Crowdfunding: let the people decide

by Jini Stolk

Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts launched a crowdfunding campaign this summer for a new city-wide ARTS APP -  an easy-to-use, on-the-go way of finding out who, what, where and when performances are happening. Good on them – I hope it works.

Their initiative uses the Toronto Fringe’s fabulous Fund What You Can (FWYC), a national platform for Indie Artists that allows artists and producers to create and manage their own crowdfunding campaigns. Kudos to The Fringe and to the Metcalf Foundation for providing start-up funding for a new idea that could make a big difference.

l love the emergence (with a bang) of crowd fundraising. I love Hot Doc’s crowd campaigns for new documentaries. I love Centre for Social Innovation’s Catalyst partnership with HiveWire, a platform supporting new projects for a better world.

When crowdfunding works it’s an entirely new way to reach out, well beyond the usual suspects, for support. The growing number of Toronto-based, home-grown initiatives means it’s going to be easy for the folks running these initiatives to monitor, compare, contrast and get together to discuss what’s working best, to ensure that their users have a great shot at the success they’re looking for.

For anyone thinking about getting started in this field, HiveWire, a CSI tenant, and one of the leaders in Canadian online fundraising, does periodic seminars ranging from Crowdfunding 101 to advanced workshops. Upcoming sessions are posted here and are held at the various CSI locations in The Annex, Spadina and Queen, and Regent Park. There’s also a Meetup Group .

There’s an art to doing crowd fundraising well.  Andrew Taylor just wrote about As it turns out, language matters a recent study of successful and unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign language that analyzed 45,000 Kickstarter campaigns and found that language choice accounted for up to a 58 percent variance around success. Campaigns that reached their targets used language that put value for the donor front and centre, and conveyed a sense of unique excitement, a rare and fleeting opportunity, and a chance to get in on the ground floor of a guaranteed success. People are people, online or in person.

How profound a change is crowdfunding bringing to our sector? An interesting discussion in the Nonprofit Quarterly raises the question of whether the democratization of nonprofit funding will produce better or worse results than funding decisions left to experts in venture capital or grantmaking organizations! I bet you’ve never pondered questions like: how will the decisions differ? what will be the social results of those differences?” A fascinating paper, entitled “Wisdom or Madness? Comparing Crowds with Expert Evaluation in Funding the Arts,” (by Ethan Mollick of the Wharton School and Ramana Nanda of Harvard University) found that the crowd is more willing to take a chance on innovative arts projects, “meaning that the crowd expands the number, and potentially the type, of projects that have a chance of success.”

Meanwhile IndieGogo, one of the leading crowdfunding platforms to kickstart new initiatives/projects recently raised $40MM to fund its continual growth, so crowdfunding looks like it’s here to stay.

Is the crowd always right? Consider that an online fundraising campaign on the GoFundMe crowdfunding site on behalf of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson collected $234,910 from nearly six thousand people, for the man who shot and killed African American teenager Michael Brown. Many of these donations were accompanied by racially derogatory comments aimed at Brown, his parents, and the population of Ferguson.

As Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

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Engaging your board, effectively

by Jini Stolk

If you haven’t registered for Maytree’s September 22nd Five Good Ideas session on Engaging your Board Effectively - led by Robin Cardozo, Chief Operating Officer of SickKids Foundation, in conversation with Jehad Aliweiwi, Executive Director, Laidlaw Foundation; Earl Miller, Board President, West Neighbourhood House; and myself, as Chair of the Ontario Nonprofit Network – you should probably act quickly. I hear that seats are filling fast for this evergreen topic, a facet of the complex, challenging and essential skill of board management.

In my experience, the many challenges of knitting a group of diverse and well-meaning volunteers into a powerful force working on behalf of a nonprofit organization require a life-time of learning, questioning and openness to growth and change. I’m very much looking forward to hearing my colleagues’ experiences and advice on building their board members’ sense of engagement and commitment.

I wonder if some of what they’re planning to say might be negatively mirrored in this piece on 12 Reasons Why You Should Gracefully Resign from a Nonprofit Board which offers a comprehensive check list for anyone losing their drive or passion as a board member. Certainly if “Your conduct at board meetings is viewed by the majority of other board members as disruptive” and “You’re unable to work collaboratively with the other board members in a productive manner” – and you recognize that fact! – that’s a loud signal you should step down.

A larger number of board members would want to consider whether they’re missing a significant number of meetings and are unable to fully participate in board planning, deliberations, and actions; or are not contributing money, time, connections, or other valuable resources to the organization; or are not spending time thinking about how the organization could be more effective at advancing its mission, and helping it do so.

