Posted , by Keith Curtis, President. Topic: Arts & Culture, Giving USA, Philanthropy Research & Events.

With a banner year for giving to arts, culture and humanities, these organizations have employed a variety of innovative tactics to engage donors and increase the contributed revenue that supports their missions. This investment in arts fundraising has resulted in a measurable boost in success.

As immediate past chair of Giving USA Foundation, last month I shared with you the overall findings of Giving USA 2017: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2016. This included the new record of $390.1 billion in American giving, which represented a 2.7% increase over the previous year. Now it’s time to take a look at Giving USA‘s findings for giving to arts, culture and humanities, so we can determine the best way for you to apply the data to your fundraising.


Highlights in Giving to Arts & Culture

  • Donations in this sector increased by 6.4% last year, to $18.21 billion (or 5.1% adjusted for inflation).
  • The total amount is the highest inflation-adjusted value to date for this sector.
  • Giving in this sector grew for the fifth consecutive year.
  • In five-year growth,  arts, culture and humanities was the second-highest of all charitable subsectors (right behind international affairs).

Several other reports released this year also showed positive trends for arts, culture and humanities. These findings included:

Nonprofit Research Collaborative:  For all types of arts organizations, 61% responding to the Nonprofit Research Collaborative’s Winter 2017 Nonprofit Fundraising Survey reported an increase in charitable contributions received between 2015 and 2016.

Blackbaud: This spring, Blackbaud reported that among its sample of 6,800+ nonprofits, giving to arts organizations rose 3% between 2015 and 2016. Arts organizations saw the greatest year-over-year monthly increases in overall charitable revenue in the three-month period ending in June (10.3%), while giving declined in the three-month period ending in December (-3.2%).


Major Campaigns Finding Major Success

Even in a competitive giving climate, multi-million-dollar capital campaigns for arts organizations—particularly museums—are meeting or exceeding their goals. In 2016, museums across the United States launched multi-million-dollar capital campaigns to remodel, expand facilities and/or increase endowments. Many are using these campaigns to create awareness and get their message out.

We saw similar results with many of our arts clients last year—Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest exceeded their fundaising goal while completing their campaign, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center achieved a successful leadership gift phase of their campaign, and the Richmond Symphony officially launched their campaign.


Arts Groups Embrace Innovation

Arts organizations have gotten smarter at sustaining the balance between engaging new donors and increasing donor retention. They appear to be adapting to changes in demographics, using innovative systems and new fundraising techniques to engage different audiences. For example, some groups have been adopting new math for selling tickets (often called “dynamic scoring”) and using predictive science to answer questions. To achieve similar success, follow your peers in using data holistically—rather than isolating donor data from audience data.


Creative, Mission-Based Activities Improve Donor Engagement

Arts organizations that integrated a mission-based experience into their special events last year were able to set themselves apart from the numerous galas, luncheons and dinners that supporters often attend. You have a unique opportunity to think creatively of ways to engage attendees with interactive activities and entertainment. These mission-based experiences should not solely be used for special events but to engage donors in daily activities. For example, our client the Virginia Aquarium invites donors to turtle releases and behind-the-scenes tours.


Next Steps

As you invest in your development program, let us know if we can help. In recent months, we’ve been pleased to conduct planning studies and campaigns for a variety of arts clients, including Barrier Islands Center, Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Norfolk Botanical Garden, Maryland Historical Society, Gunston Hall and the Rare Book School at University of Virginia. We’d be happy to help your organization prepare for a campaign, train your board or staff, or conduct a thorough review of your development activities.

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