Fundraising to achieve goals and dreams is a challenge for non-profit organizations large and small. It can be especially difficult, however, for small arts organizations. Let us think of the small organization as a cat, and the potential funder as a mouse. The “cat” may be nimble, flexible, determined and crafty. The “mouse,” on the other hand, has its own agenda and goes about its business largely unaware of the cat. The cat observes, stalks, taunts and generally tries to bait the mouse into coming close enough to become its dinner. Does the cat give up after only one or two attempts? Not if it is hungry. Does it try only one tactic to seduce the mouse? Probably not. Will the cat always be successful? Highly unlikely.
The courtship between an organization and its potential funder, for example a foundation, corporation or government entity is not unlike the game played by a cat with a mouse. The organization bears the responsibility for carefully researching these potential sources of donations, for enticing the funder’s interest, for proving its agility and worth and, in the end, for catching the needed funds. Within the arts, the organization’s representatives are an especially passionate bunch. Their creativity and expressivity are to be applauded. However, it takes more than talent and charisma to earn a funder’s interest and trust. Here are some tips for small arts organizations new to this cat and mouse game.
Decide, before you do anything else, whether you will incorporate as a 501c3, or use a fiscal sponsor. You need this in order to apply for funding.
Develop organizational materials: documents outlining your Mission, History, Goals and concise but flattering Biographies of Key Personnel.
Devise a simple fundraising plan that encompasses more than one fundraising stream. For example, seeking funding from foundations and individuals with proposal writing, letter writing, social media campaigns and holding an annual fundraising event.
Be persistent! Remember the cat has to work hard for its supper. Develop a plan for approaching and following up with funders. Do not give up if your proposals are rejected one year and again the next. Often, the third time is the charm.
Stay nimble. Beyond the organizations core goals and activities, are there other projects or approaches that you can develop to make your work attractive to a wider group of funders? Can you add a charitable aspect to your work? Would a partnership with a like-minded organization better your chances for funding.
Seek help and advice. The internet offers a surprising amount of free or low cost resources for building and executing a fundraising campaign. In addition, you can seek feedback on unsuccessful proposals from program officers. Attending fundraising webinars, seminars, conferences and workshops can be helpful as well.
Finally, build a network. Save the contact information for all the fundraising outreach that you do. Extend invitations to potential funders to your events, performances and activities. Reach out to local press outlets, maintain a social network presence, spread your cards and postcards all over town.
In short, always be fundraising. There are a lot of cats out there and for each one there are mice too.