If anyone IS unhappily involved in a situation with a high level of internal strife, this piece about the resignation of the entire 20-member board of the Minnesota Dance Theatre is really a must-read. The MDT is described as “solvent and successful” but obviously rent by bitter disagreement about…vision? direction? leadership style? I’m not sure I want to know the details, but the point of the story is that this amount of board drama damages the organization and the individuals concerned. It talks about the need for careful and honest communication with stakeholders and the public to rebuild trust and reputation, and makes the point that recovery can be slow and painful. (A good case in point is Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer fundraising event, which is still struggling to bring in donations at the high level they enjoyed before their extremely controversial 2012 decision to defund Planned Parenthood.)

Much better to seek professional intervention and counsel before things reach that state, and if needed to take a look at Maytree’s recent Five Good Ideas about Successful Board – Executive Director Relationships with the Chair of the Board and President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Toronto. I missed hearing this one in person, although the online video shows a helpful dialogue about the importance of shared vision and values; defining and recruiting Board members around the diversity and skills you need to help achieve your vision; building trusting relationships; defining roles and responsibilities; and enabling Boards to focus on the big picture and the long view.

Of course, if you’re determined to do an outstanding job of fulfilling your leadership responsibilities as either staff or board you should also sign up for Engaging your Board Effectively. I’ve been reading some great and thought-provoking resources whose ideas I may share with our attendees on September 22nd, but rather than steal Robin’s and mine and the other panel members’ thunder, I’ll write more on these following our session!



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Relating to our relational fundraisers

by Jini Stolk

Hiring again?

An edition of Philanthropic Trends Quarterly which I’ve been rereading deals with retention and turnover of fundraising staff as an ongoing challenge for many nonprofit organizations. And don’t we know it.

It points to a national study of nonprofit fundraising in the U.S. by CompassPoint funded by the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund which found that the routine “changing of the guard” in fundraising is an impediment to growth. “I think it behooves us to ask why this issue is so persistent”, says Marnie Spears, CEO of KCI about Canadian trends. “I worry that there may be a tendency to oversimplify and point fingers when looking to understand the issue and its causes. Junior level staff saying employers aren’t providing enough support. Senior level staff saying their boards’ expectations are too high and that they don’t understand fundraising. Board members saying there isn’t sufficient leadership skill and acumen in the fundraising talent pool. And therein lies the dilemma that we face – they’re all right.”

Very interesting, especially in a time where Relationship Fundraising, a donor-based approach to raising money, has convinced us all that developing and preserving the relationship between donors and organizations is essential. We are being called on to create meaningful one-on-one connections, and are told to be sure that “every communication is answered quickly, sincerely, and effectively, and every donation acknowledged.” Of course this is a minimum of good manners, let alone good fundraising, but it’s downright difficult when staff is coming and going.  

Important and new gifts should be asked for personally, in a face-to-face meeting that’s a conversation not a presentation.Your job is to graciously and enthusiastically convince the donor (or prospective donor) that it is your honor to meet with them. It is your pleasure. It’s fun. You like to be eyeball-to-eyeball. You have to want to do this. You have to be genuine.”

So now we know what kind of person we’re looking for when we hire a fundraiser.

Philanthropic Trends includes a People Pipeline which relates best practices in fundraising to the best ways to recruit and retain fundraising staff. I found it to be eye-opening: it’s really not all about paying the highest possible salaries.

The Globe and Mail tells us there are four strategies in achieving greater organizational success: select managers with natural talent for managing; select staff with the right talents for the specific role they’ll be filling; engage employees by creating a culture which cares about and finds ways to engage them; and focus on your staffs’ strengths.

It sounds well worth the effort of making a conscious decision to integrate these tactics into your hiring practices.


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In cod we trust

by Jini Stolk

Newfoundland is enchanting and otherworldly. When you’re there you feel instinctively that you’re at the farthest edge of the continent, far from Muskoka, the Rockies, the Prairies, Toronto.

You’re on an island, almost certainly on the sea – whose power and vast expanse is both appealing and unsettling. The weather is a force of nature bringing mist, drizzle, cloud, downpour, cold, heat and brilliant sunshine, all within the same 24 hours. The cliffs are higher, the drops more precipitous than you’re used to.

It is not a problem to eat cod every day, although it makes you sad and angry to know that greed and carelessness have destroyed the fishery.

The people are makers (how could they not be?), building, canning, sewing, knitting. Watch for my lovely hand-knitted hats that I plan to wear as soon as reasonably possible.

