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The Power to Give

Scott Provancher

My colleagues and I at the Arts & Science Council (ASC) have been closely following the national and regional trends that affect the health of the arts industry.

In particular, several trends have caught our attention: 1) arts giving in America continues to lose market share to other charities; 2) recent analysis showed that 85 percent of cultural patrons (ticket buyers, visitors, etc.) are not donating to the organizations they patronize; and 3) the traditional fundraising campaigns of the arts community seem to be making little progress in reversing these challenging trends.

A little over a year ago these trends were the topic of ASC’s annual board retreat. As one of the largest united arts agencies in the nation, we owed it to ourselves and the field to be a leader in addressing these issues both at a local and national level. Our board wholeheartedly agreed and we left the meeting with a firm commitment to develop and invest in innovative ideas that could change how the arts engage new donors in the future.

A year and a half later, ASC launched a new website called, which we believe will change the way we do business forever.

Simply put, the site allows cultural nonprofits to post projects online and arms them with tools to market to their constituents through e-mail and social media. In addition to the individual organization’s efforts, ASC helps to drive donations to projects by securing challenge grants (Knight Foundation is matching one to one all gifts up to $100,000) and selling gift cards to companies and individuals that allow others to give to projects of their choice.

I am pleased to say that in the first seven weeks since the launch of the site in Charlotte, we have fully funded 37 projects, raised over $150,000, and attracted over 650 donors.

Several of the organizations who have posted projects have individually raised $15,000 or more and one group even reported that their $3,000 project was fully funded by ALL NEW donors!

The strategy behind is based on research into the success and failures of other micro giving and crowd funding platforms (,, to name a few). What we have learned is that, if such a platform is going to be adopted by the arts community and generate new donors, it needs:

1) A local and hands on relationship with arts organizations

One cannot underestimate how difficult it is to change or add new strategies to an organization’s existing fundraising efforts—most organization’s fundraising model (major gift asks, direct mail and events) has remained virtually unchanged for a century! This is particularly true when the new strategy is technology-based and requires some direct marketing skills. It is therefore important that this website have a local service organization that can help these posters develop compelling projects and understand how to successfully market them.

2) A strategy to engage major donors

The best in class websites that we found have extensive major gift strategies to help incentivize modest donors and generate buzz through selling gift cards. ASC has also found that the challenge grant concept was vital in motivating the cultural organizations to utilize and adopt the strategy as a fundraising tool.

3) Compelling projects, not generic asks

One of the reasons why organizations have not successfully used the Internet to generate giving (beyond the static donate now button on the website), is that the annual fund letter doesn’t translate very well into the digital space. Case in point, how many 140 character fundraising letters have you received (the maximum length of a tweet)! The power of communicating directly to arts patrons with tangible and compelling projects that they can feel an intimate connection with is beginning to really pay off for many of the organizations using

Though the results are promising so far, we still have a long way to go to truly understand the impact of this new strategy.

We are excited that the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is generously supporting the expansion of the platform in Miami, which will launch on December 14. The knowledge we gain from Miami and several other city launches planned for the coming months, will allow ASC to better understand the potential of this site on a national scale. To that end, I look forward to keeping you up to date on our progress and learning.

What do you think about the funding model? What other innovative fundraising models have you seen?

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Art Works blog on October 17.

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