Survey: 2/3 of U.S. donors plan to cut back on charitable giving this fall

The Chronicle of Philanthropy's Prospecting blog, 8/24/11

The economic turbulence could make the next few months a really tough time for charities making appeals. A new survey reports that two out of three Americans (68%) say they will cut back on giving to charity in the coming months because of economic uncertainty or personal financial blows. The study was conducted in mid-August by Dunham+Company, a Dallas firm that advises nonprofits on fund raising and management. "There's a bit of weakening in charitable giving," says Rick Dunham. "There's just a sense of uncertainty that's causing people to pull back." That could be the sign of a long-term problem for nonprofits -- many of which have barely recovered from the sharpest drops in giving in at least five decades, according to Giving USA. Only 17% of donors [surveyed] believe the economy will improve soon versus the 43% who said it will continue to slide. The bleak economy will make it especially hard for charities to persuade new supporters to donate to their causes. Only one in five donors (22%) said they would consider giving to groups they have never supported before. But a glimmer of hope exists. The survey says that 9 of 10 donors who give online will continue to make donations. Those donors say they are more likely to cut back on other expenses than reduce their giving or eliminate it altogether. "Online donors consistently demonstrated a more positive outlook," says Mr. Dunham. "They have a greater potential to stay engaged."


4 ways that smaller nonprofit arts companies can weather tough times

Anne Eigeman,, 8/12/11

Back in 2009, when the recession was in full swing, the Washington Business Journal did a story on five new nonprofit theaters in the Washington, D.C. area: The Hub, Doorway Arts Ensemble, Ambassador Theater, Factory 449, and theHegira. With more than 70 other local professional theater companies in operation and competing for arts dollars, the article highlighted how these five organizations "defied the recession" by making it through their first year. Now, two years later and with 12 additional theater companies in the area, a recent follow-up story provides an update on these theaters, all still in operation, and offers a list of four tips for small arts organizations navigating similarly challenging courses:

> Grow gradually: The Hub had to cancel a production in the 2009-2010 season because of lack of financing but has since gotten a line of credit and a credit card as a safety net.

> Fundraise creatively: Doorway Arts Ensemble recently launched a successful silent auction featuring actual items from productions.

> Partner for space: Two theaters, The Hub and Doorway Arts Ensemble, partnered with local educational institutions that have given them access to space.

> Establish a clear organizational niche:Forging a recognizable artistic identity has been an important way for each organization to avoid overlap with other theaters and to develop a base of support. For example, theHegira features work by women of color.

Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, suggested in a recent piece in the Huffington Post that it is small arts organizations -- as opposed to the giants such as the Kennedy Center -- that are "more often the crucibles for new exciting artists and art forms." That makes it all the more important that small arts nonprofits learn how to survive these tough times.


$5 Recession Theater Co. launches: "Frugality doesn't mean a life without art"

The Belmont Vision (Nashville TN college newspaper), 8/23/11

Two Belmont theater professors [have created] the Five Dollar Recession Theater Company, or the FDR, as the founders affectionately refer to it. Nettie Kraft and Jim Al-Shamma started the group to provide a creative outlet that brings a "touch of reality" to theater students with opportunities to perform outside of the academic realm. The FDR is about embracing a lack of budget and design elements to allow a large emphasis to be placed on the actors and the script. A major source of inspiration was the Steppenwolf Theater, a company Kraft worked with in Chicago. "They could perform in a toilet and the audience wouldn't care because of the talent and the scripts they performed." In June, the company put on its first production, The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh, a dark comedy based in Depression-era Ireland. The cast of seven, most of whom are Belmont graduates, not only acted but also played the traditional Irish music heard throughout the performance. The ticket price for all performances, as the company name suggests, is a mere $5 - a sum the founders hope will cover royalties. "Theater is always a gamble. ...With the price we are charging, there is not much on the line," Al-Shamma said. By charging significantly less than $12 for a movie ticket or $60 for a nosebleed seat at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Kraft and Al-Shamma hope the FDR will be accessible to a new generation of theatergoers. "Frugality doesn't mean a life without art," Kraft said.


Commentary: "The enemy of theater is not Recession... it is complacency"

Artistic Director Jeremy Wechsler on Theater Wit's blog, 8/9/11

The enemy of theater is not Recession, or audience disinterest, or the internet, or cable, or reliance on grants, or high real estate and utility costs, or aging audience, or falling subscribers, or commercialism, or disinterested boards, or American culture, or resources, or time, or anything. Our enemy is laziness and complacency. Our enemy is ever believing we know "how things are" and wrapping ourselves into that. I am not advocating specifically from a break from all forms and existing models. I'm not saying we all need to flee the theaters, take to the streets, kidnap citizens and perform plays in their homes, taking our payment in canned goods and cocaine. I'm saying that we must always question what we know. About our place, our art, our business. "What do I know" vs "What do I believe is true" vs "What does everyone know."


= = =


Commentary: What effect will a potential double-dip recession have on art market?

András Szántó,, 8/21/11

Talk about a double dip recession has coaxed the oracles of the art world away from their swimming pools to their laptops. Savvy trend-watchers have been grappling with a surprisingly meaty question for this time of the year? Will the art market follow equities into "correction" territory, or worse, this fall?  The verdict? Maybe. Or maybe not. Adam Lindemann in the New York Observer compared art unfavorably to gold. "Despite all the talk of art as investment, and the fact that a lot of art has appreciated, I think you would still be much better off with gold," he concluded. Noah Horowitz, answering interview questions in the same publication, said art has more in common with gold -- as "as a durable good," he argued, it "is attractive to people in times like this." However, he cautioned, "If we see a decrease in wealth levels of the elite, that's one way to gauge how art will be valued." Here are three dynamics to watch:

> First, will the trend pattern separating hyper-luxury from everything else persist, or will a potential downturn be severe enough to sink all boats? The post-2008 experience tells us that horrible things can happen to the economy while the upper-upper tier of the market chugs along.

> Second, has so much excess been built into the art market as to threaten a nosedive? Really bad art crashes happen when years and years [of] hype and speculation drive up prices of historically untested art to unsustainable levels. One may argue that after the hard crash of 2009 enough hot air has been siphoned out of the market to diminish this threat. But who knows.

> Third, will public policy throw a curveball at the art market? I mean the very real possibility, especially in the U.S., that lawmakers tighten the screws on the nonprofit sector. The implications of a reduction in tax benefits on art donations to museums, for example, cannot be ignored. It could remove a lot of demand, at the worst time.

Please consider the environment before printing out this email.  Thanks.
YOU'VE COTT MAIL is a free service for professionals in the arts.  Emails are sent most weekdays. 
If you are not already on the distribution list and would like to sign up, please click here:

Join Our Mailing List      Follow me on Twitter     
Click here to view an archive of recent past editions of "You've Cott Mail."