This afternoon my Rotary club listened to a presentation by Rep. Bob Goodlatte. The talk was primarily about the Federal budget (or, as he put it, lack thereof). I could debate various specifics from the talk, but the point that was most interesting to me was the fact that 42% of the Federal budget is currently funded by debt. FORTY-TWO PERCENT. Add to that a fact that I already knew, that only 35% of the Federal budget is discretionary, and you have a serious problem (I know, this is not new news). If you were previously refusing to acknowledge that Federal funding for the arts is an endangered species, it is time to wake up. The facts above make it obvious that even with increased tax revenue, there have to be severe cuts in all budget areas if the Federal government is going to stabilize financially.
So, the question that remains is what to do about it. Up to this point we, as an industry, have been spending a good deal of time and money on trying to fight this inevitable change. Meetings with and letters to legislators, meetings with and letters to Board members and donors to encourage them to write and meet with legislators, attendance at conferences and arts lobbying days on Capitol Hill, receptions, lunches, dinners, etc., etc.
What would happen if we took even 50% of the time and money currently devoted to the concerted attempt to not let what has become a tiny trickle of funding disappear and, instead, put it toward the only growth sector of contributed revenue: the individual donor. Building a strong, sustainable revenue stream with individual donors is not rocket science, but it does require our time. Time to meet individually with donors and discover what fuels their sense of ownership of our organizations. Time to cultivate that sense of ownership in new patrons who will become tomorrow’s donors. Time to listen, respond, and cultivate the myriad ties that bind folks to the work we do. What would happen to your individual contributed revenue if you took 32 hours (the equivalent of four working days that would have otherwise been spent travelling to DC to meet with legislators, or any of the other things listed above) and spread those hours out over the course of a year by adding 32 one-on-one meetings with donors you wouldn’t otherwise have had the time to do?
We all calculate (or should) Lifetime Value (LTV) for our donors and patrons. Compare those results to the projected LTV of NEA funding for your individual organization. This is simple math, folks. Wake up and focus on your community.