Talking Fund Development

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

by Lisa Mackay

Fund Development is a hot topic among arts administrators these days, as Alberta continues to weather the on-going economic downturn. Previously stable sources of funding have dwindled and disappeared, leaving many arts organizations in a tight spot. The topic was therefore a welcome one at the Lunch and Learn on January 9 that followed the last RAMP (Rozsa Arts Management Program) lecture at the Haskane School of Business Executive Education department.

2019 Rozsa Award recipients Sara Leishman (Executive Director, Calgary Folk Festival) and Tara Owen (Board Chair, Alberta Craft Council) were the guest speakers, and each generously shared with the 29 RAMP participants their fundraising perspectives, experiences, and strategies.

"I think that this challenging environment actually sharpens our skills and ups our game as arts fundraisers"

Leishman started the session by highlighting for the 29 RAMP participants the silver lining around the dark cloud of scarce revenues. “I think that this challenging environment actually sharpens our skills and ups our game as arts fundraisers in Calgary, bringing us more in line with the rest of the country,” she proposed. “In the boom times, it was possible to secure funding from just a few sources, whereas now we are forced to sharpen our skillsets and draw on all of our fundraising knowledge. We are taking a closer look at our lists, engaging more with our stakeholders, and working harder to build and support important relationships. All of this is good for our organizations.” Owen agreed, “We are now depending on a much broader group of supporters to fund projects and operations. This diversification of revenue sources is actually a much healthier base of support than having one or two companies underwrite everything.”

“It also leads to more intentional conversations,” she continued, “where you are actively listening to your public to see what interests and excites them enough to support the work financially. And you are continuously asking for support, which gets people involved in your organization in a deeper capacity.”

“It is important to have a solid understand of who you are approaching,” Leishman agreed, “and to target your story towards their values and interests. It’s about building a stronger relationship, where everyone benefits.”

The two arts leaders agreed that having to work harder for support also provides a great opportunity for companies to take a hard look at their missions and visions, and to clearly articulate their value to the community. “Any time you are meeting with potential funders, make sure you have answered the questions: ‘What do they want out of this partnership? What impact does our organization provide to the communities they care about?’ This is where real, lasting connections can be found,” asserted Owen.

"What do they want out of this partnership? What impact does our organization provide to the communities they care about?"

2019 Rozsa Award recipients Sara Leishman and Tara Owen speak to RAMP participants about Fund Development

This focus on how your organization provides for the community can also be a great exercise in building internal and external confidence. “It is important to understand in these meetings and asks that you are coming to the table as an equal, and the other party sees you this way. If they are offering something you don’t need, you don’t have to accept it,” cautioned Leishman, “it may end up costing you more in the long run. Run it through your mission and vision – does it support these? Learning to say ‘no’ while suggesting another option is a great skill to learn.”

“Make sure your sponsors are helping to move your organization forward. Money, in-kind donations, connections, other resources – all of these can help move your business along. But don’t accept any of it if it puts you off track.”

By the end of the session, RAMP participants and facilitators were armed with great ideas and advice from the two 2019 Rozsa Award-recipients, and were feeling some much needed optimism in the realm of fund development. “The scarcity mindset is just that – a mindset.”

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