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How to Fundraise for the Arts

March 28, 2023 (7 min read)
Fundraise for the arts with these tips

When you work at an arts nonprofit, it might feel like you’ve landed your dream job. Your days are spent doing something you love with people who are equally passionate about the cause. While your profession is intensely creative and rewarding, keeping the organization financially solvent (and thriving) might sometimes prove challenging. Meeting your fundraising goals year after year can turn into an all-consuming effort. It may feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to find and approach prospective donors.

Fundraising for the arts is a delicate mix of careful planning, strategy, and building and maintaining relationships. We’ve worked with countless nonprofit organizations to find and retain donors, and we take pride in making this essential task easier. Here are our best tips to overcome challenges and crush your arts fundraising goals. 

Why is fundraising for the arts challenging?

Even if you’re passionate about arts and culture, asking for donations when other, more seemingly worthy organizations are also looking for donors can feel like a daunting task. How do you stand out when food banks and children’s hospitals are also seeking funding?

Additionally, it may be hard to create a sense of urgency for donations. When the give is not tied to life-or-death stakes, asking for funding for an art exhibit or theater performance might not be a donor’s first priority. Thankfully there are foolproof ways to maximize your fundraising efforts

The best ways to fundraise for arts organizations

You work in this sector because you’re creative and understand the impact theater, dance, music, art and writing can have on individuals and the community at large. Use that creativity to engage your network. Consider what makes your organization special and tailor your fundraising efforts accordingly. If you’re part of a community theater, tickets to a final dress rehearsal might be appropriate, or you could host a cabaret night with the cast of the latest musical. 

Whenever possible, offer your donors unique, one-of-a-kind experiences. Backstage tours, writing workshops, open mic nights and dinners with an artist are all unique educational experiences to draw people in. If you’re hosting a art auction fundraiser, items could include a mentoring phone call with a famous actor, a discarded sketch from an artist, posters signed by the cast, or last season’s costumes or props. Many people give to the arts because they want to be part of a creative endeavor or enjoy the exclusive access that comes with it, so leverage those interests to create buy-in.

Develop and share your organizational story

Donors want to connect with the organization in a meaningful way. Personal narratives are one of the most effective ways to achieve this. What did your after-school music program mean to the eleven-year-olds who had never played an instrument before? How did that special performance of Our Town make local senior citizens feel?

When crafting your organization’s story, be specific and detailed, and focus on individual experiences. Use creative storytelling to engage your community and show people just how impactful their contributions are.

Build relationships with your audience

Fundraising is all about building and maintaining relationships. Engage your community throughout the year, not only when you’re soliciting donations.

Put on theater performances in a local park or bring your artists into schools for special programming. Stage a puppet show or set up your jazz band at the annual street fair. Host a gallery night with local artists as an art fundraiser for elementary schools. In addition to being fun ways to engage your audience, these events build awareness for your cause and create more potential donors. The more you give to your donors and the community at large, the more positive feelings they’ll have towards you, and the more inclined they’ll be to contribute.

Find the right donors

Even the best, most strategic organizations can be hindered by the wrong donor research software. You don’t just want access to donor lists—you want quality data about those donors so you can engage them in meaningful ways. The software should include their giving potential (through wealth screening), their interests, up-to-date information about their careers as well as any noteworthy news (or risk factors) associated with them.

Consider a product like Nexis® for Development Professionals, which combines highly informed donor profiles with intuitive search functionality to make researching your donors as efficient as possible. This will also allow you to find donors who are passionate about the arts and have a history of engaging with this type of organization. Knowing which donors to approach and when is the key to meeting your fundraising goals. 

Keep your network educated and engaged

Speaking of social media is one of the easiest and most effective ways to keep donors and prospective donors informed about all the good work your organization does. Use these platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) to build and sustain your relationships throughout the year, not just when asking for donations.

Post invitations to events, photos of your daily activities, and personal interest stories. Consider starting an email newsletter to bring similar content directly to your donor’s inboxes.

If your organization has a board, encourage members to engage their networks regularly. Sometimes it’s as simple as sending an email explaining what the organization has been up to lately or inviting people to performances or fundraising events. When donors do give, always follow-up with thank you notes (preferably handwritten) to let them know they are appreciated.

MORE: Top 3 Ways to Improve Donor Engagement and Boost Donations

Track your fundraising to make sure you’re hitting your targets

You’ve seen those goal thermometers online, filling up minute by minute, dollar by dollar. You can purchase one or go the more DIY route and make one with a dry erase board. Either way, it’s essential to track your progress and having this visual aid can be an additional way to rally supporters. And you can share the progress on social media to get your donors involved.

Understand seasonal giving trends

December is the biggest fundraising month for nonprofits, with a great deal of contributions coming in the final three days of the year. As such, your organization should be strategic in approaching donors around the holidays.

Many organizations save a large portion of their marketing budget for an extra push in the last quarter of the year, from October through December. Consider kicking off your annual giving with a Giving Tuesday campaign and start planning strategic outreach in the months leading up to the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

Additionally, the past few years has shown an increase in recurring donations, with many donors choosing to automatically give every month. The end of year is the perfect time to convert existing donors into recurring donors and create a sustainable income for your nonprofit for years to come.

Plan one or two major fundraising events per year

Depending on your resources and schedule, plan at least one major fundraising event every year. A fancy gala or cocktail party gives donors something to look forward to--a night where they can connect with each other and unite around the cause. Similarly, an original artwork fundraiser auction could be a unique event that showcases local artists and foster a sense of community pride. 

October through December are the best months for an event, as a holiday fundraiser coincides perfectly with the seasonal giving trends mentioned above. March, April or May would also work since most people tend to be in town before summer travel. Regardless of the month, set a date where most supporters will be able to attend and use the night to promote your organization and most importantly, have fun.

Measure your fundraising successes

After holding a fundraising event or initiative, always consider your return on investment (ROI), meaning how much it cost against how much it raised. Once you’re certain it was profitable, track your growth rate to see if the ROI is increasing each year.

Other factors you may want to consider are donor retention rate and ROM (return on mission), meaning if you brought your community together, increased awareness, and inspired supporters to deepen their engagement. While an event might not be hugely profitable, ROM considers the different definitions of success, and reminds an organization of their core values.

MORE: 3 Best Practices for Donor Research and Nonprofit Fundraising

Reach your arts fundraising goals fast 

With those tips in mind, you can begin making your vision a reality. Remember, fundraising starts with good storytelling and connection, and as an arts lover, that's one of your strengths. From there, bolster your connection with good research--both of seasonal giving trends and the demographics of your key arts-loving audience. Use that knowledge to deepen your relationship with your donors and increase donor engagement. With all of that in place, you'll be able to set up a system to monitor your donation campaign, giving you a tangible way to celebrate your success.