There’s music everywhere. People sing, play instruments, write songs, tell tales. They paint and create beautiful prints. The theatre artists we met are smart, funny, talented, courageous and charming. They’re well aware that their distinctive voices have added immeasurably to Canada’s culture – although I do understand that they are challenged by the same concerns about resources, sustainability, audiences and governance as any company in Toronto or elsewhere.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to go back?

Choose your puffin

Excellent puffin


Mari-Time, Oil on Plywood, Kurt Rostek (2014)

Mari-Time, Oil on Plywood Kurt Rostek (2014)

The one above is one we saw in the small harbour of Elliston, Root Cellar Capital of the World and a gathering place for hundreds of thousands of adorable puffins. The one below is from ARTBOMB, an art auction site I’m obsessed with, which brings up to three images to my mailbox (and 17,000 others) every day. I love looking at them, although people who know say that the Artsy and Saatchi Art newsletters are better designed and more visually appealing, and therefore provide a better user experience. If I were buying I’d subscribe to all three; if I were selling, I’d probably also try them all (although I’ve noticed that ARTBOMB sales, which they say are steady, tend to be of representational and recognizable pieces.) They’ve also done some interesting promo partnerships with the ROM, which I hope worked out well.

I wonder if a simple visual display of a few shows currently on stage, arriving every day, might help drive theatre and dance sales. What if Mooney on Theatre, for example, included a front-page production shot for each show it reviewed?

Vacation auto replies

Just a quick suggestion. Thank you for your email is unnecessary. If you simplify your automatic out of office response to one line only (I’ll be away between August 10 – 18. If you have an urgent question, please contact…) people will get the picture without having to click on your message to be sure you’re not on maternity leave, haven’t left your job, or recently retired! Thank you one and all.

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Art saves Detroit?

by Jini Stolk

Having just finished Toronto Arts Facts, which provides strong evidence of the value and benefits of the arts to our City, I was still stunned to discover the extent to which Detroit’s survival could be tied to its major arts institution.

The always insightful Rick Cohen describes in the Nonprofit Quarterly  how a coalition of corporate and private foundations have committed $366 million to Detroit’s underfunded and endangered municipal employee pension funds, in a “Grand Bargain” that will convert the Detroit Institute of Arts into an independent nonprofit, thereby saving its art from being sold to cover the City’s debts and protecting the collection for the public good, in perpetuity.

Detroit was, of course, a place where enormous wealth and masterpieces of art were accumulated thanks to the auto industry, but the list of foundation support for the Grand Bargain is still surprising and very impressive. “This is an absolutely unprecedented series of…commitments from the foundation community” we are told, “stretching the boundaries of what foundations might have ever considered doing anywhere.” No kidding.

Commentators have noted that this sort of social/arts/community building initiative could only have been constructed around an organization of the size and stature of Detroit’s famed Institute of the Arts, with its huge base of board wealth and influence. And I am hoping that the Grand Bargain will allow Detroit to honour its commitments to the many nonprofit agencies who were contracted in recent years to provide services including homeless programs, supportive housing, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence prevention, services for persons with disabilities, and employment training.

This type of benefit of the arts was not what we had in mind when compiling Toronto Arts Facts, but…I will add it to my list.

Note: The U.S. budget for FY 2014 was as hard to pass as one would expect. The budget resolutions put forward by the House of Representatives, in particular, proposed deep cuts to discretionary spending, major changes to tax reform that would dramatically lower marginal and corporate tax rates – and for the third year in a row took aim at federal cultural funding:

“Federal subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting can no longer be justified. The activities and content funded by these agencies go beyond the core mission of the federal government, and they are generally enjoyed by people of higher-income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.”

Or as I guess this would now have to be rephrased, sometimes these subsidies result in a wealth transfer from wealthier to poorer citizens, propelling some wealthy citizens to examine what they most value and its relation to the larger well-being of society and its citizens…

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Sprinting to catch up with sports

by Jini Stolk

The recent World Cup (remember?) made me think again about the huge emotional connection people have to sports events, compared to the more restrained connection they seem to have to the arts.

Public vs. private enjoyment, you might say. The power of the crowd vs. profound internal impact, you might add.

But Nina Simon at Museum 2.0 and the folks at Arts USA have been writing about things we can learn from the World Cup about building energy and audience for the arts, and about the kinds of experiences that create pathways to more arts participation.

Nina Simon says that the sport of soccer has been enormously effective at expanding participation in the US among youth, creating opportunities for kids at any level of talent to participate and feel connected socially. “…soccer is developing a constantly-refreshing audience by creating opportunities for kids as young as four to participate in AYSO youth leagues. AYSO goes out of its way to include kids with different abilities, with “everyone plays” as one of its chief tenets.”

