Who Is In Your Funding Community?
However it is that you fundraise, whether you do it through crowdfunding, grants, or a combination of the two, you are building a community of people who are invested in your work.
The community that you are building is one that will hopefully be with you for the long haul. And it’s important to note that not everyone in your support network will be giving you financial donations (although many will). Recognizing the unique skills and gifts that different kinds of people are able to bring to bear on your project will help you create a better final outcome and give more people a reason to be engaged with your work.
A robust funding community is made up of connectors, traders, volunteers, peers, and (of course!) donors.
Connectors are the people who might not necessarily financially support you, but they can help connect you to the people with the resources you need. Connectors are able to make introductions to potential donors or they might be able to help you support your fundraising and networking efforts with new ideas and strategies. They are definitely people whose advice you want to seek as you expand and grow your creative practice. You want to be in their Rolodex (or whatever the 21st-century version of that is).
Traders are people who have knowledge or skills that you need in order to get your work done. And, crucially, they are people who need your help too. As you build your creative practice, think about building bartering relationships with your network. Some of the skills you might offer to trade or need to find for your own project are technical. They might involve building sets, designing costumes, or running sound for a virtual performance. Or they could be administrative. Maybe you need someone to help with grant research, setting up a budget template for you to use, or running your social media accounts. The important piece to consider with a trade relationship is that you are also offering something to them! As you consider what skills your community has to offer to you, think about what you can bring to them?
Volunteers are people who may or may not be able to offer financial support, but definitely can offer their skills and their time. Unlike someone with whom you barter or trade skills, volunteer relationships are more uni-directional. They are offering their energy to your project without the expectation that you will do something equivalent for their work.
Volunteers might help you with mailing letters, putting up posters, taking tickets at a door, or promoting your work in other ways. In order to build the best possible relationship with your volunteers, set clear expectations and boundaries. Let them know what you need, how much time you anticipate it taking, and give them the resources and support that they need to get that task done on your behalf.
By building networks of solidarity, artists are better able to face economic challenges, navigate and improve the arts ecosystem. Your peers can give you advice from experience. What strategies have they used to support their work? What grants have they applied to? Which platforms have they used to crowdfund? How have they found the time to create work? And, of course, you should share your experiences with them! It can be frustrating, lonely, and confusing to figure out how to fund your creative work and some of the best people you can talk to about it will be the ones who are also doing it themselves.
Donors could be individuals, funding institutions like nonprofits or foundations, institutions like museums or the government, or even corporate sponsors. Donations of any size represent a commitment to your work and an individual or group who believes in your project. Build on that investment by really treating them like a member of your overall community. Make sure to express your gratitude to them and do what you can to help them understand that their support really does make your work possible.
Keeping Your Community Happy
Once you know who your community is and all of the different ways that they can support you, you have to let them know that you value them too! The way to do it is through what’s called donor stewardship. Stewardship just means taking care of the people who take care of you.
By maintaining and cultivating your connection with your supporters, and using a simple donor stewardship plan you can build a foundation of support for years to come.
Rather than looking at donors as revenue sources to be maximized, think about building a community around your project, and bringing your supporters into your work. One way to visualize this is as a target with concentric circles and your project or organization at the center, where the cultivation and stewardship process guides donors from the outer rings (heard about work, bought a ticket) to the inner ones (major supporter, regular attendee, etc.).
Overlaying these concentric circles over your network allows you to maintain your understanding of each donor’s situation and relationship with your work. Sometimes donors’ capacity to give will change, whether because of unexpected expenses or other financial concerns. With a community-building focus, you can recognize that they may have other, non-financial ways to help (pro-bono work, spaces and venues, food, volunteering) or that they may still want to learn more about the work.
Make sure to show your appreciation and gratitude for the donor’s support. More important than the delivery method of your thank you message is the timing. Your donor should receive a thank you message as quickly as you are able, optimally within 24 hours of making a gift. If you don’t have time to craft a full, genuine letter of gratitude, try and shoot them a quick message of thanks and let them know you will follow up with a longer message later.
Gratitude comes in many forms. There is no one-size-fits-all thank you message, but most will be addressed directly to the donor and include information about the importance of the donation, how the funds will be used, and the expected impact of the work they are supporting. To maximize effectiveness, try to focus on the future and include a couple personal touches. This means going beyond a standardized letter and tax receipt. There is only one major no-no: keep your “asks” separate from your “thank yous.”
When reaching out to the donor, try to use the communication method that makes the most sense to them. For younger folks and/or friends, this could be an online message or text. Businesses and grantmakers will expect formal communication, but be sure to send a personal message to your contact(s) there. Many U.S. donors will expect the standard thank you email and a hand-written note, and major donors may want a phone call. This is not universal, however, and your donor may have different expectations.
Manage Your Donor Network with a CRM
In order to keep track of your donors and your interactions with them, we recommend using what’s called a CRM, or a customer/client relationship manager. CRMs are software that let you create profiles for individuals, groups or organizations. You can see their overall activity (like donations or event attendance) and keep track of all communications you have with them. CRMs are customizable depending on what you need to know about the C’s you want to M.
We understand that CRMs might feel a little sales-y or business-y for artists or independent arts organizations. Using a tool that comes from the world of for-profit companies and sales might feel mercenary, or like it takes away from the integrity of your work to spend time pulling reports related to your community’s activity.
However, we encourage you to think about CRMs as a way to spend less time organizing information you have across handwritten notes, inboxes, and different websites so that you can better connect with the people who care about and support your work.
Artists can use a CRM system to see who has been engaged in your work, in what ways, how that engagement has changed over time, and how you’ve communicated with your audience.
Using a CRM, you can pull reports to see who has donated to you, when, and at what levels.
Being able to see who has donated to you already gives you an immediate pool of contacts for any current or future funding efforts. These people already know who you are and they have already demonstrated their financial support for your work.
CRMs help you make more targeted fundraising asks because you can easily identify and group your previous fundraisers by how much they donated and when.
There are a number of different CRMs that artists can use. We like the ones from Airtable, Bitrix24, Hubspot, Little Green Light, Pipedrive, and Saleforce for Nonprofits.
The best CRMs for artists will be affordable, intuitive, and should strike a good balance between being easy to set up immediately and customizable if you need it to be. They should also be able to integrate with the tools you already use. For example, if you accept payment through Stripe, you’ll want a CRM that integrates with Stripe. Or if you send emails to your audience using Mailchimp, make sure that whichever CRM you choose integrates with that. If you end up using a CRM that doesn’t “talk” to the tools you’re already using, you might end up making more work for yourself in the end.