Funding the arts

Smiles and hand wringing were a part of the job — whatever it took to get the signature on the check.

“I just got tired going to sleep at night knowing all this money I was raising was being thrown to TV and used to beat people up for the November elections,” Eckhoff says.

These days, he sleeps much better.

That is, when the twins allow it.

But it’s not his daughters’ sleep habits that have made the change for the better. It’s his new job.

After raising in excess of $17 million for campaigns over the last seven years, Eckhoff got behind a new candidate: Allied Arts.

“We are very excited to have Don on board to help us continue to grow Allied Arts,” says Deborah McAuliffe Senner, president and CEO. “His experience in fundraising and development will be a huge asset to the continued growth and success of our organization.”

Now the manager of business and donor development, Eckhoff hopes he can finally make a difference.

“I love politics. It’s something I’m always going to dabble with, but the arts and enhancing the Central Oklahoma community … it’s so incredibly critical,” he says.

Eckhoff dove right into the political fundraising game in 2003 when a U.S. congressman asked him to hop off the federal payroll and board the fundraising train.

“When a congressman asks, it’s kind of tough to say ‘no,’” Eckhoff says. “So I started basically from scratch. The budget said we needed to raise $5.2 million.”

When the race ended, Eckhoff had raised $6.3 million. He also raised a few eyebrows. From there, a U.S. Senate race followed in 2004, followed by a Tulsa mayoral race and then a statewide treasurer campaign for Scott Meacham in 2006.

Ever since growing up in Seattle as a boy, the arts have always been near and dear to him.

He’s happy Oklahoma City businessmen purchased his beloved Seattle SuperSonics and brought them to town before his arrival. But these days, he’s more passionate about telling others Oklahoma City’s arts story.

“You just never know how it’s going to touch that kid or adult or company,” he says. “It’s pretty incredible to have this renaissance in Central Oklahoma. The start-ups of the world — the Sonic Drive-ins, the Devons, the Chesapeakes, the Kerrs — as they’ve grown, our arts community has grown. It’s not one thing for one segment of our population, but the arts are for everyone.”

Founded in 1971, Allied Arts has raised more than $45 million to advance the arts in Central Oklahoma.

“We’re like the United Way for the arts,” he says of his agency, which funds 20 others. “Everyone understands what the United Way does for social and human services. They do incredible programs all across the country. We’re basically the United Way for the arts industry.”

Photo by Shannon Cornman

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