Funding: The Great Taboo

Nancy Quinn, creator of “The Quinn List,” offers her expertise on creating relationships and speaking on behalf of one’s art and arts organization.

On July 16, PRESENCE, the Red Poppy Art House Development Cohort, convened around a canvas-turned-table and welcomed their guest, Nancy Quinn. Quinn has over 25 years of grant writing experience, with a focus on small organizations. One may wonder what exactly does small mean? A small staff? A small physical space? Or a small budget? In the case of Quinn’s work, it is the last one. A small budget is defined differently by various funding organizations. Some say that operating funds must be less than $20,000, while, by most standards, the highest operating budget of a small organization cannot exceed $100,000. But no matter the operating budget, artists and arts organizations must promote themselves.

When it comes to fundraising, Quinn sees it as a most noble task because it is honoring the work that one is doing and honoring the people who find value in that work as well. Therefor, fundraising is all about relationship building, stresses Quinn. Quinn described one of the fundraising lessons she has learned: the spectrum of involvement that characterizes the relationship between a donor and an organization. On one side of the spectrum is a donor who sees a flier for one’s organization and walks past it. On the other side of the spectrum is a donor who writes one’s organization into his/her/xyr will. Based on this spectrum, it must be the goal of organizations to create relationships, slowly moving donors from one end of the spectrum to another. Quinn emphasizes that the most important aspect of this is to be respectful of where donors are on this spectrum by taking the time to build relationships through discussions about the value of one’s organization and donor engagement with one’s artistic product.

Through her website, Quinn offers many services, one of which is “The Quinn List.” This list provides information on types of grants available and their deadlines, taking care of the task of prospect research. Quinn admits that the world of fundraising and grant-writing can be a daunting one: there are seemingly innumerable grant-making entities, from government agencies (e.g. SF Grants for the Arts) and private foundations (e.g. The Willian and Flora Hewlett Foundation) to corporate foundations (e.g. BlueShield of California Foundation), community foundations (e.g. Silicon Valley Community Foundation), fellowships (e.g. Laura W.Bush Traveling Fellowship) and award programs (e.g. Fulbright Scholar Award), but independent arts organizations are not alone in their quest to prove their worth and attain funding. The Cultural Data Project exerts efforts to advocate for the arts by providing data collection and research tools. WolfBrown Consulting is starting to offer cultural engagement research, seeking answers to the edifying extension of arts engagement across neighborhoods.

From years of applying to grants, Quinn offered this vital piece of information: one must read what it is that the grant asks and make sure to answer the questions properly. She also advocated for seeking answers to unanswered questions, attending seminars offered by the donor, introducing oneself, describing one’s project, getting direct feedback, and writing with a language that proves to organizations their financial giving will enable them to achieve their mission. Set aside time, energy, and patience that the application deserves, urges Quinn, “because rushing on it is bad.”

According to Quinn, the United States’ support of arts is well below that of the rest of the world, especially Europe. However, she believes that the U.S. government has something right because it does allows for tax exemptions if money is donated to a nonprofit organization, that is, an organization that is “doing work for charitable and educational purposes.” Donating to a nonprofit decreases one’s taxable income, thus potentially changing one’s tax income bracket.

In addition to all of the positive words, Quinn also offered advice in terms of don’ts, warning, “Don’t make exaggerated claims about yourself,” and, “go ahead. Make your case. Don’t be afraid to do that.”

Aleksandra Bril, Red Poppy Art House Writer