The end of 2015 is approaching and with it end of year asks start appearing in your real and virtual mailboxes. These five guideposts are designed to help you understand why arts nonprofits are asking for your goodwill and hard-earned cash this holiday season and how you can justify donating beyond the tax benefits and altruistic feelings.
1. Earned Income doesn’t pay the bills. Earned income comes from direct sales for services: tickets to performances, museum admission, class fees, etc. However as costs increase, the ability to raise earned income revenue in the arts stays the same. While productivity has increased in most other sectors in the last 100 years, it can’t in the arts. Michael M. Kaiser, the former Executive Director of the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, DC puts it this way in his book Curtains? The Future of the Arts in America: “Those of use in the arts, however, have a difficult time improving worker productivity. Musicians do not play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony faster every year, nor are any few dancers required to perform Serenade than when George Balanchine first created it in 1934. We do not ask sculptors to sculpt more quickly every year, nor do we ask composers to write a score in less time.” Another way to look at it is this: the number of seats in performance space is static so earned income potential is therefore static.
2. Buy that tee-shirt or mug. One earned income piece of the puzzle that does have the capability for growth is merchandise sales. So, the next time you attend an arts event, stroll through the gift shop or stop by the concessions stand and purchase a mouse pad along with a glass of wine. This is a way to support your favorite arts organization beyond the price of admission.
3. Strengthen your community. The national organization of professional theatres, TCG, does an annual survey of its members to see what the financial picture is and how it is changing. The 2014 survey found that 1,770 theatres contributed over $2 billion to the U.S. economy by hiring over 135,000 employees. Employees that live in your community, rent and buy homes there, shop for groceries there and contribute to the tax base. While audience members are dining out at restaurants, paying for parking, and hiring baby-sitters on their date night at the performance. All of this leads to a stronger local economy. (http://www.tcg.org/pdfs/tools/TCG_TheatreFacts_2014.pdf)
4. No child left behind left the arts way behind. As the focus in schools moved to standardized test scores in the last decade, many teachers began to forego taking students on arts related field trips and many schools cut arts programs out of the school day all together. This means that your donation could be used for outreach programs that help to bring art back into students’ lives. By offering free tickets or busing to local schools, many organizations are helping to overcome the barriers that have been put into place. In Richard Deasy’s 2002 book Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, he showed how in the visual arts, there are findings about how drawing supports writing skills, how dance instruction was connected to fluency in creative thinking and how drama was connected to story comprehension. Your donation can continue those trends.
5. Unearned income is misnamed. While any donation you make is qualified as unearned income, the reality is that arts organizations work really hard to earn that money. The organization has to be stable, profitable, and creative. The donor has to have a relationship to the organization either personally or tangentially through someone they trust. And letters have to be written, signed and mailed. Emails have to be crafted, designed and sent to segmented lists. Many man-hours are devoted to asking for your donation and proving that the organization will be a good steward of your dollars and trust.