The current pandemic has presented a strange and somewhat confusing time for many people, as we figure out how to navigate relationships with our work and each each other. This is especially true for artists and arts organizations, who have often spent years building and strengthening relationships with corporate sponsors and partners. But how do they approach sponsors and partners during this time? Should they even be approaching them at all? How are sponsors’ priorities shifting? And how can the arts sector help businesses be resilient right now? Those are some of the topics that were discussed during Business and Arts NL’s recent panel, “Corporate Sponsorship and the Arts.”
Moderated by Business & Arts NL’s Co-Chair, Dr. Noreen Golfman, the panel included Paul McDonald, Managing Partner at Cox & Palmer; Margot Bruce-O’Connell, Public Affairs Manager at Hibernia; Tina Murphy, Manager of Community Banking and External Events with TD Bank Group; Heather McKinnon, General Manager of Delta Hotel; Hannah Morgan, Admin/Collections at St. Michael’s Printshop; and Jenn Brown, Executive Director of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival.
A total of 48 participants took part in the discussion, which saw some excellent ideas being shared among local arts organizations about how to pivot and get through this time. Dr. Golfman said these times are “particularly challenged by our relationships that we’ve relied on traditionally with our sponsors, if we’re seeing the world from an artists’ or arts organization’s point of view, wondering, even in the best of times, how best to approach developing a partnership (and) how to seek a healthy, trusting, mutually beneficial relationship.”
“Arts organizations in particular I think are feeling this is not a good time…to be approaching anybody because everybody’s feeling vulnerable, particularly of course business, small, medium and large. And there’s just so much uncertainty.”
People are asking many of the same questions right now, Dr. Golfman said, which speaks to this “particular historical moment,” including if it’s possible to maintain these relationships through the current financial upheaval.
Paul McDonald thinks so.
“One of the messages I would like the organizations in the arts and culture sector to get is that they should be reaching out to the people who have been sponsoring them and not waiting for the phone to call,” he said.
“Here at the firm, we’ve made a decision that support for the arts sector will continue to be a priority for us. We do want to speak with everybody that we’ve supported and find out how things have changed for them, or in what ways their programs are going to change or have changed as a result of the whole COVID situation…to find out what it is they’re doing, or still can do. Or maybe how they’re changing how they deliver their programs and present their basic undertakings, so that we can have that discussion with them and decide how the sponsorship…can fit in with what it is they intend to do.”
McDonald says he would encourage organizations to reach out to those who’ve supported them previously.
“I think they will find that many of the people in the corporate sector who have shown a willingness to support the arts sector before would be interested in having those conversations. The assumption should not be made that everything’s off the table and that there will be no more support or no support this year from the corporate sector.”
Margot Bruce-O’Connell reiterated the importance of transparency and collaboration between sponsors and community partners.
“I think globally, you’re going to see some reductions in spend this year…a lot of companies are feeling the pinch and figuring out how to preserve cash,” she added.
“So I think communication is critical, reach out, have those conversations. People are still working, they’re just working differently, and I think it’s important to have those conversations.”
Tina Murphy stressed the importance of community partners being proactive and having a plan.
“(And) it doesn’t need to be detailed, but it does need to be able to tell your corporate donors and sponsors what you’re up to. And let them know what’s happened to the programs that they did provide funding for, or that they traditionally supported. Let them know what the impact of COVID is on your organization and the audience you serve, and what’s happened to your organization’s services,” she said.
“Put your volunteers to work with a script. There are so many people who are wanting to help organizations. So give them a script and have them call every sponsor and donor. And when they do call, make sure you know what it is that you need or want. If you’ve got a donor on the phone and they say, ‘How can I help?’ have an answer for them and have that ask with different options, whether it’s financial, whether it’s virtual volunteering, or maybe it’s just simply thanking your sponsors for years gone by.”
Heather McKinnon said the Delta has generally provided in-kind support to the arts (in the form of guest rooms and meeting spaces) and while it’s been a struggle for those in her industry especially, they plan to continue this support.
Both Hannah Morgan and Jenn Brown shared the challenges that both of their organizations have been facing, but they also shared stories of strength and resiliency, and how their organizations have pivoted in these extraordinary times. One of the things both groups have been doing is taking some of their programming to the digital sphere, like the SJIWFF’s #CozyChats series, which presented candid and interactive chats with local and national filmmakers online. Initiatives like these have helped them to reach and connect with audiences across the province, and beyond.
We thank all panelists and participants for a lively and supportive conversation, and for sharing lessons which will surely help carry us through the current pandemic and beyond.