Business supporting the arts supporting community

by Jini Stolk

I’m delighted that Business for the Arts, in partnership with the Toronto Arts Council and Canadian Heritage, is bringing artsVest to Toronto. artsVest is a sponsorship training and matching incentive program that offers local businesses the opportunity to double the impact of their investment, sparking innovative arts sponsorships.

The program has been tremendously successful across the country. artsVest Phase I resulted in partnerships between 1,079 businesses and 283 arts and heritage organizations (of which 686 of the businesses were first time supporters and 458 of the partnerships were long-term) generating about $4.54 million in private sector sponsorship.

Despite the undeniable advantage of living close to many of the nation’s corporate head offices, it’s not easy for Toronto companies to negotiate successful partnerships with businesses – especially small businesses – whereas partnerships with local firms seem to be a fact of life in smaller communities.

One of the key lessons from Creative Trust’s matching deficit reduction incentive grants is that matching grants really do work, creating a powerful incentive to arts organizations, boards of directors and the private sector. The size of the artsVest program ($1 million over the next two years) bodes extremely well for its success.

The ultimate goal of the artsVest program is to help build healthy, prosperous and creative communities, and community development matters more to arts funders than any other impact, according to Bruce Whitacre in The pARTnership Movement blog. This year’s survey of corporate support for the arts by the Business Committee for the Arts of Americans for the Arts, delves into why companies do and do not support the arts, and what could make them give more, or get engaged in the first place.

Two ah-ha moments for Whitacre are that arts organizations need to reconnect with the CEO’s who drive funding and sponsorship decisions, and that the arts community is not sufficiently communicating (preferably with measurable outcomes) the connections between its education and social engagement activities and broader community development.

He suggests that we hire ambassadors to help community development partners – corporations, social service agencies, other nonprofits – connect with the arts and the services we provide. It would be worth our while: while 30% of surveyed companies said that education, healthcare, youth programs, and/or social causes are more of a concern than arts, 69% said they might increase contributions to arts organizations that are active in providing arts education programs and outreach to the disadvantaged.

Or we could do what we did at Toronto Dance Theatre: join a coalition of community and social service organizations working together to address local issues and reanimate the Parliament/Regent Park/St. Jamestown/Cabbagetown community. It was enormously satisfying to be part of and very successful at building partnerships.

The wonderful David MacFarlane eloquently talks about the arts as creating neighbourhood.

Kelly Hill of Hill Strategies recently highlighted four useful reports on the topic of corporate investment in the arts and community. They’re all well worth a read.

1. Canadian Corporate Community Investment Benchmarking Report, Executive Summary, Conference Board of Canada, April 2013, Author: Michael Bassett, based on a 2012 survey of 180 community investment professionals working in Canadian businesses, this report examines how businesses support community initiatives.

2. The Who, How, What and Why of Corporate Community Investment in Canada, A summary of findings from the Canada Survey of Business Contributions to Community, Imagine Canada, 2011, Authors: Brynn Clarke & Steven Ayer, based on a survey of 1,500 businesses, this fact sheet highlights findings regarding the corporate community investment practices and motivations.

3. Corporate Community Investment Practices, Motivations and Challenges, Findings from the Canada Survey of Business Contributions to Community (presentation),Imagine Canada, 2010, Author: Steven Ayer, this presentation provides detailed findings regarding corporate community investment practices, motivations, and challenges.

4. Insights for Strategic Corporate Fundraising, Further findings from the Canada Survey of Business Contributions to Community, Imagine Canada, 2010, Author: Steven Ayer, this report examines which industry sectors tend to provide different types of support, in order to help not-for-profit organizations “tailor their corporate fundraising to the sectors that are most likely to be responsive to their specific needs”.

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