A New Model for Supporting Black, Artist-Led Organizations

In late-August, Red Olive began a pilot program with the South Carolina Arts Commission and three South Carolina-based Black art organizations: Gullah Traveling Theater, Speaking Down Barriers, and The Watering Hole. In addition to receiving a one-time general operating support grant, these Black artist-led arts organizations will work with Red Olive to develop fundraising best-practices and to increase their organizational capacity and stability. We’re thrilled about this innovative partnership and the opportunity to test ways to better support small, Black artist-led organizations in the compounding challenges they face.

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The View from 40,000 ft.

Whenever I travel internationally, I never really utilize the back seat entertainment. If I’m not sleeping (I prefer overnight flights to Europe, and day flights back), or drinking free wine, or reading or journaling, or even–while all of those activities are happening, the back seat “entertainment” is 95% of the time logged into the flight map, specifically the birds eye view that looks down on the top of the plane as it follows the line from NYC to Frankfurt, Nicaragua, Amsterdam, Cuba, Paris, London, Zurich. 

On the way to London, my husband and I had the inside row seats (ugh) and just never really got comfortable. It was late, the plane was delayed. My adrenaline was raging because I had boarded the plane, set up to take a selfie, only to realize I left my glasses in the terminal. Luckily I had great flight attendants, and switched quickly enough into my southern girl and helpless voice that someone escorted me in order to retrieve them! (Thanks British Airways!!) so anyways, the weather sucked. Even just going down the runway was an ordeal. When the wheels left the earth we started very quickly into violent turbulence. 

It stayed that way out of Far Rockaway, over Long Island and the Long Island Sound, up the New England corridor until we reached Nova Scotia and, because I had this “view” this big picture view, I knew that we would be entering over water, which has been in my experience so far north where the turbulence levels out. 

Maybe there was weather between us and London. The flight view doesn’t show weather (it should!!) only the stats: how high in elevation, ground speed, current location time, place of departure time, destination time, temperature outside the window. You could change the view but the one where I could see the line connecting clearly the dot from New York JFK to London Heathrow Was my preferred view. Though our ground speed was almost 700mph, I felt, somehow, grounded.

After dinner, cabin lights out, Husband and I decide to try to figure out what we want to see in London since we couldn’t sleep. I look up for my 40,000 ft view, and note We were approaching Greenland. 

Then I focus in on the task. Holding the drinks while C lifts my tray to reach my bag for our LONELY PLANET LONDON tour book. C is rooting around underneath the chair when

The plane makes an unexpected and steep drop. 

The flight attendants were going through with the garbage and seemed, like us, completely caught by surprise. 

Including my own, there were several gasps. 

I was holding the drinks so they traveled with me, with the plane, when it dipped like so, but the ones on the trays, the drinks and food and things on the trays while people were locked into their individualized screens for entertainment went into the air and crashed back down. Our inside aisle seat mate spilled red wine all over herself. 

I looked at the elevation a few minutes later and we maintained 40,000 ft. Which is to say, the pilot was locked in and was not trying to go higher or lower for smoother sailing. I didn’t have *that view* that he had so I had to trust staying his course was the right way to go. 

You can imagine I didn’t sleep the rest of the flight, and I didn’t change my screen from the flight view the whole way there, so I can tell you that from Greenland on we had turbulence. And I don’t normally, but I clapped and released my held breath when we landed the next, London morning. 

What does this have to do with anything besides being a story about turbulence?

I am nearing three months freelance/consultant/business owner. In another life, I’d be preparing to asses if I’m off of probation. In this life, I counted going into the next six months with 6 clients. 

In a session today with a client, I mentioned that I’m able to help in a way that is unique: because my focus is art & culture organizations of color, and have been in this flight pattern (see where I’m going) for years, and because I am not locked into one organization, but, as I said, consulting with six of them right now, I have the advantage of a 40,000 ft view of the fundraising and development landscape. I have a line from “here” (last few years of fundraising for orgs of color) to “there” (the future of orgs of color) and can see clearer the bigger picture because I’m not sitting tunneled vision, not aware that I’m part of a machine moving, literally, 700mph and could at any point, unexpectedly, bottom out from me.

