Talking business

by Jini Stolk

Business for the Arts recently launched their online sponsorship tutorial kit – another reminder that BftA has seized hold of the field of corporate support for the arts in a most marvellous way, providing matching programs, workshops, online learning, awards, young professional board recruitment and training, and more. The sponsorship tutorial is a six module online course that covers planning, prospecting, making an approach, pitching, fulfilment and stewardship of business sponsorships of the arts. Registration is open until June 4th, so if you’re interested you should act now.

While we’re engaged in learning the “how” of gaining businesses’ support I think it’s equally important to understand the “why.” What’s in it for them (beyond our fond hopes that they love and are devoted to our art)?

I’ve been reading a barrage of recent pieces about what motivates businesses to align themselves with local arts groups. Some of the more helpful ones talk about:

Good customer and public relations: Business for the Arts’ own new study reveals that Canadians value companies that support the arts. 52% of survey respondents “feel more favourably towards businesses that support arts and culture,” because they personally engage with the arts; believe in the value of the arts; and feel that arts have a positive impact on people and communities. Among businesses supporting the arts, most indicate that they’re interested less in the return on their investment (ROI) than in the social return on their investment (SROI). Among those businesses that don’t support the arts, many say that they’ve never been asked.

Corporate social responsibility: This is where a business’s desire to have a positive impact on society and its efforts to integrate social, environmental and economic integrity into its operations, aligns with a non-profit organization’s values and mission.

Community improvement: The NEA’s Validating Arts & Livability Indicators Study examined 23 potential indicators of the contribution of the arts and culture to quality of place and community livability, and defined creative placemaking as processes where “partners from public, private, non-profit and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighbourhood, town, city or region around arts and cultural activities.”

Bang for the buck: This article examines the marketing and awareness impact , through things like logo display and prominent recognition, of arts sponsorships and reveals eye-popping details on the benefits sponsorships at different levels buy at some of England’s most prominent arts organizations.

8 ways to partner with the arts: The pARTnership Movement, an initiative of Americans for the Arts, discusses all the above reasons for corporations to partner with the arts and adds recruiting talent to a more vibrant community; advancing corporate objectives and strategies; fostering critical thinking; engaging and thanking employees; and embracing diversity and team building.

On a more critical note, an increasing number of environmental activists (like Mel Evans in her book, Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts) argue that oil companies’ arts sponsorships are cynical P.R. strategies to nullify local protests.

In the U.S., and in the world of dance, corporate donation trends are declining according to Dance/NYC – and in any case corporate donations are primarily made to large organizations, largely in Manhattan.

As to the “how” of gaining corporate support, this final piece straightforwardly admits that corporate decision making is in a constant state of flux, and that gifts are guided through different processes managed by different individuals from one year to the next; even in a mid-sized corporation the decision-making process can make your head spin. That’s been my experience, but here are some questions that might help you pin down the right person and the right process, leading to an actual, gratefully welcomed, sponsorship or gift: “Please walk me through the decision-making process for your community investments. Is there anyone that I should be talking to specifically? Are you willing to field questions about my application/proposal before it is submitted? To whom should these questions be submitted? What are the timelines around decision-making? Do you have any other resources that will help guide me through the process?”

An example, perhaps, of “ask and ye shall be given.”


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Audience observations

by Jini Stolk

Curtain times: I quite enjoyed the 3-hour theatre/musical production I saw recently, but I can’t say I remember much from the crucially important final half hour. It would have been lovely to have had a clearer sense of how the show ended, so I will ask again: can we consider earlier curtain times, especially for very long shows? Think of it as an act of mercy for your audience members.

