Business of Art | Making the Match with Supporters
NYFA’s Madeleine Cutrona shares tips on gaining support for your artist project or organization.
Fundraising is certainly key for gaining support for your arts project or organization, but oftentimes it is just one piece of the puzzle. Brainstorming, researching, and understanding individuals, organizations, and institutions whose mission and goals may align with your work can lead to possible fundraising opportunities as well as valuable resources, such as space or material donations or volunteer help.
We recently spoke with Madeleine Cutrona, Program Officer, Fiscal Sponsorship to learn how and where artists and organizations can gain the support they need, with actionable tips for doing so.
NYFA: Where do you begin if you’re an artist or emerging arts organization looking for support?
Madeleine Cutrona: All projects and organizations weave together different types of resources in order to conduct their activities, although their particular needs vary depending upon discipline and scope. Reframe potential “expenses” as opportunities to find partners or other supporters to help you carry out your project. For example, consider the cost of your studio or office space and supplies, along with the cost of your time.
Intimately understanding your own project also gives you a framework through which to understand other partners. Can you articulate the who, what, why, where, when, and how of your project or organization? What are the goals and values of the project? How are these ideas manifested in your activities? It’s safe to say there will undoubtedly be things that you don’t know at the beginning of a project, but you can still reflect upon the responses that you do know as the project develops.
NYFA: What tools would you recommend artists or arts organizations use to determine possible areas of alignment?
MC: To determine if your project aligns with other individuals, organizations, or institutions, you need to thoroughly understand their viewpoint, mission, and goals. Sometimes this information is articulated in a straightforward manner, and other times it requires more research. Websites and social media are good places to start, as is attending in-person events when applicable. Learning about the corporate partners and institutional funders who support projects similar to yours, as well as those that support local arts and cultural institutions, strengthens your understanding of the fundraising landscape in your community.
NYFA: Can you give us a few examples of how Fiscally Sponsored artists or organizations have employed these tools successfully?
MC: INSITU Site Specific Dance Festival, a Fiscally Sponsored project led by Svea Schneider, completed its inaugural year in 2017. INSITU was named one of the “Top 24 Outdoor Performances to See” in Summer 2017 by The New York Times. The project relied on tremendous volunteer support and in-kind support from local businesses to augment its success winning grants, soliciting corporate sponsorship, and garnering individual donations. The festival featured a total of 75 performances, attracted 7,500 attendees, and garnered additional coverage in The New Yorker and Time Out New York among many others.
NYFA Fiscally Sponsored project Defining Hope, led by filmmaker Carolyn Jones, is a documentary that follows patients with life-threatening illnesses as they make choices about how they want to live, how much medical technology they can accept, how hope evolves when life is threatened. In order to increase the reach and impact of her film, Jones recruited healthcare organizations across the country to screen her film during a theatrical release, and also sought out educational partners to ensure student viewings of Defining Hope. Jones aligned herself with partner organizations with whom she shared values, and who helped her reach audiences nationwide. Jones discusses Defining Hope here in this NYFA Current interview.
NYFA: How should artists or organizations typically go about “pitching” possible partners?
MC: Here are a few tips for going about this process.
1. Before requesting any help, take time to connect and build relationships with potential supporters. Add new acquaintances to your email newsletter and social media networks, and personally check-in with past patrons of your work.
2. Share your ideas with your personal network, as folks you know are already invested in your success. Use your current connections to deepen existing relationships, and leverage their support to expand the breadth of your network. Be sure the written and online content you share about your project is updated regularly.
3. When you make a pitch about your project, be specific about what type of support you need. Is it an in-kind material donation? Are you seeking technical expertise? Remember to tailor your requests to align with partners who are able to fulfill your ask.
NYFA: An artist or organization may not hear back or may not find that their techniques for attracting funds, volunteers, supplies, etc are successful. Do you have any recommendations for moving forward?
MC: Finding support for your project, whether it be in the form of a partnership, or donated materials or monetary award, takes time and patience! My top three tips are as follows:
1. To assess your strategy and acknowledge the progress you made, set periodic check-ins for your project. What known leads did you follow? How much time did you spend researching new opportunities? What activities did you pursue to maintain relationships with existing partners? Get in the habit of doing these check-ins on a routine basis.
2. Staying in contact with your peer network and colleagues is an essential practice! Make it a daily habit and remember, relationships are symbiotic—let your network know what is happening with you and reciprocate by sharing their social media posts and supporting their projects.
3. Of the services and materials that you need for your project, consider if there is a way to reduce the cost, or get them for free. This is a great opportunity to trade skills with a friend or barter with your neighbor, or lend your time to support another organization in exchange for a resource they can provide.
NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship gives individual artists and artist-run organizations increased access to greater funding and enhances their fundraising capabilities. Learn more about NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship by clicking here. The next quarterly no-fee application deadline is December 31. Questions? View our FAQ page here.
Images from top: Courtesy Svea Schneider of INSITU (Sponsored Project); Film stills by Vinšek, cinematographer of Defining Hope (Sponsored Project)