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As the supporting agency for 20 arts organizations in the metro area, the business of fundraising is always on Allied Arts president and CEO Deborah McAuliffe Senner’s mind.
But this year, she actually likes thinking about it. During the first quarter, she met with all 20 member agencies and probed them on how fundraising efforts were going.
“Actually, everybody is showing an uptick,” Senner says. “It’s not one direct thing, but for us, it’s certainly reaching more people, telling our story to more people. Once someone hears the story, they’re all in.”
By March, Allied Arts’ annual campaign was $600,000 ahead of where it was at the same time last year, with a goal of $3 million. Although the campaign runs through June 30, Senner hopes to announce in May that the goal has been hit.
She theorizes that the local arts economy is just now seeing a recovery from a down period that began in 2009. And smaller businesses, in general, are the key.
While Allied Arts’ top three donors are Devon Energy, Chesapeake Energy and an anonymous source, Senner says the focus the last couple of years has been on expanding the donor base through small businesses and others.
“We need to let people know we just want a larger amount of people behind us and a larger amount of businesses behind us. We want a thousand people giving $5 or $10,” she says, noting cities similar in size to Oklahoma City are raising upward of $12 million per year for the arts. “We need the entire community engaged and behind the arts, because the entire community benefits.”
Senner says some 39% of Allied’s fundraising is tied to businesses in the oil and gas industry. With that large a slice from one industry, if those commodities take a dive, so do the arts in Oklahoma.
So they’re exploring different areas where the group hasn’t been as prevalent. For example, earlier this year, it paired with the Edmond Running Club to be the beneficiary of the 17th annual Frigid Five race.
HSE Architecture contributes to Allied Arts as a business and also conducts a workplace campaign. Todd Edmonds, HSE principal has served on the Allied Arts’ board for the past two years.
“[The architecture industry] feels like it’s part of our civic duty to support the arts,” Edmonds says, “and maybe feels more obligation than most professions would.”
He says Allied Arts has become better at fundraising through the use of committees and co-chairs.
“The board and the committee have realized they needed to make some changes,” he says. “I think they’re maximizing their potential, and they’re going after new money instead of going after the same people who give year after year. We’re trying to educate the public to give.”
A PLACE AT THE TABLE
The organization has made an effort to tie itself more into the community while spreading the word about what the arts are all about. Educational programs now take the arts into the classroom and into school curriculum, but selling the arts can be tough in a time of economic rebound.
While groups that provide food, clothing and shelter also are looking for a bigger piece of the pie, Senner says the arts fit into the whole equation.
“It presents challenges,” she says. “But the only challenge is communicating our story. I believe they have to have the arts to be inspired to get out of the cycle and have hope and inspiration. We are important. One is necessary to live. One is necessary for the soul and imagination.”
–Photo by Mark Hancock