Ticketing software: Ticketing systems are not all alike, and not all of them are happy. I’ve been on an online ticket-buying binge, and the user experience matters. Eventbrite and Sumac are a pleasure to use. TicketLeap, I have to say, is not. Check out this site which tracks customer reviews of ticketing software. It doesn’t answer all the questions you need to ask if you’re buying a new system, but it answers some important ones. (Similarly, was a friendly and easy platform for Theatre Passe Muraille’s recent online auction, and I love CauseVox, the fundraising and crowdfunding platform that Toronto Dance Theatre uses for Tour de Danse.)

Festival brochures: The TIFF and Hot Docs brochures, with their plethora of information, make my head spin. Luminato’s 2015 flyer seems to contain everything you need to know (program highlights, a map of venues, and a basic event schedule) with clear and easy information about where to find more details and how to order tickets. Well done.

Group sales: I believe we’re missing something important for growing our audiences. At a recent performance of the Eifman Ballet’s wonderful Anna Karenina, I was fascinated by Russian Tix’s very busy pick up desk. I had no idea that Toronto’s Russian expats were so well served by this group sales/discount ticket organization. How many of us work with culture clubs like Toronto Arts & Culture? TO Arts & Culture was started by Greg York to organize informal outings with fellow Centre for Social Innovation tenants; it now has over 6,000 members eager to attend theatre, music, dance, films, discussions and more. If we want to reach out beyond our already-committed core audiences, we should be encouraging, working with, supporting, and helping to develop more group initiatives like Greg’s.



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Diversity in casting and beyond

bu Jini Stolk

Some controversies should be consigned to history, but the fact that Native Earth Performing Arts is hosting a Community Forum about diverse casting on May 26th, featuring a panel of distinguished Artistic Directors, proves that this particular issue is still, unfortunately, alive and kicking.

Somewhere in my dusty files I have an article I wrote on Cross-Cultural Casting for Canadian Theatre Review (a bottle of wine to anyone who can find it online) when Sandi Ross at CAEA, Sandra Tulloch and Jean Yoon at Theatre Ontario, and Rose Jacobson and I at TTA were actively promoting colour-blind and diverse casting.

What can be said at this point that is more true and inspirational than Soheil Parsa’s Director’s Notes for his marvellous Blood Wedding: “A culturally-diverse member in our cast is not representing her/his race or culture on the stage; rather, she/he represents her/his unique individuality as an artist, and as a human being. We aren’t emphasizing the predominance of different cultural identities in the world, but are simply saying that this, as a whole, is the human race we represent, in all its beauty and vulnerability.”

Adam Thurman from the Mission Paradox blog is always clear and strong about diversity in the arts. In “Starting at the Source he hopes the community can soon move beyond reflecting America’s broadly diverse society to embracing diversity of thought and assumptions. He argues that traditional standard interviewing and hiring practices tend to favour traditional standard applicants for both staff and board openings, and notes as I have, that small efforts to counteract unconscious bias can yield important results.

In Canada, DiverseCity on Board, part of Ryerson’s new Global Diversity Exchange, is helping by identifying and training excellent board candidates for non-profit and public institutions.

AND, if you’re not yet convinced, the New York Times just reported on the NYC Cultural Affairs Department’s “Plans to Study the Diversity of Its Cultural Groups – including boards, staffs and audiences of organizations including museums, orchestras and dance troupes – in an attempt to make clear that diversity should be a priority for institutions when it comes to naming trustees or hiring employees.

“Over 90 percent of staffs at museums nationally are white,” according to Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, (I wonder if things are much different in Canada), although he emphasizes that the purpose of the study is to learn from how people develop diverse audiences and staffs and boards, highlighting the positive, and sharing best practices. This is something I will be very interested in following.

Anne Pasternak – formerly president and artistic director of the public art group Creative Time, just appointed Director of the Brooklyn Museum – says that based on census figures showing an increase in New York’s minority population, her organization has already been changing its hiring practices. “Everything we do in the organization now is seen through the lens of equity,” she said. “If you want to have audiences for the arts in the city, where are they going to come from? It’s not only an issue of what feels good and what’s right. It’s an issue of survival.”

