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Development Dilemma: Turning Art Donors Into Cash Donors

In our weekly column, consultants with decades of nonprofit experience answer your questions about fundraising, boards, strategy and more. To ask a question and be featured (anonymously!) in the column, email your questions to info@twbfundraising.com.

This week’s question will be answered by Gene Brandt.

The Dilemma

I work at a regional art museum. We are starting to think about a fundraising campaign since we need to update our gallery space and would like to increase the size of our endowment. My worry is that our largest donors will want to contribute art from their considerable collection instead of giving the museum money. Any ideas on how to handle this?

Gene’s Response

Many institutions, particularly museums, face the issue of contributions of personal property instead of cash. This is especially true of art museums, since these institutions often encourage gifts of art to build or enhance their collections. Then, when they start planning for a capital campaign for facilities or endowment, they target those same art donors for financial gifts. I suspect that they sometimes send mixed messages to their donors about the importance of gifts of art versus gifts or pledges of cash.

Let’s face it—during the course of your upcoming campaign, your museum needs your most committed donors to consider gifts from both their art collection and their bank account! From my experience, there is really only one way to get that point across effectively, and that’s by communicating the needs of your institution to each donor.

If your campaign is in the anticipation stage, preliminary meetings with your best donors are a good way to begin the communications process. Find the time to meet with these individuals early in the process, bring them up-to-date on the planning that is leading to your campaign objectives. Work to engage them in the outcomes that your campaign will address—how your campaign will really make a difference for the museum.  Many of our clients wait for the feasibility study to inform their best prospects about the objectives of their campaign. Why wait? I believe in regular face-to-face meetings and other personalized forms of communication to provide your best donors with a clear sense that they are “insiders” in the museum. This is particularly important prior to a campaign.

Once you get to the early leadership gift phase of the campaign, you will want to meet individually with each of your best donors again to discuss their own campaign commitments. Here again, I think it is crucial to communicate specifically what your hope is for that particular donor. When we served as counsel to the Baltimore Museum of Art in their recent record-breaking campaign, they were intent on not losing their considerable momentum regarding gifts of art, even while they needed their best art donors to also consider making financial commitments to the campaign. We decided to emphasize the importance of both types of giving to individuals who were regular art contributors. We would brainstorm each of these solicitations to ensure that the solicitation team understood the importance of asking for a campaign contribution of cash and also consideration for an additional gift of art during the campaign. The results were impressive. In addition to raising over $80 million for the campaign (the largest museum campaign in Baltimore’s history), the Museum’s art donations accelerated, receiving well-over $50 million of art during the campaign.

Solicitation strategies and effective communication were essential for accomplishing the goals of the Baltimore Museum’s campaign. The same will be true of your museum’s campaign. Don’t give up on building the museum’s collection during your upcoming campaign; instead, encourage donors to leave a lasting legacy by contributing from their collection and their bank accounts during the course of the campaign.

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