Canadian arts lovers stepped up to help cultural organizations at the start of the pandemic and nurturing those relationships is now crucial, says an expert on philanthropy in the sector.
“People expressed their appreciation, their memories of going to the theatre or concerts; there was genuine affection and love for these organizations,” said Wendy Reid, an associate professor who studies cultural philanthropy at HEC, the business school at the University of Montreal. “It was true across the country but it was particularly strong in Quebec.” She points to the success of #billetsolidaire, a Quebec program that encouraged buyers to donate back the cost of tickets rather than ask for refunds, as an example of that enthusiasm.
In a report commissioned by the Conseil des Arts de Montréal that will be released Tuesday, Reid looks at how the city’s arts groups can encourage donors. Quebec lags behind the rest of Canada in that regard, because historically people made their charitable contributions to the Catholic Church and then saw the provincial government take up that role, Reid said.
“There was the notion of a central funder, somebody to take care [of social services],” she said.
The Quebec business community has stepped into the gap, but Reid’s report, entitled Rethinking Cultural Philanthropy in Montreal: Relationships and Community, has some words of caution. Specifically, it observes that some arts groups devote large amounts of paid staff time to organizing fundraising galas and other special events that are mainly used by business donors to network. The report does not name the groups and individuals that it cites but includes several examples of arts administrators complaining that guests have to be manipulated into watching a performance or don’t bother visiting a gallery before their dinner or drinks. Instead, the report suggests groups should concentrate on efforts that turn larger communities of subscribers or members into full-fledged philanthropists.
“As a subscriber I don’t necessarily get asked to give,” Reid said, adding one should not stereotype philanthropists as wealthy people. “Is a philanthropist some who gives $1,000 or $50,000?” The report draws the distinction between transactional philanthropy, where the donor is rewarded with the glitzy party or networking opportunity, and relational philanthropy, where they are driven by the mission of the organization they are supporting.
It quotes the development director of an Ontario festival saying: “What do you get when you give to famine relief? You get the satisfaction that you’re making a difference. But we have been guilty as an industry [of] saying you have to get stuff.”
The pandemic, which closed museums temporarily and has devastated the performing arts, has made the need for donations pressing but also underlined community support for the arts, which may hasten the more broadly based philanthropy the report recommends.
“I think it’s important to understand philanthropy as a community of donors from all walks of life. Once you have that diversity it’s a much happier situation,” Reid said.
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