By Nina Berman on June 18th, 2020
Ways for Artists to Raise Money: Crowdfunding, General Support, Recurring Support, and Grants
As an artist, you need money to make your work. You might need money to pay someone to build your website, run lights for your play, or purchase the raw materials to make costumes.
There are myriad ways you can go about securing those funds. Fractured Atlas works with artists to help you get the financial support that you need through tools like fiscal sponsorship, our crowdfunding platform, and by keeping you updated about upcoming grants to apply to.
If you are just starting out raising funds for your creative work, it can be hard to know where to start. You might not know which avenues are available for artists to raise money, let alone how to pick which method(s) are right for you, right now.
Here, we’ll share several different frameworks for raising money: what they are, how you can use them, and when they are most appropriate for artists to use. We’ll cover crowdfunding, general support, recurring support, and grants.
Crowdfunding is something that you’re likely already familiar with. It’s used to raise money for everything from creative projects to medical bills (which nobody should have to crowdfund for in the first place, but that’s another story). Crowdfunding refers to time-limited, goal-oriented fundraising where you seek donations from your personal network. Crowdfunding requires lots of outreach to let your extended community know about your project, to encourage them to donate and share the campaign. Depending on the platform, you can offer different incentives to encourage people to donate.
For example, you might run a crowdfunding campaign to raise $8,000 to get your graphic novel professionally edited, printed, and distributed. Everyone who pitches in $30 might get a copy of the graphic novel, plus more perks if they donate more money.
How do I get money through crowdfunding?
To raise money through crowdfunding, you have to run a crowdfunding campaign! Before you start, you’ll have to determine the logistics. Which crowdfunding platform you’ll use (here are the platforms we recommend for artists), your budget, your timeframe, and what (if any) incentives you’ll offer to donors.
For a crowdfunding campaign to be successful, you’ll have to put in a lot of work. You’ll need to make sure that you have a compelling campaign page, which tends to include video and other engaging media. You’ll need to spread the word about your campaign to your community, encourage them to donate and to share your campaign. Then, keep the energy high as the campaign continues.
Artists and arts organizations that are fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas have access to our crowdfunding platform, and can work with our incredible Program team to build stronger campaigns.
When is crowdfunding the best choice for artists?
Crowdfunding is a great choice for artists who are looking to support a specific project with a concrete budget and a time limit. If you are looking for funds to help you stay afloat and pay for regular expenses, consider other methods like general support or grants.
Crowdfunding is also best for artists and organizations who are comfortable with digital outreach and fundraising. In order to run a successful crowdfunding campaign, you’ll need digital skills and social media savvy to spread the word about your fundraiser and to encourage donations and shares.
Admittedly, general support isn’t the most thrilling name to describe a way for artists to fund your projects. But it is descriptive. General support refers to ongoing support, without a specific budget goal or timeline, that helps you raise money for operating costs like rent, staff, bills, and more.
Unlike crowdfunding campaigns or certain grants, you have a lot of choices for how to spend any funds raised for general support. Donors have given you funds so that you can continue operating, so as long as you are spending that money responsibly, you can choose to allocate it however will make the most impact for your project.
How do I get general support funding?
To consistently offer the opportunity for people to support your work, you’ll need a mechanism to collect those funds over time. You’ll want to make sure that anyone interested in supporting your general operations is easily able to do so. This might mean a donation page on your website, or a dedicated PayPal or Venmo account for your creative work, or your Fractured Atlas page.
Unlike crowdfunding or grants, you are looking to accrue funds over a long period of time, so you won’t be promoting it through a robust campaign. Instead, you’ll want to make it easy for your audience to support you if they want.
Consider adding the relevant links to your social media bios, your email signatures, or in your program notes. You don’t want to beat anyone over the head with a sales pitch, but you do want people to understand that you are able to operate because of general support funding and that they can easily donate if they so choose.
When is general support the best choice for artists?
If you are looking to support ongoing operational costs instead of costs related to a specific project, event, or production, you will likely want to go for general support funding.
Additionally, if you are looking to consistently build a donor base or a list of people interested in your work, you’ll want to seek general support funding. Using general support, you can more easily capture the contact information of anyone who is interested in your work, rather than hoping they’ll remember you by the time that you have a big fundraising campaign.
If you are consistently communicating about your work (including fundraising efforts), you stay top-of-mind for your community. If you are only fundraising from campaign to campaign, people might forget who you are or why they want to support your work.
You can combine general support with other strategies, as well. You can run a crowdfunding campaign and then offer your audience the opportunity to support you if they miss the campaign or prefer to just donate to you directly.
