An Offensive Playbook for Nonprofit Arts Organizations

Nearly every performance has been cancelled. Galas and other critical fundraising events will not occur. Important youth programs have been curtailed. Like just about every other corner of society, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a sudden and severe impact on arts organizations. The economic impact on the arts and culture industry across the nation is estimated at $4.5 billion to date, according to a recent survey by the nonprofit group Americans for the Arts.
In order to survive the challenges posed by the current environment, and thrive in the world we will emerge into, it’s time for nonprofit arts organizations to use their creative strength and relentless positivity to go on the offensive. Here are four essential steps that every organization should take now:

1) Stay connected

While your patrons and donors are self-quarantined, it’s natural for them to feel alone and isolated. This is a terrific opportunity for your organization to connect on a sincere and meaningful level! Phone calls, emails, video calls and good old fashioned mail will all do the trick. There is no doubt that your organization is busy and likely fighting fires on many fronts; however, do not lose sight of the fact that your patrons and donors want to stay connected to you during these most unusual times.

2) Understand and apply for government assistance

It seems that each day brings new government assistance programs, or modifications to existing programs, and deciphering which ones your organization may be eligible for can be challenging to say the least. Utilize the resources around you and consult Board members, your banker, and of course, your CPA.

3) Scenario plan

In times of crisis, many prominent business leaders advocate holding “two truths.” On one hand, we need to stoically accept reality and the enormous difficulties of the task at hand. On the other hand, we must maintain an unwavering belief that we will prevail and demonstrate courage to lead our teams through the uncertainties presented. Best-of-class organizations are using financial models to help them assess the impact of worst-case, mid-case, and best-case scenarios so that leaders can thoughtfully design their actions now as the future unfolds.

4) Ask to unrestrict funds

Many nonprofit organizations maintain donor-restricted funds. Many of these donors may consider releasing restrictions if they only knew the current needs of the organization. Many are just waiting for someone to ask them. Cancelled performances and postponed galas provide a perfect opportunity for donors to re-direct their payments back to the organization to use for their most pressing needs.

COVID-19 took most of us by surprise and has had us playing defense since its arrival. It’s time for nonprofit organizations to play some offense by placing these four ideas into action!