More fascinating reading:

Annual NGO Ranking Shows White Savior Status Quo Remains Intact . Scathing stats from the Nonprofit Quarterly on board gender, diversity and values imbalance.

The supply and demand of diversity and inclusion . Vu Le on why the problem with the nonprofit sector’s diversity strategies is that they increase demand without increasing supply.

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Relying on the crowd

by Jini Stolk

Crowd fundraising isn’t going away soon. Just keeping an eye on the various campaigns and approaches coming my way has been an engrossing pursuit.

I might as well say right now that one Indiegogo campaign I contributed to – which has been doing absolutely everything right and exceeded their $20,000 goal with 295 donors – is for Maureen Bradley’s award-winning feature film Two 4 One . It’s having its Toronto Premiere at the Inside Out Festival, May 30th at TIFF Bell Lightbox. How do I know that? Because I’ve been receiving regular, but not annoyingly regular, updates on the film’s progress and many triumphs.

There are some spectacular crowdfunding success stories, but by and large crowdfunding is hard, really hard. You need a compelling story, a reasonable goal (the average crowdfunding campaign raises $5,000 to $7,000, about the same as you’d get from those grant programs you’ve been applying to…) You need to line up seed funding (donations you secure before the campaign launches, by approaching some of your current donors and asking them to donate on campaign launch day.) You also need great connections (“Social Media is a critical factor in crowdfunding success: for every order of magnitude increase in Facebook friends (10, 100, 1000), the probability of success increases drastically (from 9%-, 20%, to 40%)”), the capacity for follow up and long term stewardship, and the ability to deliver on your gifts and other promises.

Again, it’s not easy. But it can be extremely exciting, if you know how to keep the energy high.

I’ve recently been following a Kickstarter campaign to equip a brand new, ground breaking Makerspace at 192 Spadina, CSI’s newest building. STEAMLabs promised discounts (on their kids programs) and rewards (such as deals on tools, t-shirts and unique laser-cut artwork by local artists) and much much more to contributors/investors/donors (which is right?) Their goal was to transform their 2500 square foot space on the ground floor of 192 Spadina from an empty shell into a thriving community hub, equipped with cutting edge tools for kids and adults. They asked supporters to help spread the word and follow them on Twitter and Facebook – as they should – and I just found out today that they exceeded their $20,000 goal!

I was also delighted to see that Meagan O’Shea raised over $12,000 from 54 backers of her Kickstarter campaign for We Don’t Need Another Hero, recently mounted at The Theatre Centre.

Like other major funding campaign strategies, crowdfunding done well raises awareness as well as funds. Two 4 One.

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Building trust

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by Jini Stolk

I’ve had many fascinating conversations since my recent post on self-interest as a largely unacknowledged factor in successful collaborative initiatives. This led me to think about another essential component of collaborations that work: trust. Because it was part of our name, identity, values and process at Creative Trust, trust was much discussed during the project’s development and continued to be an active theme in the office and around the board table.

I wanted to share my response to a thought-provoking question from our colleague Melody Mui who is now a Programme Officer at the Hong Kong Art Centre – where she is, I trust, extending our program’s values and processes to an arts community in the midst of exciting but challenging change.

Melody wanted to know what the reaction of the stakeholders was, when we were doing the feasibility study, to the idea of sharing and trusting one another; and whether I had any advice regarding inspiring trust and helping one another to collaborate for capacity programs of the future?

These are great questions, because I’ve come to understand that you can’t assume that mutual trust and cooperation will be part of every collaborative project. I think we had something very special at Creative Trust, and here are some of the factors – attitudes, approaches, expectations and values – that, I believe, fostered trust.

