There are many ways to financially back your projects, they all have advantages and disadvantages, but also more time than not, putting all your eggs in the same basket isn’t enough to make sure that you will be successful. This is why it is good to diversify your sources of funding. If our first article looked into grants, this new survival tactic looks into the various ways of fundraising and provides you with tactical and practical pieces of advice. We hope this will help you to make your project bigger, bolder and even more creative!
Most of the time people aren’t successful at fundraising, and there are many reasons why this could be the case, nevertheless, it is frustrating but understanding what is critical when fundraising is key to be successful!
‘’ With my many different roles as a development manager, independent curator, and founding director of Open Space, I learned that fundraising in the art industry needs time, care to build the right connections, and getting both private and public funding. I am still at the beginning and think I need more experience and knowledge to really get a broader understanding of philanthropy and supporting museums, artists in the arts sector. It takes a hell of a lot of time.’’ – Huma Kabakcı
Know what you ask
Before even starting to ask, you should have an idea of what you will be asking and what you are bringing to the table, no questions – if possible – should go unanswered. Map out your project and make sure to also include what “return” you are expecting or what are the goals, the community benefits and more. People want to invest in projects where there is either something for them or for the greater good.
The Challenge: Making the Case for Arts Fundraising Support
You may be thinking, “How can I ask for money for theatre when people are hungry?”
Don’t ignore this question altogether, but remember who your audience is. There is a large chance that your supporters have a variety of passions and interests. Just because they are donating to a social services organization, doesn’t mean they don’t want to also donate to you! Also, you really need to understand where directly the support is going and how the funding will be used before talking to your audiences. In whatever you are trying to pitch if you lead with stories and the emotion behind them, you can’t go wrong. – Huma Kabakcı
How you ask
Do you know how you will reach out to people, the platform you are intending to use – it is important to use the right fit for each project? Platforms like Kickstarter are a “all or nothing” situation, will that work for you? How will you make sure to be successful? This also leads you to wonder – what you can give in exchange? Sometimes it is merchandise, a book, a bundle of post-cards or prints, but it can also be the name of the company on your program, a line to thank your sponsor, a short speech at your event. Think outside of the box and make sure that what you offer is interesting for the audience you are trying to reach.
The challenge: Understanding your Audience
You need to understand who “owns” your donor and patron lists. Does your marketing lead or team have goals around new email subscribers? All too often, donors and patrons are talked to in a way that best suits the internal nonprofit’s goals, rather than looking at the communication through the eyes of your supporter.
”Your patron shouldn’t be receiving two different emails on the same day from two different team members of your organization. Same for artists, if you are an artist who wants to approach a collector of yours for a project you are working on, the way you do this should be delicate. You need to first tailor and personalize your emails and understand if your patron/supporter is showing any initial interest.” – Huma Kabakcı
The advantage: Self-Interest
”Arts lovers love art. Give your patrons and donors the opportunities to support their favourite form of art that they enjoy themselves.” – Huma Kabakcı
What is in for others?
Creating rewards and tiers of them is challenging. How to price them so people will jump in – sometimes just start with your close friends and family, people in your circle, but also look at similar projects that reached their fundraising goals. Look at what they offer, what was picked as a reward and more importantly what is sustainable for you! You might not be able to produce everything from postcards, to print, to t-shirts, books, podcasts, meet and greet– be clever about your offer and remember that the rules of a good restaurant apply here too. A long menu will always make one think that everything will be ordinary, while a short menu says: “I know my limitation, I know what I am good at – pick in this (smaller) selection but trust me – you will enjoy it!”
Your message also needs to be clear, and concise. What is the aim of the project, how the money will be invested, what is the bigger picture here?
