Posted 10/16/2011, Chronicle of Philanthropy by Holly Hall
Albert Chao, a donor to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, discusses a work with its artist, Cai Guo-Qiang. -Jenny Antill/Museum of Fine Arts Houston
One way to raise money is to figure out who your best donors are and look for other people like them. But some Philanthropy 400 charities have succeeded by taking the opposite approach: looking for brand-new supporters who are nothing like their traditional donors.
In July, for example, the Nature Conservancy (No. 23) announced a big gift from Robert W. Wilson, a Wall Street investor who will give 50 cents for every dollar given by donors outside the United States, up to $20-million, as long as the donors are new supporters or increasing their gifts to the charity.
So far, the challenge has motivated two Chinese donors who have never before supported the Nature Conservancy to donate a combined total of $3.4-million, which Mr. Wilson is matching with another $1.7-million.
United Way’s Approach
United Way Worldwide (No. 1) barely eked out an increase in contributions last year, growing by 0.4 percent, but it has seen some types of fund raising succeed. One thing that seems to be working for its local affiliates is starting what United Way calls “affinity groups.”
While local United Ways have long had such groups for women donors, young people, and others who give at least $10,000 per year, they are creating new types of groups. In Columbus, Ohio, for example, United Way created an affinity group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender donors in 2009. The new affinity group donated $89,000 in its first year, and more than doubled its giving last year to $207,000. In total, United Way affiliate groups last year raised $202-million, an increase of nearly 12 percent.
Promoting Cultural Diversity
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (No. 277) joined the Philanthropy 400 for the first time. Last year it raised $64.6-million, an increase of more than 70 percent, by reaching out to several minority groups that have grown in the city over the past three decades.
“The number of donors has grown exponentially with efforts to increase multicultural fund raising,” says Amy Purvis, the museum’s development director.
In the last few years, the museum has held several campaigns to raise money for new or refurbished galleries to showcase Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, and Islamic art, and Texans from those ethnic and religious groups have responded well to solicitations.
“Each of these new communities is different,” says Ms. Purvis. “With the Korean gallery, the bulk of fund raising was in small gifts from a large number of donors. With the Chinese gallery, there was a seven-figure gift and a much smaller number of donors.”
She adds: “We are now a city of minorities. There are no majorities, so it was important to diversify our fund raising.”