  • Many Creative Trust companies had been involved with Arts4Change and had already worked with George Thorn and Nello McDaniel from Arts Action Research individually and in group sessions, where we talked about the really hard topics: boards, finances, attendance, tensions within our companies, and stress. We had become comfortable with openly sharing our most pressing problems.
  • We had had the experience of developing a successful collective fundraising campaign, which raised almost $1.4 million for 23 companies ranging widely in size and type. We knew that collaboration could work.
  • Creative Trust was initiated and led from within the community. The founding steering committee (myself, Claire Hopkinson, Mallory Gilbert, Joan Bosworth and Jane Marsland) were arts managers who had a great deal of experience working on community advocacy, marketing and other initiatives.
  • We offered hope for real change. We asked people to work hard, but they knew they would be assisted, supported and rewarded when they were successful.
  • The program was structured around trust and sharing – with Creative Trust, with each other, and within each company. We encouraged and facilitated open and honest conversation.
  • Our values – based on our belief that the artistic vision is at the heart of each organization, and that each company has its own unique path to artistic vitality and organizational health – were defined early and remained the cornerstone of our work.
  • Creative Trust was both a funder and a part of the community (for which we were sometimes criticized.) We deeply understood the challenges of leading an arts organization, and worked hard to help people succeed.

There were no doubt other factors – including luck, timing, good will, and a uniquely open and supportive board of directors – that helped foster trust and success, but these stand out as possible guides and inspiration to other collaborators now and in future.



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So you think you know about dance?

by Jini Stolk

I’ve always understood dance as a human instinct, a way to express happiness, sexuality or other emotions through movement. When you add in the dancer’s gifts of musicality, grace, strength, balance, speed and courage – what’s not to like?

A new survey – part of Dance Across Canada, a major research project funded by the Canada Council with the Ontario Arts Council – reaffirms that Canadians love to dance, both professionally and for the pure joy of it. Over 8,100 responders from across the country participate in 190 forms of dance; the large majority are involved in contemporary/modern or ballroom/social dance, although European traditional, folk and ballet are well represented. Most people dance with a group or take classes – dance is a social activity – and respondents describe a lifelong involvement in dance (an average of 23.9 years among dance professionals and 16.9 among leisure participants.) Non-professionals who took the survey report devoting 6.5 hours a week to dance. That’s a lot, considering that Health Canada recommends that adults get 2.5 hours of weekly aerobic activity.

Dancing is fun. Enjoyment is at the top of the list of reasons for leisure dancing; professionals rank artistic expression just a bit higher. People dance because it provides social connections, joy and passion, mental and physical well-being and stimulation, and self-expression. People who participate and feel connected to the world of dance tend to go to live performances (85% of dance professionals attend dance shows – I wonder what the other 15% are doing! – as do 70% of leisure dancers.)

The survey becomes more interesting for me when it drills down into the lives of professional dancers, who report earning income from dance for an average of 11.7 years, following 9.5 years of training. The average income in the professional dance field is $11,207; teachers earn the most ($14,170), dancers earn the least ($6,715). Obviously, dance professionals supplement their dance income with other employment.

This is why post-professional retraining is so vital to the field, and why an organization like the Dancer Transition Resource Centre is so important. I’m happy to say I know many dancers who are flourishing, post-performance, in medical, computer programming, design and arts administration/fundraising careers, among others.

I would call the #YesIdance survey a small first step in understanding this moving and physically inspiring art form.

In the meantime, those of us who love dance are looking forward to

  • Hub14’s amazing 10th anniversary, being celebrated with a special photo exhibition April 24 – 26. Hub14 is a place for dance/arts incubation, research, creation and performance that is 100% self-sustaining and volunteer-driven, and an inspirational example of entrepreneurial and collaborative community success.
  • The celebrated Eifman Ballet’s return to Toronto on April 23, 24 and 25th at the Sony Centre
  • InDANCE’s premiere of The Book of Sandalwood, their latest full-length work and first Bharatanatyam creation since 2012, on May 16 at the Al Green Theatre in Toronto
  • Welcoming Fall for Dance North, an annual dance festival New Yorkers have been enjoying for more than a decade, to the Sony Centre, hopefully this October. Fall for Dance is the ideal concept for reinvigorating Toronto’s enthusiasm for dance with its affordable ticket prices and eclectic international programming.
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Many paths to raising funds

by Jini Stolk

More and more people have been asking for advice on fundraising. I don’t mind. I know that a big fundraising goal can feel as scary as crossing a crocodile-infested estuary. But in the interest of making it less terrifying than zip lining across a 200-foot gorge, here are a few helpful ideas:

Research: The more you know about your prospect’s interests and history of giving, the more likely you are to make a successful ask. Imagine Canada’s Grant Connect is probably the most accurate and comprehensive funding research tool in Canada. I also like Big Online Canada which has a new way of linking foundation board members to their networks and connections.

Set goals: Define exactly what you’re trying to achieve. This interesting piece suggests that your specific goals might include raising awareness, acquiring new recurring donors, increasing the size of your average annual gift, or increasing the number of gifts through online or other channels. Each requires specific strategies and tactics.

Plan: Classy puts out a free Campaign Planning Kit that is quite good; I’m going to use it with a collaborative fundraising project I’m working on.

Increase your prospect list: Enlist your current donors in spreading the word about your campaign by asking them to refer you to others who might be interested, reminding them, telling them why it matters, following up fast, and thanking them.

Thank donors the way they want to be thanked: Jenna Quant of Causeview has gone through a lot of donor surveys to find out what donors like best, and it isn’t publishing their names or giving them token gifts. They really like and appreciate donor recognition events. As I’ve always said: people love parties.


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Awesome! We’re mobile-friendly

by Jini Stolk

Since I’m not part of the SEO community I missed the shock waves that swept through it when Google announced that their mobile search rules are being rejigged to favour websites compatible with mobile devices. What this means to the arts world is that we’re going to see a drop in site visits, sales and donations if our websites aren’t mobile-friendly, pronto. That IS shocking.

It seems that mobile web searches eclipsed desktop traffic for the first time last year, and smartphone users like easy to find sites and phone-friendly pages. If they’re looking for ticket information they’re going to get frustrated, and frustrated ticket buyers aren’t likely to become donors.

Luckily there’s an easy to use, downright fun online Mobile-Friendly Test. I was tremendously pleased to see that Creative Trust’s site passed with flying colours. Thank you Blair Francey and Shana Hillman for steering me in the right direction before I knew it was right.

While I was at it I checked a number of other Toronto arts sites – and sorry to say, but we didn’t all pass. (The large majority of Canadian charity websites are not mobile-friendly according to the State of the Canadian Web Nation Survey.)

The Test provides feedback on any aspects of your site that make it mobile- unfriendly, and tips on how to make it better.

Considering that phone donations are growing fast in the UK and Canada, we’d better get cracking on this.


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Collaboration techniques

by Jini Stolk

My coffee shop has a lot of artists. I like observing as they discuss a screenplay, script, or production. Ideas are bounced from one person to another; notes are made; concepts are sketched out; and once the last latte is finished, everyone has a better sense of what the final product will be, and a clear idea of next steps and their own to-do list.

I’m still wondering whether collaboration is a skill or instinct but Tonya Surman adds something important to the discussion in this piece about a seldom discussed truth: that successful collaborations are always founded, at least partially, on self-interest. (With Creative Trust, the founding steering committee was crystal clear about potential benefits to the community, but we were also aware that each of our companies would benefit in ways that wouldn’t be possible without a collaborative approach.)

It’s important to understand what motivates us as people and what leads others to act, when we’re working to shift culture and systems.

