Published On: Tue, Oct 18th, 2016

Jeff Melanson, TSO’s Former CEO, Speaks to Meeting Fundraising Challenges in the Arts

More than many other sectors, the arts depend largely and increasingly on the generosity of donors and fundraising initiatives to keep vital programs and organizations running. Despite government funding, most arts organizations depend on the cash donations that are raised throughout the year to keep their doors open and young artists dreams funded.

Fundraising for the arts in Canada has become particularly challenging in recent years in part due a very slowly growing major gifts donor pool and challenges in the Canadian economy. Add to that an enhanced amount of donor fatigue as many Canadians struggle to balance their own monthly budgets, while also supporting many important international and national aid efforts.

Because of this, arts fundraising has become increasingly difficult. With that said, while finding arts funding has become markedly challenging, more Canadians than ever are engaging in arts and cultural organizations and initiatives, raising the question: why is it so hard to raise money?

Take, for instance, that there are over 13,700 arts nonprofits in Canada.  This accounts for roughly 9 percent of all nonprofit and voluntary organizations in the country. Out of all the arts organizations about 5 percent of art non-profits have annual revenues of half a million dollars and more.

As Betty Xie, a filmmaker and fundraiser for the Reel Asian Film Festival, points out, “In an ideal world, the case for support of arts organizations would be organically promoted or communicated when donors get the opportunity to meet the artistic director or board members.”

photo/ http://www.wikiwand.com/de/Felsenreitschule

photo/ http://www.wikiwand.com/de/Felsenreitschule

However, this strategy isn’t as effective as it used to be because most arts organizations are dealing with staffing issues, coupled with challenges engaging a donor audience in the new digital age.   

The National Survey of Nonprofit and Voluntary Organization shows that in Canada, 63 percent of arts organizations are run entirely by volunteers, and 20 percent have between 1 to 4 staff members,” says Xie. “As a result there is a tendency to shove all the money concerns to either the Executive Director or Development Officer.”

According to the provincial government, Ontario’s nonprofit arts organizations have three main revenue sources: earned revenue, private sector giving, and governmental support. On average, private sector giving represents 27 percent of an arts organization’s total revenues.

Citing the government’s inability to dedicate more funds to the province’s art community and the importance of finding private donors and sponsorship, the official Ontario Arts Sector Profile notes:

Recent research shows that many trusts, foundations, and major donors are shifting to a more strategic approach. This generally involves narrowing the scope of their giving, seeking closer engagement with funding recipients, and an increased interest in measuring and evaluating impact.”

It then goes on to say that Ontario’s arts sector will need to develop the capacity to meet these new demands in order to continue to access this vital support. 

The sector will also need to continue to explore new sources of revenues and new operating strategies.

Jeff Melanson, the former Chief Executive Officer of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, has remained a staunch supporter of the idea that cultural organizations need to be more creative and think outside of the box when it comes to finding and securing new fundraising opportunities.

For many years, organizations struggled to balance their budgets by increasing sales or ticket/admission prices,” Jeff Melanson says. “While this has worked generally, Toronto now has some of the highest art related fees and ticket prices in North America, which essentially prices much of its arts activity beyond the reach of many Torontonians.”

Melanson, who served as the Executive Director of the National Ballet School and was able to double their operating revenue during his time there, understands that addressing fundraising challenges is a multi-faceted issue that requires more than a simple, one point answer.

I think part of the issue is that because most cultural organizations have limited budgets, it also means they have limited breathing  room to test and experiment different ways to gain the financing they need.  So, they are stuck using traditional methods that are not necessarily working anymore.”  Melanson then adds, “I think this is one more reason supprting the importance of creating a broader cultural think tank that can explore new fundraising models without arts organizations themselves risking their very existence with new models.”

Ultimately, what must be remembered is that better funding for the arts creates cohesion of community while also promoting cultural uniqueness, a character trait that is intrinsic to the Canadian identity. Beyond that, the arts are incredibly vital to Ontario’s economic health, contributing $936 million to GDP and creating approximately 24,786 jobs annually. 

Author: Ryan Stone

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  1. pete says:

    buddy could not raise a nickel on his own. Look into his track record. He parachutes in, takes credit for the work of others, makes a huge mess then skips town.

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