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By Nina Berman on November 17th, 2020

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Fiscal Sponsorship Application Best Practices: What to Know When Applying for Fractured Atlas’s Fiscal Sponsorship

Fiscal Sponsorship | Tips and Tools | Fundraising

Fiscal sponsorship is a mechanism by which individuals or small organizations can access some of the benefits of 501(c)(3) nonprofit status without going through the process of actually becoming a nonprofit. It’s a powerful tool for artists and arts organizations to boost your capacity without significantly changing the structure of what you do. Fiscal sponsorship lets you receive tax-deductible donations, apply for a wider range of grants, and often access the expertise of the people working for that fiscal sponsor.

Fiscal sponsorship is one of the ways that Fractured Atlas supports the arts ecosystem. Individuals and organizations whose work falls within our overall mission–to make the journey from inspiration to living practice more accessible and equitable for artists and creatives–can apply to be fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas.

The first step in getting fiscal sponsorship is finding the right fiscal sponsor. In order to be fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas, you need to fill out our fiscal sponsorship application. In that application, you tell us about yourself and your work. If we determine that your work does fall within the purview of our mission, we will accept you as a fiscally sponsored project. We want all applicants to come into the process as confidently as possible. We want to be your fiscal sponsor!

Theresa Hubbard and Nathan Zebedeo, Directors of our Programs team, are responsible for reviewing fiscal sponsorship applications. Here are their suggestions for applying for fiscal sponsorship through Fractured Atlas.

Note: This is not legal advice, and it may not be applicable if you apply for fiscal sponsorship through other institutions or organizations. We reserve the right to decline any fiscal sponsorship application.


Ask Questions About Your Fiscal Sponsorship Application

If you run into questions about the fiscal sponsorship application process, ask us! You might have questions about eligibility, documentation, or about specific questions that we ask in the application. While we can’t coach you because we have a vested interest in you applying successfully, we can definitely help clarify confusion that arises along the way.

It’s always better to ask questions ahead of time rather than make an avoidable error.


Prepare Your Paperwork Ahead of Time

You should have all of the paperwork you need ready to go before you start our application. This means you’ll need to have materials for your own personal information or for the relevant legal entity.

We require the name, address, and phone number of the member applying for fiscal sponsorship, the name of the legal entity (individual or organization) who will be responsible for the tax obligations for the money that comes through Fractured Atlas (crowdfunding, recurring donations, grants). We also need to know the type of legal entity responsible for the tax obligations and either the social security number of the individual or the EIN number for the legal entity responsible, plus the residency status of the legal entity.

While you could always try to find it as you go, it’ll be a much smoother process overall if you gather everything you need ahead of time rather than trying to rifle through email inboxes and physical papers in the moment.


Articulate Both Your Mission and Your Activities

In your fiscal sponsorship application, we want to know both what you are doing and why. This means that we want to know both your mission and your activity (or activities).

The mission describes the overall change you want to make in the world. For example, you might preserve the legacy of Black composers. But your mission might not tell us exactly what it is that you do. For example, if your mission is to preserve the legacy of Black composers, you might do that by performing work exclusively by Black composers or you might publish coffee table books about their work with accompanying recordings.

Or, take Fractured Atlas as an example. Our mission is to make the journey from inspiration to living practice more accessible and equitable for artists and creatives. But knowing what our mission is doesn’t exactly tell you what we do! We support our mission through our fiscal sponsorship and visa programs and by providing information and resources to artists here on this blog.

If your work isn’t obviously in the arts, but you think is still a good fit for Fractured Atlas’s fiscal sponsorship, let us know. Theaters, dance companies, and art book publishers are obviously artistic. But if your link to the arts is less obvious or if the creative and artistic aspect of your work is more about the process than the result, lay out the case. Our mission is broad and expansive, so we can accept projects that might not be traditionally thought of as “art.” Black Womxn Flourish is a great example of such a project.


Identify the Audience For Your Work

Before you apply for fiscal sponsorship, you’ll want to think about who the intended audience or beneficiary of your work is. Who exactly are you creating for? And once you’ve figured out who your core audience is, think about how you’re going to put your work in front of them? This can be helpful for you to strategize about outreach and distribution, but it’s also crucial for us to know who your audience will be.


Don’t Worry Too Much About the Budget

It’s totally understandable to be worried about the budget part of the application. First of all, it can be challenging to make a budget in the first place! Not to mention that it’s hard to talk about money.

Applicants sometimes worry if the budget they’ve prepared looks different from our budget template or if the line items don’t match ours. We don’t want you to fret about this, though. We just need to see a breakdown of what the money looks like for your project and how you’ll use fiscal sponsorship. Plus, we understand that budgets can change as projects evolve and as the world we live in changes.


Understand That Most of our Questions Aren’t Dealbreakers

In the Fractured Atlas fiscal sponsorship application, we ask questions about political activity, investors, distribution, where geographically you expect to raise and spend money, and if you’ve ever had 501(c)(3) status. You might worry that if you answer one of these questions “wrong,” your application will be denied. That isn’t the case! We have to ask these questions because as a 501(c)(3) we have restrictions about what we can fund and what kind of oversight we need to provide on different kinds of projects. Ultimately, we want you to succeed in your application and get that sponsorship.

Lobbying is prohibited under our fiscal sponsorship agreement, but political activity is not necessarily an automatic “no.”

If artists are seeking investors, commercial distribution, or any other relationship where someone could make a profit without being involved in creating the work, we would need to have an additional addendum to any potential fiscal sponsorship agreement. But, it’s not a dealbreaker. We recognize that some kinds of art like film or print publications really do require distribution or other arrangements.

We need to know where you expect to raise and spend money because there are a few places where the United States has embargoes or sanctions. If you’re planning to raise or spend money in any of these places, we need to know ahead of time so that we can provide additional oversight as needed.

We ask about your 501(c)(3) status because we want to get a better idea of your past experience and future plans with fundraising.

Pro Tip: When we ask about previous 501(c)(3) status, having been previously fiscally sponsored or having a 501(c)(3) status for a different project or organization isn’t what we’re asking. We want to know if this specific project has had that status before.


Set Up Your Online Profile Before You’re Approved

Don’t wait to set up your online profile until you’ve been approved. Once you have been approved as part of the application process, your online profile will go live. That means that you’ll want to be ready for the public before you actually get that approval.


We Want You To Succeed In Our Fiscal Sponsorship Application

Our mission is to support artists. One way that we do that is through fiscal sponsorship. Our application process is to ensure that applicants fall within the bounds of our mission and restrictions on us as a 501(c)(3). To that end, you can see every question we’ll ask in a fiscal sponsorship application ahead of time.

More posts by Nina Berman

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.