An interesting blog post popped up in this week’s ArtsJournal free weekly newsletter. Titled “Relative Wealth,” and written by the arts administration behemoth that is also known as Andrew Taylor (AKA the Artful Manager), this post discusses one way those who are making “big-ticket” asks can feel more at ease in doing so.
“How can I seriously sit across from someone and ask them for $1 million?” they will say. “I can’t even imagine $1 million.”
And therein lies the problem.
So far, I haven’t done much (translation: anything) officially in development beyond last spring’s Funding and Grants course as part of the Arts Administration degree at the University of Cincinnati. That being said, however, I’m very interested in development work for several reasons. First, I know, from research and talking with arts leaders around the country, just how critical contributed income (donations, grants, and other forms of charitable giving) is to not-for-profit arts organizations.
Second, the Vice President of Operations at a major performing arts center once told me, “To be the Executive Director/President/CEO of a major performing arts center, you need to have experience in two things: at one, you must be exceptional, and at the other, you must be great. The two things are development and programming. If you’re exceptional at programming, you must be great at development; if you’re exceptional at development, you must be great at programming.” As someone who aspires to be the executive director of a performing arts center, and with some programming experience already under my belt, the biggest and most obvious hole in my experience so far is development.
Which means, of course, that I will be looking for opportunities to gain experience in development as I progress throughout my career. One of my classmates, who successfully went on his first “big ticket” ask this past summer, talked about how nervous he was going in — after all, these are big sums of money being talked about. I know that I, too, would be nervous going to ask someone for even $10,000. I mean, as a current student, even that amount is an intimidating sum of money to think about someone giving away! But, as Andrew Taylor suggests in his post, remember that it’s all relative: what seems like a lot of money to you might be just a drop in the bucket to your potential donor. As Andrew points out: if your annual salary is $100,000, then “John Paulson [a super-trader who made $4.9 billion last year] makes that much in 10.7 minutes, and … dropping $400,000 for him is equivalent to you buying a giant pretzel.”
It’s all relative.