When raising philanthropic support for the arts, it is essential to speak to the importance of what you do. Donors are eager to engage in an exciting vision for the future. While everyday work can seem ordinary at times to the people directly involved, the intriguing, promising, and impactful aspects are what entice donors to say, “Tell me more about that.”
We spoke with an art history professor who was able to succinctly and inspiringly describe what made him excited to come to work every day. His response is a master class in what arts scholars can share to help donors see the individual and societal impact of their work.
We should prove…that art matters, that it is a fundamental human impulse, that it isn’t just things that rich people put on their walls, but it really matters. Art is about how you understand yourself, how you portray yourself, your deepest and most difficult emotions. Art is all of those things, and that means it is part of everybody’s life. With art, people [can] live, think, and be—more richly, more creatively.
A lot of people say, “Why should I care? What’s relevant about that?” My job is to find all the research and everything that we’re doing, and others are doing, and put it in front of people and say, “This is why. This is what’s exciting, these are the new discoveries, these are the things that art can do that you never thought it could do; here’s why it’s relevant; here’s why it matters.”
When donors ask, “Why should I care?” we should see it as an invitation to inspire by focusing on the following elements:
1. Societal Impact
My job is to find all of the research…and put it in front of people and say, “This is why.”
Our own work is just a small piece of the important artistic and scholarly activities happening at organizations around the world. Together, we all contribute to the same important body of knowledge and practice that makes an immense difference. If you struggle to articulate the societal importance of your work, take a step back and look what others are doing. By showing donors how our projects and programs augment the work taking place within the discipline, or in interdisciplinary endeavors, we multiply our opportunities when we answer the question of why.
2. Individual Impact
Art is about how you understand yourself, how you portray yourself, your deepest and most difficult emotions.
The arts affect people’s lives in significant ways. Looking at the impact of the field on your own life story is a good place to start for inspiration. How has this field impacted you personally? What is its significance in your own life? Then, step back further and ask, how are students impacted? How are individuals in your community impacted? How might donors themselves be impacted? By sharing our own stories first, we can invite donors into the excitement of the work itself, offering them an opportunity to tell their own story. Personal stories are at the heart of the most meaningful, significant contributions.
3. Future Impact
These are the things that art can do that you never thought it could do.
When inspiring donors, sharing past achievements is useful for building credibility—but it is not as effective for securing future commitments. Even more important than what has happened is what can happen. Support for the arts right now will shape and influence the future. Dare to dream and dream big—you never know who may be inspired to join the cause.
Patrons of the arts frequently make loyalty contributions—and these contributions are highly important to the programs they support. However, more meaningful, passion-based contributions are possible when a donor’s personal story connects with the projects or programs they support. Do your part in making the connection by sharing the impact of the arts in a way that inspires donors to act.