And larger youth leagues become stronger, leading to stronger college teams and stronger Olympic and professional performance. And all of that leads to more audience – at all levels of the game.

She calls for the arts to develop mutual respect, coordination, and collaboration among organizations that work at different levels of expertise, budget, and scale; to focus on developing both practitioners and audiences; and to offer a wider diversity of opportunities to engage.

In essence, she challenges us to eliminate in our hearts, souls and practices all vestiges of  “elitism,” whereby we place certain types of professional arts on a pedestal above all other artistic experiences. This is not far off some of the things Alan Brown has been saying about the wide variety of engagement with the arts that bring people joy and satisfaction.

And remember, as I wrote following a recent Olympics season, sports may very well be beating us at the art of telling stories. That’s a competition that I think we should be able to train for and win.



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Damned if we do

by Jini Stolk

I’m still reeling from the anti-spam legislation, so this recent headline in the Toronto Star seemed distinctly de trop: “Generous North York Widow Flooded with Charity Junk Mail.”  This junk mail, we are told, consists of an admittedly very large number of funding requests from a variety of charities and nonprofits, some of whom she’s supported in the past: these are described in the article as “spammers.”

Unfair, unfair, unfair. We’re going to have to continue to reach out to our supporters for financial assistance by some means or other. But perhaps this is a good time to examine our consciences and practices to make sure we’re doing unto others as we would like others to do unto us.

The article talks about “charities that routinely share mailing lists.” As far as I know, the routine sharing of mailing lists was severely reduced (in the arts sector certainly) with the passage of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which came into force between 2001 and 2004. Under PIPEDA, organization are required to clearly inform people why they’re collecting personal information, including mailing addresses, and get their consent for all uses; they have to limit the amount and type of information gathered to what is necessary; and they can’t use or disclose personal information for any reason other than the purpose for which it was collected and for which they have consent.

The Act doesn’t exempt charities or nonprofits from these requirements, although collecting membership fees, compiling a list of members’ names and addresses, mailing out newsletters, and fundraising are not considered commercial activities and do not fall under the Act. But selling, bartering or leasing donor, membership or other fundraising lists is definitely precluded without specific consent. The Act does allow the use of a simple opt-out process to obtain consent, and it looks like some charities are still assuming consent unless otherwise notified – thereby annoying elderly widows, middle-aged marrieds, and young singles.

We really don’t want to flood potential donors with so many appeals that they become disgusted, and we should be very careful indeed about sharing, much less selling, our lists. These are practices guaranteed to backfire, breaking the trust between charitable organizations and the people who care about them.

Again, I can’t think of any arts organization that abuses their donor relations in these ways. But in an age where intimate details about donor prospects, and really anyone else, are easily found online – and where donor research through the web is now an important part of every fundraiser’s tool kit – all of these privacy regulations seem a bit fruitless and recherché.

Just remember that there is abundant evidence that charitable giving is a powerful secret to happiness, health and even material prosperity. But these outcomes definitely rest on a relationship of shared caring and trust between charitable organization and donor.


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Realizing the full potential of your events

by Jini Stolk

We’ve all organized events where, at the end of the night, we ask ourselves “why?” We may have had a good turn out; all the work that went into getting in-kind donations may have paid off in auction income. But…did we develop new supporters? Did we engage attenders so they’ll come back to see our shows?

I clearly remember the sinking feeling when the answer to these questions was a whispered “no”.

I’ve rarely found as good, easy and sensible advice about how to turn events into long term development activities as in this piece by Sheldon Wolf in the Nonprofit Quarterly.

If you (and your staff and board) like talking to people, if you’re interested in listening to them and getting to know them, you’re on your way to involving your event attenders in your mission.

If you’re wondering how to encourage board members to embrace their role as ambassadors for your company, look no further.

Development professionals develop relationships with people…excellent interpersonal skills are central to our work.”


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Just the Arts Facts…

by Jini Stolk

“What do we really know about the arts in Toronto?” was the original, seemingly simple question that led to four months of research and the publication of Toronto Arts Foundation’s Toronto Arts Facts.

Arts Facts compiles recent data from a variety of statistical surveys and research studies on Toronto’s arts and their place in our economy, tourism, communities and quality of life. Kate Taylor’s article in the Globe and Mail focused on the Facts’ anticipated prominent role in the municipal election campaign , where it will no doubt be useful in building awareness, among candidates and voters, of the size and impact of the arts in Toronto.

