Fundraising for the Arts: Driven by a passionate conviction and building relationships

By Menaka Rodriguez, awarded ‘Fundraiser of the Year’ by the Resource Alliance India at the India NGO Awards 2016

Primed with a degree in archaeology and arts administration, I began my fundraising career in the United States, by building an individual membership programme for a theatre company. What excited me about this fundraising opportunity was the prospect of interacting with people to build a new audience for the performing arts. I have always wanted to work in the arts, particularly drawn to roles which involved fundraising, as it offers me a way to marry my interests in exploration, the joy of discovery, and sharing of unique experiences.

MenekaUpon returning to work for the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA), I was tasked with structuring an individual donor programme and arts services for the Foundation. The ground realities in India presented unique challenges but also opportunities to create a creed for the best fundraising strategies in an unconventional sector such as the arts.

To begin with, the arts are not seen as a vital need by donors. The arts often do not feature on most funding agendas and is not a priority in India. They are not seen as requiring immediate attention. I am often asked – Why the arts? Does it really need support? What is the impact? Aren’t there other pressing developmental needs?

IFA, truly believes the arts have a critical role to play in our lives – as individuals and as a thriving multicultural community. Our lives are richer because of the arts. We may be moved by a piece of music or a work of art or touched by a film, or performance or a book that stayed with us. We are impacted by experiences and lessons learnt from the arts. The arts make us who we are; make us more human.

This becomes the intrinsic value and meaning that drives us to do what we do.

At the end of the day — passion, conviction and sustaining relationships – all basic fundraising tenets also hold true when mobilising resources for the arts.

Demonstrate your passion and advocate through belief in your work

What makes fundraising for the arts at IFA special, is to be able to see our work come alive. See an idea take shape and transform into projects out there in the public domain, in the form of books, exhibitions, archives, performances, films and more – shared and experienced by a wider audience, impacting everyday lives. This organisational mission and zeal have helped me as a fundraiser, to play the role of an advocate and create a case for support.

Since in India the circle of donors supporting the arts is relatively small, I have been egged on to seek out those partners, collaborators and funders who share the same values and vision for the arts. My fundraising pitch is hinged on an appeal to these people’s experience of the creativity around us and convincing them that they’re the best placed to ensure the arts continue to play a role in our lives.

Time, patience and commitment – core to relationships.

Fundraising in this sector is therefore also very time intensive. Each potential donor connects with the arts in very different and very personal way. More so here, fundraising is about persisting with relationship building and like all relationships it takes time and nurturing.

The 5 key things I have learnt is to first engage people with the experience of the arts, share compelling and diverse stories, persist in asking, create an easy mechanism to give and recognise that unlike other nonprofit work, people with resources may not naturally give or respond to the arts.

And people are less likely to respond to cold calls for contributions. The arts do not lend itself to mass fundraising. Individuals respond to personal one-on-one interactions and appeals after they have engaged with your work. There are people who love the arts but will not give and then there are people who consistently give to other causes, just not to the arts. Our challenge lies in identifying partners with a unique trait, an interest in the arts and propensity to donate.

One needs to continuously have those critical conversations and engage with audiences, to build that network of supporters. You are building faith in the arts. That takes patience, commitment and persistence.

In one instance, it took us 3 consecutive years of presenting to a corporate house to finally receive a large commitment for the arts. I view every invitation to meet, as an opportunity to share our work no matter the outcomes. And when we were finally able to bring them on board it strengthened our faith and resolve.

Passion can drive fundraising

The one thing that definitely drives fundraising, is the demonstrated passion for your work. That passion can forge long and lasting relations. The excitement of sharing not just your passion, but also a clarity of values and vision, does work. Bringing people (donors/supporters) on board your mission’s journey will become extremely fulfilling. That’s when you build lifetime supporters.

At the Foundation, we have built a dedicated group of supporters who help in many ways. It is really exciting to go to an IFA event and meet people associated with us since the launch of our Friends Circle in 2008. And our joy knows no bounds, when our donors, in turn, become Ambassadors for our work, driving initiatives and raising funds.

In the last few decades, we have reached a much wider audience across the country through these relationships, partnerships and collaborations. In the last 5 years, the Foundation has been able to raise over INR 50 million from over 30 diverse institutional donors (Foundations, Trusts, companies), 600 individual donors and through fundraising events and initiatives.

There are lessons here for all of us, tirelessly fundraising for unconventional fields. We must seize every opportunity – to connect, present and place our work at the centre of those important conversations on philanthropy. We must find those individuals, partners and donors, who share our values and ultimately place their faith in our work.

Menaka Rodriguez has over 12 years of experience in marketing, business development and fundraising for a range of arts organisations including museums, arts festivals, art councils and a theatre company in the United States and India. She has been with India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) www.indiaifa.org for the past 10 years, and currently, Heads the Resource Mobilisation and Outreach initiatives at (IFA).

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