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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