Recurring support is when you solicit recurring (usually monthly) donations. The size of the donation can range, from a few dollars per month to much larger sums. This model will be familiar to anyone who has supported public radio or pledged a certain amount of money per month to nonprofits like Planned Parenthood.
This funding model is similar to general support in the sense that money raised through recurring support tends to be used to support a general operating budget. It might also be similar to crowdfunding if you are running a pledge drive to encourage a big influx of recurring support donors. Recurring support often uses donation tiers.
Artists can use the funds that you receive through recurring donations to get a better sense of your operating budget. If you can count on some amount of money coming in regularly, you can build a stable and realistic financial plan. If you use recurring support, you are less dependent on individual grants or the success of a crowdfunding campaign, both of which can be unpredictable.
For donors, recurring support is a nice option because they can be assured that they are supporting meaningful work without any effort beyond the initial sign-up. They set it and forget it.
How do I get recurring support?
The strategies that you can use to gain recurring support will be a combination of the ones you use for general support and for crowdfunding.
Like general support, you can include links on your website, email signature, and social media bios for people to become recurring donors for your project. You can also offer the opportunity for recurring support on your Fractured Atlas page. You can also run a campaign to drive recurring donations. Like a crowdfunding campaign, you might shoot for a specific financial goal in a set timeframe. If you have access to a matching grant, a campaign is a great opportunity to build momentum and get the most out of that match.
When you run a campaign for recurring support, you can add urgency and excitement. However, when you use recurring support opportunities on a more ongoing, casual basis, you can bring in funds gradually as people discover your work, with less effort on your part.
When is recurring support the best choice for artists?
Recurring support is a strong option for artists who need to raise money consistently, rather than for a specific timeline, budget, or project. It can be used to help you develop a more accurate budget. Plus, if you know that you can count on a certain amount of money coming in, you can plan ahead with more confidence.
Recurring support can also build ongoing buy-in from your community and give you occasions to connect with your donor base.
If you put out work consistently that doesn’t require a big fundraiser each time (for example, a poetry night or a podcast), asking for recurring support might be the right direction.
Grants are sums of money available to applicants who are selected. Individuals, nonprofits, philanthropies, corporations, museums, and other institutions offer grants to artists. They vary in terms of size, who is offering them, what they can be used for, and who can apply for them. Sometimes they can only be used for certain budget items, other times they can be used for general support as the grant winner sees fit.
Some grants are only available to 501(c)(3)s or fiscally sponsored projects. Some will only be available for artists working in a particular medium, or who fit into a specific identity category (Black, LGBTQ, disabled, undocumented).
Grants are a broad category and can run the gamut for who is eligible, how much money can be raised through grants, how that money can be used, and how difficult it is to win that grant.
How do I get a grant?
This is a huge question! In order to gain funding through grants, you’ll have to find the right ones for you, apply for them, and then stand out against all of the other applicants. It’s easier said than done. Competition can be fierce, and it can be challenging to know exactly what the committees reviewing applications are looking for.
In order to access a larger pool of grants, you can incorporate as a 501(c)(3) or use fiscal sponsorship to receive some of the benefits of being a 501(c)(3) without going through the process of becoming one yourself.
One way that you can find out about grants is by subscribing to our newsletter. Every month, we share a roundup of upcoming grants that artists can apply to.
When is a grant the best choice for artists?
If you need a significant influx of funds to complete your project, you’ll likely want to apply for grants instead of or in addition to any crowdfunding efforts or other means of fundraising. Organizations that are supporting artists through grants often have access to more funds than you could reasonably raise from just your community. So, if you’re dreaming very big, we certainly recommend looking into grants.
If you do decide to apply for grants and then receive them, there will be oversight about how you spend the funds you receive. So if you are very organized about your finances, know what money you need to go to which parts of your project, you’ll likely have an easier time with grants than someone who is less comfortable in these arenas.
Raising Money Isn’t the Only Option for Artists to Get Funds
When you raise money, you are soliciting funding by fundraising in one way or another: through grants, general support, crowdfunding, or recurring donations. You are asking for money and not necessarily providing something immediate or tangible in return. There might be restrictions on how you can spend these funds. We work with artists like you to help you fundraise, through crowdfunding, fiscal sponsorship, and through our support team of arts professionals. We've even written an ultimate guide to fundraising for artists. But we recognize that there are other ways for artists to bring in funds.
You can also earn money! Artists can sell work, consult, freelance, or find other ways to earn money. It’s easier for some kinds of artists to earn money rather than raise it. For example, a cartoonist might have an easier time selling their work compared to a conceptual choreographer.
When you earn money rather than raise it, there won’t be strings attached the way there can be when you raise money with grants. Once the money is yours, it’s yours to do with as you see fit.
Here are some ways that artists can earn money.
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.