By Nina Berman on September 28th, 2020
A Robust Funding Community: Connectors, Traders, Volunteers, Donors
When you’re looking for support for your artwork, you’ll need to think broadly about the kind of support you need. You’ll probably be fundraising, which might entail crowdfunding, applying for grants, building a sustaining donor base, or even exploring corporate partnerships. Building the support structure for your creative practice is about more than just bringing in cold hard cash. It’s about building a community of people who are invested in your work, and who are able to help you bring your work from vision to reality.
Building your funding community demands that you think broadly about what skills, knowledge, and gifts people have to offer. Even if someone can’t make a financial contribution to your work, they still have a great deal of value to you.
Our mission at Fractured Atlas is to give artists and creatives the tools you need in order to make your work. A lot of what artists need, unsurprisingly, is funding! We help artists run crowdfunding campaigns on our platform and solicit both one-time and recurring donations. Through our fiscal sponsorship program, we help artists and independent arts organizations apply for a wider pool of grants. We also share resources, news, and strategies with our community here on this blog to help you feel more confident and capable as you navigate everything you need to do in order to support your real work of creation. We know how much support artists need and we’re here to help.
Why You Should Think of Your Supporters as a Community
As a creative, you should think of the people supporting you as a community that allows you to create. They support and surround you, and are crucial to your work. They aren’t a means to an end and they definitely aren’t a bank account you can just dip into when you need it.
Nothing–especially not creative work–is done in a vacuum. When we think that we can do work on our own, we end up reifying the patriarchal, racist, colonialist ideas that underpin the “lone creative genius” myth. When we think work is done alone, it’s because we are ignoring the support structures that make the work possible.
Recognizing that the people who support your work comprise a real community is both accurate and beneficial. Framing your funders and other supporters as a community can remind you that you are accountable to them. You are responsible for letting them know that their contributions to your work are important. Plus, it can remind you how important it is to make good on any offers or promises you make to them; from sending them the fundraising perk they selected to giving them a social media shoutout or writing a thank-you card.
Framing your supporters as a community can also make those supporters feel closer to your work. If they truly know that their support makes a difference, they’ll be more inclined to keep supporting you by buying your work, sharing it in their own networks, and following you from project to project.
Different Members of a Funding Community
When you think about the different people who are supporting your work as part of your funding community, you’ll want to identify the broad types. They won’t all be financial donors! By identifying who they are and what they can offer, you’ll be best equipped to make the most of your community and make the individual members feel most engaged in your work.
Connectors are the people who might not necessarily financially support you, but they can help connect you to the people with the resources you need. Connectors are able to make introductions to potential donors or they might be able to help you support your fundraising and networking efforts with new ideas and strategies. They are definitely people whose advice you want to seek as you expand and grow your creative practice.
Sometimes, connectors are people that you initially approach for funding but who aren’t able to provide it. For example, a funder might not be able to support your work, but could make an introduction to an institution that would be a great partner for you. Or, you might approach someone for an individual donation and they end up being able to help you build an approach or a strategy to expand your network outward beyond what you thought possible.
Connectors are people who you want to stay in touch with for the long haul. Keep checking in with them, let them know what you’re up to, and stay in their mental Rolodex.
Traders are people who have knowledge or skills that you need in order to get your work done. And, crucially, they are people who need your help too. As you build your creative practice, think about building bartering relationships with your network. Some of the skills you might offer to trade or need to find for your own project are technical. They might involve building sets, designing costumes, or running sound for a virtual performance. Or they could be administrative. Maybe you need someone to help with grant research, setting up a budget template for you to use, or running your social media accounts. The important piece to consider with a trade relationship is that you are also offering something to them! As you consider what skills your community has to offer to you, think about what you can bring to them? As a personal example, I traded a friend some of my research skills for a tarot reading to help them think through the next step in their creative career. Traders can become collaborators and co-creators if your visions happen to align!
Volunteers are people who may or may not be able to offer financial support, but definitely can offer their skills and their time. Unlike someone with whom you barter or trade skills, volunteer relationships are more uni-directional. They are offering their energy to your project without the expectation that you will do something equivalent for their work. Volunteers might help you with mailing letters, putting up posters, taking tickets at a door, or promoting your work in other ways.
Volunteers are a crucial resource for creatives. In order to build the best possible relationship with your volunteers, set clear expectations and boundaries. Let them know what you need, how much time you anticipate it taking, and give them the resources and support that they need to get that task done on your behalf. That way, they can feel involved and accomplished, you can get the help you need, and nobody gets burnt out along the way. And be sure to thank them for their efforts!
It might seem counter-intuitive that some of the people who will be in your funding community will be peers. Aren’t these people your competition? Aren’t you angling after the same grants or the same individual funding dollars from your networks? It’s true that you might be applying for some of the same opportunities or seeking funding from some of the same individuals, but in the end, artists need to work together. By building networks of solidarity, artists are better able to face economic challenges, navigate and improve the arts ecosystem.
Your peers can give you advice from experience. What strategies have they used to support their work? What grants have they applied to? Which platforms have they used? How have they found the time to create work? And, of course, you should share your experiences with them! It can be frustrating, lonely, and confusing to figure out how to fund your creative work and some of the best people you can talk to about it will be the ones who are also doing it themselves.
So, we saved the most obvious group for last. Many people in your funding community will be able to give you money! Donors could be individuals, funding institutions like nonprofits or foundations, institutions like museums or the government, or even corporate sponsors. Donations of any size represent a commitment to your work and an individual or group who believes in your project. Build on that investment by really treating them like a member of your overall community. Make sure to express your gratitude to them and do what you can to help them understand that their support really does make your work possible.
You can thank your donors with perks if you’re fundraising through a crowdfunding campaign, but you can also always send thank-you notes, thank donors on your website, or find other creative ways to ensure that they know how valuable their support is to you.
Allowing for tax-deductible donations through fiscal sponsorship can increase your pool of possible donors and also provide a benefit to your existing donors. Many donors, both individual donors and institutions like foundations, either prefer to or are only permitted to make tax-deductible donations. By supporting tax-deductible donations, you’re able to help your donors a bit.
Fundraising is About Building Relationships
Any fundraising effort you’re doing as an artist isn’t just for the immediate project or goal. You’re in it for the long haul. Ideally, the people who are supporting you right now will be able to support you again in the future. Creating your funding community and tending to it carefully is about making it easier and easier for you to fundraise in the future because you’ll have already done a lot of legwork already. You don’t want to have to start from scratch every time you have a new project.
By really considering the breadth of people who can support your work, you can set yourself up for a more successful and easeful future in creating. Just make sure that you’re taking good care of that funding community!
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.