves, we will never get past that. So we have to rewire our brains and reframe how we think about fundraising to align with success…and so we tap into research that’s been done around behaviour change in neuroscience. We also look back at the organization’s fundraising history to start to evaluate where the organization is today and how they got there, because we can’t really move forward without evaluating the past.
The second track is what we call “act” and that’s how we behave. So fundraising is sort of a combination of consistent habits and consistent activities. And so the first thing we look at is how do we build productive habits for ourselves to make room for fundraising in our day-to-day lives and what are the fundraising-specific habits that we need to do on a regular basis?
Track three is “connect” and that talks a lot about connecting with donors. So we look at storytelling…neuroscience and fundraising research tells us that stories are the most effective tool when it comes to fundraising. But then we also look at stewardship because a lot of small organizations are so focused on trying to get money in the door, that they create a revolving door – when someone gives, they sort of don’t give again. And it’s way more effective to try to get people giving over and over instead of trying to always find new donors. So stewardship is the practice of nurturing relationships after someone’s made a donation, and that is foundational. Every single organization has to have that figured out or they will never build a fundraising program.
Track four is “organize.” So we look at your systems – your database, what you’re using for email marketing, even how you work as a team. All of those things are so important and they’re often an afterthought. But we want to make them central to your fundraising so that you stop wasting time….then finally, we pull all that together into a customized fundraising plan for the organization. So based on all of that work, you then are in a position to evaluate and make decisions strategically around what the best fundraising approach is for your organization. And then we give you tools, almost like a work plan, on how to implement that.
Business & Arts NL: There will also be some “Choose Your Own Adventure” training modules in the fall. Can you tell us a bit about that?
CW: So basically, as I said, the first thing is figuring out the right strategy. Once you understand that, you don’t need to learn everything about fundraising, you just need to know the things that you need to apply right now. And so that’s our “Choose Your Own Adventure” approach…It’s much more about how do we focus on the things that we know are the right things for us now, let’s learn those, let’s do them well and grow from there. So once we figure out the right strategy for you, you can fast track your learning in a really targeted way.
Business & Arts NL: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
CW: We work with a lot of arts organizations and a lot of organizations that don’t think of themselves as frontline. And right now, there’s a big fear around should we be asking for money? How do we think about our fundraising right now? And the answer is yes, you should be fundraising. But it’s also a really good time for organizations to learn the foundations so that as we come out of COVID and this pandemic, they’re much better equipped to move forward quickly on the things that matter. And there’s a lot that organizations are going to do now, engaging with their donors, that aren’t direct asks for money, but that will really strengthen their ability to recover from the pandemic.
Capacity for this steam is limited to 20 organizations. Expressions of Interest for those interested in joining the program are due no later than 11:59 pm on May 20, 2020 (click here to complete the form). If you have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This project has been made possible [in part] by the Government of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation. Ce projet est financé [en partie] par les gouvernements du Canada et Terreneuve et Labrador.
ArtSupport NL is modelled after programs in Manitoba and Australia focused on building professional fundraising skills in the arts sector.