Sunday, November 12, 2017

Arts Funding Ecosystems and Major Impacts

Good morning
"And the beat goes on....................."

Every arts territory - major regional areas, cities - big and small - counties, towns, rural areas - all have a funding ecosystem.

Some are robust, some are weak.  Some areas have major foundations which fund the arts, others do not.  Some have strong local government support, some struggle with public funding.  Some have legacies of major patrons, others have meaningful smaller donors.  Some organizations within a territory are skilled and successful at earned income, others have miles to go.  In some territories, major cultural organizations have near monopolies on funding support, in other areas there is much more of a balance.  In some fortunate areas, there is a healthy balance of all the sources of revenue streams.

And in some territories there are but a few organizations, and so the competition for funds, plentiful or scarce, is not pronounced.  In others, there are so many viable and worthy candidates for support that the competition for resources is intense.  Whether or not organizations are consciously competitive begs the question.  The question is how big is the total pie, and what are the variables that bear upon any organization in its quest for funding.

And every one of these ecosystems is different, with their own histories, way of doing things, and unspoken rules and protocols that govern how money is sought and how it is allocated.

And like most ecosystems, there is a relationship between the resident organizations with intersections at numerous junctures and points.

We haven't spent much energy trying to identify and understand these interactions, relationships and their impacts.  Thus, we don't know how the fundraising efforts of one organization, or the organizations in one discipline, in any given territory, affect and impact other organizations or disciplines in that same territory.  Or those outside the easy classifications.

Given that all funding sources in a given area are likely finite at any given point in time, there is competition for those funds.  The amount may very well be liquid over time, in that it moves up or down depending on all kinds of variables.  I wonder to what extent the actions of the players within each territory is one of those variables, and whether or not it is significant or irrelevant to the success of any or all of the contestants.

So, for example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, there are estimated some 200 dance organizations / companies.  Like New York and other territories with a significant dance organization presence, the local scene is dominated by a few major players:  In the Bay Area, the San Francisco Ballet, and three or four other major companies dominate.  These organizations receive major foundation and public support, and also have healthy donor pools.  Many of the other dance organizations have less robust funding source pools, and many more struggle with anemic funding efforts.  Dance is largely supported in the Bay Area, but I wonder how the crowded field and the actions and campaigns, and the success of some, impact the chances of the others to successfully raise funds.

Do we know whether or not donors spread their wealth around, or remain consistently loyal to specific programs?  Do we know if the behavior of donors is different depending on the size of their largesse?  Are smaller donors more, or less, likely to support one organization one year and a different one another year?  Is the donor behavior of those who support capital campaigns different from those who support programs or operations?

Another example:  the Los Angeles Philharmonic, in celebration of its One Hundredth Anniversary, has embarked on a very ambitious campaign to raise $500 million, of which they claim to have already raised $300 million.  Now, Los Angeles is a large and diverse territory, with access to foundation, local government and corporate support.  There is also a healthy population of contributors - major and minor - within the territory.  And the L.A. Phil is a major institution with deep ties to the community, an enviable reputation, and impressive creative and managerial competencies.  So I don't doubt that they will get very close, if not fully funded, with this major effort.

But that is a lot of money.  How does their drive to reach their goal, impact the rest of the L.A. arts fundraising ecosystem.  Is there no effect, or a dramatic effect on the plans, strategies, and abilities of other arts organizations to raise funds in this climate?  How long might such an impact, if there is one, last?

I don't know the answers.  Obviously, a campaign this ambitions and grand is going to target sources that aren't generally on the radar screens of much smaller - and therefore the majority - of other arts organizations in the same geographic territory.  Deep pocket patrons historically have tended to fund specific large budget cultural organizations, and not smaller ones.

But does the L. A. Phil's campaign make it harder for its peer cultural organizations - museums, theaters, opera and others - to raise funds while the L.A. Phil's campaign is going on?  What impact does a campaign like this have on the efforts of all the arts organizations in the area?  Does it syphon off so much of the available funds as to make it more difficult for others to attract funds? Is it possible, that the opposite is true - that a major campaign and its attendant publicity serves to spur more, not less, donations across the board?  Or is there simply no impact at all?

The base question is this:  As the field grows, with ever more organizations launching, all seeking funding, how does a local funding ecosystem function?

We don't seem to have data on those kinds of impacts, or lack thereof.  We can identify, over time, the rise and fall of the aggregate of funding in a territory, but we haven't investigated how the efforts of the competitors within the territory bear upon the efforts of others within the same classifications.  Virtually no dynamic works in a vacuum.  Everything is interconnected.  Do major capital campaigns have any effect on fundraising for either their peer groups, or the local field as a whole?  Does the existence of an arguably overcrowded field in a particular discipline, affect the fundraising of all the members of that single class?  What are the variables in a local funding ecosystem that play a role in the success or failure of the fundraising efforts of all those in the area, and in particular, the efforts of each?  Do some efforts result in a cannibalization of scare opportunities, or is the success of anyone a boon to the efforts of all?  Does the power inequity work to the disadvantage of some, or is it irrelevant.

And then there is the question of how the arts funding ecosystem relates to the wider overall nonprofit funding ecosystem - within each territory.

This kind of data might be useful in analyzing funding prospects within a territory and serve to identify how the strategies and campaigns of some of the players impact the plans and efforts of others.  That kind of data might also illuminate different kinds of inequity within the territory.  And that information might be valuable for funders and fundraisers alike.   Research into arts funding ecosystems might be a reasonable, and fertile line of inquiry.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit