Philadelphia cultural and art institutions have relied for years on the generosity of only a few foundations and very wealthy individuals or families. There was a recent story in the local newspaper discussing how these donations have decreased and will continue to diminish. There are various reasons for this. For example, after a wealthy donor died, her surviving family members who no longer have geographical ties to this area, decided to direct their donations to other needs and concerns in the areas that they live
As a result of the dearth of funds from standard sources, these institutions are seeking new individuals, foundations and businesses to donate to them. So who are they seeking? They are looking to for similar donors as the ones who supported them previously. But, the contribution interests of people and foundations have changed. Many Internet millionaires and billionaires, for example, who are often younger than the previous donors, seek to improve the world in general. They support environmental causes and seek to improve the living standards and education of people, so that they can help themselves, by nurturing new businesses. These entrepreneurs are seeking make the world a better place to spawn other entrepreneurs in poor areas, even if they are tiny in scope, in comparison to what they have achieved. Many of these newly wealthy individuals don’t seek glitz, glamour, publicity, fame, fancy charity events, or the recognition of having their name attached to a building. So although they may donate some funds to the standard charities and institutions, it is not only these institutions which benefit from their largesse.
So, who does that leave as possible donors? It leaves everyone else in the community. Perhaps it would behoove these institutions to ask more people in their community to contribute. They could offer free events, which are generally well attended, or even charge a small amount, and then if the people have enjoyed themselves, they will most likely contribute or donate to an organization. I have often done this. Although I don’t have the time or interest to return to one venue over and over again, I am happy to donate once I am there, if I am asked to do so. Perhaps the people who receive enormous salaries to fund raise for these institutions should concentrate on having greeters stand at the entrances and exits meeting and greeting people and asking for donations, rather than trying to cultivate a few people who may donate today, but may be gone tomorrow. Communities need to support their cultural institutions on their own and not merely hope that some anonymous wealthy donors will come along and offer their support.
I often read that someone who is “not on the radar” of a particular school, donates millions of dollars in their will to that school. This recently happened at the University of Minnesota, where I am an alumnus, having grown up in Minnesota. A lady who had attended school for a year in the 1930’s left $12 million to the school. Prior to that time, no one had ever heard of or from her. Therefore, it is important for all institutions which rely mainly on fund raising, to reach out into the community, make the average citizen feel important, and the rewards may be grand. Often times the average Joe or Jane is a better giving prospect than Mr. or Ms. Moneybags, whose wealth is spread around, and who may take affront and stop donating if they feel they are not being appropriately “appreciated”.