Reaching out – Annual drive begins

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Facing a still-slumping economy, the Arts & Science Council is getting back to basics.

The council kicked off its annual fund drive this month, aiming to meet its $10 million goal — equal to last year’s — by reaching more individual donors, particularly those making smaller workplace gifts.

“Every gift counts,” says Harriet Sanford, the council’s president and CEO.

While working hard in the past on donors giving $750 or more, the council this year is making the case that the arts touch everyone.

“You can engage with us at any level,” Sanford says.

This year’s goal aims to balance the council’s needs and those of its 28 member groups with the needs of the larger community, she says.

“If we’re going to be real partners, we have to acknowledge the economic changes that exist,” she says.

The campaign goal still is ambitious: The council raises more money in the workplace and from individuals than any other united arts group in the U.S., and trails only Milwaukee in campaign dollars raised.

After analyzing giving at the more than 300 employers that sponsor workplace campaigns, the council concluded it could involve more donors by aiming for smaller gifts.

More than 34,000 individual donors accounted for 70 percent of last year’s campaign, with 95 percent of them through workplace campaigns. Among all individual donors, 16,000 gave $50 or less

To help boost individual contributions and involvement in arts groups, the council is giving every donor a plastic “Givin’ & Livin’” card for discounts up to $300 at arts groups, which will use it to track donor activity.

The council also is courting bigger contributors. Last year, 2,800 individuals gave $750 or more, and those giving more than $5,000 grew to 256 from 19 in 1997.

This year, 34 volunteers are soliciting bigger individual gifts, up from two last year. The council also aims to boost its marketing and emphasize the arts’ year-round role.

A marketing analysis found that 128,000 of the 580,000 households in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County have some connection with the council or its affiliates, while an estimated 40,000 more may be involved through public schools.

To reach more households, the council will work more closely with local media outlets. And thanks to a big gift from the Charlotte office of law firm Mayer, Brown & Platt, the council is developing an ongoing promotional campaign based on the annual fund theme, “Everybody’s Gotta GIFT.”

The council this year also will hire a consultant to assess the region’s needs for new arts facilities to ensure programming for areas outside uptown Charlotte.

And it will kick off its new McColl Award, an annual competition for a $25,000 grant to commission new art works.

“Our whole strategy,” Sanford says, “is to broaden the understanding of what we do.”

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