From the Archives: The Art of Fundraising

As the year comes to a close and my inbox fills with last minute e-solicitations, I’ve found myself reflecting on things I’ve learned over my 25+ years in the cultural sector, especially relating to fundraising and philanthropy. This sent me to my archives, where I found a post from 2012 that I thought was worth re-sharing. I hope you find some valuable nuggets here about The Art of Fundraising. I wish you all the best for a successful year-end that sets the stage for an inspired 2016. —AB

I’ve spent a good portion of the past two-plus decades engaged in building resources for the arts, especially through fundraising. I’d like to think that I’ve learned a few things, and shared what I’ve learned with others. Along the way, I’ve developed some maxims that reflect my experiences and philosophy about this work. Things like:

a. There is an art and a science to fundraising – you can learn the theories and techniques, but applying them creatively is where the magic happens. 

b. Fundraising doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s a team effort that embraces the full organization and involves everyone, from the intern to the trustee to the volunteer.

c. There’s nothing more important than doing your homework. Success comes from combining your passion and dedication with substantive preparation. 

d. Great fundraisers are great storytellers.

e. At its core, fundraising is community building. It’s about inspiring engagement that leads to investment.

f. The sweet spot of cultural fundraising is the intersection of program (what you offer), brand (who you are) and audience (who you serve).

g. You must be personally committed to this work and the organization you represent because you can’t feign authenticity. 

h. Fundraising is a lot like life: challenging, uplifting, unyielding, transformative. It is what you make it.

"At its core, Fundraising is community building."

Then I re-read Ken Burnett’s Relationship Fundraising and was reminded that wise souls have been sharing their experiences long before I even knew that there was such a profession as fundraising, let alone that I would explore it in the cultural sector.

In his book, Burnett summarizes the lessons he learned under the wing of Harold Sumption, considered the father of 20th-century fundraising in the U.K. Below are Burnett’s Essential Foundations of Fundraising^. (Disclaimer: I've taken some minor license here, converting a bit of Burnett's prose to American English grammar and currency, eliminating a few for redundancy, plus added some commentary of my own, in italics). Here goes:

  1. People give to people. Not to organizations, mission statements or strategies. You’ve heard it before: it’s all about relationships.
  2. Fundraising is not about money. It’s about the necessary work that needs doing. Money is the means to an end.
  3. Fundraisers need to be able to see things through their donors’ eyes. If they are to understand you, you are first to understand them.
  4. It helps if you are a donor yourself. No one should be a fundraiser without first being a donor. If you ask, you gotta give, too.
  5. Friend making comes before fundraising. Fundraising is not selling. Fundraisers and donors are on the same side. To be clear, your job as a fundraiser is to make “friends of the institution.”
  6. Fundraising is about needs, as well as achievements. People will applaud achievement, but will give to meet a need. Need is a subjective term when it comes to cultural fundraising; purpose or impact often carry more weight than need.
  7. Fundraisers need to learn to harness the simple power of emotion. Fundraising has to appeal first to the emotions. Logic can then reinforce the appeal. People respond to meaning, and they remember stories over facts. See AB maxims d and g.
  8. Offer a clear, direct proposition to which people can relate. For example, “Make a blind man see. $15.83.” Expose a child to the arts. Priceless.
  9. First open their hearts and minds. Then you can open their wallets. But if you think of your donors as walking PayPal accounts, go sell shoes.
  10. Don’t just ask people to give. Inspire them to give. Fundraising is the inspiration business. You must find your own inspiration first before you can effectively engage others.
  11. Share with your donors your problems, as well as your successes. Honesty and openness are usually prized more highly than expert opinion and apparent infallibility. Honesty + transparency = trustworthiness.
  12. You don’t get if you don’t ask. Know whom to ask, how much to ask for and when.
  13. Present your organization’s “brand” image clearly and consistently. Your organization will benefit if your donors can readily distinguish your cause from all the others. Good branding – how your patrons see and experience you – communicates who you are and reinforces your values.
  14. Successful fundraising involves storytelling. Fundraisers have great stories to tell and need to tell them with pace and passion to inspire action. See AB maxim d.
  15. Great fundraising is sharing. Share your goals and encourage full involvement. When donors truly become involved in your campaign, great things happen. See AB maxim e.
  16. The trustworthiness of fundraisers and their organizations are the reasons both to start and to continue support. Trust appears to increase in importance as people get older. See #11.
  17. Great fundraising requires imagination. Too much fundraising looks like everything else. See AB maxim a.
  18. Great fundraising is getting great results. If your results are mediocre, your fundraising probably is, too. This work is karmic – what you put out in the world really does return to you, sometimes in the most unexpected ways. 
  19. Always be honest, open and truthful with your donors. Donors will not forgive you if you are less than straight with them. Transparency isn’t a buzzword – it is your word.
  20. Avoid waste. Donors hate waste. And don’t look too slick, either. Most donors don’t want to pay for slick. Polished, yes. Slick, no.
  21. Technique must never be allowed to obscure sincerity. As all actors know, you can’t fake sincerity. See AB maxim g.
  22. Great fundraising means being “15 minutes ahead.” To keep just a little bit ahead, you have to learn to spot opportunities and take (careful) risks.
  23. Fundraisers should learn the lessons of history and experience. Anyone who wants to be an effective fundraiser needs first to do some homework. See AB maxim c.
  24. Always say “thank you,” properly and often. It’s also a good idea to be brilliant at welcoming new donors when they first contact your organization. Stewardship is not about getting the renewal – it's a way of being.
  25. Be modest and unassuming. Because it takes a coordinated effort and many people to bring in a gift. See AB maxim b.

