The ten worst nightmares of an arts fundraiser

The ten worst nightmares of an arts fundraiser


norman lebrecht

December 30, 2017

Karen Brooks Hopkins, President Emerita of Brooklyn Academy of Music, shares some of her bleak nights.


8. The “We-Are-So-Sorry-But-We-Decided-To-Stop-Funding-The Arts-After-All-There-Are-So-Many-Needs-Out-There-Especially-In-The-Current-Political-Environment” Donor. OK, OK. We get it. We know there is mayhem everywhere, and the needs are great, from defending Planned Parenthood and civil liberties to fighting global warming and malaria. The human race is in real trouble. But can we all take a deep breath (not in any way forgetting these issues), and just consider history for one moment? The human race has always been a disaster, and what is, in fact, the only thing that endures as a positive symbol of the worth of humankind? Art. From Sophocles to Shakespeare to Da Vinci, Mozart to Jane Austen to Alvin Ailey and beyond, art represents the best of our presence on this planet. Today, arts funding from the public sector is 20 percent lower than 20 years ago. And in the private sector, the arts are the recipient of only 5 percent of philanthropic dollars. Hey, donors: I know you are swarmed, but can you just try to see the big picture, here? Without the creativity of a vibrant arts community, the situation is just going to get worse….

Read on here.


  • Olassus says:

    Leonardo, please, not “Da Vinci.”

  • FS60103 says:

    Fantastic stuff. This one rang a particular bell:

    “6. The “We-Expect-Our-Grant-To-Be-Transformative-For-All-Of-Civilization-But-The-Maximum-Amount-Given-Will-Be-$25,000-For-One-Year-Only” Donor. This crowd is really drinking the Kool-Aid. They want assurance that their funding will bring about world peace and the eradication of yellow fever for only a minor investment, which also includes a promise that you will spend 10 percent of the funds on an evaluation consultant and another 10 percent attending a convening with your fellow grantees so that they can teach you how to do more with less!”

    In the UK, of course, this donor is the state, and recipents are called “Arts Council National Portfolio Organisations”.

  • V.Lind says:

    *Hey, donors: I know you are swarmed, but can you just try to see the big picture, here? Without the creativity of a vibrant arts community, the situation is just going to get worse….*

    This seems to be the basic attitude of all arts fundraisers. While it may be a good one within their offices, it is not a practical one to take outside. There are an amazing number of business leaders who do not quite see that. I have encountered far too many arts fundraisers who take it as read that their cause is of THE most vital importance to society. While I utterly agree that the beneficial effects of a vibrant arts community are a great part of life, the fact remains that food and shelter are more important and a lot of people don’t have them.

    The writer of this piece cops an attitude about what donors want, but the best way to get donations for the arts, in a straight deal, is indeed to offer them something in return and deliver on it. I have heard head fundraisers brief new staff time and again about the importance of getting new donors. They also need to put effort into retention of existing donors, of making them feel appreciated and offering them a few filips for their commitment of discretionary funds to the artistic project(s) in question.

    Arts organisations are far too indifferent to patrons (take “best available” seating; no exchange on a concert cancelled perhaps for good reason but rescheduled to some other time when the patron has to make him/herself available or lose out, etc.) and to donors, who, once their money is secured, are all too often treated as fat cats who have an obligation to support the arts and to take whatever is dished up to them. I used to donate to a major arts organisation. No more; they took me for granted, and then called and mailed so often that it was borderline harassment. And I have stopped subscribing because of equally unsatisfactory treatment.

    Arts organisations need to get with an old concept: customer service. And to treat donors with comparable humility and gratitude.They are doing the arts org the favour, not vice versa.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    To recognize the force that Ms. Hopkins was, perhaps a photo of the Brooklyn Academy of Music instead of LIncoln Center? Credit where credit is due.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Quote attributed to various sages… “If you want to know the value of money, just try to borrow some.”

    The purse becomes even tighter when you are trying to get the money for nothing.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    I used to hate it when the sponsor tried to dictate policy_ we don’t want to support anything by a homosexual said one director of a well-known insurance company. So that kicks Britten in to touch I replied. Oh no er……..
    Or another company -we’d like our Mr Blogs in accounts to read the script, he’s big an amature dramatics. I bit my tongue and counted to ten and then replied if he was any good, he wouldn’t only be in amdram. Grrrrrrr.