When I said that, our conversation opened up. My client realized she was trying to put me in a place she knew and was comfortable, and I was trying to explain that the funding world is turbulent, and we need to chart a clearer, better path. 

One of my mottos recently is “Let the experts expert.” 

I love that because it releases me from having to believe I have to do everything. As I’m stuck, head down In the weeds and looking at my personal finances being crazy, I say my motto and put out a call for a CPA. I trust that they will know the best path to my desired destination. 

As you think about where you want to take your organization in terms of fundraising and development, I encourage you to have a thought partner that is looking at the whole picture: months, years, in advance; diversification of revenue; strategy; developing a culture of philanthropy among your staff and board, and the list goes on. 

We don’t have to do it ourselves. We can’t do it ourselves. Me: I’m looking for the person who’s got a 40,000 ft view.

Penny Campaigns + People-powered fundraisers

 

When I was younger, my family liked to take yearly vacations. Most often to Florida. Daddy would bring home a big jug or two with small mouths–or anything that was easy to put something in, less easy to pull it out!–and encourage us to put our loose change into the jug.

I watched and watched the loose change fill up the jugs until it was time to break them open and count. I remember the work, late nights, sitting in my booster chair rolling pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters. We’d roll and roll. For my efforts, I’d get one or two roll of dimes to convert to dollars and spend on my vacation.

We went to Disney World three times, Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, Washington DC, Daytona Beach, Tampa Beach, Busch Gardens, and and and—all from rolling and saving those pennies!

Whenever I have a big financial goal, I start throwing any of my disposable income into a coffee can, or an envelope in my desk drawer. I know it’s only a drop in the bucket, but I also know that eventually, it will continue to grow and grow!

Imagine if you had access to folks’ pennies on a regular basis to contribute to your artistic goals? Think of what you could accomplish.

One of my favorite places in Brooklyn is the Weeksville Heritage Center.

I had the privilege of working there, and through my current work as a non-profit fundraising consultant, who primarily works for arts organizations of color, I’ve encountered even in that small niche of a world so many people who have passed through Weeksville’s doors as well. Such such a small world.

I tell this story often, but, when the Historic Hunterfly Road Houses were rediscovered in 1968 by James Hurley, and he then brought in educator, activist, and artist Joan Maynard to be the founding Executive Director, Joan changed–or else started the game of fundraising for Black Arts and culture in NYC, and taught a community how to Save the Memories of Self by launching, in the early 1970’s by urging middle school students to start a fundraising campaign: “Pennies for Weeksville.” The students raised the first $800 towards the large project of renovating the 19th century houses. The students, young, black, Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant residents, went door to door, collecting spare change, telling folks about the project, and launched a community’s awareness about one of the most important landmarks in Black Brooklyn History. They were Brooklyn’s young, black fundraisers. They were Brooklyn’s young, black philanthropists.

Even a penny made a difference to the future of the organization. Even a penny put together with others, made a larger gift.

So many times we think about the big fundraising goals for our creative projects, and think: unless a big, magical grant comes through, there’s no way we’ll have the money to do what we dream.

But we forget the pennies, added up, can equal that big grant.

We forget–or maybe we don’t know?–that over 3/4 of charitable giving every year comes from people, not foundations or corporations.

And in truth, individual giving is only one part of the fundraising strategy, or, what I call revenue pie. But it’s a very important one. And it’s one, if cared for and cultivated and watered like a garden, will be the sole remaining force to ensuring your creative cause is stable, and continues on for years to come.

Lifting each other as we climb,

DéLana

Want support getting started with an individual giving plan, so all of the pennies can add up to $$$? Jumpstart your Creative Fundraising with me! 

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