As Burnett relates in the introduction to the second edition of his book, "Fundraising is more than a job...It is a powerful force for change...and should be an inspirational beacon of hope."* These principles have withstood the test of time, and I'm sure you have a few of your own to add. What are your favorite tenets of fundraising?


^ Burnett, Ken. Relationship Fundraising. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002, p. 28-29.

* Ibid, p. xxvii.

Food and Community: Vignettes

I’ve been reading some memoirs lately about food and cooking as a pathway to self-enrichment. I’m not sure why, really, but I blame it on my Kindle, which recommended a book about a woman with a troubled upbringing, who went to Wesleyan University and later the Culinary Institute of America and now blogs about motherhood and “cooking the world” while living in Tulsa, OK. I don’t know why the algorithm produced this book for me because I don’t have kids and don’t cook, but my sister went to Wesleyan and I have a blog and I visited Tulsa once to write about the Philbrook Museum of Art, which two years ago hosted a communal dinner showcasing ethnic foods from around the world organized by the author. From there, it’s been a slippery slope to reading about Sandra Bullock’s sister and her post-Hollywood career baking in Vermont that she parlayed into a food blog and TV appearances, and a former journalist/corporate VP who enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu to regain her sense of self.

Perhaps because Thanksgiving is around the corner – but more likely because I’ve been traveling and missing my husband’s excellent home cooking – I’ve been musing on the meaning of food and community. 

In the context of our cultural organizations, that translates to the prepared foods we serve in our cafés and bars to fortify audiences for more gallery hopping or the next orchestral movement. The posh food we provide our patrons at lavish gala dinners. The potluck meals we share with our colleagues to celebrate milestones. The celebrity chef gourmet feasts we raffle to the highest bidders. The snacks and caffeinated drinks we offer to volunteer committees to make meetings more palatable. The content rich, intimate salons we enjoy with artists and critics over pasta and red wine. The staples and leftovers we store in our break room kitchens. 

Each of these experiences serves a function, sets a mood, communicates a message and reflects who we are, as persons and as institutions. Above all, each gathering fosters a sense of community, with food at its foundation.

# # # # #

The Community Meal . Photo credit: Andy King © 2014, courtesy of Public Art St. Paul

The Community Meal. Photo credit: Andy King © 2014, courtesy of Public Art St. Paul

I’m drawn to the spirit of community created by the Slow Food Movement, founded over 25 years ago by Italian Carlo Petrini as antidote to today’s pervasive fast food culture in order to reconnect local farmers and food producers with consumers. The emphasis here is on the local, raising fresh foods germane to the local environment and preserving regional culinary traditions. It has spawned the growth of farmers markets, artisanal food purveyors and a new class of chefs and restaurateurs following in the footsteps of Alice Waters, all of whom place a high value on the environment, sustainability and quality of life in their communities.