The challenge: Asking for money
For me especially in the context of my Turkish/cultural background, asking for something has always been seen as a weakness. In fundraising for arts, never be ashamed to do so. There is just a time and a place to do it. I have also been on the other side, where people asked me for funding as a second-generation collector. I always try to be mindful of what really irritated me or seemed aggressive and try not to do that when I take on the fundraiser role. If you just copy-paste a generic email without personalizing it at all and ask for a large sum directly, that plan is likely to fail. Also, one should consider not over-promising what you can deliver in return as services or packages to the patron/supporter/donor. – Huma Kabakcı
The advantage: The Core
”The biggest advantage that arts organisations have is art. They have built-in education and social opportunities that other non-profits generally do not have. Instead of giving a free tote bag or t-shirt, try offering backstage tours or dinners with artists. Use that exclusive behind-the-scenes feeling to your advantage”. –
Before even starting a fundraising project one aspect is often neglected and inevitably leads to disappointment: networking. Even if you have the best idea, and the best reward or the best perks for your potential patrons and sponsors, if people don’t know you, don’t know your story – it will be difficult to make them care and contribute to fundraising your project. It is important that in the weeks and months prior to launching a big fundraising effort you connect, connect, connect. Talk to people, all the time, everywhere, about your project and what is to come – but also listen to them – communication is a two-way street. Connect with people on Instagram, on LinkedIn, on Facebook, go to openings and get on newsletters of local organizations. Connecting to people in person or virtually is key. You need an audience who cares about your success, who is interested in your story. So, make sure to be able to tell it; what are you about? Try to come up with “an elevator pitch” – how can you describe who you are and your project in a sentence or two, of course, you might get more time but what is your bait?
The advantage: Common Language
You use the same terminology as your patrons. Use that language to help donors feel like “insiders” in your community. It is important not to make patrons feel like outsiders.
This is of course an important step these days, fundraising effort or not. It is your window into the world, no matter if the world is in close sight or on the side of the ocean. As silly as it may sound, did you check if all your social media button works, is your contact form set properly? Are the photos good, the text exempt of typos or little copy-paste mistakes? The devil is in the details they say but there is nothing more frustrating to click on an Instagram icon and get directed to Wix’s Insta page… On it, we should minimally get your contact info, a little about yourself, a little about your project and anything else which you think will contribute to your success!
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Progress, many using many channels | cheering up support
You did it, you started your crowdfunding – Congratulations. But work isn’t done yet, there is still a lot more to do that will once again make an impact on reaching out to your goal. Keep in touch and cheer people who already jump on your project and hop on your bandwagon. Add little behind the scene photos, follow up with Developpement, let people know what percentage of your goal you are at, what is missing. Stay in touch, tell (again), thank people for their support and plead for more. One recent example of crowdfunding that was a great success and that reminds me every week that I haven’t made a plea is the photography book of artist Laurence Philomene. They didn’t stop till they reached their goal, and now, even with a fully funded project, they keep in touch, send updates and keep the energy and the excitement building. To be honest, I am now sad that I bought this book for a friend and didn’t get a copy for myself!
The challenge: Creating Urgency
”Create a timeline, schedule, and different tools to build your case and strategy. I find that inviting individuals for coffee or to visit an exhibition they might want to see whilst starting a conversation is a good start.” – Huma Kabakcı
If you want to push your research further before diving into your fundraising, here are some resources that you might find helpful:
- Paul Valley, Philanthropy from Aristotle to Zuckerberg
- Brock Warner, CFRE, From the Ground Up: Digital Fundraising for Non-Profits
- Ken Burnett, The Zen of Fundraising: 89 Timeless Ideas to Strengthen and Develop Your Donor Relationships
- Marc A. Pitman, Ask without Fear!
- Leslie Ramos in Apollo Magazine
Our Collaborator for this article
Huma Kabakcı is a second-generation collector, independent curator, and founding director of Open Space, living and working between London and Istanbul. Kabakcı recently worked at the Drawing Room as a Development Manager and assisted with the fundraising leading up to their Drawing Biennial, and Capital Campaign (2021-2022). She studied at the London College of Communication and completed an MA in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art. Kabakcı completed a curatorial fellowship at the 2018 Liverpool Biennial, supported by ICF (International Curators Forum). She has worked at commercial galleries, museums, and auction houses, both in the UK and Turkey, including Sotheby’s (London), The Albion Gallery (London), and Pera Museum (Istanbul). Kabakcı manages the Huma Kabakcı Collection, a private art collection comprising over 900 works of Turkish, Central Asian, and European contemporary art bequeathed to her by her late father Nahit Kabakcı. As part of the 2010 Ruhr & Pecs Capital of Culture projects she has overseen three major exhibitions of the Collection, at Osthaus Museum Hagen, Mönchehaus Museum Goslar, and Modern Hungarian Gallery, Pecs.
Kabakcı’s curatorial interest lies in creating immersive experiences and a wider dialogue in collaboration with multidisciplinary practitioners. She is also interested in theories and topics around diaspora, collective memory, hospitality, food politics, and feminism.