Cultural Nonprofits Get Creative amid Funding Crunch

Nonprofits that provide cultural enrichment, from the arts to music to zoos, must be more creative than ever before in their fundraising. Here’s why:

Nonprofits in the culture sector have to be more creative about fundraising ideas.For starters, the recession of 2008 and 2009 cut the budgets of many cultural institutions by one-quarter to one-third. While the economy has rebounded, donors still seem tightfisted. Moreover, the postwar and baby boom generations have aged, and the up-and-coming millennial generation is less well-off financially.

Finally, cultural institutions always face the risk of government budget cuts, a fact underscored by well-publicized fiscal crises at the municipal, state and federal levels. Solving this money crunch means cultural nonprofits need savvy approaches to attracting donors and using technology.

Showcasing the impact of arts and culture

One of the best ways to boost arts and culture funding is to demonstrate their impact on society. For instance, the Museum Store Association reports that cultural venues are a boon to the travel industry: 78 percent of leisure travelers visit them during trips. What’s more, such travelers tend to stay longer and spend more in the cities they visit.

Need more ammunition to make your case? In the U.S., museums log more than 850 million visits per year—exceeding attendance at pro sporting events and theme parks combined, American Alliance of Museums reports. Cultural venues also have a strong, beneficial impact on future generations. Culturally enriched kids enjoy better grades, higher test scores and lower drop-out rates, regardless of socioeconomic status, according to Americans for the Arts.

The ZooBrew Phenomenon

Zoos are usually considered a kids-and-family venue, but a host of these cultural mainstays employ innovative fundraisers to reach young adults. The twice-yearly ZooBrew at Pittsburgh Zoo became a hit by combining animal appreciation with beer tastings. The zoo also created a series of “Wild Wednesday” nighttime fundraisers, which attract crowds of all ages to an evening of games, dancing, music and, of course, animal-enrichment sessions

ZooBrews are regular fundraising venues in Santa Barbara, California; Evansville, Indiana; Jackson, Mississippi; and Rochester, New York. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, the Beardsley Zoo holds a summertime Wild Wine, Beer and Food Safari. Donors pony up $60 to sip wine or beer and sample food from top area restaurants, with the zoo’s signature peacocks mingling with the crowd. A donation of $100 gets people up close and personal with the zoo’s animal residents.

Texting supports New Orleans music education

Most of us probably wouldn’t expect a city to experience a shortage of musical instruments, but New Orleans is no ordinary city. It houses North America’s richest musical heritage, combining African, French and Spanish influences into a sound that is distinctly American. Bounce, Jazz and Zydeco are just a few of its homegrown genres.

The Trombone Shorty Foundation aims to continue New Orleans’ distinct legacy by encouraging young musicians and musical education. A key part of that involves making sure talented youth have musical instruments. It was founded by area musician Troy Andrews, also known as “Trombone Shorty.” As part of its outreach to young donors, the foundation raises money via texting.

Donors text the keyword TROMBONE to a specific number and use the hashtag #SaveDatSound to contribute to the foundation. Donors who contribute more than $25 are automatically entered into a drawing for prizes that include clothing, books and other gifts.

Small details matter

The sheer popularity of Pittsburgh’s ZooBrew led to a logistical tangle: ticket sales. While participants could buy tickets online, the zoo staff also printed them manually and mailed them to people’s homes. As the event became popular, ticketing became a time-consuming chore.

What’s more, purchasers often lost their tickets and the zoo’s IT system made it difficult to verify ticket purchases. The zoo would then provide replacements on an honor system, but it also had to cap attendance in case this resulted in a flood of bogus ticket holders.

The solution was a software packaged called Altru, which lets purchasers print tickets at home. If a ticket is lost, staff can easily look up the transaction and issue a new one. Altru also enables the zoo to time visitors’ attendance at the event, which helps it to stagger crowds. This also boosts ticket sales and fundraising results.

Connecting to culture

Innovations in technology can connect more people with cultural resources and boost fundraising. The New York-based Bloomberg Foundation offers a funding initiative called Bloomberg Connects, which funds technology projects at museums worldwide.

Among the newest projects is an interactive pen for visitors to the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt design museum. The pen enables museum visitors to record their visits, bringing the museum’s collections to life. In the process, visitors transform from observers to participants.

The granddaddy of all these initiatives is Bloomberg’s partnership with London’s Tate Modern gallery, which includes award-winning multimedia tours and apps. It also encompasses a weekly video series, “TateShots,” enjoyed by millions of art lovers every year. The ongoing connection helps with future outreach to visitors for events and fundraising.


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