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I think it's true that single-funder driven foundations tend to focus most of their giving on a narrow range of topics. Gates specifically wanted to be able to objectively measure his impact--something much better suited for education & health than the arts, at least thus far. This seems to be the bigger challenge for the arts--the lack of well defined metrics, and the reason why we're now shifting back in the direction of individual patrons (at whatever giving level) who are motivated by their affinity for the art, rather than trying to achieve a pre-defined outcome. I agree that most foundations are taking a 'bet the farm' approach, rather than spreading the wealth around, but I think it's because we've seen over the past few decades that doling out small sums across a theoretically 'meritocratic' field don't work--it just kept everyone perennially under funded. Chase & Pepsi try to solve the "by whose definition of most important/needy/potentially successful" question via crowdsourcing, at the same time leveraging the social media buzz of a ton of orgs desperate for cash, to their own advantage. An arts org could do just as well to focus on not only the folks who come "in the door," but also the folks who are online, wherever they may be, and whatever their relationship with the organization IRL. Most of the research (I've seen) has shown that Millennials are more engaged with causes than organizations, and their donations may be smaller per organization, but are roughly equivalent when summed over the course of the year. This would suggest that another strategy an arts org could take would be to lower the transaction costs of donating to $0, to ask for money immediately (and care less about "cultivating a donor over a long time period"), and to widen the circle of possible donors. But I totally agree with that "do programming that excites people" advice :)
Toggle Commented Jul 6, 2010 on Reading the tea leaves at The Mission Paradox Blog
There are a few nonprofit theatres working on building a foursquare game. I gave an example on how to build the strategy at:
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Mar 30, 2010