Here’s a piece on A Collaboration Workbook: How Six Brooklyn cultural Institutions Developed a Capacity to Diagnose Community Need and Respond with Collaborative Programs, prepared by Alan Brown, Karen Tingley and John Shibley for Heart of Brooklyn. “Over the two-year period from 2011 to 2013, the six Heart of Brooklyn (HOB) cultural institutions (Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Public Library, Prospect Park Alliance and Prospect Park Zoo) designed, pilot tested, and evaluated a process for conceiving and implementing collaborative programs that address community needs.” The workbook “distills what was learned, in hopes of advancing the field’s understanding of how cultural institutions that share the same community can find common ground and build an organic and robust approach to collaboration.”

Approaches developed during the project include:

  • Organizing for collaboration, and the question of leadership;
  • A public value audit to find areas of common ground regarding stakeholders and programmatic resources between multiple organizations;
  • Community research that allow partners to learn directly from specific interest groups in the community;
  • Idea generation, the process of synthesizing data and proposing creative solutions to problems, and then prioritizing those ideas;
  • Moving potential collaborative ideas through a “product development funnel,” resulting in better ideas to which all of the collaborating organizations are more committed.

The report also discusses the pros and cons of having a central “backbone organization” to support collaboration (e.g., Heart of Brooklyn), versus distributing responsibility for collaboration across the partner organizations.  (All work products are described in the workbook appendix, and may be downloaded from the BSCN website).

It’s definitely a “big organization” approach to collaboration, not much like my coffee shop clusters who seem to have a more practical, get-it-done attitude.

Obviously we should all remember that among the types of people who get on everyone’s nerves in nonprofit organizations are “people who suck at being team players. They’re all like “Meh, that’s not in my work plan” or like “sorry, I can’t help you clean up after our organization’s giant event because I made other plans.” We’re warned, ominously, that “A day will come when you think you are safe and happy, and your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth. And you will know the debt is paid.” (one of “10 Game of Thrones quotes you can use at work”).

And yet…I just heard one of Canada’s most beloved and respected playwrights say, when asked about collective projects, “We’re all humans and we want what we want.”

I guess this brings us back to Tonya’s point about self-interest: unless people see it and feel it, collaboration doesn’t really work all that well (perhaps not even after a public value audit has been conducted.)


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On diversity

by Jini Stolk

We all read Joseph Recinos’ Where are the Minority Voices in Theatre. I know we did.

Here are some thoughts I think are relevant:

  1. Vu Le finds recent stats on diversity in nonprofit leadership in the States (only 8% of board members are people of color; nearly a third of nonprofit boards don’t have a single board member of color; only 7% of CEO/EDs are people of color; only 18% of nonprofit staff are people of color; only 5% of philanthropic orgs are led by people of color) to be alarming. He argues, with all his normal passion and persuasiveness, that the solution is not to increase the demand for diverse leaders, but to increase the supply. He says we should be increasing funding of communities-of-color led nonprofits; supporting pipeline programs bringing leaders of color into the field; funding leadership programs specifically targeting leaders of color; supporting up-and-coming leaders of color; changing hiring policies and practices; and changing inequitable nonprofit dynamics, especially funding dynamics.
  2. In England, a debate on Class, Race, and Classical Music (although I would argue that this discussion should not be limited to the classical music field) tackled the idea of who classical music is for, why we think it’s important for the whole of society to have access to it, and what the institutions of music education and musical excellence can do to become part of people’s lives who wouldn’t otherwise have access or opportunity to be involved. According to Tom Service in The Guardian, “the debate felt to me like the start of a big and essential discussion…, cutting to the core of the values and motivations of music education in general, and throwing up challenging questions for the future.”
  3. Alan Brown, in this short piece, wonders why so few artists are to be found at national (mostly U.S. and U.K.) arts conferences, and argues that bringing artists into the center of discourse on critical issues facing the sector is one of the few hopes we have for solving real problems. “Their voice is sorely missing in the breakout sessions and hallway conversations that shape the field. What is the point of talking about topics like audience growth and creative health without artistic decision-makers in the conversation? Too many panel discussions are one-sided debates — an endless loop of talking about change without change agents in the room.”


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