As defined by Slow Food International, food communities represent a “group of small-scale producers and others united by the production of a particular food and closely linked to a geographic area. Food community members are involved in small-scale and sustainable production of quality products…[reflecting] a new idea of local economy based on food, agriculture, tradition and culture.”* 

This is exactly what food writer Christine Muhlke discovered when she was asked by The New York Times to study the slow food and locavore movement in the US. Wherever she traveled, she found a network “of producers, of customers, of eaters and enthusiasts…[connected by] a shared interest in food.” As Muhlke related, community in this context is “built upon conversations.”^ Isn’t this the kind of engagement we seek for our own organizations – local communities bonded by meaningful exchange and discourse? 

That potential for connection and dialogue inspired artist Seitu Jones last October to stage The Community Meal, a communal dining experience attracting over 2,000 residents of St. Paul, MN. The luncheon meal and dining table, which extended over half a mile on a street in the city’s Frogtown neighborhood, was made possible by Public Art Saint Paul and 500 volunteers. Jones’ work, which purposefully brought together food producers and institutional partners with the public, sparked discussion about local food systems, accessibility and affordability of fresh food, eating habits, gardening and family recipes. Food as community glue. 

# # # # #

I trekked with a friend over to Williamsburg, Brooklyn the other day to visit the newly opened Museum of Food and Drink, aka MOFAD. The inaugural show illuminates the interplay between scent and taste, and the work of industrial food chemists, who seek to recreate or enhance natural flavors in the lab. It’s part science, part children’s museum in feel and experience, a tad heavy on interpretation and wall text for my taste (yes, pun intended), and regrettably, there was no food art to lighten the serious tone (that’s a joke). The space is beautifully designed and lit, with well-crafted modern furniture and display cases, and the friendly gallery attendants are cheerfully attired in denim aprons. There was no food to sample, only tiny pellets dispensed like bubble gum to demonstrate the difference between real flavors and manmade. In hindsight, I'm not sure what I expected – perhaps a working demonstration kitchen producing all sorts of fragrant delights, since MOFAD’s founder is the visionary chef Dave Arnold. Alas, there was no breaking of bread with other guests on the day we visited.

# # # # #

In my formative years, I was a mad baker. Before I was old enough to go out unchaperoned with my friends, my Friday and Saturday nights were spent in the kitchen concocting all manner of cookies, cakes, breads and muffins (I don’t like pie). I progressed to the point where I intuitively knew the ratio of dry ingredients to wet and didn't need to measure, and could tell by touch and feel when the batter or dough was ready. My family happily consumed whatever I made: chocolate chip, molasses and peanut butter cookies; brownies and blondies; devil’s food cake, lemon cake and plum torte; peach cobbler and gingerbread; blueberry and banana muffins; sour cream coffee cake and Irish soda bread; English muffins and pita bread; sour dough rounds and my grandmother’s raisin bread. 

There is nothing like the rich smell of chocolate anything in mid-bake, or the physicality of kneading elastic, living bread dough and witnessing gluten and yeast work their magic overnight. Baking was something restorative I did for myself and something that allowed me to share myself with others. It was a source of pleasure – in the ritual and craft of making, and then in the giving and sharing. Ironically, in my early 30s, I was diagnosed with a gluten allergy and the mysterious ailments that had plagued me for years finally subsided when I eliminated the offending grains from my diet. This markedly changed my baking habits, because no matter how many food chemists work to improve gluten free products, they’re not the same as the real thing, as MOFAD’s exhibition made clear.

Now I only bake for birthdays and holidays as gifts for family, friends and colleagues. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I offer my edible contribution to the genre of food memoirs with a recipe for a gluten free dessert that will make you the hit at any gathering. Here's to breaking bread with your community.

[And I promise next week to post the conclusion to my series on human-centered design.]


* Slow Food International. "Slow Food terminology." Web. 21 Nov 2015. 

^ Muhlke, Christine. "Growing Together." The New York Times Magazine. 8 Oct 2010. Web. 21 Nov 2015.

Methods: Design Thinking for the Non-Designer — Part 2

In my prior post, I introduced as relevant to nonprofit cultural enterprise the concept of design thinking championed by IDEO, a global design firm committed to design’s positive impact on humanity. I reviewed the first of IDEO’s three stages of design thinking, inspiration, which includes:

  • Framing the design challenge;
  • Assembling a diverse team to tackle the challenge; 
  • Articulating a plan that addresses what learning is needed; and then 
  • Conducting field and other research. 

