Turn Of The Screw, Politics And Fundraising Edition

While balancing political ideology across stakeholders has always been a core task for executives and fundraisers, that world has fundamentally changed over the past several years. It’s a topic we’ve examined across several articles.

And the orchestra field certainly isn’t alone. To that end, Drew Lindsay published a pair of articles at The Chronicle of Philanthropy examining this issue from the broader perspective of the larger nonprofit sector.

It’s worth pointing out that while both posts are behind paywalls you do get two free articles per month just by creating an account so there we go, could you ask for a better reason?

The first article from 1/25/22, Donations in the Balance: Fundraising in the Age of Polarization, examines just how much nonprofit managers are dealing with from internal and external constituents. I was pleased to provide some insights into how this phenomenon is playing out across the performing arts sector. The article gets a lot of white space so be sure to check the “Empty Threats or Lost Gifts? section toward the final third.

Donors who make small contributions are more likely to pull away, fundraisers say. That’s particularly true for those who aren’t core supporters.

Next up is Linsay’s second article from the same date where he balances the scales a bit by examining how professional fundraisers handle things from a boots on the ground perspective. Titled Advice for Fundraisers Caught in the Middle of Political Battles, it delivers on the title’s promise.

Several [of the  fundraisers, nonprofit leaders, and consultants interviewed for the article] suggested that fundraisers lean into the shift in recent years away from “donor-centric” strategies. Grant, who started in nonprofit work more than a quarter century ago, says organizations at the time often “walked on eggshells around donors” and did everything possible to keep them happy. Individual donors were routinely told they were the key to a group’s impact.

You’ll find details to each of the following tips in the full article:

  1. Prepare your nonprofit for challenging conversations with donors.
  2. Repeatedly emphasize how your strategy ties to your mission.
  3. Be upfront.
  4. Resist the temptation to curtail outreach.
  5. Don’t shy from an awkward conversation.
  6. Share your own views if the time is right.
  7. Apologize for mistakes.
  8. Don’t panic if donors threaten to end their support.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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