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Ted Wilson | The Kibitzer | December 2006

Crisis Fundraising

About Our Columnist

Ted Wilson has over 30 years' experience in marketing, fundraising, fiscal management, strategic planning and event planning in business, public and non-profit settings. On the theatrical side, he has spent over 35 years as an actor, director, writer, teacher, juggler, and mask-maker in educational, community, and professional settings. His firm, Concept To Execution, combines this diverse experience with his degrees in psychology and theater to offer specialized consulting services for community theaters and other community arts organizations, as well as creativity workshops, planning and marketing services for businesses and corporations.

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Let me separate two financial conditions:

1) the tension from show to show that your theatre is going to at least break even with all the bills getting paid, maybe even on time and

2) the constant threat that if a substantial sum of money doesn’t suddenly appear from an anonymous donor you’re going to have to sell all the assets and board the place up.

If you’re in the first category, welcome to the club.  You’ve got the time needed to be patient and think strategically.  If you’re in the second category, then read on.

If your theatre has been spiraling downward and you’re now at the do-or-die point, let me state the obvious:  wadever you been doin’ ain’t workin’ and it ain’t gonna continue to work, neether.  Stop pointing the finger, squabbling over whose fault it is that the organization is in the situation it’s gotten itself into, and get the board together to start doing one of its jobs: long-term planning.  (Yep, that’s not a misprint – long-term planning!)  Anyone who doesn’t want to do that or who doesn’t see the need for change, get them out of any position of influence they may have.  You’re in a crisis.  You need bridges, not obstacles. 

One of the first things the organization will need is an attitude adjustment.  No matter how bad things seem on the inside, all fundraising has to be as positive as possible, even when you feel your organization is in an impossible situation.  The mistake that a lot of organizations in this condition make is they only focus on the short-term bailout.  Maybe they’re lucky enough to get that bailout and then two, three, or five years later, they’re in the same situation.  No one wants to back a loser; that’s just money down a black hole.  The most successful bailout fundraising strategies are one-and-done events that include a short-, medium-, and long-term organizational plan of action that addresses the changes to be made for a long-term fix.

As an organization, there has to be a long-term commitment to fiscal stability and financial management.  You need to plan as if you will always be here, and to always be here, you need a plan.  The first step of that plan is the needed cash infusion.  You need to show potential donors and participants alike that there’s a plan in place that will protect their investment and secure the long-term viability of the organization.


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