Now we’re ready to tackle the second phase, ideation

Marilyn in Post-Its , by  Valtech Sweden office

Marilyn in Post-Its, by Valtech Sweden office


This stage involves analysis and synthesis of the data gathered from research and fieldwork, and then applying imagination and creativity to address what you’ve discovered. Here’s how:

  • Re-assemble as a team and share real stories from the field; actively listen to one another and reflect on what you’ve learned. Transfer salient points and insights to post-it notes – design thinkers love Post-its® and Sharpies, the more colors, the better! – and then stick them up on the wall for everyone to see.
  • As a group effort, rearrange the Post-its® into categories and identify the top three-to-five emerging themes. Then succinctly articulate “insight statements” – things you’ve learned that will be important considerations in the design phase.

For example, say your design challenge is to enhance youth participation in your after school programs, and your discovery process has revealed that young people in your community (1) don’t know much about your organization, (2) prefer to hang with and get information from friends about what to do outside of school, and (3) haven’t had much exposure to the arts. (These are “insight statements.”)

  • Translate these insights into “How Might We” (“HMW”) questions that reflect what you’re learning and that go to the heart of the problem you’re working to solve. Resist dictating a specific pathway and shape questions that will allow for a number of solutions or innovations to bubble up.

Using the above example, you could frame the design challenge by asking, How might we develop and promote program offerings to engage youth who are unfamiliar with art and artmaking?

  • Now it’s time to pass around some chocolate and start brainstorming to elicit myriad ideas that address the design challenge and HMW questions. Record the ideas in words, drawings, charts – whatever gets the point across – using a whiteboard, flip charts, more Post-its®,  magazine pages cut up into collages, etc. All ideas have merit, so don’t edit at this stage, and as IDEO urges, go for quantity over quality. Also emphasize pictures over words, which help to bring ideas to life.
  • Now step back from your design wall to digest and process all of this data to notice where there is convergence. Then synthesize or “bundle” the best ideas and consolidate them into one or two concepts that can be tested. Don’t forget to refer back to the original challenge to ensure that you’re arriving at potential workable solutions.
  • Use “rapid prototyping” to concretize your best ideas and get immediate feedback from team members to aid your R&D process. Designers utilize various tools to help make the conceptual real. Choose those that best serve your design challenge, as well as those your team is skilled at or can master – such as storyboards (freehand drawings supported by short, explanatory texts), customer journeys (narrative writing and storytelling using personas), role playing (acting and simulations), mock-ups (physical models graphically designed or sculpted from low cost materials, like construction paper and tape) and experience maps (a combination of all of the above and more). 
Mocking up rapid prototypes: Boise State University's  LaunchPad  program for student entrepreneurs 

Mocking up rapid prototypes: Boise State University's LaunchPad program for student entrepreneurs 

Although perhaps not conceived as such, the Fleisher Art Memorial engaged in a human-centered design process when it set out to attract increased participation by neighborhood residents in its on-site, art-making programs. The Fleisher is located in Southeast Philadelphia, an ethnically diverse, low-income community populated by Asian and Latin American immigrants. The art center had specifically designed programs to attract children and families to its facility, yet the community just wasn’t showing up. Fleisher staff wanted to know why and what could be done to enhance engagement.

With funding from The Wallace Foundation and aided by outside researchers, an interdepartmental team at the art center began its inquiry with a baseline study to understand the current audience. Then they held focus groups with adults and teens from the neighborhood to learn how the Fleisher was perceived. They also learned what locals wanted from the organization, summarized in three key findings: 

  • Come to Us: Residents wanted the Fleisher to be physically present in the community outside of the art center and to build relationships directly with neighbors; 
  • Show Us: Residents wanted the Fleisher to use community centers and neighborhood events to present demonstrations and teach them about art and artmaking, especially connected to their native cultures; and
  • Welcome Us: Residents wanted the Fleisher to build trust with the community and make the art center more hospitable and accessible to all.

Armed with this new knowledge, the Fleisher staff transformed its internal culture through institutional planning and best practice training in diversity, communications and visitor services. The art center also transformed its external outreach through organizational partnerships and by ensuring a strong staff presence at neighborhood events. Plus, they prototyped new offerings at community festivals and probed for residents' feedback, which they used to fine-tune activities. The end result? Participation by teens and kids in on-site programs has increased more than 10% since the baseline study, and people from Southeast Philadelphia now represent 25% of all students in Fleisher art classes, an increase of 5%, matching area demographics. A full description of the art center’s design challenge, process and outcomes is detailed in a case study published by The Wallace Foundation.


