Arts drive targeting new donors

Lee Keesler
Lee Keesler

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mindful of the grim economic climate, the Arts & Science Council opted to keep its goal for this year’s fund drive to $11.2 million, the same total it raised last year.

But a month after it kicked off January 21, while it had raised $5 million, the drive was $2.5 million off the pace needed to meet its goal by March 6.

To reach its goal, particularly when local United Ways in many communities have been falling short of the goals for their annual campaigns to raise money to meet health-and-human-service needs, the council overhauled its marketing strategy and has aimed to broaden its base of donors.

“This sort of environment is tough on all nonprofit organizations, and it can be tough on cultural organizations,” says Lee Keesler, president and CEO of the Arts & Science Council.

And while they are holding their own on generating earned income, which accounts for roughly half the revenue base for many of them, cultural groups face a big challenge in generating contributed income, he says.

“It’s crucial to the sustainability of our organizations,” he says.

Co-chaired by Sue Gorman, owner of Sue Gorman Interior Designs, and James Jackson, executive vice president, premier banking and investment southeast division executive for Bank of America, the drive already is off to a promising start, Keesler says.

When it kicked off Jan. 21, he says, the drive already had generated more new dollars from new donors or an increase in the size of gifts than it had by the kickoff of any previous drive.

Through more strategic and targeted marketing, the drive aims to expand last year’s pool of 41,000 donors, up 3 percent to 4 percent from the previous year.

The council has targeted customized messages to different groups of donors, with CEOs, for example, getting one message, and large groups of employees in workplace campaigns getting another.

The council also aims to be more precise than it has in the past in targeting direct-mail appeals to prospective donors in particular geographic areas.

And it has expanded the use of electronic giving, with 150 organizations now using online giving for their employee campaigns, up from 90 a year ago.

Employers that convert to online giving typically see more employees participate in the drive and their total giving increases, Keesler says.

“We’re trying to get that integrated into as many campaigns as we can,” he says.

Several business sectors are the focus of a special push this year.

Those include the sports industry, which has become a large enterprise in Charlotte; “creative industries” such as design, architectural, marketing, public-relations and advertising firms; and international firms.

Tough economic times underscore the value of arts and culture and the need to support them, Keesler says.

It is precisely when economic stress challenges communities and arts-and-cultural groups that cultural innovation can flourish and communities find themselves in need of the arts, he says.

“This is a great time for the arts and cultural sector,” he says, “to be a source of comfort and nourishment for our community.”

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