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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 10, No. 4

The State of Arts Philanthropy in Canada

by Gillian Pritchett, Wah Keung Chan, Danielle Dubois / November 29, 2004

Canada's performing arts groups have been a vital part of the cultural fabric of our country for decades. However, rising costs, declining attendance and reduced public funding are leaving many arts groups in desperate need of enhanced financial support from private donors. A recent Ipsos-Reid opinion poll showed that an overwhelming majority of Canadians recognize the importance of culture. Yet, when it comes to donations, they rank the arts low on their list of priorities. Statistics demonstrate that Canadians give the most dollars to religious organizations (49%), followed by health (20%) and social services (10%). In terms of the number of donations made though, health comes out ahead (41%), followed by social services (20%) and religious organizations (14%). What then is left over for the arts sector?

Sources of revenue

On average, ticket sales account for only 40% of a musical group's annual income (for theatre groups, the average is slightly higher at 56%). With public government-funding accounting for another 30% of revenues, most musical groups are forced to rely heavily on private donations to make up the remaining 30% of their operating budget.

More money, fewer (richer and older) donors

The most recent National Survey on Giving, Volunteering and Participating (NSGVP) conducted in 2000 shows that less than 2% of the population make financial donations to the arts sector. The average donor is described as being over 45 (57% of donors), university-educated (38%), and with a household income exceeding $50,000 (71%). Nonetheless, while the value of donations is increasing – 22% from 1997 to 2000 – the number of donors has actually decreased, a worrying trend for the future. According to Statistics Canada, one quarter of donors gave over three quarters of total donations, making the arts highly dependent on a limited number of generous patrons. Indeed, of the people attending 10 or more arts events in a year, less than half actually make donations to the arts.

This is a trend the Toronto Symphony Orchestra knows well. The majority of its private funding comes from some 60 highly charitable patrons and is rounded off by another 6000 donors who give amounts under $1000. Things are much the same at the Canadian Opera Company (COC), where half the funding comes from private donors making contributions of less than $2000. There as well, the bulk of the dollars comes from some 60 patrons. There are thus two clear trends: a limited number of high value donations and a high number of smaller donations which, over the years, make for a significant contribution. Not to be ignored is the work of volunteers who are generally not the same people as those making financial donations. Still, by giving their time, volunteers significantly reduce the financial burden of arts organizatons; NSGVP 2000 calculates that the hours they donate represent over 159,000 full-time jobs.

Why give?

Many different factors compel donors to give to the arts, as was underlined in a Forum on Music Philanthropy held at the University of Montreal in November 2003. Making up the panel of 11 were prominent arts patrons such as Noël Spinelli, Serge Malo, André Bérard, Mario Létourneau and Hans Black. All admitted that their urge to give stemmed from the important role music has played in their own lives. "I come from a small town," said Mario Létourneau. "Having Raoul Jobin sing in my living room when I was a child made me love opera." Noël Spinelli's appreciation of music also comes from his childhood years; "I am passionate about music, I wanted to share this. It saddens me that young people have little contact with music," he said regretfully. Patrons such as these often give with the hope of seeing both musicians and concerts attain a higher level of quality.

Fiscal benefits are undeniably some of the other factors motivating donations. However, this appears to be less the case among Canadians having emigrated from different countries. For them, it is more a question of giving back to the community which has welcomed them, than of saving on income tax.

How to obtain donations

One of the problems faced by the arts sector is the lack of a collaborative cross-Canada publicity campaign able to compete with intense advertising by health and social services organizations. Although these other sectors divert donor attention (and dollars) away from the arts, some of the solicitation methods employed by arts organizations themselves also alienate potential donors. It is clear that in order to gain the favour of the public, cultural organizations must first eradicate the generalized perception that they are badly managed, lack accountability and have poor stewardship practices, a view that is unfortunately all too common.

Despite the apparent difficulty in obtaining cash, there are many Canadians ready to give, especially when approached in an appropriate manner and shown the validity of their contributions. The administration of the COC has no qualms about telling opera-lovers straight out that the price of the tickets they are buying cover only 30-40% of the actual production costs. Opera-goers often respond favourably to the call for help by making donations that are within their means.

Being able to define the mission of each dollar donated is also helpful. If donors are aware that their dollars will serve to establish a new prize for musicians, or to furnish a bank of musical instruments, they are more likely to part with greater sums of their hard-earned income. As participants of the 2003 Forum recognized, there is no great secret to collecting money; the simple truth is that people enjoy giving to people.

Perhaps the most essential element of fundraising is to ensure that donors feel appreciated. Seizing the attention of a prospective donor is one thing, transforming them into loyal supporters is quite another. Yet, as successful art organizations know, winning the heart of one philanthropist can lead to the acquisition of more benefactors. For this reason, philanthropy is best approached as the building of a long-term relationship. Making the donor feel like a vital part of the organization is key to obtaining renewed contributions. For instance, the Opéra de Montréal actively seeks to give benefactors this type of recognition by inviting their principal sponsors and donors to an onstage tour, and offering them seats at the dress rehearsal of an upcoming production. The key for arts organizations remains that of fostering a way of thinking where giving becomes the norm rather than the exception. In this day of government-cuts, this attitude has become not only a question of sound business, but one of survival.

(c) La Scena Musicale