Q-and-A explores how arts + cultural institutions are navigating impact of COVID-19

Last month, GG+A hosted the webinar, “How Arts and Cultural Institutions Can Navigate the Economic Impact of COVID-19,” to offer helpful guidance on how to prepare for impactful fundraising campaigns post-virus.

Webinar participants included GG+A President Suzanne Hilser-Wiles, Senior Vice President Chris Begley, and Consulting Associate Anne S. Kohn with special guest Eve Jeffers, Senior Vice President for External Affairs at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Here we share questions from webinar participants and answers from the panelists.

Q: Related to building endowment: Many gifts toward endowment come from vehicles negatively impacted by the current state of financial markets. What messaging would you suggest to address that?

We certainly expect that in the coming months, donors will not be making gifts of appreciated stock. For those donors who have outstanding endowment pledges that they generally pay with securities, they may request an extended payment period. We would recommend flexibility and graciousness in these cases. Donors know you need funding more than ever, so for your endowment donors you might have an opportunity to ask for an outright gift for immediate use, while extending endowment payments. Your ability to ask for such additional support, of course, will depend on each donor’s circumstances and your relationship with them.

In terms of messaging, this crisis underscores the importance of a healthy endowment and a spending policy that is a lagged average. Endowments create stable income streams, even in the face of other external challenges. Once you get past the current economic impact, it will be time to make a strong case for endowment. Even while endowment returns are negatively impacted by the financial markets today, the lagged average spending policy will help mitigate losses and your endowment will recover.

Q. I’m curious what virtual benefits theaters are currently offering for memberships. The American Repertory Theater’s most effective benefit is parking, and as we come up on our Fiscal Year End campaign we are strategizing what attractive virtual benefits we can offer.

Modifying benefits to adjust to the changing world is so important in order to show your members that they continue to be a valued and important part of your organization. As you make these adjustments, there are two things to remember:

1. Benefits are about deepening engagement by providing access and connection.
2. Benefits should build on the good work your organization is already doing.

When possible, add layers to the efforts you are starting to put in place. If you are creating new digital content, can members get early access to it? Can they be given some additional opportunities to interact with the artists providing the content? In all your stewardship efforts, the best way to deepen engagement is to set expectations and then exceed them.

So, think about how you will communicate your new benefits to members, as well as small touches that will allow you to go above and beyond what you’ve committed to. As for the long-standing benefits that have great value for members, ensure that they will be there to accompany your excellent programming when your members return.

Q. How do you manage budget planning for next fiscal year during this time of uncertainty?

GG+A’s survey to over 800 nonprofits has indicated that most are adjusting fundraising goals by 10%-30%. A strong major gifts program will help you to attain a larger portion of your fundraising goal. If you are planning your development program budget, GG+A recommends you use time now to analyze each program area to better understand effectiveness and efficiency. This will help you make the case for fewer events, reallocating responsibilities, or consolidating positions as most institutions are experiencing vast layoffs. Please be in touch with our consultants if you would like guidance or support in conducting a program analysis.

Q: What fundraising events does AIC still undertake after their analysis?

As was noted on the webinar call, the Art Institute went from as many as 12 fundraising gala events each year to hosting one to two fundraising events annually. As with all of its programming, the museum has worked to align fundraising events closely with its mission. For example, it currently hosts an annual lecture luncheon to benefit its education efforts.

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