Event notes: Fundraising for cultural organizations

Some quick notes from Miho Ito‘s talk on fundraising for cultural organizations, the 7th study group organized by the Museum Career Development Network [ja]. We heard some fascinating war stories from Ms Ito’s time as a campaign manager at the LA Philharmonic. They operate at a level that’s just unthinkable for a scrappy team like the Gadago NPO. Learning about fundraising from the POV of an established profession was really interesting, and obviously, there are many takeaways for an organization that’s more “f*ck, we’re running out of money”.

Additionally, the landscape is constantly changing and one needs to keep up on things such as law revisions on the loosened requirements for becoming eligible for NPO tax deduction status, and how that’s affecting NPOs in reality. (Ms Ito is a board member for the Japan Fundraising Association.)

Fundraising talk event with Ito Miho
Fundraising talk event with Ito Miho
  • Fundraising is dialing the intensity dial of your organization’s fans (This sentence works better in Japanese because “fund” and “fan degree” are homonyms.)
  • Four steps to fundraising: plan, plan, plan, ASK! There’s even a phrase called “The Ask”. I got the feeling that this was the fundraising equivalent of the Elevator Pitch.
  • Always talk about how your activities are changing society, not just about the activities themselves. Because we do great work, Because we run so-and-so program are NOT the ways you want to answer the question, “Why should I donate to your organization?”.
  • Strategize with the donor management cycle Moves Management [pdf].
  • Read more about cultivating individual donors in the Fundraising handbook for cultural organizations [ja, pdf], a research project funded by Toyota
  • Never forget to thank people for contributing something, and from multiple staffers if appropriate. A weekly administrative batch process is fine for paperwork but sending out thank you’s need to be done within 24-48hrs of the action.
  • Categorize your potential donors according to financial capability, distance with the organization, and interest. Keep an eye on celebrities, corporations, executives that might be interested in your cause.
  • Develop tiered programs for your donors, so anyone can participate in a way that’s comfortable to bo their financial capability and interests.
  • Privileges in donor programs such as newsletters, parties, face time with directors etc. are ways to communicate future activities, find out more about donor interets and in turn, can be the first step in asking for the next donation.
  • The best timing to ask for donations is when you are at least 80% that they will say yes. Not before.

All in all, it’s familiar theories applied in a slightly different context.

You and I would recognize most of the philosphy as

“normal” business development, sales, and CRM

methodologies and techniques.

Sure, it’s an over simplification but since we’re not going to get a professional fundraiser anytime soon – as with most small to mid sized NPOs in Japan, I would guess – it’s a bit reassuring for that fact to be highlighted, and perhaps the push I need to be more business-like about these things.

Note: I’d say that staff recruitment, workplace culture and community management have characteristics that are more unique to non-profits, but those topics didn’t come up in the talk.

I asked about volunteering and fundraising, and how it’s a bit difficult to ask for money from someone who already contributes time, especially if they’re students. Her answer was that everyone should get into the habit of asking (or rather, get people into the habit of donating), period. Here’s why:

  • Volunteers are already on board with your mission and are most likely to make a financial contribution.
  • Your organization should be creating on-ramps for different levels of financial contribution anyway.
  • People won’t be students forever! Financial capability usually goes up as time passes, so best start asking now, than have people expect things for free.
  • Consider developing programs where volunteer power can be channeled into fundraising efforts.

One last thing. Most of the audience was Hosei University students – I don’t know what their majors were but it was disappointing to see many of them nodding off and even leaving early. On the way out, I overheard several remarks that the talk was “really difficult”. Was it? Not quite sure, but then I don’t remember anymore…