Arts organizations go digital in the good search for funding sources

About 10 percent of arts support in the U.S. comes from government funding, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, and only 2 percent from the federal level.

The truth is that very little of that money makes it to Augusta, and what does filter down comes through the NEA, then the Georgia Council for the Arts, then through the Greater Augusta Arts Council, each taking its cut for administrative costs. The NEA’s administrative costs alone cut $21 million from its $121 million budget.
People want to give and Americans for the Arts reports that targeting individuals for donations tends to be more effective in the long run. For example: Workplace giving, like the kind used by the United Way, has doubled in the past 10 years to more than $23 million annually. The challenge is that local arts organizations have to get creative, striving to capture the imagination of local philanthropists and of individuals.
“There’s a lot of interesting art fundraisers. It’s all about finding something that is unique and fun and different, and that’s what all the nonprofits are challenged with as we all work to raise those dollars,” said Cindy O’Brien, executive director for community art school The Art Factory. “Our tuition just covers the artist and the supplies. But we have to raise the funding through grants and donations to then pay the rent and utilities and staff salaries.”
The organization turned to the digital marketplace for an extra boost, partnering with the eBay.com business E-Auction Depot, which handles online auctions for people who have neither the time nor inclination to do it themselves.
“It’s amazing. Anybody can go there and designate all of their proceeds to the Art Factory or a portion of it. It’s good for us, it’s good for eBay and it helps people to clean out their closets,” O’Brien said.
They recently cleaned out their own closets with a successful “art yard sale” of pieces made by students and staff, and donated by local artists and galleries, like Art on Broad.
Columbia County Friends of the Library takes advantage of eBay with its eBay Giving Works program, which allows sellers to designate a percentage of their proceeds directly to the charity of their choice. Their organization just received a boost from New Moon Café, which designated the Augusta Public Library as the charity of the month for June and July.
“The café designated a particular coffee blend, ‘the library blend,’ and will donate a small amount of money for any of this coffee that is purchased by the pound or used by the café,” said Saralyn Ingram, community services librarian for the East Central Georgia Regional Library.
The Augusta Symphony uses Good Search, a search engine that donates 50 percent of its revenue to charities and schools designated by its users. The symphony has been registered with the company since spring and Marketing Director Christine Riffle said that its use brings in “a few dollars” a month. Still, it’s money that would otherwise have slipped into the ether. The Augusta Ballet is also registered as a Good Search charity.
But while these are passive methods of fundraising, plugging holes and taking advantage of secondary and tertiary sources of revenue, most organizations still rely on event-based fundraisers, like the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art’s annual Oysters on Telfair party.
Kim Overstreet, executive director for the institute, said that this kind of fundraiser has to have two goals.
“You have to organize a fundraiser that captures the community, but that also benefits the community. There’s two parts of every fundraiser. It’s not just raising funds to support your programming, but it’s on a grander scale,” Overstreet said.
Their annual fundraiser is a fun, casual oyster roast, an uncommon idea in the South, with live music, Cajun cuisine and a silent auction. But it also serves as an introduction between artists and the community.
“Some of them have shown extensively, and some of them have not. So you have a varying degree of experience. Some that are very experienced and some that are emerging talents. You have both and it gives them an opportunity to show their work and also raise funds,” she said.
The Augusta Symphony brought in Georgia native chef Paula Deen, a staple on the Food Network, for a spring soiree, and hosted a pre-opening dinner at Bonefish Grill before the restaurant opened.
“That was really fun because it was different. People got to go in before the general public,” Riffle said.
One of the most creative fundraisers in recent memory was the symphony’s painted violins competition.
“It was a two-year initiative that involved local students and professionals,” Riffle said. “From all those participants, finalists were chosen. Those violins were put all over town for almost two years. They went to every concert; they were displayed at Augusta Mall.”
At the end, the violins were auctioned off. But the fundraiser directly involved professional artists, student and aspiring artists, musicians and even shoppers at the mall. It’s the kind of thing that sears a brand into the minds of the community and raises not only money but awareness.
That makes people more likely to support an arts organization on their own. The majority of an arts organization’s funding comes from contributed income — gifts, grants and endowments — as opposed to earned income from ticket sales. The national average, according to the NEA, is a 50-50 split, but Riffle said the symphony only draws 26 percent of their budget from ticket sales.
Playing music — or painting or dancing — by the rules of a free-market economy means that the arts are subject to the fluctuations of supply and demand. Art may be great business for a community, but if the money isn’t there, neither is art.
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