The Roots of Fundraising
Guest TMU contributor Veronica R. Bainbridge provides an overview on raising money for nonprofit theatre.
"Giving money isn't a one-way street; it's just like Kickstarter, but with less tangible rewards." (stock image courtesy Microsoft Office Images)
Someday you might find yourself having to think about raising money to pay for what's on stage even if your heart belongs to arts rather than to arts administration. (I'm pretty passionate about the latter…) In nonprofit theatre, which plays a huge part in the ecosystem of theatre as a whole, it is the responsibility of the development department to secure contributed funds to supplement the income earned from ticket sales or other services. (Don't send your new script to our department!)
It's called development because the relationships are fundamental. Fundraising has a reputation for being impossibly intimidating and challenging, but it's not about asking strangers for thousands of dollars; it's about identifying the people who care about your success, and it is an expression of your community's belief in your work. This principle applies from the smallest endeavor to the largest; everyone has a community, no matter how small or how broke.
The tax deduction isn't the only reason why people support nonprofits; it isn't even the main reason. If someone cares about what you're doing, they might want a stake in it. I began to understand this more personally a few years back when I became a donor -- at almost the lowest possible level -- at a couple of big old NYC institutions. I realized how much I enjoyed the knowledge that I have even a small part to play in their operations. So I try to ensure that the donors I work with experience a similar sense of ownership. Giving money isn't a one-way street; it's just like Kickstarter, but with less tangible rewards.
If you're launching a new company or an independent project, there isn't much hope of substantial gifts from any grantmaking institution, so you start with what's within reach, like asking friends and family for a few dollars each. You would be surprised at how the smallest gifts add up. It's true that every penny counts!
At the grassroots level of fundraising there isn't much recompense except personal satisfaction, so you need a reason to keep going as much as your audience needs a reason to support you. This is why articulating a plan and a vision is so important; to be meaningful and effective, the fundraising must be driven by the art. If you can make a case for what you're doing, and convince your community that you have the ability to carry it out, then you might get someone to invest in you. That's where even the largest fundraising machine has to start.
Veronica R. Bainbridge is Director of Development at the Vineyard Theatre. For more information on the Vineyard, visit vineyardtheatre.org.