What Happens to Your Organization
if the NEA Goes Away?

Today’s guest blog post is written by Kevin Patterson, Senior Account Executive, Patron Technology.

Now that the new Republican controlled government has been seated in Washington, a list of legislative priorities is beginning to emerge. While larger debates will take place over the Affordable Healthcare Act, Privatizing Medicare and job creation, rumblings are being heard that once again the National Endowment for the Arts, www.art.gov, and other related cultural agencies may be on the budget-cutting chopping block. This isn’t the first time this issue has arisen, it nevertheless inflames those on both sides of the debate. Whether or not the NEA and its programs are sunsetted, it is worth considering the implications that its closing would have on the cultural ecology of America.

Symbolism and Access

If you have made your career in a cultural institution or are an avid supporter of cultural events, you most likely can’t bear to think about a world without the NEA. On a basic level, the NEA represents the polar opposite of other agencies in government, the Department of Defense, Internal Revenue Service, and Department of Homeland Security. Let’s face it, having an agency that encourages and nurtures creativity should be part of any national government agenda – right? Unfortunately, on the other side of the debate is the argument that creativity and the economic support it receives should not come out of the wallet of the taxpayer but be left to market forces. Both sides in this debate vociferously argue their side until they are practically at each other’s throats!

What is often left out in this debate is the important question of access. What the NEA does most effectively is enable access by the public to cultural organizations and the programs they create in places all over the United States. From major metropolitan centers like New York and Los Angeles to small cities like Jackson, Mississippi, and rural areas like Wabash, Indiana, the NEA makes grants available to organizations so that every citizen in America no matter where they live has some access to the arts.

Economic Impact

From an economic standpoint, the dollars that the NEA receives from congressional appropriation amounts to about .47 cents on the taxpayer dollar. The 2015 appropriation to the NEA was roughly $147,000,000. In that year the NEA awarded grants to organizations of culture, academic institutions and to state arts agencies to regrant to organizations in their state. All grants were awarded for program support and not every organization applying for a grant receives one annually. The median grant award from the NEA was $20,000. What does this mean to your organization?

From a practical standpoint, think of a grant from the NEA as receiving a donation from a major donor. Put into these terms, a major donor is no small thing. It takes time to cultivate a major donor. Organizations often create programming not only fit their communities, but also the program guidelines of the NEA. The reality of this type of programming scheme is that the applying organization is often committed to the program before the NEA has notified the organization whether or not it has received support. The economic impact to the organization is that, should the funding not be received from the NEA, a new funding sources will have to be cultivated to move the program forward.

How to Prepare

What can organizations do to prepare if the NEA is no longer around? The answer is simple – you must know your community and your patrons. How do you do that? By creating relationships and gathering information about the customer experience that can assist you in identifying the next major donor for your organization. Having the systems in place to collect, analyse, and strategize is essential to assist organizations in their efforts. In thinking about your major donors ask yourself these important questions:

  • What does my organization consider a major donor?
  • Do I have major donors supporting all my core programs?
  • What is my retention rate for major donors?
  • How is my organization identifying new major donors for cultivation?

Finally, what systems do I have in place to help me answers these questions? If the answer is none or I don’t know, then it’s time to do something about it. Chances are your next major donor is talking to you right now and you don’t even know it.

By putting the NEA in perspective, organizational leaders can move beyond the news- cycle-hype of the moment and think strategically about what it would mean economically to continue to operate in a world without the NEA.

Stated another way, having another major donor in your community with whom you can build a strong relationship is better in the long run than relying on a government agency for support.

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