But there may even be a few surprises in Toronto Arts Facts for those of us working in the arts. Did you know that: arts and culture contribute $11.3 billion annually to Toronto’s GDP? that 174,000 Torontonians work in the culture sector? that our creative workforce has grown at more than twice the rate of our overall labour force? that Toronto is home to 93% more artists than any other Canadian city? or that every $1 the City invests in the non-profit arts sector generates $12.46 from other levels of government and the private sector, and $8.26 in earned revenues?

Toronto Arts Facts also tells a compelling story about how the arts enliven and enrich Toronto’s neighbourhoods and local businesses, help young people gain purpose and confidence, enhance the livability of our city and build local pride. Their central role in the creative economy, and in developing the engaged citizenry and social cohesion on which Toronto’s continued growth and prosperity depends, has become the focus of many studies and articles.

It’s not surprising but good to know that 70% of Torontonians regularly attend arts events or donate to the arts, and about the same number believe the arts improve the quality of life and benefit the community. The fact that people living in Toronto participate in and value the arts so enthusiastically speaks to those harder-to-measure arts impacts such as communal belonging, empathy and mutual understanding necessary to a multi-cultural community like ours.

Andrew Taylor recently wrote about the importance of studying and analyzing our world. He quotes Zora Neale Hurston (author of Their Eyes Were Watching God): “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”

The purpose of documents like Toronto Arts Facts, I would say, is to really understand what the arts contribute, busting myths about “frills” and “nice-to-haves not need-to-haves.” Working on this project with my colleagues Kathleen McLeod and Kasia Gladki has reinforced my belief that the arts community needs to collaborate to undertake more research and fact-finding, work to align its surveys to previous studies in order to fill in research gaps and build comparable statistics, and share the results more actively across sectors and with the public.

I can definitely commit to curiosity and lots of future poking and prying; and I’m hoping that this project becomes the first of many bringing together researchers and arts leaders to understand the power of the arts in Toronto.

Toronto Arts Facts is available on the TAC, TAF and Creative Trust websites, and is being printed as a booklet for targeted distribution. Its findings will provide supporting information for the recently launched “Toronto Loves the Arts” in celebration of the Toronto Arts Council ‘s 40th anniversary. The goals of this campaign are to generate conversation and increase public pride and ownership of the arts in Toronto. Stay tuned to #TOlovesTheArts and Toronto Arts on Facebook .



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by Jini Stolk

I’ll bet you thought I was going to say “audiences.” No. I actually want to talk about how we relate to our most important resources: the people who work in arts organizations, producing, promoting and generally supporting the art in an astonishing variety of ways.

When I meet with people eager to find work in our field I can’t help but be enthusiastic about the satisfactions of my own career. But I often wonder what we’re offering young people at the beginning of their arts careers.

I think we can all agree it’s not high salaries or stable employment with good benefits.

The Nonprofit Quarterly, as it so often does, provided useful insights in a piece about recruiting and retaining excellent staff given our inability to “compete” in traditional ways. Recent research in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, it seems, concludes that today’s workers value the same things Studs Terkel wrote about in his groundbreaking book Working.  I remember the rush of validation in reading that most people “search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short for a life instead of a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”

These are things we definitely can offer, if we’re smart and purposeful about it, to the 174,000 (and growing) Torontonians who work in the arts because they want their work to have meaning.

Recent studies also say that people want a say, influence, participation, and voice at their workplace.

They find work meaningful when they’re involved in an organization with a larger purpose, where their work makes a positive difference to society; where they feel a sense of ownership and involvement in how the work is done; where they see and understand how their work fits into the larger mission of the organization; where there is a collective sense that everyone’s working together towards a goal; and where healthy and happy relationships are fostered and maintained.

Workplaces that engage workers’ spirit and intellect are more productive and produce greater customer satisfaction by means of the high quality, responsive service and communications that people certainly expect from arts and other social benefit organizations.

We should be workplaces of choice. We have mission and purpose at our core; we highly value the participation and engagement of staff and constituents; we believe in respect and equity and in each person having her own voice; we want to encourage fairness and collaboration…I sincerely hope.

These things may not always come easily – human relations are tricky; our best laid plans go often awry – but they are what set us apart, and what we can offer employees to keep them engaged and committed even when we don’t have any extra room in our budgets.

There is a particularly jarring disconnect when an organization devoted to creativity, collaboration, caring and equity turns out to have different standards when relating to their own staff. If the word gets out, organizations can lose an enormous amount of trust and good will which may be difficult to regain.


Helpful and interesting things to read on this topic:
Turkel, Studs. 1974. Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

Tom Terez, 22 Keys to Creating a Meaningful Workplace. Holbrook, MA: Adams Media, 2000.

Management be Nimble by Adam Bryant, The New York Times

Learning is the work week by Harold Jarche


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