Sending an Annual Appeal in a Pandemic Year
In November or December, nonprofits and projects with fiscal sponsors often send out what’s called an annual appeal. An annual appeal is the final financial ask before the end of the year. Around the holidays, people are feeling generous and reflective about what has been valuable to them in the previous year. And, of course, people and corporations are looking to maximize their tax-deductible donations. Annual appeals are an important part of a fundraising calendar year and something that many established nonprofits and independent creators count on.
In a year that’s so unprecedented that even saying “unprecedented” is cliche, what does an annual appeal for artists look like?
Artists Need Support
This year has been financially disastrous for this country. Except, of course, for billionaires. The arts have been especially hard hit.
According to a report from the Brookings Institute, the fine and performing arts have already suffered the loss of almost 1.4 million jobs and $42.5 billion in sales. Creative fields have lost more than 2.3 million jobs and $74 billion in average monthly earnings for workers. The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) reports that 90% of independent music venues will close without significant assistance.
There have been layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts. Artists have seen their scheduled performances and freelance gigs disappear, in addition to the service industry jobs that give artists a steady paycheck. In the U.S., we don’t have a functioning social security system and what people have been able to get from unemployment or emergency funding hasn’t been adequate to meet the needs of our creative community.
All of this is to say that the arts and artists need support.
End-of-year fundraising is always challenging in the sense that a lot of people are soliciting donations at once. This year’s end-of-year fundraising is likely to be even more competitive because the need from institutions and artists is higher and potential donors are likely feeling pinched in their own finances.
Can Artists Ask For Money in 2020?
Artists are struggling right now, but it still feels hard to ask for money. There has been so much need this year, from supporting mutual aid organizations to donating to local elections to helping your community with food, housing, PPE, medical bills and more. It might feel frivolous to ask for money to support creative work because it isn’t literally life or death. It’s hard to ask for money knowing that anyone you reach out to is likely struggling financially themselves.
Art is still crucial for our collective wellbeing. TV shows, movies, podcasts, books, livestream performances, and other forms of creative output are helping keep our few remaining crumbs of serotonin bravely jostling around in our heads. Art is helping us find temporary respite from our day-to-day, make sense of our current moment, and connect with one another.
If you have the capacity to fundraise to support your creative work right now, we hope that you do.
People that have the ability to donate to fundraising campaigns can decide how best to allocate their money between emergency funding, local mutual aid groups, and supporting arts and culture for our collective wellbeing and survival.
Added Incentives for Charitable Giving
When Congress passed the CARES Act, they included a provision that can help you with your annual appeal, if you decide to do one.
When a person files taxes, they can choose to either itemize expenses or take a standard deduction. The vast majority of taxpayers take the standard deduction. The CARES Act allows those people who take the standard deduction to deduct up to $300 for donations made to 501(c)(3)s or fiscally-sponsored projects.
The CARES Act not only incentivizes individuals who use the standard deduction, but also people and corporations that itemize their taxes. For these entities, AGI limits have been removed to encourage more donations.
If you are running a fundraising campaign, make sure to let your potential donors know about this benefit to their charitable giving.
Old Rules Apply For 2020 Annual Appeals
At its core, if you do decide to do an annual appeal this year, you’ll use the same general principles that you would apply to any end-of-year fundraiser.
Fundraising is about building partnerships and a community of people who are invested in your work. Whenever you are seeking support, make it clear that you wouldn’t be where you are without your community’s support. Let them know that whether or not they are in the financial place to donate, they are important to you. Donor stewardship is a crucial part of fundraising.
Be transparent about finances
As with any fundraiser, it’s important to let your community know where their donations are going. People want to know the impact of their dollars. In an annual appeal, let people know what their donations have supported in the past year and what their future donations will go for. You can even get granular with this. What does a $20 donation do for you? What about $50 or $100?
You should always be open about the state of your project with your funders. But this year, candor is more important than ever. Be honest with your funders about what your past year has looked like. What have the highs been? What have the hardships been? How are you planning for the future? What are you asking your community to help you support?
Segment your community
Your funding community is made up of different kinds of donors. Some will be able to make bigger donations than others, some might only be able to help spread the word about your fundraiser via social media or donate a few dollars. Group your list of contacts and donors by how much they’ve donated in the past and how frequently. Craft different messages to those different groups of donors to get the best results and to create a feeling that you are talking to them specifically (even if you are sending a form email).
It’s Not Too Late To Do An Annual Appeal
While annual appeals can take months to prepare, don’t lose hope if you still want to put together an end-of-year ask. That’s why we have a procrastinator’s guide to your annual appeal.
Good luck with this final push for fundraising in 2020!
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.