The final phase in IDEO’s process, implementation, involves live testing prototypes, seeking honest critique from your target audience, iterating and refining until you’ve hit upon a solid solution to meet real needs, business planning, piloting the new idea and finally taking it to market. I’ll bring it all home in my next post.

Disclaimer: Let's pause for a moment to address the notion of phases, which implies a straightforward, linear, continuous, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other process. In actuality, design thinking is non-linear, and moves back and forth among the three phases in whatever way makes sense for a particular project. This is what IDEO's graphic is seeking to convey, with progress that may be up and down, divergent, convergent and fluid. 

Warning: For those of you who prefer things neat and tidy (like me!), design thinking can be messy, so be prepared to surrender some control and live in discomfort for a bit. Trust me, the freedom this engenders is worth it!


The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA:, 2015.

Beyond Guessing: The How-to of Audience Engagement

The nonprofit arts community owes a great deal to Lila and Dewitt Wallace, who founded Readers Digest, an early 20th-century precursor to the The Huffington Post (sans all the cute cat and dog videos). Their self-made fortune endowed The Wallace Foundation, which was created after their deaths to advance their abiding beliefs in the societal benefits of educating youth, as well as experiencing art. For over two decades now, the Foundation has committed its resources to helping to develop new audiences for the literary, performing and visual arts. This work couldn’t be more welcome, as new studies have confirmed a continued decline in cultural participation, especially for traditional art forms.

I recently met with Daniel Windham and Lucas Held, the Foundation’s arts program director and communications director, respectively, who explained that Wallace’s focus on the “architecture” of arts organizations — both institutional infrastructure and the field-wide ecosystem — as a conduit for the arts comes directly from Lila Wallace. Interestingly, they noted that Wallace considers itself a research institute that uses its grantmaking to answer critical questions as a way of furthering its goals. This underscores why, since 1996, the Foundation has invested heavily in commissioning research and publishing reports to serve the field, much of which is readily accessible online.

Photo Credit: Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra at Lincoln Center in New York, 2013

Photo Credit: Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra at Lincoln Center in New York, 2013

The most recent of these reports — The Road to Results: Effective Practices for Building Arts Audiences and Taking Out the Guesswork: A Guide to Using Research to Build Arts Audiences — showcase both lessons learned and how-to methodologies in audience development. The knowledge shared in these well-written materials, gathered and analyzed by market researcher Bob Harlow, is based on data from the Wallace Excellence Awards recipients, 54 organizations in six U.S. cities, which received funding between 2006 and 2014. 

The reports are a treasure trove of useful information and highly recommended reading for any arts organization seeking to expand or diversify its outreach. Road to Results offers nine practices illustrated by 10 case study organizations that adopted strategies to successfully engage audiences new to them. Taking Out the Guesswork is, literally, a step-by-step, DIY guide to audience research — how to plan, conduct and evaluate market research, and then apply the data to develop targeted audiences. The appendix is chock full of sample tools and templates, too. 

At the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) annual meeting in Atlanta this past April, my co-author, Beth Tuttle, and I had the pleasure of joining Lucas and two of Wallace’s grantees from Philadelphia — Chris Taylor of The Clay Studio and Magda Martinez of the Fleisher Art Memorial — to address the overlapping lessons of Road to Results and our book, Magnetic: The Art and Science of Engagement. AAM was kind enough to feature a write up of our presentation in its July-August 2015 Museum magazine, a pdf of which can be found here.

Here are just a few takeaways from the reports, much of which dovetails with the learnings from Magnetic:

  • Transformation begins with awareness that change is needed. And it's most successful when outreach goals align with organizational mission and values, and are co-created by many stakeholders working in collaboration. Leadership from the top is needed for change to stick.
  • Be open to what you hear and learn from your community, as it may well differ from your assumptions. Use research results to inform decision-making before moving forward.
  • Utilize design thinking strategies to test and prototype new ideas as a way to keep costs contained.
  • Cultivate an attitude of ongoing learning, because this kind of engagement effort works best on a continuum. And cultivate patience, because creating change takes commitment over a longer term.

Wallace is now funding 26 performing arts organizations across the country in tandem with its next phase of research. The Foundation’s intent is twofold: to discern how arts organizations can attract new audiences while retaining current ones, and understand the relationship between audience development and financial sustainability. 

So keep an eye on Wallace, because there’s sure to be great new information forthcoming. And in the meantime, download and digest these reports, because there’s no more excuse for guessing when it comes to engaging new audiences.